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Couple Build Stealth Tiny House for $2k in 5 Weeks

Guest Post 2013 6 x 12 Cargo Trailer Camper/bug out/suite build – By B. Winger

At first we wanted a vintage canned ham trailer, but most needed too much rebuilding, then we thought about building a teardrop, but after seeing cargo trailer conversions we were sold!

We started out with a 6X 12’ cargo trailer that we bought for $1200, brought it home took out the thin plywood it had on the interior, and started from there.

Our budget was $2000, and since $1200 was used for the purchase of the cargo trailer we had $800 leftover for the actually camper build, and thought we wouldn’t be able to get much accomplished, but to our surprise we were able to do it all, as we wanted… By the way the tags are permanent and registration title and tags were only $15…

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Read the rest of the story and take the entire tour of this stealth cargo trailer tiny house below:

The trailer was in good shape and also had brakes installed when we bought it, however the thin plywood wouldn’t work so with the blank interior we fitted 1” foam insulation from top to bottom including the ceiling, added a 30 amp electrical system that can be hooked up to any 30 amp RV hookup, generator, or with a simple extension cord to the house, it has 4 double wall electrical plug-ins, 2 light switches, and also features 3 separate breakers to isolate items such as the 5500 AC unit on its own circuit, and the microwave circuit, and the lights circuit. The electrical was easy, and essentially has 3 circuits to handle individual loads, however the entire trailer with LEDs and low watt Microwave, and 5500 BTU AC barely works the generator. Everything electrical can be used simultaneously without overload (Try that in a conventional RV using only a single 110 volt power source)

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We installed LED lighting throughout with a total of 7 very bright efficient lights. And I used a very powerful used computer CPU fan for the bathroom closet exhaust system, and had the intake fresh air to the bathroom piped in with a flapper valve underneath the chemical toilet, so when the CPU fan is turned on the lower intake flapper valve opens automatically and creates a fresh air system. Having Native Hawaiian blood myself, we also chose to Tattoo the bathroom exterior wood by burning in a Hawaiian motif into it.  The interior of the bathroom closet was wallpapered using old #00 and #1 comic books we had in an old box collecting dust….I hope none were worth too much money, because now their bathroom reading material permanently!

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We used a corian brand countertop that we found at a local used bldg supply house (most of the materials used were purchased this way except toilet, TV, and AC unit) and fit almost perfectly in the trailer.

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After finishing the electrical, and insulation, we put a vapor barrier on the walls and ceiling along with painted (scratch and dent paint at Home depot) wallboard and created an airtight trailer interior. I had gotten the aluminum diamond plate sheet from doing some help for a neighbor, and we installed that as backsplash for the kitchen area.

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At this point I had several pieces of wood left over from another project and underlayment wood, so we then fabricated cabinet structures and installed nice used cabinet doors also bought from used bldg supply for $1 each, and paid 50 cents each for the nice German made hinges. Once the cabinets were finished we fabricated a bathroom closet and also insulated that to be sound proof, used old comic books as wallpaper, and installed the toilet.

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The flooring was epoxied, and sealed then vinyl flooring was installed, and then all the trim was installed on everything to finish it off. For added sound deadening we added carpet remnants picked up for free in the sleeping area.

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We then built a lightweight PVC bed frame with 10 legs and plenty of under-bed cargo space, that also folds up and gives way to 48”x69” of cargo space in the back if transporting a quad or other stuff.

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Video

We found the windows at a Used RV center for $15 each, and we welded reinforcement angle to the steel framing as to not weaken the structure by installing windows. The doors were all filled with spray foam for added insulation, and an added window installed on the side door.

After realizing the camper was almost too airtight, we installed a roof vent, and added a vent under the cabinet that piped in fresh air. Carbon monoxide monitors were installed, and finally a nice unused bed from an old fold out couch was used, along with a memory foam topper which fit like a glove.

