I had some questions related to tiny houses and trailers for Andrew Odom over at Tiny r(E)volution and he was kind enough to share his advice with us.
If you’re considering building a tiny house on wheels this post will give you perspective as to what it’s like to prepare a used trailer for your future tiny house.
Alex: Before you got your trailer, what options were Crystal and considering?
Andrew: Our path to getting to where we are now started back in mid-2010. As a couple Crystal and I were bouncing back from our lives as single folk which included living all over the map, investing in only the day’s expenses, and trying to merge two very independent lives. We knew we wanted to find a place of our own to live but we weren’t sure we wanted to take on a mortgage….well, we weren’t even sure where we wanted to live. Since we met as missionaries on a cross-country tour it seemed perfectly normal and perfectly logical for us to find a small RV (even to this day we dream of a Mini Winne) and take to the open road until we found we belonged. Alas, I realized I needed to get a job (I had been self-employed) that offered a bit more stability for us. In finding that job we realized that perhaps the RV should give way to a house.
We looked at rehab houses, repossessed houses, foreclosed houses, cabins, mobile homes, etc. Nothing seemed to fit the bill. That is when we landed on a tiny house page. We looked at the house noticing almost everything. Somehow we overlooked that it saw on a trailer. Perhaps because it seemed so normal to us to be mobile that our collective subconscious never stopped to think about it all. So we decided we were going to build what we now know as a micro-home on a standard foundation on a find piece of property. We put together designs and ideas and budgets. Nothing seemed right though. We went back to the original pictures. Aha! A trailer. That little house sits on a trailer. And so our ideas started to take shape.
With a home on a trailer we could be stable but still have the option to be mobile. We could build a custom home and pay cash for it. But what would it need, we asked? How would we pare down our life? All that looking at RVs and we never really thought about how we would pare down to that. But now we were sold. We wanted to build our own tiny house trailer. We knew we wanted a sleeping quarters on the same floor as everything else. Years of ladders and/or stairs mixed with my tiny bladder did not seem to make for fun nights. And so with just a few inspiration sketches, photos, and printouts, we set out to find a trailer. At this point we knew next to nothing other than it needed to roll and we actually had no idea just how complex the trailer world can be.
Alex: Tell us about your first few major experiences when beginning to look for a trailer. Did you consider going with a new one at any point or?
Andrew: The first thing we did was start to research trailers in general. Luckily we have several family members that have extensive experience with trailers. My dad has had multiple utility trailers for a number of years and has owned a couple of campers. Crystal’s brother builds and customizes horse trailers so has extensive knowledge on residential type trailers. We googled the trailers that others had at the time. In fact, the Tumbleweed site (at least at one time) listed the types of trailers they prefer. We then went to a trailer lot or two to look at new trailers; their tire size, their wheels, the jacks, etc. Unfortunately the price point just was astronomical we thought. We put the decision off for a bit. I began to research weights and road limits. In fact, I wrote a post on it here: http://tinyrevolution.us/2010/10/15/what-kind-of-trailer-to-buy-for-a-tiny-house/
There is such a major difference in Gross Vehicle Weight Rating, Tongue Weight, Dry Weight, etc. It was like learning a new language. Crystal was determined our trailer was out there though. She started looking on eBay and Craigslist. Her thinking was that maybe we could find a used travel trailer and strip it down. But then Crystal found an ad that kind of sat by itself. Listed on Craigslist and just an hour or so from our house she found a 30′ former travel trailer. The owner had to sell it and he was asking for next to nothing. It has no title and the VIN was practically worn off. But Crystal had a very good feeling and said we should find out more.
When we got to the location we found the trailer in less than perfect condition. It was old and had remnants of paint. There was still a bit of tin, insulation, and subfloor remaining. But the brakes were good. The wheels seemed to have good tread. The axles were sound. There was no body rust to speak of. We paid cash, hitched it up, and giggled all the way home about finding our home!
Alex: Based on your experience, what tips would you give others who are looking for their tiny house “foundation”?
Andrew: I think the first thing I would suggest is become familiar with the rules for interstate travel. Because the measurements cannot exceed 8′ you are pretty limited in the size of your interior. Once you figure in how many inches the walls (exterior siding, studding, insulation, and interior walls) will take up you are left with just over 7′. If you and your family are not comfortable in 7 feet then you may want to consider a different design. You may want to think about a non-mobile home that is situated on a concrete slab, pier foundations, or even skids. The choice really starts with the question, “mobile or stationary.” Once you have decided that then you can start thinking about how to either fasten the home down or support it structurally.
Alex: Since you acquired a used trailer, can you tell us about some of the work you did to prepare it for your project?
Andrew: The first thing we had to do when we got the trailer home was to assess the overall condition. While it looked like it was in pretty good shape we couldn’t be too certain. We parked on the back of my folks land and started going over it looking for identification marks, stickers, weight limits, etc. We then realized that it would be easier to strip it down to bare metal to see what we were dealing with. Crystal and I (but mostly Crystal) began taking out screws, removing aluminum sheets, and stripping wood and insulation. It was a heap of a mess once completed but it allowed us to see what we were truly working with. Once in that condition, we started checking for rust spots, loose welds, and potential loss of metal integrity. We were quite fortunate in this and realized that right away all we truly needed to do was replace the leaf springs, some bolts, and the breaks. We also felt that it needed a new wheel on the right side and went about replacing that. All in all this entire process took little more than two hours. We thought we were on cruise control. Then it was recommended to us that we sandblast the trailer, prime it, and repaint it. Neither Crystal nor I had sandblasted before but we were convinced we could do it. We borrowed a sandblasting machine and spent the next solid four days sandblasting and metal brushing. Crystal spent the most sandblasting and once all is said and done probably did 85% of that work. Her motivation and her drive were unparalleled. Once we were down to smooth metal again I took to priming the entire trailer with standard gray primer. We don’t have a sprayer nor did we have access so we had to settle for a case of spray paint. It did the same job and prepared the trailer for a nice coat of black semi-gloss. The trailer had very quickly become more attractive and more weather-resistant. At this point, we have also replaced the trailer jack and welded on four scissor jacks for ultimate stability. We have rewired the trailer for full road-legal lighting, added a lighting harness, and prepared it for towing. Most recently we registered it with the state of Georgia as a homemade trailer getting a new VIN, a title, and a legal tag!
Watch Andrew’s Latest Video Where He Shows You How to Plane Your Own Lumber
Power tools you might need to plane your own lumber:
Check out Andrew’s guest post on Tiny House Talk on Tiny House Living as a Young Family.
If you want to learn more about Andrew and Crystal Odom visit their website over at Tiny r(E)volution. If you’re interested in building your own tiny house, download these free starter plans along with our catalog.
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