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Tiny Cabin #60 at Mill Creek Ranch: Are Park Models Better Than THOWs?

I know, I know. You don’t like it as much when I show you vacation cabins, but I think you’ll like this one. It’s a classic timber-frame tiny cabin (likely a park model) in Canton, Texas. Well, if you like the idea of tiny homes, but you know it just wouldn’t work, maybe you can consider something like this instead?

It’s very similar but significantly bigger, so it lives much like a regular home or apartment that’s built to code. And there are actually already lots of park model-friendly communities out there already, which leads me to question, “are park models better than THOWs?” What do you think? Are they??

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Are park models better than tiny houses on wheels? Oh yeah, and Tiny Cabin #60 at Mill Creek Ranch…😍

Do you think park models are better than THOWs for YOU?

Please tell us about it in the comments because I want to know what kind of tiny homes you like seeing most! I could see some people liking the compact size of a THOW, which makes sense if you want to travel and move around frequently. But if you want to replace your current home with a tiny home and just stay in one place, I can really see the beauty in a larger THOW (a park model kind of like this). Do I have a point here?

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Mill Creek Ranch Resort | Facebook | Cabin #60 | Book Now

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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!
{ 33 comments… add one }
  • Jerry Dycus
    June 15, 2019, 7:41 am

    They are better in that they are wider. 8′ wide is so compromising in how you can set it up. 10′ wide is far better as you can have different functions on each side, use normal selected furniture.
    I’d also go for a foundation slab if possible as better value.
    What I do is bought a dead mobile home on a private lot and then ‘repaired’ it into a 12’x12′ TH. My next one 10′ wide, 16′ long as repouring an old foundation and built a TH on that.
    The 10′ wide was far better as the space was much more useful without wasted center space. I just built the bath, kitchen on 1 end in 2′ and the rest open to do what one wants.

    • Alex
      June 15, 2019, 7:46 am

      Hey Jerry! Great to hear from you. That’s genius what you did with the mobile home on private lot, thanks for sharing. I agree w/ you on the width. THOWs that are 8′ wide are only better if you want to travel frequently. But if I were to travel frequently, I would want a very small THOW. 🙂

      • Jerry Dycus
        June 15, 2019, 9:28 am

        Since up to 12′ wide towing is fairly easy, cheap as only costs about $10 for a yr permit in Florida or just hire a tow truck to move it the few if any times it needs to be moved, there is little need to be stuck with 8′ wide and it’s massive compromises.
        Plus why put a permanent costly trailer under a THOW to rust away if only used for 1-2 moves? Far cheaper, less wasteful to just use a flatbed trailer or tow truck to move it .
        I agree if one wants to travel in a THOW it should be light, aero and not that big.
        Thanks Alex for a great blog where people can learn the joys of living inexpensively and better with THs.

        • ShawnMarie Boutin
          June 17, 2019, 5:00 pm

          That’s an interesting and good point about moving them and the trailer, etc. Definitely gives something more to think about cost/space wise. Thanks!

    • Alex
      June 15, 2019, 7:48 am

      Shot you an email BTW! 🙂

      • Carol E Merritt
        August 14, 2019, 9:19 pm

        I like Jerry’s point of view. I am looking for, FIRST, some land, and then a place to put there with some extra room so that my dog & cat aren’t getting under my feet, but small enough for me to have steps to my sleeping area (with cross ventilation), w/d hook-up, shower, compost toilet, (maybe a well that can be supported with other water sources), and place outside to grow some food/inside to store it! Lots of ways to do it with enough acreage and “out houses”. The land where the place can be zoned and planted there legally is my biggest obstacle right now. I’m working to retire NEXT YEAR, and therefore won’t have time to build into a shell. Any ideas about land where I could permanently park my (probably used) tiny home would be welcomed – or resources for finding such a phenomenon! Thanks!

  • John
    June 15, 2019, 8:56 am

    While a park model would be my preference, I see the benefits (and detriments) of both park and THOW. I also like seeing the different ideas people come up with in both styles.