We came in at our budget of $2000, and took a small trip across country in it, staying at several RV resorts, KOA campgrounds, and national forests. The camper worked flawlessly and stayed warm in colder temps and cooler in hotter temps. It only weighs 2000 lbs, thanks to my former aircraft fabrication skills, and carefully thought through design. The camper is literally almost sound proof, and even with the TV or stereo up full volume is hardly heard outside of the closed camper. Both myself and my wife fit perfectly in the camper along with the dog. I am 5-10” and the wife is 5-0”. Next will be a solar system, and after the initial trip I have since installed a tongue mounted generator. The water is handled by a 5 gallon gravity system, with a 5 gallon grey water catch can underneath the stainless sink that was purchased for $2 at the goodwill thrift.  I also got lucky with a 25 ft 30 amp RV cord I found at another thrift store brand new for $10….

Overall it took 5 weeks to build, and $2000, if you don’t include the TV, and generator OR LABOR, haha…..It can be done on a budget, we did it. The labor was intensive, but fun, and reminded me of fabricating private jet aircraft interiors, which I have done a few of.

If we do it again I will next purchase a Car hauler cargo trailer 7’X16’ variety, and fabricate a full bathroom next time, install a bigger water system along with pumps and larger capacity tanks, and for sure a solar system or a quick erect wind gen. .

We have a new RV or SUV awning idea, we may trademark and patent soon, and certainly will be installing it on our next build.

Hope you all like our build and hope it inspires more people to fabricate a DIY camper…We had loads of fun, and even more fun using it. We have only used it a couple of times, but loved it, we didn’t want to come home, and instead wanted to just keep camping….thus the idea for a bigger car hauler build conversion now….

The trailer is currently up for sale on Phoenix Craigslist for $4800(sold) (http://phoenix.craigslist.org/evl/rvs/4505136952.html) . Even though we only spent $2000 to build the trailer, much labor and planning went into the build, so overall we saved money building it, and in doing so will pass on the savings to the new owner.

If you enjoyed how this man built his own DIY stealth tiny house for only $2,000 in 5 weeks then you’ll LOVE our Free Daily Tiny House Newsletter with even more!

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Alex

Alex is a contributor and editor for TinyHouseTalk.com and the always free Tiny House Newsletter. He has a passion for exploring and sharing tiny homes (from yurts and RVs to tiny cabins and cottages) and inspiring simple living stories. We invite you to send in your story and tiny home photos too so we can re-share and inspire others towards a simple life too. Thank you!
{ 82 comments… add one }
  • Joyce Rader June 20, 2014, 4:51 pm

    I like the cabinetry and back splash. 2000 pounds finished? Many trainers have a dry weight that can easily go over that. Thanks for sharing.

    • Brian February 22, 2015, 6:24 pm

      Dry weight was 1300 lbs on this specific trailer, single axle design helped. we added 700 lbs worth of “stuff”. The idea was to construct it like an aircraft, foam honeycomb walls, and use of aircraft design helped keep the weight manageable for a v6 truck with no problem pulling hills at 75 mph.

  • Kate June 20, 2014, 4:52 pm

    I really enjoyed this experience you shared with us. I also have a utility storage trailer (slightly larger) as I’m preparing to move soon. It may well be that I may also attempt this. I’ve seen one other project but I like your results better.
    Glad you got some use out of it before it was sold.

    • Brian February 22, 2015, 6:28 pm

      Thank you!, it was a joy to build. My wife and I are in the stages of “collecting” for the next project. In the interim, we have added a sleeping box to our 4runner, complete with fold out kitchen, which leaves us a sleeping footprint of 7’x 52″ plenty for us two, which we use for our mountain excursions overnight escaping the big city, just until we get the next conversion finished.

