Save Thousands on Your Micro House Project

Kevin Coy recently sent me a video on how to save thousands on your micro house project. In the video Kevin explains that buy buying a used RV, for a small sum, and then removing the important internals such as: heating, air conditioning, kitchen appliances, propane bottles, shower, toilet, and hot water heater can save you a ton of money. Keep in mind, it is important that you are careful when removing these items, but think of how much you can save by repurposing instead of buying new!

You can subscribe to Kevin’s series of videos on his channel here and follow him on his blog at http://kevinsmicrohomestead.wordpress.com/

Thanks Kevin for sharing your knowledge on the renewable way of buildin g a tiny house.

Kevin Coy

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Ozark Nick - January 19, 2012 Reply

This may not be as good an idea as it sounds.

My wife and I have been living in a 1986 30-foot fifth wheel for the past two years while we work at tearing down a dilapidated house on our property.

We purchased the camper instead of building a cabin on the place because it was getting on to winter and we wanted a place that was “ready-to-go.”

Now two years down the road we’re finding that RV and camper fixtures and appliances were not made to be used full-time. And things are starting to break down rapidly.

So keep that in mind.

    Katie - July 9, 2014 Reply

    Good point. That makes sense! Thanks for sharing.

    Paul - April 27, 2015 Reply

    It’s true that a lot of RV components may be constructed less durable, however, Even a house built 30 years ago would be riddled with items that need repair. Particularly the ones you mentioned. Lights and appliances. Also advances in technology LED lighting and energy consumption of appliances have come such a long way that updating those would behoove you.

Cayora - January 19, 2012 Reply

This is what I’m doing! It was my father’s idea, since he is helping with the construction. I may not use all of the appliances for energy efficiency issues as well as aesthetics, but I figure anything I can salvage will be helpful. And buying a camper trailer was about as or less expensive as buying a blank trailer to build on.

tinycottage - January 19, 2012 Reply

I have to agree with Ozark Nick. trailers/campers/etc. don’t seem to be built with sturdy, high quality materials. in a little home you’re small space is going to take the brunt of living in a big way! build with quality materials — it’ll last longer.

    Trim - November 14, 2012 Reply

    Unless you don’t have much money–then get by as best you can with cheaper salvaged items.

JJ - January 19, 2012 Reply

Thank you for sharing!
There are +/- for this practice. In opening this dialogue we have the potential to educate individuals so that they can determining if reuse might be suitable for their own applications.

I have long considered re-using reclaimed RV materials, but do have some reservations about the practical lifespan and safety of doing so. Ozark Nick makes a very valid point in sharing his own experience using a retro RV full-time.

I still think this can be a great way to reduce initial expenses or for temporary/seasonal situations. Reuse could buy a self-build the time to save up for a tank-less water heater or a modern efficiency fridge, without having to do without in the meantime.

And then what shall we do with the remainder of old the RV? Tear down and haul for scrap, tow to the junk yard, proud new owner of an ugly storage shed? Clean-up/disposal is a factor in selective reuse.

And still I DO feel that reclaimed RV parts are a great alternative for low cost start up, in fact I’ve been looking for a retro RV stove/oven unit myself. I am thrilled to see the dialogue open up on this subject, sharing knowledge, ideas, and experience with those who may be new to these practices and ideas.
Thanks again.

Macy Miller - January 19, 2012 Reply

I didn’t see anything in there about possibly re-using the actual trailer part, would that work? I know there are weight limits to each RV but they have proven to be difficult to find. Has anyone else had the experience of using the trailer for their tiny house and if so how has it worked out? I know RVs are designed to be lightweight but I am thinking an ‘older’ RV would be designed to hold a little more as technologies way back weren’t as advanced and therefor lightweight. Any incite is appreciated, this was something I was looking into before buying my trailer for my tiny house, I never did find enough information so I opted for a flatbed, but I have been asked about using an old RV trailer several times still. Thanks!
Macy

    Mariah Pastell - January 24, 2012 Reply

    Re-using the actual camper is a better idea in my opinion than emptying out a usable existing structure and leaving an empty shell that will feed the landfill. Depending on when the camper is from, the appliances will be of higher or lower quality: for example, the appliances in my 1950’s trailers work great because they were built to last back then. Appliances from a 1980’s camper? Not so much.
    Check out my website, http://www.cometcamper.wordpress.com, to see me turn an old camper into a full-time off-grid tiny house!

    I do think using an old camper is a great platform for an affordable tiny house…just not as a thing to harvest parts from. Vintage campers are made from resources that can be re-used, and their structures are perfect for converting into tiny houses.

    cometcamper.wordpress.com

Bryan - January 19, 2012 Reply

If this level of frugality is in the cards, may I suggest a different plan;

1. Buy a used RV or travel trailer
2. There is no step number two

    Carl in SC - January 20, 2012 Reply

    I think Bryan is right in that most people might just be better off to buy the used RV and do some upgrading on it, if needed, not taking it apart for reuse. That is for the diehard builder. I’ll take the easy route myself.

