Love at First Inspection

Like I said in my previous post, it took me about 2 weeks to finally get in contact with the previous owner of the camper and set up a date to go inspect it.
The Craigslist listing had no pictures, only a vague description that said the camper “leaks like heck, and is 26ft long 5th wheel.” That’s all. I had no idea what I was going to check out, but I went out on a limb.

Here’s what I first saw:

The first picture of the camper, with my Dad modelling to the left.

I’d brought my Dad along, just to be safe, even though he had no idea how to inspect this thing for an eventual Tiny House. When we first pulled up he said “Oh no,” and I couldn’t stop laughing. My Dad had only heard me speak about Tiny Houses, had never seen a project picture or anything else… In hind sight, I should have set him up with better information beforehand so he wouldn’t have been so negative, but oh well.

(Also, it should be noted that I did some online research beforehand on how to inspect a used RV. One of the best lists I found was here on Yahoo Voices.)

When we walked up, the owner started talking my Dad’s head off (as if my Dad was the one buying the camper). Which usually annoys me, but in this case was totally fine as I wanted a distraction-free and sales-pitch-free inspection. Quickly I started crawling around under and around the camper to inspect the frame. I was looking for bends in the frame structure, buckling, major rust cavities, or any other blemishes.

A blurry picture I took of the frame while inspecting behind the tires.

Thankfully there were no bends that looked like the frame structure had been wrecked, or hurt in any way. But then my next concern was the thin, scale-like rust that covered the surface of the frame.

A bit of the scaly rust, under the cabin.

Because of the rust, I went under the camper again and started kicking, banging, and knocking on parts of the frame. I was trying to make sure there wasn’t any weak spots, and that the frame wasn’t rusting from the inside out. I probably looked like a crazy person, because I completely ignored the previous owner’s attempt to get me inside the camper. I just didn’t care about anything except the frame.

Thankfully, the frame seemed pretty intact. I finally went inside the camper and was a bit surprised at how junky it was.

Facing the hitch end from the middle of the camper.

The previous owner told me how he had bought it about 10 years ago so his mother could live in it. This was a bit sad, since the inside was so derelict. Also, the yellow/orange outline on the side of the camper was leftover foam insulation, where he had built a porch for her to have. Thankfully, she hadn’t lived in it for the previous 5 years because the roof started leaking very badly.

The saggy roof (and accidental mirror selfie).

I was excited to possibly be buying a used RV so that I could harvest useable parts, but quickly I determined there wasn’t too much left for me to re-use. The majority of the camper had been gutted while trying to fix the water damage. But I wasn’t really discouraged by this, because what was left would still be helpful.

What was left of the “kitchen” area.

I’m hoping to harvest the piping, toilet, bathroom sink, air conditioner, RV hook ups, and maybe some of the wiring. All of this stuff listed is just a theory though, since I have yet to see what condition these parts actually are in.

The bathroom area (and another selfie).

I didn’t get too far into the bathroom area, because I saw a snake skin (which was right behind the table above). Also, while I’m on that subject, it should be noted that the owner never moved beyond the entrance door, as he later confessed he was scared there were snakes in the camper.

Another point I’d like to make is that I had no idea what the difference between a 5th wheel and Gooseneck hitch was. Even googling brought very little information to me. So here’s what a 5th Wheel Hitch looks like, which is on my camper:

A 5th wheel Hitch is like a plug, a Gooseneck is similar to the regular “ball” hitches you see everywhere. The difference is that both of these hitches are stronger because they’re usually welded to the frame of the vehicle.

After I finally got all the information and pictures, my Dad and I said goodbye to the previous owner and his buddy. I told the previous owner I was about 95% sure I wanted the camper, and I would call him in the next couple of days to schedule a good time to haul the camper away.

The back end of the camper (and a nice shot of the foam insulation).

