Just What Are Park Models

We have established that tiny houses are less than 400 square feet, right? I mean, that is the definition anyway.1 I can’t say I personally believe that but we’ll go with it anyway. Lately though tiny houses on wheels have taken on the shape of a small house, with some being built on triple axle goosenecks and measuring 38′ in length presumably by 8’3″ at least. That comes in at roughly 313 square feet. That certainly does counts as a tiny house it seems. But wait. By that definition shouldn’t a park model be considered a tiny house then? Ask some purists and the answer is no. In fact, the answer is a rather indefatigable no! But why not? I’ve heard a number of reasons.

  • Park models aren’t meant to be mobile.
  • They are built in a factory, moved to one location, and then essentially removed from their axles and tongue making them stationary.
  • They measure 10 ft. – 12ft. in width.

The list really does go on. But let’s figure out just what a park model is.

To quote directly from the RVIA website:

On July 1, 2012, RVIA created a new membership category for manufacturers of park model RVs (PMRVs). A park model RV (also known as a recreational park trailer) is a trailer-type RV that is designed to provide temporary accommodation for recreation, camping or seasonal use. PMRVs are built on a single chassis, mounted on wheels and have a gross trailer area not exceeding 400 square feet in the set -up mode. They are certified by their manufacturers as complying with the ANSI A119.5 standard for recreational park trailers.

Oh man! Now I’m really confused. This park model thingee is built on a trailer-type chassis and it does not exceed 400 square feet. Doesn’t that mean it is a tiny house? According to Wikipedia (the world’s most well-known model of openly editable content), it does. So why all the hate on park models then? Why in a polite discord do park models get such a bad wrap? I don’t know either. What I do know is that park models are really quite cool and also offer a great alternative to those who feel many tiny houses are just too small, too narrow, and too constricting for their needs.


The park model in its most popular form seems to be a revision of the lesser known two-story mobile home created in the 1950s by Pacemaker Trailer Company in Elkhart, Indiana.

Courtesy of Eleanor Caputo

The modern park model is smaller in size than those Pacemaker Bi-Levels (perhaps because of DOT laws?) of the 1950s but still every bit as fun and functional. They are named as such because while they are recreation vehicles they are designed for long(er)-term living or permanent placement and are most frequently found in RV or mobile home parks. A typical floor plan consists of a living area, a kitchen(ette), a bathroom, and a rear bedroom. A number of park models now feature lofts as well albeit they have truncated ceiling heights and are most suitable for lying down than hanging out. Aesthetics aside though the park model of today is again an evolution of style and amenities but one that acts as a response for a desire for quality housing at an affordable price. In fact, one of the newest park model communities – Village Farm Austin – features four different home park model styles already on site with water, sewage, cable TV, Wifi, and electricity, with starting prices at just $69,995. Considering the median price for a comparable sticks ‘n bricks home in the same area but on a private lot (as opposed to in an RV community) is $271,000, it seems the park model does in fact answer that demand.

In recent years the park model has possible become most popular as a second home or a “snowbird” home for retired people looking to spend the winter months in warmer climates. In fact, areas like central Florida, South Florida, the Gulf Coast and the Palm Springs region in California, are quite populated by RV communities and park models. Oftentimes park model square footage is expanded by screened rooms or lanais (screened or glassed-in verandas that act as living rooms) that allow for an even more expanded footprint.

All this to say that park models are truly not tiny houses or small houses or mobile homes or manufactured houses (actually, they are all of those) but just homes. They are shelters from the storm, a refuge from the outside world. They are where families gather, share meals, enjoy a laugh, comfort each other, and make memories. And as a matter of fact, wouldn’t it be nice if we took the labels away from all houses including tiny houses and just looked at them all as homes, no matter the size or style? Not all houses will be for everyone. But for everyone, there should be a house.

What do you think? Have you ever seen a park model? Do you like the idea of park models? Would you live in one? Let us know in the comments below!

By Andrew M. Odom for the [Tiny House Blog]





1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiny_house_movement

13 thoughts on “Just What Are Park Models”

  1. I love your conclusion here. I live in a park model with my family of four, and I find that people who are not into the Tiny House Movement definitely see our home as Tiny, but it is big by the standards of others.

    I think rather than focusing so much on size and definitions, we would better serve everyone by encouraging mindfulness and simple living regardless of the size of the houses we live in. “Tiny” is a relative term, but everyone understands the meaning of “home.”