    Carolyn MVaussies - January 22, 2012 Reply

    You just can’t live in a RV in the cold weather, like where he is………..for long. Condensation, CONDENSATION. There is too little insulation vs weather tight non breathing walls, & single pane windows. Probably is why the inside looks the way it does, if you noticed the peeling walls,etc. I was forced too, & trashed a new 2004 31′ Travel Trailer. Which I am now rebuilding from the FRAME up as a Tiny House Trailer. 8′ x 26′ is foot print.

alice h - January 19, 2012 Reply

I also wondered about buying a used RV and gradually ‘converting’ it to something more houselike. I think lots of the older ones aren’t meant for heavy continuous use but with more people full timing in RV’s there are probably some newer ones that are sturdier than others. The advantage of the gradual plan is that you have somewhere to live right away and you can change things as you get the money. Definitely need more research on this.

steve du bois - January 19, 2012 Reply

What a great idea, thx for sharing the video…I am going to be buying my trailer in the spring…step one in building my tiny home but i keep coming across some of these trailers every once in a while and my first thought was always that they were not set up to live in with insuation, etc, but for salvagable parts this is great! Thanks!!!!

EmmaJ - January 19, 2012 Reply

Ozark Nick’s concern was also one that came to my mind, but I can still see some possibility to consider in this for things like sinks or other heavy-duty things.

The question of what to do with an empty hulking piece o’ junk is another question, along with the matter of locating a camper in poor enough condition to justify gutting.

Kevin, where did you find this ugly little disaster (in the kindest sense, of course 🙂 )? I looked on Craigslist, but didn’t find anything super promising.

Does anyone know if RVs are likely to be found in an auto salvage yard? If one could pick and choose from usable pieces and not get saddled with the bulky leftovers, that might be workable.

    http://kevinsmicrohomestead.wordpress.com/ - January 19, 2012 Reply

    This time of year you may see less of these little gems .but there are lots of them on craigslist and your local free shopper pennysaver nickle nik ect… you can resell them when your done .and recoupe some of your money .

    The fact that the parts still work after all these years is testament to there durability. but like anything due diligence is needed.

      et - January 20, 2012 Reply

      The fact that the parts still work can also be testament to the light/part time use of the parts.

      If you use the appliances full time you may find they have a shorter lifespan.

      Most RV parts are made with weight as a prime consideration, leading to compromises. Compare this to regular parts/appliances where weight is not considered.

Davidgibson - January 19, 2012 Reply

I agree that. Thanks for sharing

Engineer Guy - January 19, 2012 Reply

There’s more of these first Listings below on CL than I can copy. I looked at many of them on line, and a few in person. I’m typing this from my ’89 15′ turnkey Play-Mor Trailer that I got ultra clean, WITH an unused 3 kW Kipor Generator, for $2,250. Insta-Small House.

‘Holiday Rambler’ is a Four Seasons Trailer; well insulated, and a ‘bulletproof’ Aluminum Frame. The last 2 Listings below could probably be moved into and only remodeled cosmetically. Yes, some Trailer Brands are absolute rubbish. Research away… I’d buy a ’80s HR in a NY second.

I also have an ’83 31′ Avion; top of the line. I like mid-’80s in age because, from then on, most all the Subcomponents are interchangeable, and easy to still get parts for. When the Avion WH Control ‘Box’ went, a new one for $110- fixed the problem [and for many years into the future]. A few Companies ‘own’ their respective Markets: Fridges; Furnaces; WHs; and Pumps, etc..

RV Components are built to take Road Abuse; more so than Stick Built House Components [generally]. I’ve replaced and worked on both. Just pulling a Furnace, Toilet, Fridge and Sink from a $700- Trailer will save you money.

Travel Travel Frames generally WILL NOT take Small House weight. ‘C’ or Box Channel Frames are req’d, as on Flatbed or Car Hauler Trailers. Sell off a stripped Travel Trailer Frame for someone to make into a Yard Equipment Trailer for Mowers, or a Snowmobile Hauler, etc.. Windows are expensive. Salvage them for even a lil Greenhouse or ‘Artist’s Shed’.

I used neato ‘stuff’ from a House ‘parts’ Recycler in our latest Solar House. It makes for a good feeling…

The nature of Trailer items to run on +12 VDC is a plus for Off Grid Houses. Marine – like ‘Bluesea’ – and other such Electrical Gear is very heavy duty. As with most RV Fridges, mine runs on 115 VAC or Propane. Some also run on +12 VDC [3 way].

Folks remo their Travel Trailers to suit all the time. Most of the Dinettes are useless IMO, so out they go; replaced by fold-up Chairs and a multi-function Table. Trailers are super-easy to remo cosmetically.

These CL Listings will expire, and not link anymore, in 30 days maximum.

http://wyoming.craigslist.org/rvs/2806938433.html

http://wyoming.craigslist.org/rvs/2808707476.html

http://denver.craigslist.org/rvs/2773953428.html

http://denver.craigslist.org/rvs/2755950197.html

http://bluesea.com/

Annie Blair - January 20, 2012 Reply

I thought of that, too. And then I saw one of my favorite projects was built that way….

