Why don’t you just buy an RV!?


Where there is tiny house hype on the internet, there is a chorus of people shouting the title to this post.

“Why don’t you just buy an RV? It would be a lot easier and cheaper.”

The problem is, it’s not a simple 1 to 1 comparison. It’s like comparing a canoe to a sailboat. Sure they both float on water and can be used to get from one point to another, but the intended function and resulting experience of each are completely different. Depending on what your intentions are, one of them would better suit your needs than the other, and while the title inquiry is usually spouted as a snarky rhetorical jab, we think it is time to provide a comprehensive response.

En route to a new location


We have nothing against recreational vehicles and travel trailers and I am pretty sure those who live in them have nothing against tiny houses. We are all alternative and right-sized living advocates. I have a hunch that the comment comes from individuals not living full time in either. And while it is silly that any one person should have to defend their decision vs another persons preference or opinion, there are some very real (and legal) differences that are worth talking about.

I think this discussion is best started by establishing the intended (marketed) use of each product. Of course there is cross over, but RVs and travel trailers are ‘recreational vehicles’ intended for temporary occupation while tiny houses are intended for full time living. This is not just a case of bickering over semantics; there are very real physical and legal factors that support these two intended uses, as well as some more ephemeral and emotional considerations, the likes of which those who have never built, owned or been inside a tiny house may not understand.

To start with, RV’s are lighter and oftentimes more aerodynamic. This makes them easier to tow on a frequent basis such as weekend outings, to which they are very well suited. This is achieved through a few factors, the most notable of which is the use of minimal and thinner ‘framing’ members. While this does not necessarily effect the RV’s structural integrity which is gained through other means (form + structural skin) it does result in very thin walls with minimal insulation. This is not an issue when the primary use is short term recreation, including the ability to decide when to use it (most people put away the RV for the winter).


Opening spread of the new appendix to our E-book.

But for a person interested in living in the structure full time, the idea of a tiny house with significantly higher insulation values is a big draw. Not only does it better protect the occupant from harsh temperatures, but it does so in a much more efficient manner. Less energy to heat and cool a home results in lower yearly costs and a smaller carbon footprint. One of the lesser known facts about our tiny house is that it is built with 2×3’s making it much lighter than other tiny houses of comparable size yet has better thermal resistance than 2×4 walls due to our implementation of continuous exterior insulation that we talk about in depth in THIS BLOG POST TITLED ‘NOT ALL [TINY HOUSE] WALLS ARE CREATED EQUAL.’

I think there is also a misconception about the wheels; an assumption that if you have them, you must plan to use them frequently.  While there is a small handful of THoWs that travel full time year after year, a majority of them are moved much less frequently and often times only every couple of years, if that. While full time travel is not the goal of many THoW owners, the ability to move if needed (whether it be through desire or triggered by an unforeseen circumstance) offers peace of mind.

Then there are the legal differences. THoWs exist in a grey area. That is to say that they don’t fit into an existing category of homes; or vehicles for that matter. Because of that they tend to be lumped in with RV’s in the eyes of officials. But without the official RVIA certification, tiny houses are not an RV, can not be insured as an RV and sometimes are not allowed in RV parks (more perks for the RV option!).

Now there are new RVIA certified tiny house builders that can build THoW that are legally certified and under law, regulated as an RV. This option certainly muddies the clarity of this discussion a bit but may be a good option for some as it would be easier to insure and stay in RV parks if you’re traveling frequently. With that said, there are a couple very important repercussions that were integral in our personal decision to build our own THOW and not be RVIA certified.

First and foremost, choosing to willingly and legally define ones dwelling as an RV (through RVIA certification) now removes you from the ‘grey zone’ that is a ‘tiny house on wheels’ and places you into the category of ‘full time living in a recreational vehicle for more than 30 days in the same location’ which is explicitly illegal in a majority of the municipalities in the United States.

Further more, the ‘grey zone’ of tiny houses is becoming more black and white (meaning legally defined) with the adoption of a concrete legal definition of ‘tiny house’ though APPENDIX V for the upcoming 2018 code cycle. The next step is for jurisdictions to [preemptively] adopt the code on a voluntary vote basis, which has been done by the state of Idaho with four more states in the process of doing the same. What this means, is that if built to code, the option to legally live in Tiny Houses (not an RV) will become more and more prevalent moving forward.

Also, for those who can not afford to or are not willing to take on more debt to pay upfront for a half way decent RV, the idea of building your own tiny house paycheck to paycheck and owning it outright upon completion is a very attractive opportunity. It is not possible to do an RVIA certified d.i.y. Tiny house.


Finally there are the more ephemeral but equally important reasons that people choose a tiny house. The act of building something with ones bare hands is irreplaceable and lends its self to an incredible appreciation for the project. Something to really be proud of and the experience and skills gained during the construction process are worth the cost alone in our opinion.

I hesitate to say that there is a big difference in quality, but the difference in materials between a tiny house and an RV is undeniable. RV’s use a limited pallet of mass produced, certified, light weight materials and miniaturized fixtures where as the options implemented in tiny houses are as diverse as their owners. The same can be said about the form (shape) of tiny houses and their propensity to prioritize interior spatial quality over the goals of aerodynamics and achieving lowest base weight possible. The quality of space and amount of customization in tiny houses is what makes them homes rather than just ‘recreational vehicles.’

Hopefully this brief over view helps provide context on why some people choose a tiny house instead of an RV. For us, designing and building our tiny house on wheels has been an incredibly fulfilling and educational process. No it wasn’t the easiest route. No it wasn’t the cheapest option. But it sure as hell has been rewarding and ‘worth it’ many times over.


And if you’re wondering what happens when our daughter gets older, we answered that in LAST WEEKS BLOG POST.



SHED mountain logoIf you are new to our project be sure to watch our 8 MINUTE START-TO-FINISH TIME-LAPSE TINY HOUSE CONSTRUCTION VIDEO and check out our FINISHED PHOTOS including full space interactive spherical photos. You download our FREE FLOOR PLANS AND STAIR CONSTRUCTION DOCUMENT and consider purchasing our 145 PAGE E-BOOK to learn everything there is to know about this little tiny house of ours as we share each step of our d.i.y. construction process and motivations for doing so.

book cover


1 reply »

  1. i need to share your post with a friend of mine. We both like tiny homes, but acknowledge they are definitely more expensive. I lived in an RV for 8 months a 5th wheel in Utah and then AZ, and yes, they are HORRIBLE for insulation. Part of the reason why I don’t want to do the RV thing again, but a tiny home. I want something to feel more permanent. Something that isn’t decorated all in brown shades because for some reason, RV manufacturers think everyone loves that type of decor. There’s just something that “feels” better when you look at a tiny house vs looking at an RV.

    And all your other points are quite valid too – RVs are more aerodynamic, and usually weigh a lot less. But I feel like if I build a tiny home from a shed, it will be one way of keeping costs down somewhat, and will still have that feeling of permanence and coziness that an RV just can’t give you.

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