    • Alex
      June 17, 2019, 4:12 pm

      I’m with you, John!

  • Judy
    June 15, 2019, 12:13 pm

    I currently own a THOW – it’s a 1991 model travel trailer. It’s lightweight, easy to tow, self-contained, and, best of all, it’s paid for. For all their cuteness, I have no desire to invest a great deal of time and money constructing a heavier version of what I already have. That said, my next project, when I find a lot in the area in which I want to live, is going to be a VSHNOW (Very Small House Not on Wheels) of approximately 600 square feet. I want the footprint to be closer to a square, with an open floor plan. It will not have a loft, as I am fully capable of doing stairs at this point in my life, but in ten years? Probably not! I subscribe to both the newsletters here, and I really appreciate it when they include THOW in their description so I don’t have to go through the process of clicking on something I don’t want to look at. The Small House newsletter often includes houses no larger than the THOWs, but I keep looking, and collecting ideas. Thank you!

  • June 15, 2019, 12:31 pm

    We actually live in a park model, and for our use case, it’s the right choice. We have two kids and no desire to be mobile, so having the extra width is a great benefit.

    • Alex
      June 17, 2019, 4:13 pm

      That’s great – thanks for sharing! We would love to do a story on you guys! I’ll send you an email 🙂

  • Donna Mauldin-Bishop
    June 15, 2019, 1:48 pm

    I like the Park model homes better than the THOW’s. I don’t like the idea of having a large vehicle to pull a large load around and I prefer to stay in one place. I am older and do like my comforts without a lot of work and THOW’s seem to require a lot of maintenance regarding moving about.

    • Alex
      June 17, 2019, 4:19 pm

      Good thinking, Donna!

    • Sherry
      August 14, 2019, 2:27 pm

      I certainly agree with you Donna. I really like the Park Model Home and wish it was mine, yet I am stuck in Chicago and wish for the country and trees and grass and even skunks if they drop by……I don’t want to travel anywhere at this point in my life, just a small tiny home for my dog and me would be perfect.

      • TOM FISHER
        August 14, 2019, 5:51 pm

        perfect my thoughts exactly

  • Garth
    June 15, 2019, 2:02 pm

    I’m not sure I know the correct definition yet for “park model;” but if it’s what I think it is, that’s what I want. I really don’t want to feel like we’re living in a toothpaste-tube box (which I think an 8-foot-wide THOW would feel like). I’m nearly 60 and “built like a jackrabbit” (as Bill Burgess above put it), but hopefully our next move will be our last, meaning our TH would stay in one place for decades. Some of the THs, particularly park models, are absolutely beautiful!

    I like all that wood showing (rather than drywall), and I like that everything is not at 90° angles, but rather has other interesting angles.

    The first picture shows a loft, and it looks very attractive, but there aren’t any pictures showing what it’s like _in_ the loft, or how big it is. I would like lots of loft space. I’ve wanted a loft all my life, and doggonnit I’m gonna have a loft! (even if there’s also sleeping space downstairs for when it’s too hot in the loft). Our visiting grandkids would sure have fun with the loft too! 🙂

    • Donnie
      June 15, 2019, 2:14 pm

      Lofts are fine if you can stand up in them. The ones I have seen make you duck-walk and the older you get the duck-walk is not an option.

      • James D.
        June 17, 2019, 11:49 pm

        In THOW’s lofts are actually optional, mainly used to help minimize cost and keep the footprint as small as possible but larger THOWs can accommodate bedrooms.

        The trick to lofts, if your design has to have one, is where you place them and what ends up sharing the vertical space. Since, road legal height limit means you have a set limit of headroom to work with and that usually ends up being around 11′ or less. So, if you place them over a kitchen or bathroom that removes about 7′ plus the thickness of the loft floor and then finally the bed…

        But, if you put it over storage or anything else that doesn’t require standing room below it then you can leave much more headroom for the loft.

