What’s the difference between an RV and a Tiny House?

If you’ve decided you want to build and live in a tiny house and someone says to you:  “I could live in an RV for what you are spending on that tiny place.” What’s the best answer to give? What exactly are the differences between an RV and a tiny house?

RVs and tiny homes are both a microcosm of a larger home. The comforts and conveniences of a larger home are re-assembled into a more compact, self-contained and mobile unit. However this transformation results in several differences between an RV and a tiny house.

Houses on Wheels

First of all, a tiny house can be on wheels or on a regular foundation. An RV is usually always on wheels. Another aspect of being on wheels is that a tiny house on wheels is usually stationary. It can be moved when the need arises, but usually stays on a rented or owned property or in back of another house. An RV can also remain stationary in a rented space at an RV park, but they are originally made to roll down the highway.

Size and Towing Ability

RVs are usually shorter in height than a tiny house on wheels. The maximum trailer height for most U.S. States is 13.5 feet without special permits. While the width of a tiny house is usually decided by the size of the trailer it is built on, the height of a tiny house’s pitched roof can hit that maximum height. RVs are also designed to be more lightweight and towable than a tiny house. Most tiny houses are made of wood with heavier construction for stability and more insulation, making them a heavier load to tow.

Plumbing and Electrical

Most RVs are designed to be lived in without always having to be hooked up to a water, electrical and sewer system. Camping trailers have reserve water tanks for both fresh and gray/black water and usually a battery and propane tank for power and heat. Most tiny homes need to be located in a place where owners can have access to water via a garden hose and electricity via an extension cord. However, cleaning those RV reserve tanks and dumping the dirty gray/black water is a chore that most tiny home owners don’t have to do.


While many RVs range into the luxury category, most basic camping trailers don’t have the same comforts of home. In RVs, doors are thinner,  sinks, toilets and showers are smaller, mattresses are not as thick and RV kitchens may be lacking in appliances. Tiny houses can be designed to have a queen size mattress, more kitchen appliances, counter space, more room for clothes and additional storage space. Most RV furniture comes right off the stock shelf, but some tiny homes can have special furniture made just for the owner’s own comfort.

Comfort also comes into play if you plan on living full-time in your RV or tiny house. RVs are usually not built to be lived in during the coldest winters since the insulation is thinner and the construction is fiberglass and metal. A tiny house can be designed and constructed to withstand very cold temperatures with various types of insulation and opportunities for various types of heating, including tiny wood stoves or fireplaces built just for tiny homes.

Financing and Insurance

When financing, purchasing and insuring an RV or a tiny house, most lenders and agents are going to understand what an RV is, but it’s pretty much guaranteed that they will not understand anything about a tiny house on wheels. If you have cash to buy or build your own tiny house, it will be easier to also have cash to replace the house if something happens to it.

Novelty, or “the cuteness factor”

Roads and campgrounds are full of RVs of all different shapes and sizes, but it’s very rare to see a tiny house on wheels. If you are driving around or living in a tiny house you will probably get more visitors and more interesting comments than you ever thought possible. Tiny houses can also be more aesthetically pleasing because they are a miniature version of the classic, traditional home – usually complete with a tiny porch.

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Photos by jzawodn and WBUR