Trailers for Tiny Houses

by Kent Griswold on February 17th, 2009. 20 Comments
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Michael Jones brought to my attention an area that has not been covered here on the Tiny House Blog and that is what kind of trailers to use for a tiny house on wheels or a gypsy wagon type home.

Steve Weissmann, Jay Shafer’s business partner at Tumbleweed Tiny House Company wrote a very good article on their website. I am going to republish it here and than do some followup research to see if I can learn more as well. This article is geared to Tumbleweed Tiny Houses but could be applied to your own design as well. Here is Steve’s article:

flatbed trailer

A typical flatbed trailer is ideal for building a Tumbleweed Tiny House. They are available at many trailer and RV stores. The picture is a typical flatbed trailer.

Often when you purchase a trailer, it will have sides or ramps. That’s okay, you will just need to remove the sides and ramp. It’s actually pretty hard to find a trailer without some sides built in. Sometimes they are referred to as utility trailers.

Trailer sizes are listed as the size of the actual trailer bed. It does not include the hitch or the wheels. For example, a 7′ x 14′ trailer would be 7′ between the wheels. Almost all trailers are 8’6″ wide when you include the wheels; and as it turns out, this is the widest possible width for road travel without a permit. The bed of the trailer would be 14′ long, and when you add the hitch, it would probably measure 17′ long.

New Pop trailer

New Popomo Trailer

Except for the New Popomo, all of our portable homes require a flatbed trailer where the wheels are taller than the trailer bed. The maximum legal road height in the US (without a permit) is 13’6″. None of our homes are taller than 13’5″. But more important than the legal road height is the height of the bridges. Most bridges are in fact much taller than 13’6″, but to be safe, you can not build on a trailer where the entire bed is above the wheels.

The New Popomo does not have a loft, and therefore is designed to fit on a trailer bed that is “over the axle”. The advantage to that design is that it provides for a wider house, albeit shorter.

Most trailers come with a double axle. Usually, each axle is rated to hold 3,500 lbs. However, some axles are rated for 5,000 lbs each. Therefore, a double axle trailer will have a total rating of 7,000 lbs or 10,000 lbs. This rating will have a large impact on the price. It is referred to as “GVWR”, which means Gross Vehicle Weight Rating. Keep in mind that the GVWR includes the weight of the trailer. So if the trailer is rated for 7,000 lbs and the trailer weighs 1,000 lbs, you can put 6,000 lbs on it. On our website, we list the weight of our houses including the weight of the trailer.

Except for the XS-House, all of our homes require a double axle trailer. The XS-House can be built on a single axle trailer if the axle is rated for 5,000 lbs.

Trailers usually include brake lights, a license plate, and a breaking mechanism. The lights and brakes attach to your car/truck, and when you use the brakes, it will also apply the brakes to the trailer.

There are many sizes for hitch balls, but almost all are either 2″ or 2 5/8″. The hitch ball on your car/truck is easily changable, and probably around $30.

Because the trailer is roughly 18% of the material cost, saving money on the trailer is the easiest way to control construction costs. Consider buying a used trailer. craigslist.org is an excellent place to look for a used trailer. Prices for used trailers range from $500-$1500, a savings of $1000-$2000.

Here are some websites that sell new trailers:

Big Tex Trailers
Trailers for Less
Trailers Plus

By Steve Weissmann – Tumbleweed Tiny House Company

Foot Note: Bill Kastrinos at Tortoise Shell Homes is now selling the trailers separate. Tortoise Shell Homes will sell the 8×16 7000# G.V.W. without ramps or side rails or ramp recepticles for $1950, add $100 for the safety break away kit.

They are very clean and easy to put a house on because the ramp recepticles, and rails just get in the way. They also have 1 1/2 inch doug fir planks, which can be used as the sub floor. The lowest prices locally is $2800. 

They are not on his website so give him a call or email him (Click Here). Make sure and tell him you heard about it at the Tiny House Blog.

trailer

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February 17th, 2009and filed in Pre-fab, Stick Built
Tags: Stick Built
20 Comments

20 Responses to “Trailers for Tiny Houses”

  1. [...] gets down to the nitty gritty about how to build a tiny house from the ground up (including what type of trailer you need if you’re going to build on wheels). Even if you’re hiring a contractor, it’s [...]

  2. Stuart says:

    with the full width Popomo Trailer giving the extra 18inches (assuming that its 8’6 wide vs 7′) it would be possible to find or fabricate a full width trailer where the wheel wells intrude upon the house, that small volume hidden in cabinets or beneath sitting, and then the addition of a loft would be possible

  3. Joe3 says:

    I agree with Stuart…..I’d like the full height to take advantage of the loft. Hiding the wheel wells is asy to do/

  4. Breh says:

    I agree with Stuart and Joe above. I wonder if anyone has attempted this yet? Maybe I’ll call my local trailer shop and run this by them. On a related topic, there’s also a fella who built his floor frame right into the trailer frame, rather than sitting on top of it, in order to get a bit more headroom inside.

