Camping or Living: RVs as Tiny Houses

Recently my wife and I purchased a 27′ travel trailer and submerged ourselves into the nomadic lifestyle. And while it seemed as much like tiny house living as our actual tiny house trailer we soon realized it came with its own culture, own nuances, and own history; and a rich history at that!

In 2010 the recreational vehicle turned 100 years old. According to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), about 8.9 million households now own RVs. The typical RVer was 48 years old and earned a median income of $62,000. Among those under the age of 35, ownership rates are steady at 4.9%. According the last publicized study – a 2005 study at the University of Michigan - about 450,000 of typical RVers are full-timers. But there remains some undercurrent controversy about whether or not an RV is a tiny house. 

Says Ryan Harris, tiny house builder, blogger, and outspoken tiny house enthusiast, “A home is anywhere you hang your hat and feel comfortable and secure, so in that sense, an RV could certainly feel like a tiny home. Unfortunately, most RV’s [off the lot] are built very poorly, with flimsy materials and are not usually customized to the owner or by the owner, so in reality, for most people an RV makes a poor substitute for a tiny house and will never feel like a true home.” Not a glowing endorsement for RV living but a valid point and one held by a number of tiny house enthusiasts. On the other hand Kristin Snow who together with her husband Jason both lives and works out of a renovated and personalized 1965 Airstream Overlander notes, “We absolutely consider our Airstream to be a tiny house – just one that moves around more than most! Our goal in renovating and moving into our trailer was to embrace minimalistic living and simplify life as much as possible. Being able to use it for economical travel was the deciding factor in going with an RV versus a tiny house for now. Seeing as much of the country as possible for a few years will help us in deciding where, if anywhere, we want to settle down someday – probably in a tiny house!”

Photo credited to Evan and Gabby.

Photo credited to Evan and Gabby.

Kristin and Jason Snow towing their 1965 Airstream Overlander down historic Route 66.

Kristin and Jason Snow towing their 1965 Airstream Overlander down historic Route 66.

Whatever side of the debate one rests on the fact remains that drivers began making camping alterations to cars almost as soon as they rolled off the line. The first automobile marketed as a recreation vehicle was Pierce-Arrow’s Touring Landau, which debuted at Madison Square Garden in 1910. The Landau had a back seat that folded into a bed, an on-board chamber pot/toilet, and a sink that folded down from the back of the seat of the chauffeur, who was connected to his passengers via telephone. Camping trailers made by Los Angeles Trailer Works and Auto-Kamp Trailers also rolled off the assembly line beginning in 1910. By the start of the Roaring 20′s, dozens of manufacturers were producing what were then called auto campers. Before then people camped in private rail cars that were pulled along train routes by commercial engines. RVs allowed a certain freedom not yet seen. They allowed people to go where they wanted whether a rail existed or not!

NOTE: The Tin Can Tourists (named so because they heated tin cans of food on gasoline stoves by the roadside) formed the first camping club in the United States eventually growing to 150,000 members by the mid-1930s. They had an initiation; an official song, “The More We Get Together;” and a secret handshake.

TinCan
RV camping and RVs in general really became popular though thanks to a group of men who called themselves Vagabonds. The men – Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, and naturalist John Burroughs – caravaned in simple cars on annual camping excursions from around 1913 to the mid 1920s. Their adventures solicited national attention. The trips were well covered by national media outlets and in turn sparked interest in other motorists to go car camping. With the funds to match their sense of adventure, the Vagabonds took such camping to new extremes bringing with them a custom Lincoln truck outfitted as a camp kitchen. While the men slept in tents they were showing that life lived on the road could be as fun and glamorous as life in the penthouses of New York and mansions of everywhere in between. They were the initial advocates of the RV lifestyle. The nation was being overtaken by the notion of taking your home with you and stopping wherever you wanted without sacrificing the comforts of your own home. The movement would become so popular in fact, that CBS News correspondent Charles Kuralt would later capture this road romance with his “On The Road” series that began in 1967 and lasted some 25 years, causing him to wear out several motorhomes and cover some million miles.