  2. I think the labels have more to do with social class than definition. When referring to homes under 400 SF that are delivered on wheels to a site where they may or may not remain permanently:

    If they are working class domiciles surrounded by weeds and brush, they are “Trailers”.

    If they are working class domiciles surrounded by manicured lawns and shrubbery, they are “Mobile Homes”.

    If they are handmade and creatively designed homes for people of artistic sensibilities, they are “Tiny Houses”

    If they are status symbols for the affluent, they are “Park Models”

    • I get where you’re going with your reply, especially seeing some of the very high-end park models that are out there, but whether one considers park models as tiny homes or not, they are their own very specific legal category of thing. The simplest way to put it is that they’re mobile homes or manufactured homes that are built to RV standards. They have a max size of 400 sqft., and can only be placed in RV parks. And while those expensive ones can be status symbols, especially in pricey resort areas, like manufactured homes, they run the gamut of price and can be had new for as little as $20k.

  3. Interesting comment about being only placed in RV parks. I’m going to check on that, as one of the options I am looking at is to put a Park Model on my own land. I’d love to have a THOW, but at 72 I’m not convinced I want to pull it around the country. I’ve looked at the Park Models, and the new ones are quite “green:” high R values, Split heating/AC systems, on-demand hot water, low LOC paint, bamboo floors, low e windows, thermopane doors, etc. Andrew, thanks for writing this piece. Really enjoy the blog. Have it on the computer and phone as well.

  4. Love Park models….there’s no doubt they are tiny houses…the THOW are really only different because of quicker mobility….there are even 10′ wide THOW so it’s silly saying a park model isn’t. in my opinion it’s about lifestyle with less….not label’s

  5. Skooj, I’m not sure I agree with what you said about Park models only being able to be put in RV parks and that they are for the affluent. I’ve been researching THOW and park models for a year. I have found the THOW to be more expensive and the park models very affordable for this 60 yr old looking to downside. Also, I will be putting my PM on my own property with no objections from my parish.

    • Hi Nancy. I’m sorry if my comment wasn’t as clear. I was replying to a previous poster that said park models were “status symbols for the affluent. I know that some can be very expensive, but also pointed out that I’ve seen new ones for less than $20k… very reasonable compared to some alternatives. As far as RV park placement only, I’ll admit I’m not 100% certain on that. I know they’re built to RVIA standards and not HUD standards like mobile homes. I read that they could only be placed in RV parks, and not mobile home communities. I’m not sure what the restrictions of placement on private property are, which may vary by municipality.

  6. I have lived full time for the last three years in a park model. To me it is my tiny home. It fulfils my idea of a tiny home lifestyle living with a smaller footprint and living in a community of like minded people. They are off their axels true but many other tiny homes are ground set eventually.

  7. The legal definition of “park model” as designed and built by RVIA certified builders is that they are not to be occupied all year round. Many (most?) RV parks also have rules against living in their park models full-time. The traditional park model was built like a mobile home with inadequate insulation and less expensive (i.e. cheap) materials. Attractiveness was never a selling point. This is changing but people’s perceptions are slow to react. Many newer park model designs have as much character and creativity as the better known 8′ wide THOW’s. There’s no reason why a builder of THOW’s can’t build a longer, wider house that can be comfortably lived in full-time in any climate (where there are roads). But we may have to continue calling them THOW even if they are 10′ wide and 40′ long, for awhile longer. However, if you are going to build a house that will not be moved then give serious thought to building on a foundation either modular or stick-built. You will be warmer; your house will last longer; you can get a mortgage. And it doesn’t have to cost any more.

  8. Lovin’ my PM. 399sf 2 lofts with stairs between for an extra 175sf. My title codes it as RV, but who cares. If I need to move it from south TX to northern FL (future plan) will cost less than $1500. Not really that mobile, but still moveable. I am currently located on a private lot in a small RV park. Had to upgrade electrical to 100 amp due to washer, dryer, electric stove top and micro/convection oven.

  9. I think that some localities allow park models for zoning purposes but do not allow THOWs (thinking of Jackson County, NC, for instance). Some THOW manufacturers build and label their homes with park model designations to perhaps game the localities into accepting the THOWs anyway. I don’t mean this in a bad way. I think localities are trying to respond to what I call “Housing Spectrum”: i.e., allowing people to live in a variety of structures, styles and sizes, while still maintaining some form of standards for fire, electrical and health. I think manufacturers are trying to see where they can get their products to be accepted. I think this is a health discussion!


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