        Alternatively, if you’re not tall then you could opt to reduce the standing height below and more or less split the difference if you’re less than 5′ 6″ and effectively have two levels/floors.

        Or a split loft design can allow a platform along the length that allows standing height but the bed itself would remain at the usual height and would be like using a regular bed that’s against a wall.

        People have also done what is called a reversed loft where the sleeping space is below and the standing space is above, which reduces the climbing portion at least.

        Depending on budget, it is also possible to raise the roof to increase the loft space to a second floor… Or, if it never needs to leave the state, there are states that allow higher max height. The highest being Alaska at 15’…

        While a tiny house on foundation can be 2 or more floors, unless local restrictions prevent it…

        Of course, some people get pretty creative and at least one just turned the whole through on one side so the length became the height… Very little width but standing height throughout…

        For Park Models, tends to be very standards at 5 feet or less and carpeted…

  • James D.
    June 15, 2019, 4:56 pm

    Depends what you want and need because Park Models can be cheaper for the size and bigger is generally going to be more idea if you don’t need to move it a lot but it should be remembered they’re still RVs and built to the RV building code. RVIA and HUD specifically states they are not Tiny Houses!

    The key difference being RV’s do not need to meet the same requirements as a residential house and are intended primarily for recreational usages, and this distinction is one of the reasons why Park Models never exceed 400 Sq Ft because that’s the size limit that the federal government has set to indicate it must start meeting residential standards if it’s that size and larger. So Park Models would have to switch over to the HUD building code if they exceeded 400 Sq Ft, the same as Manufactured Houses and be built for more than just recreational usages.

    While Tiny Houses are not limited to the RV building code and can be as over built as the builder wants to make them. So they can in some cases even meet or exceed local building code requirements. Making it an option to take them off the trailer and put them on a foundation without needing to meet HUD building codes, which doesn’t cover anything under 320 Sq Ft anyway, or be built as a traditional foundation built house to begin with…

    Tiny Houses can also be just as big or even bigger than Park Models because again they are not limited by the RV building code and can go beyond them. But building to higher standards has its costs and thus going smaller is one of the ways of countering the higher costs, especially if one is seeking a nomadic lifestyle.

    Other considerations is where to place them and whether you will be allowed to live in them full time throughout the whole year. RV’s are generally restricted because they are not recognized as residential structures and that also applies to Park Models. So they can’t be lived in full time everywhere, though enforcement varies as well…

    While Tiny Houses are more in a legal limbo at the moment. They will either be considered RV’s, because there’s nothing else in the books they can fall under and have similar limits imposed on them to where they can be placed and how long they can be lived in. Or they will fall into their own category and have their own separate options…

    Places like Fresno, CA will allow THOWs to be ADU’s but won’t allow the same for RV’s, for example. Oregon’s Reach Code and Washington States laws now make a distinction as well. While RV’s can never be permanently removed from their wheels but Tiny Houses can be and put either on alternatives like skids, floating platforms, etc. or on traditional foundations and treated like traditional homes.

    Park Models, like other RV’s, can be an option for living where they’re allowed but they won’t be ideal for all climates and conditions and won’t address everything that tiny houses do… Like sustainability, environmentalism, ensuring the home is healthy to live in even if the person is chemically sensitive or has some other special needs, or having the range to optimize them for as many different needs and lifestyles as custom built tiny homes can be made for… Also, neither RVIA or HUD support DIY, though you can still get the DMV to register it as a RV but generally you’ll be getting a Park Model built from a factory. Though, people can still renovate/remodel on their own but that may violate any certification for RVIA or HUD, voiding warranty, insurance coverage, legal recognition, etc.

    But those are not things that will effect everyone’s choices equally and RV’s, Park Models, etc. may be more practical for certain people and their situation… Especially, where price is a factor and ease of purchase as Park Model RV’s have been around for decades and they have a well established market niche, with clear rules and regulations… Some places even have certain exceptions given to Park Models allowing more flexible range of use than other RV’s…

    There’s also distinctions and differences between Mobile and Manufactured Houses from Park Models and Tiny Houses that people should be aware of before making comparisons… But generally there’s more to Tiny Houses than just being tiny and are in many ways a distinct and different option from what the other choices offer.