CBS newsman Charles Kuralt is shown reading a map in the driver's seat of his "On The Road" motorhome. (AP Photo/File)

CBS newsman Charles Kuralt is shown reading a map in the driver’s seat of his “On The Road” motorhome. (AP Photo/File)

As Wall Street crashed in 1929 the Depression had its way with the RV lifestyle as well. Finding their way off the road some people began using travel trailers, which could be purchased for as little as $500 to $1,000, as inexpensive homes. This is the first time the United States becomes familiar with the notion of full-time living in a rather unconventional home.

War time rationing in the 1940s stopped production of consumer RVs, although – like many other types of companies – some trailer companies converted to wartime manufacturing, making rigs that served as mobile hospitals, triages, transports and even morgues. This usage didn’t last long after the war as returning soldiers on limited incomes craved the outdoor life as well as inexpensive vacation methods. The Interstate Highway System, having begun construction in 1956 offered all Americans a relatively safe and fast way to travel further than trains ran and causing a renaissance in the RV market. 

By the late 1950s motorhomes began to find their way to the market (albeit a far less popular one) due to price and availability. They were seen as more of a luxury though and even for the upper-middle class exclusively. That completely changed in 1967 though when Winnebago began mass-producing motorhomes labeled “America’s first family of motor homes” – between 16 to 27 feet long – which could sell for as little as $5,000 ($34,400.00 by today’s standards.) By this point heating and air conditioning had been introduced into RVs as well as on-board refrigeration and sanitation stations. No longer was camping considered a roadside novelty for families living on a dime. They had become more like homes than ever! Homes on wheels!

Molded from two giant halves, the Dodge/Travcos had a distinctive ridge in the middle where they met.

Molded from two giant halves, the Dodge/Travcos had a distinctive ridge in the middle where they met.

Perhaps though the most notable part of RVs is that they have changed design as technology has changed. Motorhomes and travel trailers on the market today include such amenities as satellite television, washers and dryers, shower stalls, work desks, and even fireplaces. They are more like a sticks ‘n bricks home than ever. And while they are completely portable and in a very simplistic way they still offer RVers what they want the most; the feeling of home and the ability to explore the open road. 

The dress code is casual. The drinks are always cold. The bathroom is but a door away. And the amenities of a larger sticks ‘n bricks are included by simplified in a mobile and tiny way.

 

By Andrew Odom for the [Tiny House Blog]

Ty Niehaus’ Tiny House

I have been following the tiny house movement since first reading about Jay Shafer over 10 years ago.  Of course, I loved the idea of saving on money and time and, thus, having more freedom.  In addition, I wanted to combine the benefits of a tiny house with the health benefits of building out of non-toxic materials.  Also, I felt it was important that it be beautiful and acceptable in (almost) any neighborhood. I decided to build an 8 X 12 design, but without porch or loft and with more windows and light.  This mobile house-room is meant to be an extra space or living area but without utilities except electricity.  In other words, toilet, kitchen, and shower are meant to be in a nearby building.
tiny house
The final result looks like a small cabin or shed reminiscent of a red barn.  Drawings and extensive, invaluable consulting on non-toxic building came from George Swanson (geoswan.com) in Texas.  Additional consulting came from Katharina Gustavs–especially, on EMF issues–from Canada (buildingbiology.ca); Leslie Lawrence fromsafespotcottages.com; and even once with Jay Shafer.  I hired the expert team from the Center for Green Building/Measure for Measure in Connecticut (centerforgreenbuilding.com) and asked them to build with the following non-toxic elements:
  1. The trailer is a customized aluminum trailer by Featherlite–thanks to Scott Boyner for engineering exactly what I wanted.  The frame is aluminum–won’t magnetize or corrode–but the bed of the trailer was constructed using Timbersil–wood that is infused with sodium silicate (glass) and won’t burn, rot, mold, or be eaten by insects.  The underside of the trailer also was covered over with a layer of Tyvek with chicken wire over that.
  2.  Conventional wood frame is all treated with three coats of potassium silicate by Romabio.
  3. All interior and exterior floors and walls are made of Magnesium Oxide panels–also won’t burn, rot, mold and gives off no harmful gasses (but do wear protection when cutting, there is fiberglass mesh inside).  These were purchased from Holdfast Technologies in Ohio.  All exterior trim that could not be sized in Magnesium Oxide is Hardieboard, another cement board.
  4. All walls, ceiling, and floor are insulated with Ultra Touch recycled cotton insulation.
  5. All interior and exterior paint is supplied by Romabio (romabio.com)–truly non-toxic mineral paint that allows water vapor to escape and, thus, avoids conditions for mold.  (It turns out that many popular no-VOC paints still contain harmful irritants).
  6.  The roof is covered with two layers of Vaproshield–a polypropylene membrane that is also vapor permeable.  Over that we used Davinci synethetic roof slates–they are made of recycled plastic and really do look like real slates.
  7. Windows are Jeld-wen, unfinished pine with aluminum cladding.  We painted the interior pine with the same paint we used on the walls.
  8. Electricity enters at only one point and there are four sockets on the interior side there.  This is intended to minimize EMF issues.
  9. The finished floor is Ecotimber bamboo.