      • John Mawk February 23, 2015, 10:58 pm

        Can you send in a link to pictures of how you your 4runner project works? Thanks

        • brian March 12, 2015, 5:19 am

          @ John Mawk.. I will try and make a YouTube video of the 4Runner sleeping platform this weekend, and I’ll post a link here. It’s a folding platform with remove able pic legs that unfolds when the rear seats are folded up. It has hinged Fold up compartment doors on either side that fold Down over the wheel humps to create a flat platform the entire width of our 4Runner. Out back there are two long drawers with flush mount D shape tie down latches as the handles with diamond plate faced. It also has a compartment in the front with a lock for those hunting trips and safe secure foam padded rifle stowage. The back drawers have on one side a Coleman propane stove and when pulled out sets up as a chuck type kitchen. The other drawer has lots of storage space and when pulled out creates a counter platform for the chuck type kitchen. I added a tan heavy duty privacy and bug screen inside of the rear window that attaches via Velcro, so it can be taken off when not in use. My 4Runner windows have limo tint already (mandatory in Arizona summers), but we also made privacy screens using those silver windshield screens that attach to each window in the rear via suction cups. When the hatch is open we use a pop up tent with bug screens as the porch. The dog sleeps on a cargo carrier rack with his bed pillow mounted to the tow hitch. Look for YouTube link soon

  • david June 20, 2014, 5:10 pm

    It’s terrific. Great job.

  • david June 20, 2014, 5:15 pm

    Hey, how about this..in big black block print you could have the word CARGO , written across front. Get the sticker from a sign shop. Would look great! pick the font you want. Or… EXPLOSIVES.

    • sandra cieklinski February 23, 2015, 3:38 pm

      he needs a sticker that says: I go where I’m towed to.

  • Linda June 20, 2014, 6:42 pm

    Can anyone tell me how he removes the utility can that’s underneath the kitchen sink? With the pipe running down into it, even it only an inch or so, I can’t see any way to get the can out unless you can turn it around and then try to tilt it by pulling on the bottom of it. ????

    • CathyAnn June 20, 2014, 8:10 pm

      I wondered that myself.

      I sure like what was done to the trailer. Very inspiring.

    • Brian June 25, 2014, 1:48 am

      The grey water utility container simply slides freely out once the drain spout is unscrewed. Easy peezy, takes 30 seconds…

      • Marcy February 23, 2015, 4:25 pm

        Thanks for the explanation. I’ve seen this 5 gallon set up in a couple of houses and wondered how they would get the water can under there without spilling water all over.

      • Bob Pauls April 19, 2015, 3:59 pm

        You could alternatively use a flexible sink drain:
        http://www.abocaratonhomeinspector.com/node/323

        • Alex April 19, 2015, 10:33 pm

          That’s pretty cool! I’ve never seen that before.

        • Marcy July 17, 2015, 12:50 pm

          Thanks, Bob. I’m as big a fan of PVC pipe as the next person, but I kept wondering why something flexible was not used.

      • Brian Toups November 2, 2015, 6:57 am

        in process of building…………nice job!

        for the drain, may plump in underside of trailer or sidewall? just a thought

  • bob June 20, 2014, 6:46 pm

    Hats off…………great job!

  • Thomas June 20, 2014, 9:03 pm

    With regards to Linda’s question. The pipe is threaded on or off.

  • TomLeeM June 20, 2014, 9:12 pm

    I think that is really stealthy. The outside does not reveal how nice it is on the inside.

  • Marsha Cowan June 20, 2014, 10:13 pm

    Pretty amazing place for only two grand! Great job! And very pretty even though it is built for stealth 🙂 lol!

  • Sally Schrock June 20, 2014, 11:21 pm

    Wow! I am very, very impressed with your ingenuity and creativity. I am inspired and it appears that quite a few others are as well. Bravo!

  • coffeewitholiver June 21, 2014, 2:52 am

    Just so well crafted ~ I was looking at the pictures and wondering how you managed to do such a good job on the details, until I read you fabricated the interior of private jets ~ no wonder! I wish I had some of your skills! Hope I find pictures of your next project, as it sounds interesting.

  • Brian June 21, 2014, 5:30 am

    Iam the builder of this little camper…Thanks for the nice comments. I sold this camper but Installed a hand pump marine faucet, and converted the bed to sit higher for the new owner, added a few other items as well. In my mind I never really finished it, as the ideas to keep making it better never ceased, although those ideas will transfer to the next build. Thanks again for the nice comments and Thank You Alex for sharing my story and build with others.