  5. anon says:

    I just got this new idea for building a Tumbleweed- in my garage. I ignored this idea before because the loft would not fit, but then I realized I might be able to install it later- most of the plumbing and insulation will likely need most of the attention on the first floor. My garage height is 87″ or possibly 87″-90″ with the door open and there’s more than enough space for a 15′ trailer with 3 feet for the part that connects to a pickup. So, my question is, if the base of a flatbed is 19″ in height (as listed on the Tumbleweed house website), which is the lowest height where the floor of the living room could start being built, I would have about 68″ to build the walls. This of course is too short, since I would like it at least 6’3″. But if I can find a trailer where the bed begins at 12″ or 14″ I’ll have 6 feet to build the walls before starting on the loft floor. If i can attach the roof later, I could save a lot of money and time (not to mention weather guard) building the first floor in my garage and rolling it out under the 88″ that I have. 7 feet and 3-4 inches is tight but I think it’d be possible. What is the minimum height a trailer bed can be? 12″? It would have to be one where the wheels are taller than the bed, of course.

  6. Nerida says:

    So why isnt it safe to have the flat bed entirely over the wheels and a loft?

    @Anon, you’ve probably solved your issues by now but if you havent started, check with your Road & Traffic Authority. I’m in Australia and we have a minimum ground clearance which is actually quite a bit lower that the total wheel height so you can have the tray dropped if you go for a custom built trailer.

    But you do need to consider the ground clearance and what type of roads or land you will be moving your little house over. Plus what you will be doing with your plumbing.

  7. Melinda says:

    If you have welding skills you might be able to build one yourself for a lot less than buying a trailer. I found these plans on ebay. http://cgi.ebay.com/8X20-Flatbed-Utility-Trailer-Plans-Instructions-BOM-/280706515596#vi-content

    I am considering building a 8×20 house on a trailer. After reading up on building codes it seems like building on a trailer is the best way to avoid problems with building codes.

  8. [...] the trailer. Part of the design is to have two sliding glass doors on one side of the tiny house. A trailer with the tires under frame would work best because we wouldn’t have to work around or above [...]

  9. jesse says:

    I would like to start a small business building and selling cabins on trailer frames. Is there any patents that could provent this from happening.

  10. [...] written by Tumbleweed, this article will give you the all the basic information about trailer buying for a tiny [...]

  11. Lauren says:

    Hello
    I know this is a dense question but is the maximum height of 13.5 ft per DOT measured from the ‘ground’ or from the bed of the trailer?.
    I would think it would be from the ‘ground’ as there could be a lot of variability in trailer deck height. Trust me, I spent an hour looking for this simple answer on the net and it was never addressed.
    Thanks

    • Linda says:

      To Lauren: 13.5′ max height is from the ground. This is a DOT requirement. It is particularly good to know if you are a trucker. Wouldn’t want to get the top of your rig sheered off… or your rig to get stuck in an underpass. That would be embarrassing to say the least.

  12. Engineer Guy says:

    I can provide anecdotal information from observation, and from my Dad; a Truck Driver.

    The 13’6″ vertical Spec is from the [Asphalt] Ground. Bridges and Tunnels are designed for clearance based on this maximum height assumption EXCEPT older Bridges that are well marked in advance. At the Eisenhower/Johnson pair of Tunnels on I-70, they even have a Tool to measure conformance to this Spec this on questionable Loads. It’s a L-shaped bit of Pipe the CDOT Employee rests on the Ground while seeing if the top of the Semi, or Modular House, clears. I’ve been behind plenty of Semis going through the Tunnel. The Semi tops clear the Roof by JUST a smidge; I’m guessing 4″ or 6″ tops. Trucks sometimes have ‘Air Down’ and deflate Tires a bit in really close situations. A crash or sparks-caused Fire in a Tunnel at ~11,000′ elevation is a nightmare to be prevented by being very cautious about this 13’6″ Spec.

  13. Terry says:

    I’m wondering what the downfall would be of using a trailer with a metal deck. I already have one, I’m guessing it would add to the weight. Is this a bad idea? I thought maybe it would create of very good sealed floor and then add a subfloor. Any ideas?

  14. Steve says:

    Is there a secondary max width allowance for a permitted house move, such as might be done with a section of a mobile home with a wide load escort? If I don’t intend to move very frequently, it might be worth it, to allow me to build a wider house. I was thinking there is something between a permit-free and full blown road closer move.

  15. Chris says:

    You can pick up some great deals for second-hand trailers from Craigslist or even eBay. Obviously you’ve got to watch out for wear and tear, or rust in places that would be too hard to repair / change.

  16. Well I’ve heard of car trailers, motorbike trailers, flatbed trailers etc… but never house trailers! You learn something new every day ;)

  17. John says:

    What a great idea about the house on a trailer, I’d not seen one before but the portability must be really handy.

  18. Nate says:

    So the reason you can’t build your houses over the wheels are because that would make them over 13’6?

  19. Tabita says:

    Hi, I am planning to built a tiny home, but I am finding difficulties finding a used trailer. I am still a student so looking for something used, or affordable. I found a 16X7 used trailer as was wondering if you can build the floor frame out to reach 8′ wide? That means that the walls would not be directly on top of the trailer bed. I don’t know if it can work. What you think?

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