Your Questions Answered: Trailer Talk
At PAD, we get a lot of questions about trailers – the foundation of a little house. Whether you’re planning to buy a new or used trailer, consider the following:
- NEW OR USED – The trailer frame is the most important piece of your project. We strongly recommend starting with a new trailer that’s designed for a tiny house. Although a used trailer will be cheaper upfront, a new trailer often ends up being the better bargain in the end both economically and psychologically. We recommend checking out Iron Eagle Trailers. They build a fantastic trailer just for tiny houses. Sometimes a new trailer just isn’t practical or attainable. There are good used trailers out there that will work well, but whatever you do, don’t go cheap on the trailer just to save a few bucks. You can always upgrade your appliances or your furniture or even your windows—but you can’t do much to improve your trailer once it’s built. It is the foundation of your home.
- CAPACITY – Depending on its size, your little house will likely weigh between 4,000 and 8,000 pounds. We recommend that you get at least a 7,000lb rated trailer for a house of up to 14ft and a 10,000lb rated trailer for a house longer than 14ft.
- SIZE – Choose a trailer that’s 8½-feet wide, measuring to the outside of the fenders. The top deck sits about two feet off the ground, and the overall length varies, usually between 12 and 24 feet. Another great feature you’ll want is frame side extensions. A normal trailer with fenders will have a frame just under 7ft wide. Frame side extensions will extend the width to nearly 8-1/2.
- FRAME – Choose a solid frame that resists twisting and flexing. Here’s a quick test; simply stand on either front corner of the frame and observe what happens. A frame constructed of tubing shouldn’t twist at all making it the best choice. A frame constructed of angle iron is inherently flexible and should be avoided. A completed tiny house is a heavy load that requires firm support. A trailer frame that’s weak at resisting the twisting and flexing caused by the dynamic stresses of normal road travel, or the stress of static leveling blocks will transmit those stresses to the structure of the house. Needless to say, this is best to avoid.
- AXLES – If you’re buying a used trailer, have the wheel bearings inspected and repacked. There is some basic routine maintenance that needs to be done on all trailer wheel bearings and not knowing their condition is an unnecessary risk.
- TIRES – The trailer tires need to have a combined capacity rating that meets or exceeds the axle rating. They can’t be regular car tires. They must be tires designed for trailer use. There is a difference. Trailer tires are built for stability whereas car tires are built for a comfortable ride. Trailer tires can be identified by an “ST” preceding the tire size as in ST225/75D15. Remember, your little house could weigh between 2 and 4 TONS!
BRAKES – They are a must! Make sure the trailer has brakes on all 4 wheels. Some trailers are equipped with brakes on the rear wheels only and some trailers have no brakes at all. A tiny house on a trailer without brakes is unsafe.
- TOWING – A tiny house trailer frame by itself should weigh under 2000lbs. Once your trailer is fully loaded with your cute little house, it will have a total weight of up to 10,000lbs. You’ll need a full size truck to pull it. The truck will need to have a tow package that includes the connection for lights and brakes.
ROAD SAFE AND READY – To be street-legal, the trailer needs lights, brakes, safety chains, and must be registered with the DMV. If you’re buying a used trailer, make sure the seller gives you all the documentation (Signed off title, Bill of sale, etc.) required by the Department of Motor Vehicles so that you can license your trailer. Don’t buy a trailer without receiving documents. Getting your trailer licensed without the required documents will be a big problem
For more information about configuring the trailer so the little house can be easily bolted to it, check out our book Go House Go. Kate Goodnight, a PAD workshop graduate, also recently wrote this great blog post about picking up her trailer in Portland from Iron Eagle Trailers. It’s an awesome read and includes all sorts of helpful information about weight distribution and taking the big plunge into trailer ownership.
If you have really specific questions you don’t see covered, or if all these details are making your head spin, consider taking our 2-day Tiny House Design Workshop. The workshop covers tiny house design from top to bottom, talks trailer specifics in-depth, and lets participants just like you ask our experts exactly what they want to know.