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 An RV can also remain stationary in a rented space at an RV park, but they are originally made to roll down the highway.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

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

  • You make an excellent point about the financing and insurance. I don’t know of any banks making loans on tiny houses. However, in the unfortunate event you did lose everything it would be much easier to start from scratch again living in a tiny home as compared to a traditional home.


  • You’re absolutely right Jeff. The wonderful thing about building a tiny house yourself with salvaged lumber and good bargain shopping is no mortgage. Of course Cozy homes will be a bit more to construct, but still 100-150K less than the national average. This could mean having a house payment that is manageable, even in difficult economic times.

  • Tell me more about the plumbing in cozy homes?

  • Thanks SD! Cozy homes are the same as any other traditional house with the plumbing tied in with the local municipality or well. All sinks, showers, toilets and utilities are the same as there much larger counterparts. Tiny house plumbing is a different animal… From gravity fed tanks, storage tanks for portable, gray and black or fed from a garden hose. Which one were you planning for your particular project?

  • I am very interested in Tiny House (mobile) I actually saw it on tv
    I was impressed . I saw a young man even building his own.
    Could you send me literature and pricing? Do you have classes?
    Are you ever looking for people to sell or advertise
    your tiny house? I hope they are affordable.
    I did notice they were built sturdy. Well built !

    Diana W

  • Thanks for the comment Diane. Cozy is more about tiny & small homes that are “not” mobile even though we do have several plans that are 8’ wide and could easily be the inspiration for a tiny house on a trailer. We are planning a “Cozy on the Go” tiny house, but that’s several months away. You’re fortunate to be on the west coast where tiny houses are a BIG deal. Check our Portland Alternative Dwellings by Dee Williams and Four Lights Houses from Jay Shafer. They both offer classes and great houses that would make a good place to start your journey. The Tiny House Blog & Tiny House Talk are both exceptional resources for the Tiny House Movement. They often showcase new tiny house building companies that you may find as a more suitable match to your needs and price point. Thanks again and keep us in mind when you’re ready to put down roots again! Cozy Home Plans, Kevin

  • My husband and I travel for his job and are considering the option of a transportable home. We have looked at RV’s and I don’t understand why anyone would pick a tiny house over an RV. For $40,000 you can get a very luxurious RV with much more space and top of the line amenities and since we travel, I don’t know that there would be places that accepted tiny houses like RV’s. I will give you the cute factor for sure but to me that is on the lowest of my priorities. I would much rather have comfort, luxury and space. I am not in no way knocking tiny homes because if you are looking for something stationary, I think they might be a better option…just not for traveling.

  • Hey Jacquline! I agree with you whole heartedly on the traveling aspect of a traditional RV vs. a stick built tiny house. My bias would be mainly in the longevity aspect. Having lived in an RV 5th wheel for several years I can say that they definitely are pretty and work quite well. I have also torn apart RV’s for parts and scrap and can say without a doubt there built with glue, staples and the cheapest materials one can get, absolute junk. The walls are 2”x2” so that’s an insulation value of R-5 or 6 and don’t get me started on the electrical aspects. Having built homes and remodeled them for decades, I know what quality construction consist of and what it takes to actually do it. A personal note… My 5th wheel was recently hailed on, it knocked out both the skylights and damaged the A/C unit. Needless to say it rained several more times before I discovered it. Lots of damage and severe mold is a definite potential inside the walls. Thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours worth of work to make it right again, Sniff, Sniff… Needless to say, with stick built tiny house that probably would have not happened. A tiny house is still a house, an RV is a quickly depreciating maintenance pit… but it does roll down the highway real nice. Just an opinion!

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