    • Alex August 20, 2014, 4:43 pm

      Thank you Brian. Let us know what you are up to next please! :))

    • Dawn October 5, 2014, 6:44 pm

      Great Build! and what vehicle did you use to haul it at 2K lbs?
      thanks

    • Mary Jo Bailey February 25, 2015, 10:29 am

      I love this trailer and would really like to see how you do the larger one with a bathroom.

  • Hank June 21, 2014, 7:11 am

    Thank you for posting this entry. So impressive in so many ways. The aesthetics and function are all so well taken care of, smartly and economically, all the while keeping the weight down. It has it all. Building with a trailer is one of the options I am considering as well, and one of the aspects that I learned from this article is that it is possible to get a really good layout in only a 6′ by 12′ trailer. I also liked how you addressed the venting issues (and moisture issues with the vapor barrier) about which I have often wondered reading other entries. Figuring this out (as someone who has not built but who will be building next year): For both small houses and converted trailers, I am getting that a great way to go (for efficient insulation, heating) is to make the structure air tight and then add in venting outlets (with CO monitor). Love how you did the electrical. So many detailed questions answered here with understandable description. Thank you.

    • Brian June 25, 2014, 2:00 am

      When building the shell…It helped to imagine building a giant igloo cooler, with vapor barrier of course since the outer-skin and frame was aluminum and steel construction respectively. 1 inch foam insulation in the shell, and spray foam in the hollow doors worked better than expected (except dont overfill the doors with spray foam it”ll pillow them out when expansion takes place, also helps to drill some relief holes that are covered later).

  • Wilhelm June 21, 2014, 8:48 am

    Nice Job and nice Layout except for the AC, I would put it up High where it should be. Just saying.

    • Brian June 25, 2014, 1:50 am

      Agreed!, my next build will include a roof mount AC unit…, although this little unit worked excellent the way it was designed and vented.

  • Amy Vickers June 21, 2014, 9:25 am

    Oh not me, Wilhelm….I love the tucked away AC….just wondering…is there a vent to the outside…has to be…and how do you drain the condensation?
    I hate the look of an ac sticking out of a wall…this is perfect…

  • Helen gordon June 21, 2014, 5:04 pm

    Guess they were on a tight budget. Little dark and dreary for my taste. But did not see it before. Amazing it only took them 5 weeks.,

    • Alex August 20, 2014, 4:43 pm

      The work of a pro!

    • Gpa February 29, 2016, 8:59 am

      @ Helen Goelsewhere…Dark and dreary? (Um, no) Tight budget? (That was the point)

      Always a negative ninnie in the bunch with their passive agressive remarks. Oy.

      AWESOME JOB….. my wife and I are about to start our conversion and this info has helped tremendously. Can’t wait to see your next build!

  • Luciano June 22, 2014, 3:08 am

    Inspiring article and beautifully crafted design.

    Question: Are schematics/detailed prints available? If so, please advise how to obtain.

    Most Respectfully,

    Luciano

  • Claudia June 22, 2014, 2:40 pm

    Wow, you did an amazing job of combining aesthetics and function without spending a ton of money! I like how you left the exterior plain, so you’re always in stealth mode, plus it’s handy that the trailer stayed so light despite offering all the amenities.

    Thanks for sharing 🙂

  • Glema June 24, 2014, 7:09 pm

    Your tat is beautiful and the trailer is cool. Nice job! God bless you and yours Bug out/camping/living. Happy trails!

  • Lisa Lucas August 20, 2014, 5:24 pm

    Very Well Done! Everyone always has ideas after the fact that will make things work better for them, but I love this. Fasten a big insect screen across the back and enjoy the night air. Kudos

    • Alex August 20, 2014, 6:45 pm

      Thanks Lisa!

    • Brian February 22, 2015, 6:31 pm

      Thank you! We actually though about a pull out canopy/Awning with bug screen walls for the back, maybe on the next build!.

  • Marie August 20, 2014, 8:29 pm

    What a fabulous job you two have done!!! I don’t have your top quality fabrication skills but you’ve still given me some great inspiration Thanks for sharing the photos of the fun décor, build-out notes and great ingenuity along the way. Cheers!

  • 2BarA August 20, 2014, 11:16 pm

    Clever, resourceful and efficient–terrific job!