I’m sure that some people will have look at a few of these pictures and think I’m absolutely crazy. But you folks just don’t have ~vision~.
Just wait. My Tiny House may not have the most ideal beginnings, but isn’t there a saying that goes “nothing good ever comes easy” ?

Up next: The Longest Haul, or how I finally got this hunk of junk to my workspace.

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The Great Trailer Hunt

Now that I’d determined I wanted to have a Tiny House on Wheels, the next step was finding my “foundation” or the trailer on which I would build.
And what I though would be simple task, actually turned out to be quite a fiasco.

Fiasko?

My thought process first started with just researching and shopping around on Craigslist and any business that sold utility trailers. I slowly discovered that new utility trailers were way above my budget, and used trailers were ridiculously close to the price of a brand new trailer. So would it be worth the money to invest in a new trailer?

…Not necessarily. Once I broke out of the Tumbleweed mold, I discovered that the majority of tiny home builders were constructing on used utility trailers. It seemed like they really didn’t have any major issues with a used trailer, other than maybe some rust. But other tiny home builders got through any issues with some elbow grease and a friend, and if they could do it, so could I.

So my next step was finding a trailer, purely based on how much money it would cost me. I scoured craigslist for at least 3 months before I came upon my foundation. Within that time I was searching for any and every trailer I could think of. Whether it was a landscape trailer, car towing trailer, flat bed, with and without a dove tail, gooseneck, 5th wheel, and even boat trailers. I misspelled words on purpose, and just searched any and every term possible.

A Yard Utility Trailer

Two months had yielded nothing. By this time, I was becoming a bit desperate. One thing I had noticed, was that there were tons of campers and RV’s on craigslist. A lot of them were very junky, and therefore very cheap. This is where some googling and determination paid off.

I discovered a YouTube video about harvesting from an old RV by Kevin Coy. Basically he went around and showed how different parts of the RV could be used by your own Tiny Home and how the investment into the RV would usually be more than worth it.
Next I found a post on Tiny House Talk about Steve and Wendy, who were building a tiny house from an old RV. How cool!
I also found this short post by Abel Zyl Zimmerman on the Tiny House Blog.

So of course my focus changed. I started searching for campers, RV’s and mobile homes. Really anything with a metal frame I was considering. Low and behold, I found the perfect camper almost immediately.

(Not my perfect camper.)

On Craigslist I found the following listing: “26 ft 5th wheel camper – $200.”

Wait. WHAT?!

Suddenly this dream looked possible. $200 was definitely in my price range and would mean I could start this project immediately, instead of waiting around for more money.

I first emailed the owner on November 13th.  This was just the beginning of the emotional roller coaster.

And I don’t like even regular roller coasters.

After some vague emails, and a bit of heckling via email on my part, I finally got to see the Camper on November 24th.

It wasn’t until December 16th that I finally got the dang thing to my construction area.

But that’s enough info for now. More on seeing my dream home for the first time and moving it in the next post!

Weighing the Options: Mobile vs Planted Tiny House

One of the first great internal struggles I had was figuring out if I wanted a moveable or planted Tiny Home.

So here’s some of my thought process:

  • Tiny houses on Wheels are limited by size, weight and codes.
  • Planted Tiny Houses could be bigger and have more potential room built on later.
  • Tiny houses that are Planted require land. (And I don’t own land.)
  • Tiny houses on Wheels could have RV hookups and easier off the grid systems included.
  • Planted Tiny Houses will most likely require a water well, electrical hook ups and more depending on what area they’re planted in.
  • Planted Tiny Houses will be as much work as a Tiny House on Wheels and cost a TON more if I need to move it off of the land.
  • Tiny houses on wheels would enable me to Freelance wherever I want. I could move to where a job is, and not be held down by area.

There’s many more issues and concerns that went into my decision, but as you can see the biggest concern was location.
I’m not sure if I want to settle down in Greenville, Asheville, Charlotte, or somewhere else.  So the obvious choice for me was to build a Tiny House on Wheels.

