There are a lot of differences between Tiny Houses on Wheels (THOWs) and Recreational Vehicles (RVs), yet one of the most common questions we get is “why wouldn’t you just buy an RV instead of a tiny house?”. While Tiny Houses and RVs may both be structures built on a movable chassis, the similarities mostly end there.
The absolute biggest difference between Tiny Houses vs RVs is the quality. RVs are built primarily for mobility and thus the weight of the materials used is a huge factor. Tiny Houses on the other hand aren’t usually intended to be moved as frequently and thus standard, higher quality materials are used in their construction.
Since RVs aren’t typically used as a full-time residence, manufacturers don’t need to build them to hold up to the rigors of full-time living. For instance, if a travel trailer is to be used for vacations, those might only occur a few months out of the year (people don’t camp as often in the winter), and then perhaps only a few weekends each of those months. Thus, an RV may only be occupied a very small percentage of its lifespan. This means the cabinets, doors, and other moving parts only must hold up to a limited number of uses.
Tiny houses, however, are intended to be lived in full-time, thus are made with normal residential materials that can be expected to last much longer under much higher usage. It’s not unusual to find conventional homes that are 20 or 30 years old with all their original door hardware all working the same as their first day of service. It is much less common to find a 30-year-old RV, period. Forget about its door hardware.
Winner: Tiny House hands down
Because of the different styles and materials, there is no confusing a tiny house and an RV. While both can be attractive for different reasons, most people prefer the warmth and aesthetics of a tiny house. After all, they look like the houses we choose to live in every day.
RVs on the other had use either corrugated aluminum or fiberglass siding, neither of which is ever selected on a conventional house. However, these options are great when we are talking about weight and price, but we’ll discuss those later in this article. For now, we are just talking about appearance. And corrugated aluminum just doesn’t compare to a natural stained cedar siding.
Winner: Tiny House
While tiny houses are great in that every aspect of their design and layout can be decided by you, the RV industry has been building RVs for a long time and they have developed some great designs. While they aren’t customizable, they have been taking feedback from customers and observing what sells and what doesn’t to fine tune their offerings. And I must admit, they’ve been very creative and innovative.
The biggest innovation has been ‘slide-outs’, which can be found on almost every RV. These are the sections of the RV that extend out to sometimes double the interior living space. If you’ve ever been in an RV with the slide-outs contracted and then extended, the difference is substantial. Slide-outs however are notorious for their problems. They break down, they leak, and are expensive to fix. Yet most RV shoppers vote for them with their wallets. Despite all their issues, slide-outs add a lot of room to an RV.
So why don’t tiny houses have slide outs? Some do, but slide-outs are really only a temporary solution. Perfect for a weekend away, where a weather tight seal that can last for years isn’t as important or needed. Since tiny houses are primarily used as residences, every part of their construction needs to last and hold up to years of punishment. Slide-outs just aren’t cut out for the task.
To sneak in more room most tiny houses include a sleeping loft. This allows for space for an entire bedroom without adding any length to the houses since it is situated over other living area (e.g. bathroom, kitchen, etc.). But a loft is no bedroom. While they can be quite roomy, you can’t stand in them, so they are no substitute. Also, many older buyers have no interest in climbing a set of stairs to go to bed (let alone to come done in the middle of the night to use the bathroom). So, while a sleeping loft can be a great feature not frequently found in an RV, they aren’t perfect.
There is no question as to who wins when talking about mobility for Tiny Houses vs RVs. RVs are designed to move with their lightweight materials and aerodynamic shapes. Tiny houses on the other hand are heavy and have all sorts of places for the wind to catch and slow them down. So, if you plan to move your structure frequently, an RV is likely going to be a better choice. But, as we’ve already said, mobility is not usually a deciding factor for the typical tiny house shopper.
Both RVs and tiny house can range considerably in price. On average though, tiny houses can easily cost several times an equivalently sized RV. While a 24’ tiny house might average around $65,000, a 24’ RV is closer to $25,000. At first glace that may seem like the RV is the clear winner, however, this is truly a case of “you get what you pay for”. Going back to the quality section above, there is no comparison between the two in this area, and of course, higher quality comes at a higher price.
Winner: Tie (depends on your budget and need)
While Tiny Houses and RVs are often compared, you can see that each is designed to meet a specific need. One for long-term stationary living, and the other for travel. That’s not to say you can’t use one for the other, it just isn’t as good of a fit. So hopefully the next time someone asks you why you just aren’t buying an RV, you have a good answer for them.