  • Deborah August 23, 2014, 8:30 am

    Boy, the buyers got a great deal! So nice to see someone who doesn’t try and charge $$$$$.

  • Elle September 2, 2014, 2:59 pm

    Wow, “bug out” plus! All this for $800.00 -outstanding. Uncluttered and still has everything you need including storage. Love the turtle-tat. Good choice too; gentle with wisdom and longevity. Lived in HI -thought I died and went to heaven. This is definitely one I’d love to see more of, with any changes, additions you’ve made. Thank you for sharing. 🙂

    • Brian February 22, 2015, 6:36 pm

      Thank you very much, and Aloha!, My great,great grandfather was the first Native Hawaiian to emigrate from Hawaii permanently with exclusive permission from King Kamehameha V to the Mainland, before the violently forced bayonet Constitution, and King David Kalukaua’s reign. Before that time a Native Hawaiian had to have the kings permission to move…, back then the Native Hawiian population went from 800,000 down to 40,000 so emigrating was a big deal, thus my choice for the Hawaiian sea turtle tattoo burned into the wood restroom closet.

  • Comet February 23, 2015, 3:30 pm

    @BRIAN—This is amazing! Beautiful use of resources and design.

    We are thinking of doing a trailer to travel/live in but the two “big” issues are–my mobility and the fact that we will be carrying around a large 850+ lb motorcycle. If I can get in/out of the tow vehicle then the RV is too high or laid out wrong for me–if I can get in and out of the trailer (toy hauler etc) then I have a hard time getting into and out of the truck! Plus buying a $50k truck to haul around a $100k RV is just not on my list.

    This however is VERY inspiring—I hate the look of most of the toy haulers and they seem to be made of spit and thin string. Build it yourself seems to me to be a way to get what you need and want on your terms. The RV makers seem to think that all of us WANT to carry around a battalion with us at all times–I dunno about most people but–not for me! I don’t need to sleep 12 people! Let them get a tent!

    Two questions–well probably LOTS of questions but–1. What and how did you use for the toilet plumbing and 2. What were you using to haul this and or a larger version?

    Thanks!!!!

    • brian March 12, 2015, 4:38 am

      Maybe an Izusu box truck, with a lift on the back for motorcycle, and a step lift for the cab to help with any mobility issues? Just a thought…. The box trucks seem to be roomy enough to build quite a dwelling into. I’ve seen some box truck with cargo box doors for side access as well, and some are dropped down in front of the rear wheels. Used box trucks are fairly inexpensive if you look hard. Just an idea….

  • pat szumski February 23, 2015, 3:35 pm

    excellent planning and execution. please share your next project. impressive.

  • Lisa E. February 23, 2015, 3:54 pm

    Very impressive. Great job! Love the Hawaiian touch; plenty ono, brah.

  • cynthia February 23, 2015, 4:21 pm

    I’m in PHX also…do you have a website or fb page for these projects?

    • Brian April 26, 2015, 5:19 am

      Hi Cynthia, I don’t have a FB page at this time any longer (personal reasons) but I may do a personal website soon for all my projects. I also want to email Alex soon about some other projects I think his tinyhousetalk visitors may find inspiring, including a tiny house on a 24′ trailer my son is starting, an off property we are going to start, and a camping platform that can be built for any SUV, or truck, for minimal cost.

  • Enid February 24, 2015, 2:30 am

    I join the group who admire all aspects of this build and is very interested to see what you do next. The more I look, the more I want to build my own. Articles like yours really help to see what is possible and needs to be included. Thanks.
    Didn’t see the schematics posted yet…

  • Janet Evans Reed February 24, 2015, 8:37 am

    I love it quick question is the no shower? We want to make or buy one when my husband retires in about 2 years and live and he’s for traveling, he’s not into that at all. I love the idea you and your wife had a excellent vision I may have to move in by myself. Thanks for sharing looking forward to your next project.

  • BrownLuster February 24, 2015, 9:34 am

    One word: AMAZING!

    I know the person you sold this to was a happy camper…literally. Lol!! Excellent work!!

