Portability of a Movable Tiny House (MTH), Tiny House on Wheelsl (THOW), is one of the greatest attractors to the concept of a Portable Dwelling Unit (PDU). Transportation options vary based on a few key details of a specific unit.
Know Your Home - Here are the basics to consider when designing your tiny house.
- Width - If your Movable Tiny House is less than 8'-6" in width in "travel mode," you shouldn't need a Wide Load Permit. Remember, this measure is from the greatest distance measured from outside-to-outside of your home. In most cases, this will be the drip edges on the long edge of your roofing, though other items may protrude (like exterior lighting), so be sure to measure items at the outer most extreme. When designing a tiny house, all aspects of a home's finished construction should be considered and addressed early.
- Height - A unit that is less than 13'-6" in height usually won't require an Oversized Load Permit. Oversized in this case could simply be called "too tall," and that's not a good thing. Here too address your height early in the design phase to ensure the upper most elements of your home -- ridge cap, vent pipes, stove pipes -- are below this upper most limit.
- Length - For this metric, the overall length of your tiny house is a contributor to its weight, and therefore has some impact on your towing. The longer your tiny house the more important it is to appropriately size your "power unit." Size in this scenario is both the power unit's towing strength, bulk compared to the house, and wheelbase. A longer and heavier power unit is less likely to become jack-knifed by a long heavy house.
- Weight - In the US, weight isn't currently an issue. During design be certain to give careful consideration to your overall weight, as well as the distribution of weight. Purchase a purpose-built tiny house trailer with axles matching your anticipated Gross Vehicle Weight Ratio (GVWR), which is the total weight of your trailer, finished home, all appliances, and other cargo you anticipate towing with your tiny house. When in doubt, always "round" your anticipated weight.
- Axles - The total weight of your tiny house will often dictate varying types of wheel/axle assemblies you could consider for your house. Of course, you'll want more capacity of your total GVWR than your anticipated weight. Adding more wheel/axle assemblies has tradeoffs such as a more distributed load (a good thing) balanced against the extra up-front cost of adding extra equipment and long-term maintenance (most notably tire and brake replacement).
- Braking - Having brakes on your tiny house trailer is critical. Your house is heavy and should be able to slow itself during braking. Most trailers with less than 10,000 GVWR may only have on braking axle; adding a second braking axle to your tiny house trailer may add more up front cost, but you'll be glad you have the extra stopping power when you need it. If you step up to a 14,000 GVWR trailer or more, consider having your metal fabrication team use brake axles for all wheel/axle assemblies.
Do-It-Yourself or Go Pro - Now let's talk about types of tiny house transportation.
- Roll Your Own - Towing your own tiny house is a great way to handle tiny house transportation. You won't typically need special permits if: A) your tiny house trailer is legally licensed and B) is less than 8'-6" and 13'-6" in travel mode. An Oversized Load where height is exceeded my require an excort vehicle (AKA: Pole Car). While you may "pull permits" on your own, some conditions may require your driver to have a Commercial Driver's License (CDL).
- Pro-Towing - This is great option if you are unfamiliar with trailer towing, especially a large, bulky, hard-to-stop towed vehicle (like a tiny house on wheels). Professional transportation companies handle all the details for you. They are likely to ask questions related to the items outlined above (especially height, width, length, and weight).
Size Matters - Let's take a look at vehicles typically considered for tiny house transportation.
- Passenger Car - May be used to pull light loads including pop-up campers, teardrop trailers, and other small campers.
- Van/SUV - Same as above though may have greater towing capacity. These are a great option for vardos and other small campers, but not likely a tiny house. Some SUVs may have greater towing capacity than they can reasonably stop; this is espcially true of shorter SUVs (e.g. Jeep or Toyota FJ) where the short wheel base makes it easy to become jack-knifed by a load it cannot appropriately stop.
- 1/2 Ton Truck - Same as above, though may have the capacity to pull slightly larger campers and a very small tiny house like a 12' of less than 5,000 GVWR. Examples of 1/4 ton trucks are the Ford F-150 and 1500 series trucks from Dodge, Chevy, and GMC.
- 3/4 Ton Truck - A larger towing capacity is generally the hallmark of the Ford F-250 and 2500 series trucks from other US manufacturers. You may be able to pull a small to medium sized tiny house (12'-18' with 5,000 - 7,500 GVWR) with a 1/2 ton truck.
- 1 Ton Truck - These are your best bet for towing your own tiny house. Vehicles in this class are readily available in the aftermarket as a Ford F-350 and 3500 series from other manufacturers are used as light duty commercial vehicles.
Fuel Type - Hands down, when towing diesel power wins over gasoline engines.
2WD vs 4WD - 4 wheel drive isn't an imperative part of the recipe for towing your tiny house. That said, if you ever need 4 wheel drive, you'll wish you had it. If you don't have 4-wheel drive, consider beefing up your tires so you have some grip on roadways where you might need some extra traction, like gravel driveways and grass covered camp sites.
Tire Choice - Blowouts are the bane of trailer towing. The heavier your load, the hotter your tires will become during travel. Your purpose built tiny house trailer should come with new mult-ply tires made for utility trailers. For your truck, check out a commerical quality 10-ply tire like the Michelin LTX or other quality brands.
Which One's the Best? - Opinions on the best tow vehicle vary. Check discussion boards for opinions on the best make, vehicle year, engine type/size, and transmission type/gearing. RV discussion forums include lots of great details (and back-n-forth banter) on what's the best. See what folks are using for big RVs as the principle's the same.
Double-Check Specs - Of course, check the owner's manual of your vehice or any you consider buying for stock specs.
Extra Equipment - If you're planning to tow a lot, there are lots of things you can do to protect your investment in tow vehicle and a portable home. Where a house hates water, heat is generally your truck's worst enemy. Start with a tuner so you can "drive by the numbers." You might also add oil and/or transmission coolers, which are like little radiators to help keep things cool.
When it comes down to it, there isn't one right answer, but hopefully the above will help you start making selections to meet your needs. For our part, we have a 10 year old Ford F-350 long bed with a crew cab, 6.4L diesel, and bomb proof transmission. We have a tuner on the dash, and when things go from green to yellow, we simply slow down to keep things cool. Below the minimum speed, we'll kick on the flashers and drive with the trucks in the right lane.
Got more questions or want to discuss your needs? Just give me a call.
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