  • maria
    June 16, 2019, 7:08 am

    No matter if you have a park model or a tiny home on wheels the value only goes down. Park models have to stay in one place because it costs a lot to have one moved. On the other hand a thow can be moved easily. Now if you are not worried about resale value,then that is fine. A condo,townhome or house will be a better investment. I on the other hand I what a tiny house on wheels,because I already own a home out right and I am not worried about resale value. Plus I don’t have to sell all my things or put them in storage.

    • Garth
      June 16, 2019, 3:32 pm

      So James D. and maria, I’m still not sure I can say exactly what a “park model” is. I was under the impression it’s a TH, even a THOW, which is basically too wide to be moved without a permit and the vehicles ahead and behind with the “WIDE LOAD” signs and so on (which I don’t see as a problem). I would definitely want something that can be lived in full-time, and is built to last, not like modern travel trailers which seem to be nothing but cardboard and staples. (I understand they’re made that way not just to be cheap, but to make the trailer light, so when someone wants to buy one and they think they have to get a bigger vehicle to tow it with, the salesman can say, “You don’t need a bigger vehicle. You can tow it with what you have right there!”) I’m not concerned with insulation to live in cold climates, as I won’t live where there are hard winters anyway.

      I’m not concerned with resale value. Our house here in SoCal has a market value that’s over three times what we bought it for; but most of that is just the land. Even if the house we’re living in now were to burn down, the small lot would still be worth a lot more than we paid for it all. I think 400 square feet may be too much though. I want to downsize—waaaaay down! I really am tired of owning so much, and society, zoning laws, and extended family telling me I have to live so big. Condos, apartments, and townhouses don’t fit the bill though, because of all the rules about what you can’t do with your own property, and I don’t want to share walls with neighbors. I do also want to grow some of our own food.

      • James D.
        June 17, 2019, 2:01 am

        It’s pretty much just as I stated, Park Models are RV’s, as that’s how they are built and legally defined. Like mentioned before that’s the official position for both RVIA and HUD (Federal Government). They have been around for decades and evolved from standard travel trailers. They are a distinct class of RV, you’ll see regulations for them under PMRV, and like manufactured houses they are built in factories and generally have higher standards than most RV’s but they mustn’t be confused with tiny houses.

        Like other RV’s, Park Models are tied to being on a trailer and can never be removed from it, neither RVIA or HUD will ever accept a DIY build and they will only be built under the RV building codes, they’re only made to look like cabins or cottages and won’t emulate the appearance of all the other types of houses, and they generally won’t be custom built and you’ll have to choose from a model with a specific layout and theme. Also, unlike tiny houses, Park Models are not built with sustainability, environmentalism, and other concerns in mind…

        Though, there are two types of Park Models… The ones that are made to look like cabins and cottages that will be 10-12 feet wide with quad axles and a removable tongue… The other being a travel trailer design with slide outs or fold outs that stays under 8 feet wide while traveling but expands to nearly 400 sq ft when parked.

        Long story short, Park Models were originally travel trailers that were too heavy to tow regularly (mind RV’s date back to 1910 and before people had powerful tow vehicles). So they were just left at parks and used seasonally, thus the name origin… Flash forward a few decades and with land conservation making it illegal to put any permanent structures on protected land then Park Models evolved to be drop in replacements for cabins and cottages that didn’t need to disturb the land and still let people spend time at parks, etc. but they were still only intended for recreational usage and that hasn’t changed… Now, they’re usually manufactured in factories and usually be the same companies that produce manufactured houses.

        It’s understandable to confuse them with Tiny Houses, especially with all the legalities for tiny houses still being worked out and the lack of universal standards, but it’s one of those things that they only look similar but aren’t the same.