  • Karen R February 24, 2015, 12:14 pm

    Incredibly clever and resourceful!

  • sherry carroll March 16, 2015, 7:25 pm

    This is my favorite by far. I absolutely LOVE this. Would love to have one in the near future <3 <3 🙂 🙂

  • Detective May 19, 2015, 5:38 am

    Really? Nobody else is saying it? No. Sorry. You didn’t do the entire interior for $800. Everybody else can buy into it, but it’s just not true. Let me find you a link to my beach house build that I did for $35.

    • Brian August 7, 2015, 4:04 am

      @ Detective…Yes it’s true… Optimism is imperative when approaching these sorts of projects. All the materials were obtained at used building supply stores, and thrift/re-stores. The ($230 retail) Rv power chord was $10 hardly used at the Goodwill, Corian Counter $40 and fit perfect, $12 for the self fabricated weatherproof 30amp plug, sink $5, the diamond plate was from a 8’x4′ sheet bartered after helping a neighbor out by installing a new head gasket on his wife’s 2010 Nissan, ect, … If you liked this maybe I’ll post my $150 camper SUV platform up cycled from an entertainment center :), Or maybe my 14x 12′ x 116′ high two story guitar building wood shop build I did for a total of $2600. Doing projects like this can be accomplished very reasonably, if your mind is in the right place. The key to the big savings is being able to fabricate or re-purpose items. Iam in the middle of helping my son build a 26′ tiny home, and will submit that as well. I am not rich, so being thrifty, and thinking out of the box is a must for me, and did I mention Iam also a disabled Veteran?

  • Mama D November 27, 2015, 1:38 pm

    So interested in this! Love the stealth idea. But also live the idea that we can be self contained and off the grid if necessary. Retiring shortly and would live to have something just a little bigger! Interested in your new creation.

  • Chris F December 31, 2015, 7:08 am

    Question, how did u vent and drain the ac? Very nice job by the way.

    • Brian January 17, 2016, 1:49 pm

      ChrisF, The AC is mounted under the cabinet, and a there is an access door on the outside of trailer that opens when the AC is in use and has mesh screen to allow the AC to vent, but no critters or bugs to gain access. There is also a drain tube attached at the bottom of AC pan that drains condensed water through the floor underneath the trailer onto the ground. See pics for front diamond plate door at front.

  • Joe January 3, 2016, 1:07 am

    This article has inspired me too build one of my own similar to this one but I plan to move the bathroom to the corner so that I can put my tv under the cabinet on the other side where the bathroom I’d in the pick. Basically I’m splitting up the counter space and adding a mini fridge.

  • Sharron March 18, 2016, 8:09 pm

    I would really like to know what the material is that holds the lights between the ceiling and walls! I converted my horse trailer which did not have 90 degree angles at the ceiling/ wall joint and never came up with anything that looks this clean! Nice job on the entire build!

  • Richard M. March 23, 2016, 11:22 pm

    Looking into building one myself, just wondering what brand of cargo trailer did you use and what were the internal dimensions L-H-W
    Most 6×12 trailers I look at only allow 5′ 8″ width 6′ 2″height and 11′ 8″ length.

  • Larry A Norby September 1, 2016, 10:03 pm

    Was this a 6’X12 or a 7’X14 trailer?? Great job by the way..

  • Stacey October 21, 2016, 4:59 pm

    Hi Alex,
    Wondering if you ever got the blueprints on this or a link to Brian’s other work? Thanks!

  • Rodney April 8, 2017, 9:58 pm

    Some builds look rushed or something akin to a workshop. They look sloppy and not at all something my wife would spend a night in. Your little trailer rocks. I really like this. It’s very neat and everything orderly. I like this.

  • David M. April 28, 2017, 2:55 pm

    Would anyone on here know about towing capacity?

    I am looking to get a Subaru Outback 4cyl (2,700lb towing capacity), and the weight of this trailer gives me hope that I can reasonably haul something of equivalent weight. Should I be safe within that 700lb allowance, or should I opt for a 6cyl Subaru Outback (3,000lb towing capacity)?

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