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 actual 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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Couple’s Stealth Tiny House Built in 5 Weeks for $2,000
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)
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!
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.
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 the backsplash for the kitchen area.
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 soundproof, used old comic books as wallpaper, and installed the toilet.
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.
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.
Video: How this cargo trailer was converted into a camper/stealth tiny house
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 the 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 the 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 soundproof, and even with the TV or stereo up full volume is hardly heard outside of the closed camper. Both I 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 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 WAS up for sale on Phoenix Craigslist for $4800(sold) 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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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.
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.
How much would you charge to do something else similar to this but with bunks and some other changes? Would really love something customized like this but would be better to have the help from someone who knows what they are doing or has done one before!
Very nice and a great way to build a good trailer TH.
Keeping it light really help in towing and not using too much fuel to move it.
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.
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.
Can you send in a link to pictures of how you your 4runner project works? Thanks
@ 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
It’s terrific. Great job.
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.
he needs a sticker that says: I go where I’m towed to.
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. ????
I wondered that myself.
I sure like what was done to the trailer. Very inspiring.
The grey water utility container simply slides freely out once the drain spout is unscrewed. Easy peezy, takes 30 seconds…
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.
in process of building…………nice job!
for the drain, may plump in underside of trailer or sidewall? just a thought
May I recommend a flexible pipe under the sink? It makes taking out the container much easier without having to remove the plastic drain pipe every time.
Hats off…………great job!
With regards to Linda’s question. The pipe is threaded on or off.
I think that is really stealthy. The outside does not reveal how nice it is on the inside.
Pretty amazing place for only two grand! Great job! And very pretty even though it is built for stealth 🙂 lol!
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!
Glad you enjoyed it so much too Sally 🙂
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.
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.
Great Build! and what vehicle did you use to haul it at 2K lbs?
I love this trailer and would really like to see how you do the larger one with a bathroom.
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.
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).
Nice Job and nice Layout except for the AC, I would put it up High where it should be. Just saying.
Agreed!, my next build will include a roof mount AC unit…, although this little unit worked excellent the way it was designed and vented.
I accidentally “reported” this when trying to comment, but I thought the same thing. Cold air sinks, so mounting it higher would be better.
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…
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.,
The work of a pro!
@ 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!
Inspiring article and beautifully crafted design.
Question: Are schematics/detailed prints available? If so, please advise how to obtain.
I did pre-blue print the build and the layout, not sure how I could get them to you ..email perhaps? open source forum maybe?
Hi Brian, if you sent them to me I can share them on here, just reference the article URL for me (https://tinyhousetalk.com/2k-stealth-tiny-house). My email is alex AT tiny house talk DOT com 🙂
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 🙂
I agree. Very resourceful!
Your tat is beautiful and the trailer is cool. Nice job! God bless you and yours Bug out/camping/living. Happy trails!
Thanks Glema glad you liked it too!
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
Thank you! We actually though about a pull out canopy/Awning with bug screen walls for the back, maybe on the next build!.
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!
Thanks Marie I’m really happy you enjoyed it
Clever, resourceful and efficient–terrific job!
Boy, the buyers got a great deal! So nice to see someone who doesn’t try and charge $$$$$.
Thanks Deborah 🙂
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. 🙂
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.
@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?
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….
excellent planning and execution. please share your next project. impressive.
Very impressive. Great job! Love the Hawaiian touch; plenty ono, brah.
I’m in PHX also…do you have a website or fb page for these projects?
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.
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…
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.
One word: AMAZING!
I know the person you sold this to was a happy camper…literally. Lol!! Excellent work!!
Incredibly clever and resourceful!
This is my favorite by far. I absolutely LOVE this. Would love to have one in the near future <3 <3 🙂 🙂
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.
@ 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?
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.
Question, how did u vent and drain the ac? Very nice job by the way.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Was this a 6’X12 or a 7’X14 trailer?? Great job by the way..