photo 3

 

 

photo 2 photo 11 photo 10 photo 9a photo 9 photo 8 photo 7 photo 6 photo 5

Buy A Legacy And Invest In The Future

Airstream is a brand of luxury RV manufactured in Jackson Center, Ohio.  Even though the company employs less than 400 people it is the oldest recreational vehicle manufacturer in the nation. Airstream trailers are easily recognized by the distinctive shape of their rounded aluminum bodies. This shape dates back to the 1930s and is based on designs created by Hawley Bowlus who is perhaps also known as the chief designer of Charles Lindbergh’s plans, the Spirit of St. Louis.  Besides having a rich history they are probably more well noted for looking like a silver bullet barreling down the highway with their shiny facades and streamlined curves. 

IMG_7875

One of the families who not only recreate but live in an Airstream – of which there are many – are Jason and Kristin Snow. An adventure-addicted couple in their early thirties who walked away from corporate jobs and a conventional life in 2013 to travel a new road, the two have been met with less routine and more serendipity, minimalism, self-reliance, and new friends at every turn. They are a dynamic couple with a unique tiny house and an awesome opportunity for another adventurous soul!

The Snows (known online as The Snowmads) are now selling their beautiful 1965 26-foot Airstream Overlander International.

20140601-DSCF5887

The Airstream was completely gutted and renovated over the course of a year after spending many years of her life rotting away in a barn. A true one-of-a-kind, the Snow’s restored their Airstream from the frame up to feel more like a tiny home than a travel trailer, but with all the functionality to easily pick up and move anytime. Thanks to the addition of solar and a composting toilet, its new owner(s) can even park off the grid indefinitely!

The Snowmads are only selling her (and it breaks their hearts, to be sure!) because they want a smaller, motorized RV that will fit in some smaller spots in both backcountry and urban areas. They are willing to make it a great deal for anyone interested in buying their Jeep Grand Cherokee tow vehicle too as a package.

20140502-DSCF4637

Jason and Kristin have lived and worked full-time in this trailer for a year now, covering 35 states and nearly 15,000 miles. They’ve been everywhere imaginable with the trailer, from RV parks, to friends’ driveways, to dispersed camping in the mountains of Colorado. This unique, cozy Airstream would be perfect for anyone who loves vintage and wants one that’s ready to go right away without the time and investment of undergoing a renovation. She’s perfect for the full-time traveler, weekend or vacation camping, as a mobile or home office, a stationary tiny house, or a vacation home.

To find out more or view the listing please visit this page.

20140601-DSCF5867

20140601-DSCF5888

bath

IMG_7756

kitchen

tub