Abel Zimmerman Zyl - January 20, 2012 Reply

I reuse trailer frames. There are quite a few things to take into account… It would take a decent written article to sketch out enough info that a low budgeter could find/recondition them safely for building on. I do it, but then i have a welder and i repair them, or alter them as needs. There are plenty out there happily rusting in the moonlight…

I also sometimes go after appliances from RVs, and i DO have the same complaint… They are cheaply made, with a few notable exceptions. I usually test them in my shop before approving them for reuse. Gas appliances should be in good shape to be considered safe.

Anybody else soing this? I’d love to compare notes. It would save a bit of landfill space to see some of these objects through their useful lives.

Abel Zyl Zimmerman
Zyl Vardos
Olympia, WA

    Jennifer - July 15, 2015 Reply

    My parents have an older RV that I was considering buying from them. I think it’s called a class C, since you drive it and tow the car. I was wondering about the viability of tearing it down to the chassis/trailer and rebuilding it with a tiny house. I’m assuming I’ll have to select the components carefully for weight, but any other considerations any one can think of? The motor and drive train are still sound, the interior has just sat for so long that it needs a complete rebuild/reupholster before it can be used.

brian lee - January 21, 2012 Reply

This works well its exactly what i did four years ago, it save me a bundle!

Larry - January 21, 2012 Reply

Wow,
Thats a great Idea.
my friend suggested that to our company as well.
it would save a lot of money on construction cost.
like you said. I didn’t take his suggestion
because I thought that people wouldn’t want used equipment.looks like I will need to rethink that.

http://www.besttinyhomes.com

-Larry

barb - January 22, 2012 Reply

I own a 13′ Road Runner travel trailer. It is a marvel of space planning and liveability. I adore it. It is not well made. Many parts are cheaply made plastic and it would not withstand full time use.

I would hesitate to use a 20 year old outlet just to save $20. Alternatively, you could probably salvage the less critical pieces, such as the ubiquitous “dinette/bed” found in most trailers, the shelving or drawers or possibly the sink.

Re-using an old RV is a good idea, but you may wish to keep an eye out for the quality of the items; particularly if those items are related to safety.

renter insurance concord - January 23, 2012 Reply

What a great idea, thx for sharing the video…I am going to be buying my trailer in the summer…step one in building my tiny home but i keep coming across some of these trailers every once in a while and my first thought was always that they were not set up to live in with insuation, etc, but for salvagable parts this is great! Thanks!!!!

Mo - January 23, 2012 Reply

I’m looking forward to following this project.

We bought a trailer to use while we were building our cabin. I considered salvaging but was able to re-sell the trailer for close to what I paid so it was a year’s worth of cheap rent. Far from ideal in Winter though… Man those things get cold and use a lot of fuel to heat.

sesameB - January 23, 2012 Reply

This knowledge is so valuable. I will continue to follow his work as well. We have a used trailer on our property, but it is now being used as storage.
Re-using an old RV is a good idea, but you may wish to keep an eye out for the quality of the items; particularly if those items are related to safety. This is so correct. We have had this old TV for 10 years now, it has been tarped and tied down with climbing rope for protection year around and it has been locked for security reasons. There are no broken windows, and it is located on the back of 4 acres.
Barefootin’ in rural Arkansas, drinking spring water and loving our mild winters

sesameB - January 23, 2012 Reply

Woman, 91, Is Oldest Female Inmate
by Laura Sullivan July 26, 2005

NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I’m Robert Siegel.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I’m Michele Norris.
The number of elderly inmates in US prisons has tripled over the past 10 years, and not just men. There are now more elderly women behind bars than ever before. Yesterday, we heard about one of the oldest men in prison. Today, we meet the oldest incarcerated woman, 91-year-old Lucille Mary Keppen. She committed her crime just three years ago. NPR’s Laura Sullivan found her in Shakopee, Minnesota.
LAURA SULLIVAN reporting:
Here in the quiet suburbs of Minneapolis, in a modern brick facility with carpeted floors and dormlike rooms, lives the oldest female prisoner in the United States.

Mike - June 6, 2014 Reply

Well, this is a bad idea. You can’t even get the old propane bottles refilled anymore, it was regulated we go to a newer, safer design. Personally, I wouldn’t have any aged gas furnace or hot water heater in my home, especially one from an RV or camper, I would use the gas stove though if I could get new safe lines going to it and was sure of its valves. Better air conditioners are available too at Home Depot and they’re cheap and efficient. I would use cabinets and drawers and things like this though, etc. But then there is a remaining problem, you have a derelict camper on your property and now someone has to dispose of it unless you’re using every single piece of it, which you won’t. Disposal is expensive. My guess is any person doing this will do it once and never again. If you’re going to build a small house, then build it, if you can’t afford too then work and save so you can. And yes, there certainly are some things of value in an old camper, buy them from the guy that owns the camper and leave the shell on his property.

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