Wondering if you ever got the blueprints on this or a link to Brian’s other work? Thanks!
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.
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)?
Thank you for sharing your build with us!! It turned out amazing. I love all the soundproofing and insulation tips you’ve given. We are going to start our conversion on our enclosed trailer soon. What type of hardware did you use for the bed to fold up? And how was it fastened to stay in an upright position? Did you use similar hardware as a Murphy bed? I ask this because you said you used PVC for the bed frame itself. Thanks in advance 🙂
Brian: Amazed & truly impressed at gracious response to “Detective” (troll-like/’You’re lying’ cheapshot). *Don’t recall you ever saying “Anyone can—for only $2000+labor…Do THIS!!”*
That you got such killer scores at used construction/used RV outlets IS NOT impossible! We have Habitat for Humanity ReStore in town & great scores CAN be had if you go regularly, collect components, plan carefully before project launch. Used RV part yards CAN be found as well.
I have a “car hauler” box trailer7x7x(15.5) unobstructed interior/outboard wheels, like duelly you said is next. WHAT a great inspiration you’ve become…Besides being a class-act guy…. The ‘Detective’ response decency was no less inspiring—reminding me: taking offense IS being offensive (unnecessarily). A lesson I forget sometimes. Blessings! Bill, Evergreen, Colorado
If that was a 31 Ghost Rider comic you used in the bathroom, it was worth about $400!
Oh, I am just loving this build! You guys can be so proud of yourselves; GREAT job!!! (Thank you for Izzy; need to add some Cazimero Brothers, and a little Olemana, too. :D) Laki maikaʻi !!!
I am not PERSONALLY into such tiny quarters, but I am VERY impressed with what you did in this trailer. Many of your ideas can be transferred to larger THOWs, ( or even smaller homes on a foundation). I admire your skill, perseverance, foresight and your civility. Congratulations on a bright future of building quality homes in a way that should make us all proud. I wish you the best.
Brian, this is an Amazing build! Love everything about it! I can appreciate your thriftiness & finding materials at low cost. And it’s great knowing that you sold it for such a reasonable price to the new owner! Thank you for your service & sacrifices being in the military.
Really well done, especially considering it cost them $2,000. This place is probably a bit less than 72 sq. ft I think. Of course there are no major appliances and they bought materials as cheaply as possible, but it does make me wonder why tiny homes that are maybe 4 times the size of this place can cost about 30 times the price. I understand that labor is very expensive, but still it seems kind of a scam to me.
Haven’t seen Brian comment in a bit. Would like to see how his folding bedframe worked and his other builds. Creative and efficient. Thanks for the information to both Brian and Alex! Even sketches of layout would be appreciated.
What an awesome idea. Were you ever able to come up with blueprints for this project, I would love to give this a go. Thank You
sorry one other question what is the dimensions of the trailer from bumper to end of tongue and then the width of box? thanks
Brian, awesome job with some great design elements. If you are ever interested in exchanging some of your knowledge for free labor, my son and I are in Phoenix and would love to pitch in.
I think you both did a great job. Happy living!
I love the way you think. I want your newsletter but it won’t accept my email address. It’s valid because I’ve used it for over 15 years.
I just love your trailer. Unfortunately or fortunately, you think like me. My father was an inventor & I followed the creative side of him. And I’m always looking for the “free” or very inexpensive but well made items. I’d like to see the bed frame. All in all, it’s one of the best I’ve seen. Well done!!
Hi. I’m looking for a smaller trailer I can work in out in nature once per week, and secondarily camp with 4 year old son a few times per year. If you’re up for making a conversion that would be focused on office use in nature please get in touch. Thanks for sharing.
I can’t seem to find the plans, are they still out there somewhere
Excellent job for the money spent. Take note to those internet experts that say you have to spend $7-$10,000 for a conversion.
I’m just starting my conversion of a stealth utility trailer. Would love more info and links to where you bought everything in order to stay on budget. For example, your generator. I feel like that would take up most of my budget.