Which is better – an RV or tiny home?

The choice to get a tiny house vs. an RV — or an RV converted to a tiny house — depends on what kind of experience you're looking for. All three options can offer simple, flexible living and the ability to take your living space with you. To make the decision on what’s right for you, you'll need to consider your family size, travel habits, and local regulations to find the best fit.

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How to choose between an RV vs. tiny home

Size

Tiny homes and RVs need to meet specific size restrictions dictated by state law in order to be deemed road legal. For example, floorplans can't exceed 400 square feet in most states for RVs and tiny homes on wheels. Additionally, most states establish a maximum allowable vehicle height of 13'6". If you want a home that exceeds your state’s limits, you'll need to consider a tiny home on a foundation (e.g., a stationary home) or apply for special permitting when it comes time to move your house.

Mobility

If you plan to travel frequently, RVs are usually a better fit than tiny homes on wheels. While both are mobile and towable, RVs are designed for frequent and extended travel. RVs are more aerodynamic and generally made of lighter materials. Tiny homes are more difficult and expensive to transport, even when comparing tiny houses vs. trailer homes of similar size.

Aesthetic

If having a movable home that feels and looks like a traditional house is important to you, tiny homes are the clear winner. They're typically produced with similar materials and techniques as traditional homes, and have a wider variety of looks and architectural designs.

Other considerations for choosing an RV vs. tiny home

Customization

Tiny homes usually have more options for customization since they're often built to order or designed by the homeowner. Some tiny home companies also sell standardized blueprints that the homeowner can take to a designer or general contractor for modifications.

RVs offer some options for customization or equipment upgrades but they don't allow buyers to add unique features or change the overall look or layout in the way tiny homes do. If you plan to customize your RV, you may also want to consider buying a used RV to cut down on costs.

Build quality and maintenance

While living in an RV full time is possible, they aren't always designed with full-time living in mind. Depending on the model, they may not hold up well to seasonal weather and can develop problems with leaking if the owner isn’t careful. Tiny houses are made to withstand year-round weather because they’re intended as a permanent dwelling.

Maintenance for a tiny house is similar to regular home maintenance with the addition of trailer maintenance (if your tiny home is on wheels). A trailer or RV may require work by a certified RV manufacturer due to the special nature of its components, potentially making it more difficult to find the right repair person if you're on the road. Learn more about the best RVs for full-time living.

Zoning and insurance

It can be more difficult to understand and meet zoning regulations for a tiny house vs. an RV. Tiny houses are a relatively new segment of the housing market and aren't always well-addressed by local laws and zoning regulations, which may impose requirements like minimum square footage.

Like barndominiums and other non-traditional housing designs, tiny houses may be more complicated to insure or secure a loan since they aren't as standardized or clearly regulated as traditional homes. On the other hand, RVs are a well-regulated vehicle type, and it's comparatively easy to buy a new RV and get RV insurance. Learn more about insurance for a tiny house.

Environmental impact

Tiny homes are often built with the specific intention of minimizing environmental impact. They may feature systems like composting toilets and solar panels that reduce their drain on resources. Tiny houses on foundations often achieve the lowest environmental impact by comparison, and some are entirely self-sufficient.

Even though RVs depend largely on fossil fuels, studies show that traveling by RV produces less greenhouse gas than a comparable vacation using air travel and a hotel stay.

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