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Removing And Re-Using Your Tiny House Trailer Lumber

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Tiny House Construction Tip #2 With Curt Lyons: Removing and Re-Using Your Trailer Lumber

One of the biggest differences between a tiny house and a trailer or RV, other than the fact that tiny houses can be beautiful in a way a trailer never will, is that tiny houses aren’t so tiny in the weight category. Before you even start to build, the trailer alone starts out over 2000lbs, which is already more weight than many cars can tow.  When I started my building process, I was determined to see where I could cut weight. In typical house construction, when in doubt, you take the caveman approach and overbuild it, but when weight matters, you don’t have that luxury.

Purchasing your trailer is an exciting moment and a big reality check. It’s when the whole process becomes very real feeling. You’re anxious to start to framing the walls, because you want it to start looking like a house, but you need to take a breath and be patient, since there is some not so glamorous prep work that has to go into the trailer first. However this is also a great opportunity to save some weight. I’m talking hundreds of pounds, when everything adds up.

Unless you bought a trailer specifically custom made for a tiny house, one of the first things that needs attention is the decking wood. Most tiny house trailers are actually designed for hauling cars and have a pressure treated deck made of 2”x10” lumber. Pressure treated means this lumber has been infused with chemicals, under pressure, that make the wood highly resistant to being eaten by either insects or micro-organisms, but it also makes it very heavy.

Related: Tiny House Construction Tip #1 with Curt Lyons

Curt’s Tiny House Building Tip #2: Removing & Re-Using Your Tiny House Trailer Lumber

deck removed

Images © Curt Lyons

Your trailer has a very strong steel frame, so a lot of the wood is not structurally necessary for what we want to do. The reason you can’t just use it as your floor, and start building walls on it, is because your floor would have no insulation, it would be full of gaps and the existing layout would limit you to building between the wheel wells, significantly narrowing your design, so most people want to cantilever the new floor framing out and over the steel frame of the trailer. You could just leave all the existing decking, and start building right over it, but pressure treated wood is very heavy, so the existing deck is several hundred pounds of wood that you really don’t need, or at least not where it currently sits.

deck on deck

I ended up removing all of my decking (this required purchasing a driver bit I didn’t already own) and ripping it down to 2”X4” widths. This is most easily done with two people and a table saw, but can also be accomplished with a circular saw. Once all the boards where ripped, I spaced them out on the steel trailer frame and reattached them.  Then I used the “extra” decking to frame my flooring footprint for the actual house. In the end I ended up re-using most of the removed decking (but not all of it) for this purpose, but it was still a weight, and money savings, since I had already purchased this wood and this framing had to be there. Although I hated using such heavy wood to frame my floor, and even though I went to great lengths to shield the framing from exposure to the elements, with metal flashing, I already owned this wood, and there is peace of mind, knowing that the base of my house is extremely unlikely to suffer from water, insect or rot damage.

deck on flashing pic of me doing roofing

Images © Curt Lyons

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Related: Tiny House Construction Tip #1 with Curt Lyons

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Curt Lyons

owner/operator at youtoocanDIY LLC
I have been building in various capacities for 20 years, log homes, Victorian and contemporary remodels, and historic preservation. I am also an affordable and sustainable housing advocate. My specialty is helping empower people who want to be involved but need help. When I am not building I enjoy the outdoors with Nordic skiing, rock climbing and kayaking.
{ 3 comments… add one }
  • Jenna
    January 14, 2015, 10:42 pm

    Thank you so much for addressing this issue! I purchased my trailer last month which was a huge step in making my Tiny House dream a near-reality! But I’ve been a bit perplexed about the existing decking which sounds identical to what you described in this article. I too will need to buy some sort of driver to remove the odd-shaped screw heads that appear to be rusted through the steel framing. With the hopes this somewhat daunting step succeeds, I now have the confidence in knowing I can cut those boards and reuse for the framing. Fabulous! One major question that I’ve struggled to find clear answers on is, how far can the foundation be cantilevered beyond the steel frame? I want to extend my 18 footer to AT LEAST 20 feet – even 22 if I can get away with it. Can anyone out there point me in the right direction for this? I’ve seen videos where people have used an actual boat trailer that they then cantilevered several feet in width and many more feet in length – but it’s not common to see people doing this with car haulers. My 18 foot trailer was a great buy but it’s still far too small for the plans I need. Any advice would be much appreciated 🙂

    • Curt Lyons
      January 15, 2015, 12:44 pm

      Jenna, congratulations on making that big first leap. I think the driver head I needed was a Torx #30 (don’t quote me on that) Take a picture of it with your phone and take you your local hardward store. My local Ace had it. Buy two in case you break one… The general rule for cantilevering is 2/3 to 1/3 minimum. ex. I want hang over 1′ so I would need at least 2′ supported inside my fulcrum point. However, since the whole weight of your extended floor, on the sides of the trailer will be carrying not only the weight of your walls, but your roof (potentially w snow) as well, I would try to be conservative on how far you go. I know at least one builder who uses 2×6 for flooring, which makes a stronger joist, (for me this was overkill) but you might consider it, however keep in mind that it takes away another 2″ of usable building height, considering your 13’6″ total cap. As far as going up to 4′ longer than your trailer (I’m not an engineer) but I don’t like it. Even if it isn’t a structural problem, I worry about the re-distribution of weight and relation to trailer balance. Honestly I think a lot of this complex issue is being figured out as more tiny housers build and I would hate to see you be a guinea pig with a catastrophe.

      • Jenna
        January 15, 2015, 10:12 pm

        Hey Curt, thanks for the response… and so detailed! Yes, I was hoping a picture of the screw tip, with perhaps a dime beside it for size comparison would do…so I’ll give that a shot and perhaps see if driver #30 is the one. I continued to mull-over the idea of the cantilever frame last night… and I basically concluded the same as you just said, so I spent a few hours earlier today looking for a professional welder and discovered that it’s a pretty affordable, and FAR SAFER, way to go. It’s likely I’ll just extend it about a foot but then build a 3 foot deck that folds up for hauling. I’ll then extend the tongue-side about a foot or simply build a bay window over the exterior storage closet there. But I appreciate your input – really, I just needed to know whether the concept was a standard thing or if I was entering uncharted territory. Yeah, no doubt that I do NOT want to be a guinea pig in this game!!!

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