Beginnings

So what sparked this adventure is a random day out with my friend, Stephanie. We went to Home Depot for some DIY supplies for her livingroom. After we walked out, I asked her to drive across the parking lot to take a look at some of those pre-made sheds / barns. When we walked into the biggest one, I immediately said to myself “Hey, this is possible.” The space wasn’t that big, but there was r o o m to live in. The two of us walked around upstairs and downstairs and planned how someone could easily live in this space, in a shed.

Ever since that moment I’ve been obsessed with tiny houses. The tiny house movement is HUGE (ironically) and it only takes a simple google search to find tons and tons of tiny houses being built. Of course the most popular stop is Tumbleweed.

A tiny house on wheels.

The Elm by Tumbleweed.

Tumbleweed has some gorgeous houses. But I quickly figured out this wasn’t the route I could take. There’s nothing wrong with them! They’re fantastic, but they’re just outside of my price range. But another popular stop on this tiny house movement is Tiny House Blog. This is a great place for general tiny house updates and cool projects.

But where I really fell in love was Fair Companies‘ YouTube Videos. They have amazing tour videos that I can just sit and watch for hours. And I’m notoriously bad for not being able to watch anything on YouTube. It’s just physically impossible sometimes for me to sit and watch a music video or whatever. But I was so hooked!

One of my absolute favorite videos is of this amazing single mom, Lulu,  who built a home for herself and her daughter.

Watch the video here.

Part of Lulu’s interview, a shot showing this inside of the container home.

I know it doesn’t look pretty. But it functions. And this woman’s nature is just so… frank. And real. I just really love her approach to life in general. She’s such an inspiration.

Another inspiration is Jenine Alexander. She’s built several tiny houses by now, and I always enjoy watching her tiny house interview videos because of her simple, and casual approach to building. She’s also amazing because of all the recycling, re-using and reclaiming she does to build her houses.

A picture of Jenine in her tiny house.

But if you really want to get into recycling, reclaiming, and re-using, by far, the most adamant and reliable source is Derek “Deek” Diedricksen, author of Humble Home, Simple Shacks (a book I hope to buy soon). Deek has TONS of videos, whether they’re interviews, tiny house tours, how to’s, show offs, and simple ideas. This guy just puts out soooo much useful information on his blog Relax Shacks.

And finally, my main inspiration is Macy Miller at Mini Motives. When I saw her tiny house on wheels, I was absolutely smitten. How could you not be?!

Macy’s Tiny House completed.

Her house is absolutely gorgeous. And she totally emailed me back within 5 minutes of me asking her a question. She’s basically amazing.

So that’s it. These are my main inspirations. These businesses and people have pushed me into taking the next step in building my own tiny home.

Why are you doing what you’re doing?

I want to build a tiny house.
I want to design, and create my own space.

But why?

The biggest swaying factor of my Tiny Home endeavors comes down to simple numbers.

The average American family spends HALF of their income on housing. (1)

Graph provided by cbpp.org

The average House / Apartment in Greenville, SC to rent is $500-$800.
That’s at least $6000 a year on a space to live that you don’t truly own.

I want to be a Freelance Graphic and Web Designer. Ideally, I’d love to not worry about my rent or mortgage, especially when I’m not 100% sure where each job will (and when) be coming.
And I know I can’t avoid every cost of living bill, but not paying $500+ in rent for a few years would be really amazing. (Just think – in 5 years I’ll have saved $30,000.)

Another huge factor is my personal carbon footprint on this Earth.

The average American has an annual material footprint of 25 Tons. (2)
One metric tonne of CO2 is approximately 35 Toyota Camrys. (3)

A Toyota Camry.

So my goal is to re-use, recycle, and re-purpose the majority of my materials.
My numerical goal is currently to use 90%+ of recycled, reclaimed, or re-purposed materials. As I design and start diving into the construction of my home, we’ll see how realistic that number actually is!

(1:theatlanticcities)
(2:softpedia)
(3: thegreeneconomy)