        Besides, Park Models RV’s don’t really go much smaller. So either a traditional RV or an actual Tiny House would be your options if you want something smaller and more easily moved. Though, container houses and other options could also work, depending on what you wanted to end up with and what lifestyle you want it to support…

        As for value… That actually depends because like a regular house you can always renovate and remodel to make the home like new again and sell it for full market value… Most depreciation is the wear and tear of the house over time. So the better built it is then the slower it’ll depreciate…

        All houses actually depreciate, it’s the land and how it ties everything to the local economy that allows appreciation but the deprecation of the house is why you can do things like renovated/flip houses and make a profit because you’re either restoring or adding to the value of the property… But tying the property to the land and local economy is also why everything in the area can effect the property value and a failed local economy can crash the value of the home, like what happened in Detroit for example and they ended up with decades of blight. So it has both its pros and cons…

        But, if you put a tiny house on a foundation then you tie it to the land and the local economy. So it can appreciate like any other property and that’s something you can actually do where tiny houses are being legalized and they can meet the local ICC IRC requirements…

        Alternatively, turning it into a rental property can turn it into a revenue source that will generate far more income than it could ever appreciate… So, there are other ways to profit for those seeking that type of benefit…

        Though, housing appreciation tends to be grossly exaggerated anyway as the hidden costs and ongoing costs of home ownership are never factored. So most are never aware they actually spent more than they gained by the time they sell the home… Never mind the hidden costs of selling a home, especially when dealing with an HOA…

        IMO, there’s lots of other things people should be more focused on… It’ll be better for the quality of their lives and help avoid many of the common causes of NiMBY’ism…

  • Sarah Packer
    July 31, 2019, 10:19 am

    My husband and I want to move to a new place! I didn’t know park models were significantly bigger than tiny houses and there’s a lot of friendly communities of park models. I’ll have to keep that in mind as I browse for properties I like.

  • Karen
    August 14, 2019, 2:25 pm

    I would prefer a park model home where I can put down roots by staying in one place. Also, I like the idea of a bedroom on the main floor as I am older. How do I go about finding park model communities?

  • Beth Eddy
    August 14, 2019, 4:22 pm

    THOWs seem a bit too small for my husband and my retirement needs. For those purposes, a camp model seems better. Yes we might want to relocate once to the vicinity of a different relative, but that’s the only occasion I’d envisage as a move.

  • August 14, 2019, 5:10 pm

    Very nice…the only thing I don’t like is the doors in the bedroom.

    • Kurt
      August 14, 2019, 5:11 pm

      …and I would have preferred stainless steel appliances instead of black.

      • Garth
        August 14, 2019, 6:50 pm

        Choices are always good. Personally, I think stainless-steel appliances are really, really ugly, and I wouldn’t want them in my house. That’s just me though.

        • Judy
          August 15, 2019, 1:20 am

          I’m with you – black AND stainless-steel appliances are both ugly in my eyes! Nice, clean white ones appeal to me. That’s just me though!

  • Kathryn Jones
    August 14, 2019, 7:32 pm

    Definitely park model for me!

  • August 15, 2019, 1:59 am

    I think the park models are a better fit for a retirement home. The safety of being able to walk around 3 sides of a bed to make it, and a bathroom large enough to accommodate a walker if necessary puts most THOWS out of the running.

  • Jason
    August 15, 2019, 8:55 am

    Park models or small houses preferred. In Canada we need something that can be comfortable through the winter months. The THOW are nice, however impractical for winter as concerns with waterlines and such freezing. The smaller living is great to reduce utility costs, lower property taxes, and lower price tag to build. Home ownership has become quite costly for some. Keep the newsletters coming. We are working an a 800 sq ft house plan with attached garage we hope to build in the spring.

  • samantha
    September 4, 2021, 8:10 pm

    With today’s market, what type of “home” is resold faster? I have been told used park models are more in demand than used tiny homes on wheels, THOWs and will sell faster, assuming in good condition. Is this true? What is your experience?

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