In this article we'll focus on the following items to consider before towing your Tiny House RV: Weight, Low Clearances, & Road Conditions.
Before hitting the road with your Tiny House RV, you'll need to purchase or rent a truck that can handle the weight of your trailer. You can figure out the weight your Tiny House RV by taking it to a truck scale. If you built using Tumbleweed plans, and used the same materials specified in the materials list, you can estimate your weight using the graph below.
Typical Tumbleweed Weight Specifications:
It's also important to know the tongue weight of your Tiny House RV, as this can affect the tow vehicle you need to purchase. You can calculate your tongue weight by purchasing a tongue scale (or try this virtually free version). As a rule, your tongue weight should be 10-15% of your total weight of your trailer.
To improve your overall control, and to reduce stress on your tow vehicle, you might want to consider purchasing a weight distribution system.
The below graph is helpful when deciding which tow vehicle to purchase based on the weight and tongue weight of your Tiny House RV.
Minimum Tow Vehicle Requirements:
In the United States, every state has a specific height restriction for vehicles. In order to stay within the legal limits, you should research the state (or states) which you plan to travel with your Tiny House RV. Most legal limits are between 13' 6" and 14.' All Tumbleweed plans call for construction height of no more than 13'6."
Guillaume & Jenna's self-built Tumbleweed Cypress clears a low overpass
Federal requirements state: "on Interstate routes, the clearance height shall not be less than 14 feet." Therefore, Tiny House RVs should have no problem with low clearances on major interstates. That being said, there are many rural bridges lower than 13'6" all over the country. It is important to plan ahead when traveling. Read signage carefully, stay on major roads and avoid historic districts.
It is a good idea to purchase a RV GPS which will navigate you around low clearances. Watch for low hanging wires and tree branches when traveling through neighborhoods, especially at night.
Ella's self-built Tumbleweed Cypress on the road
Urban neighborhoods tend to have narrow streets and tight turns, which can be difficult to navigate with a tow vehicle. When in doubt, it's best to avoid any routes that would not be accessible to a semi-truck. Having a passenger that can get out an spot for you is also helpful.
The OR Tiny House, inspired by the Tumbleweed Elm, travels all winter long
As with any vehicle, rough roads can damage your Tiny House RV. Plan ahead and avoid gravel or loose dirt roads when possible. It's a good idea to protect the windows on the tongue side of your Tiny House RV. Rocks can crack or damage your windows, so attached plywood or shutters for protection during travel.
Guillaume & Jenna's self-built Tumbleweed Cypress taking a beating on a dirt highway in Alaska
Stay within your comfort level. If you are not comfortable towing your Tiny House RV in snow, rain or ice, don't do it. Watch the weather reports for your current and upcoming destinations and plan ahead. If you find yourself caught in bad weather, drive slow or pull over until it passes. It's always better to be extra cautious with your tow load, not only for yourself, but also for the other vehicles on the road.
Check back soon for a follow up article with more towing considerations.
Jenna Spesard is currently living and traveling around North America in a DIY Tumbleweed Cypress with her partner, Guillaume. They are photographing and writing about their adventure and occasionally they will be hosting Tumbleweed workshops and open houses. Be sure to follow their tiny house and giant journey.
Hanspeter and his German Modified Tumbleweed
Hanspeter is currently building a Tumbleweed in Germany, a country where the tiny house movement is in its inception, but this isn't his first experience as a woodworking pioneer. In June of 2000, he traveled to Mongolia to construct the first wood frame house in Ulaanbaatar for a local family. "This," he says, "was one of the best experiences of my life."
Hanspeter During Construction of Ulaanbaatar's 1st Wood Frame House
A few years later, Hanspeter stumbled upon the Tumbleweed website and was immediately fascinated by the little structures. What he said next will resonate with many of you -
"I loved the idea of having a tiny home of my own, living with a small carbon footprint, staying debt free and having more time for community living. I am retired and my pension is not very big. I don't want to spend my remaining years administrating a lot of personal stuff. So, living small is the best solution for me to live a self-reliant life."
"I love the saying: the best things in life are not things!" - Hanspeter
Hanspeter began construction of his tiny home last summer, but since he is building one of the first tiny homes in Germany he has encountered a few unique challenges. "In Germany, we are not allowed to bolt the structure permanently to the trailer," Hanspeter explains, "So I invented a system to plug my tiny house into the trailer railings." In doing so, his tiny home is now categorized as a "load."
Hanspeter faced his next challenge when he weighed his half-finished tiny home and was forced to cut back on using heavy materials. Tumbleweed trailers are rated for either 10,000 or 15,000 lbs, but as Hanspeter explains: "The sturdiest trailers available in Europe that I know of are 3.5 tons (about 7,700 lbs). My trailer is a 2.7 tons trailer (about 6,000 lbs). The only solution for building tiny homes in Europe is to build lighter and smaller."
Since discovering weight might be an issue, Hanspeter has put his home on a diet, employing only light weight materials. For example, he used aluminum instead of steel roofing and styrofoam insulation instead of wood fiber. Even with taking these precautions, Hanspeter's most recent weighing neared 5,300 lbs. That leaves him only 700 lbs for the remainder of his interior build.
"I am aware that the Tiny House might still become too heavy once fully equipped. One option is to change the axles, the breaks and the towing bar." Hanspeter contemplates, "I'm also currently investigating if the trailer manufacturer is able to build a 3.5 ton trailer with the same dimensions and the same railing as my current trailer." If that option proves available, Hanspeter's Tiny House could be transposed onto the new heavy-duty trailer (as mentioned earlier, his home was engineered to be "plugged" into the trailer, rather than permanently fixed). Although costly, he believes upgrading the trailer would be the ideal solution.
Hanspeter's Three Pieces of Advice for Tiny Home Builders:
1) Try to get the sturdiest trailer available with the largest possible payload.
2) Build with the lightest materials you can find and keep the thickness of floor, roof and walls in reasonable limits. Weight will add up fast and every pound counts in the end.
3) Try to get in touch with other builders of Tiny Houses, Circus Wagons, Vardos and Shepherds Huts. In Europe, this is the most difficult task.
Thank you Hanspeter for sharing your story and advice with our readers. We know that every build helps us learn and grow as a community.
*All photos provided by Hanspeter & Black Forest Tiny House
*More information on Hanspeter's build can be found on his website here.
Jenna Spesard is currently building a Tumbleweed Cypress with her partner, Guillaume, who is a professional photographer and Tumbleweed Workshop Host. After the build is complete, they plan to travel around North America in their tiny house blogging and photographing their adventure. More on their tiny house and giant journey here.