Why Wheels? A Case for Movable Tiny Houses

The term “tiny house on wheels” can be a source of considerable misunderstanding. Ease of mobility is all too closely related to transiency, bringing up creepy connotations for many the traditional home dweller. Also, any structure on wheels is often seen as only temporary. Recreational vehicles are only intended for short term stays; right?

Tens of thousands of people live full-time in RVs and travel trailers despite the “recreational” classification. Does that mean the quality of materials and construction is up to snuff with residential building codes? Nope. Does it mean they are automatically unsafe? Nope. Unfortunately, there are too many RVs with toxic materials, like formaldehyde that cause an array of upper respiratory symptoms, trigger asthma, and breathing problems. In the custom RV world, including widely popular school bus conversions, the quality of materials sky-rockets. In my opinion, these kinds of homes on wheels should be accepted as dwellings. While easily placed at RV parks and mobile home communities, finding your own land with no restrictions can be legally limiting. And people living in RVs or manufactured houses, are all too often considered “trailer trash.”

Historically, poor Americans moved into mobile homes because they couldn’t afford middle-class suburban homes. And because of this, basically, having less material wealth, these folks have been looked down upon from the start. Poverty is a complex issue, including institutional aspects. Additionally, there are many side effects from the lack of access to opportunities. It is understandably tough to wrap your head around what causes it and how it affects personal development. I reject the idea that poverty is directly caused by personal failings. It’s a complicated cycle, immensely difficult to escape.

Fear seems to be at the core of the stigma around the topic. Fear of the unknown. And there’s the fear of people taking resources away from you and your family, safety concerns, and negative impacts on property values. All of this plays a significant factor in the misconceptions around tiny housing in general. Understanding why someone would choose to live tiny is mind-boggling for so many, even if they like the “shows”. The idea that a neighbor would reject societal norms by embracing a strange kind of home makes some uncomfortable. It’s edgy.

Living in less expensive, or smaller structures of any kind is an intentional choice by a myriad of Americans. Not a brand-new concept but definitely one that is picking up steam. It’s a way to help tiny dwellers pursue their financial and/or lifestyle goals. Though, it is true that RVs and mobile homes are historically not durable long-term, even the most expensive motor-homes. Neither are they as homey, as a modern tiny house.


To create clarity in our tiny structure terminology, I think it’s essential to avoid mixing up terms relating to temporary shelter and full-time dwellings. A “tiny house” is a fully-functional dwelling with a kitchen, bathroom, and sleeping areas. If a structure lacks any of these items, then the term “tiny shelter”, or “micro shelter” should be used.

When we confuse these two terms, it waters down the meaning of a tiny house as a full-time home. My intention is not to look down upon tiny shelters for the homeless, but to ensure they are each accurately represented. Our country desperately needs to create more shelter and housing for those experiencing homelessness. It’s incredibly important. To best win the support of our communities for any tiny house project or regulation, we need to be clear with our terms and intentions.

Opportunity Village Eugene, micro-transitional shelter community

A “tiny house” or “tiny house community” has permanence. We, as advocates, can stress the durable, quality-built nature. A “tiny shelter” or “tiny shelter community” implies transitional and temporary. There is a place for these as a stop-gap measure to help get people out of dire situations.

SquareOne Villages provides an excellent example. They address the missing rungs of our American shelter and housing through their two kinds of villages. Opportunity Village Eugene is a micro-transitional community for those experiencing homelessness. Some residents have now transitioned to their new, beautiful Emerald Village, a low-cost permanent tiny home community.

Tiny houses on wheels are a hybrid structure. They bring together the mobility of travel trailer with the durable materials and construction techniques of a traditional house, making it entirely suitable for year-round living. A well-built THOW is highly insulated, sturdy, and customizable, from initial build to future home renovations. In general, they tend to be heavier and less nimble on the road, though not always the case.

Tiny House Expedition, a traveling THOW
Tiny House Expedition, a traveling THOW

Avoiding restrictive codes was one of the original intentions behind modern THOWs. But they quickly became attractive to many as a mobile asset. Whatever life changes arise, you can take your tiny home investment with you. Notably, we frequently traveling tiny house dwellers are only a small subset of the overall movement. The vast majority of movable tiny house dwellers only move one to three times ever.

Benefits of a Movable Tiny House

In my opinion, it is crucial to educate people about the value of a movable house. The term “movable tiny house” has a broader meaning than “tiny house on wheels.” It distances the housing type from the looked down upon “wheels” term and “transient” implication. Of course, in my view, these are based in fear and lack of understanding. But words have power, so why not choose a term to help our society wrap their heads around the benefits of this nontraditional housing type.

movable tiny houses as accessory dwelling units

The fact is a movable tiny house provides a highly valuable opportunity for communities needing to increase housing supply. Expanding housing stock is proven to help with affordability. And housing diversity leads to healthy, more equitable communities. Stigma is reduced when new or untraditional concepts are normalized, and when opportunities are available to a greater number of citizens.

The BIG benefit of movable home over a foundation-based house is this: starting right now, TODAY, we can place them in countless backyards, or on properties with a primary structure.

It is a kind of instant development that requires fewer infrastructure needs, translating into reduced costs and resources, for all involved–city, primary homeowner and tiny house dweller. Tiny houses and accessory dwellings of all kinds can add value to a property, not lower it.

The idea is that the presence of ADUs on the properties of your neighbors makes the whole environment denser and more urban, and thereby less desirable — which could affect the value of your property, even if you don’t have an ADU yourself. Is there any evidence for ADU effects on neighborhood property values, for good or bad?  The short answer is no. AccessoryDwellings.org

A movable tiny house is an investment in yourself, to achieve your goals of owning your first home, starting a risky new business or saving up to buy a larger home for your growing family, etc. Do not underestimate the value of a house that can be easily relocated. We need to talk about this more. Yes, it provides fabulous flexibility to move from place to place as desired. BUT as stated above, most people are not doing that often.

As a tiny homeowner experiences an infrequent big life change, like a new job in another city or state, he or she can relocate with their home. The real value is the significant cost and time savings it provides. And you could argue, it reduces the heartache and stress of hunting for a new home that meets your budget and lifestyle needs.

These are all movable tiny houses benefits that need to be clearly expressed, over and over, to our policymakers and neighbors.

The good news is slowly but surely, more and more cities are accepting movable tiny houses. Read all about San Luis Obispo’s newly approved zoning ordinance, allowing tiny houses as accessory dwelling units, in my recent post. It just went into effect. Hundreds of tiny houses could be legally placed in backyards across the city! Just imagine if the entire country allowed them by right…

What are other benefits of movable tiny homes? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

by Alexis Stephens, Tiny House Blog contributorM

My partner, Christian and I are traveling tiny house dwellers. Together we’ve been on the road three and a half years for our documentary and community education project, Tiny House Expedition. We live, breathe, dream the tiny home community every day. This is our life and our true passion. We are very grateful to be able to experience this inspiring movement in such an intimate way and to be able to share our exploration with all of you.


2 thoughts on “Why Wheels? A Case for Movable Tiny Houses”

  1. In one part of your article you say that on wheels means NOT having to meet building codes/zoning codes. In another part of your article you say that some cities are newly allowing on wheels to be placed in backyards, as if they were not allowed to be before this.

    You are saying two opposite ideas.

    Either “on wheels” has always used to mean NOT having to meet building codes/zoning codes, or it has always used to mean people DO have to meet building codes/zoning codes but that “some cities are newly changing that”.

    Your writing style is confusing.


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