How to Turn an RV into a Tiny House

posted in: DIY, Trailer | 23

Once we decided we wanted to move into a tiny house, we realized how many options there are to achieve this goal.  We weighed many of these options, but eventually settled on converting a travel trailer camper into a tiny house.  Take a look at how it turned out! We did this because the basic infrastructure is already existing, and trailers are relatively affordable.

 

Here’s how to do it:

 

Narrow down which style of RV you want. Acquaint yourself with how RV’s work, and the different types. There are many different styles of RV, and each has their own pros and cons. There are truck campers, travel trailers, and motorhomes. Each of these categories has many different varieties. There is a lot to learn!

 

Decide which size you want. Once you have determined which type of RV you want, the next step is to decide how much space you need.  More space means more storage for your junk, but also means more weight to haul around, and more work to do in converting it.

 

Buy your RV. After you’ve picked a size range, it’s time to choose the specific trailer.  New or used?  We suggest used- many new RV’s cost more than pre-made tiny houses, so we suggest going for a model that’s a few years old.  Head to a dealership to see what they’ve got.  Dealerships only sell quality RV’s and you can compare a bunch of them to figure out what would work best for you.  Also check Craigslist, great deals can be found here.  Make sure to give the whole thing a good run through- ensure the lights and appliances work, and the roof is in good shape. The roof is very important- if there is any sign of water damage we suggest moving on.

 

Get to know your RV

Now that you have an RV, it’s time to get working on converting it into a tiny house. Before you think about ripping out those ugly cabinets, we would recommend spending some time in your RV.  Move a few of your belongings into the RV, and try to live out of it.  Cooking, sleeping, and going to the bathroom are a bit different in an RV, so figure out what you like and don’t like about your RV.  This will guide your renovation.

 

Design it!

By this point you will no doubt have many ideas about what you want to do.  Sketch out the current floorplan, and then sketch out the floorplan you plan to have after- if you plan on making that sort of change. Think about what you will add to the RV, and how it will look. Think about how you will furnish your new tiny house. Think about the colors you want to have.  This is going to be your house, so take your time thinking it all through.

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Demolition

Once you have a rough plan in place, it is time to start demolition!  Carefully tear out anything you don’t want.  Be careful not to hurt anything you’re planning on keeping!

 

Build it!

After demo, you can start building your tiny house.  Start with the big things first. We ripped out some cabinets and our dinette. We also turned our bed 90 degrees, so we had to rebuild all of this from scratch. Throughout your demo and rebuild process, you will likely find that you want to build things better than the original builder.  This is great, but make sure to consider the weight! For example, when we rebuilt our bed, we used thicker wood to make a sturdier frame, and used thick plywood to panel it instead of their lightweight laminate. We are happier with the quality, but it definitely added a few pounds!

 

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Think about storage

Your new tiny house will undoubtedly have less space than a traditional home, so space is at a premium. Put a lot of thought into how you plan to store your things. Check out Pinterest for ideas. Some of our favorite features in our tiny home: Pegboard for kitchen accessories, under bed storage, and custom built wood shelving. Get creative about usage of your space, and try to design things for multiple functionalities. For example, our bench acts as seating for our dining table, folds up to access storage, and also folds out into a cozy guest bed (hinges are our best friend).

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Painting your RV

If your RV is like ours, it’s walls are constructed of vinyl covered particle board. This stuff is hard to paint!  We suggest you sand with rough sandpaper, clean the walls very well, then coat with two layers of primer and two layers of paint (or as many coats as needed to get full coverage). Read More about Painting your RV HERE!

 

Make it yours

Add the things you’ve always wanted to your tiny house. This is your home, so make it yours! We added new showerheads to our indoor and outdoor showers. The stock ones are terrible. We love the Oxygenics Brand. We also built a desk to work at, and mounted a small TV on the wall.  We built a small kitchen table, and hung art on the walls. We even reupholstered the fabric pad above our door. Functionality is important, but it also has to feel like a place you can call home!

 

Move in!

You will undoubtedly have more stuff than you think.  We used the rule that if you don’t plan to use something within the next year, or if you have something else that could do the same thing, get rid of it!  We donated tons of clothes, shoes, and useless cooking accessories to goodwill. We sold a bunch of outdoor gear that we never used.  Organization is key to living in a tiny house, and it will take some time to get used to. We are still moving things around as our needs change. Budget some time to play around with how you store things, and figure out a system that works for you.

 

Enjoy your new freedom!

Tiny houses provide lots of freedom. Freedom from clutter. Freedom from debt. Freedom from having neighbors stacked all around you. Enjoy all that tiny living has to offer.

Dana
Dana is a bike nerd through and through, but also loves to tinker, make, and photograph. You can find him hiking, skiing, or mountain biking most weekends. Check out his personal site for cool data visualizations!

23 Responses

  1. I am currently starting our remodel and painting is difficult. What kind of primer and paint did you use and how has it held up?

    • Dana

      Hi Kim,
      We used an oil based primer, and made sure to CLEAN and sand the walls well before we attempted it. The cleaning is very important, because any dirt/residue on the walls will make the paint less durable. We’ve been living here for 8 months now, and everything still looks beautiful! Keep us posted on how the remodel goes!

    • Rustoleum makes a kit called Transformations. It’s designed to cover cabinets but I used it on my friends camper. Fantastic product- requires no sanding or primer. Low odor, soap and water clean up.
      It’s made to go over laminate cabinets so it covers well.

      They also make a paint for countertops that you can use as well.

  2. […] it could still be a decent temporary fix until you can save up to build something a little better. Here is how you can transform an RV into your next […]

  3. Brandon Forsyth

    Hey loved your article. My wife and our three boys bought a 2001 fifth wheel.
    We did basic stuff to make it livable. We were tired of the rat race and trying to keep up with the jones’ s. We are now debt free after living in our fifth wheel for 18 months. We are now ready to remodel. I have no skills at this so any advice would be greatly appreciated. My email is brandonforsyth5@gmail.com please anything would be helpful. Thankyou for your wonderful article.

    • Dana

      Hey Brandon!
      Congrats on becoming debt free! We are working towards that goal ourselves, and hope to have those pesky student loans paid off sooner rather than later. My best advice for folks thinking about remodeling is to spend some time in the space first, and you guys have certainly done that! Hopefully now you know what you are looking for in terms of functionality. We had limited skills going into this as well. Never any formal training, just what our dads taught us growing up. We tried to keep it simple in terms of the projects we picked, and what would actually provide us benefit. Our bathroom was functional, so we didn’t make too many changes there. To get started, I’d suggest writing down all the things you like about your current space, and all the things you hate. Then, when planning your project, go back to this to jog your memory about what is actually important. Good luck!

  4. Can you tow it just like a regular RV or did your remodel add too much weight and now it’s a permanent structure?

    • Dana

      Hey Daniel,
      Yup, we can still tow it just like a regular RV! We were very conscious of weight with our rebuild, so made sure to use materials sparingly. We estimate we only added around 200 lbs to the trailer.

  5. Instead of renting, I bought a camper! gonna put all that rent money into remodeling my camper! Can’t wait.

  6. Courtney C

    Hello! My names Courtney and I’m starting to think about redoing my family’s camper into a tiny house because I’m wanting my own space. I have big ideas for the tiny space and most of it seems doable, my only problem is I want to convert the bathroom into a wet bath. It would fit me and the space the best, do you have any tips or knowledge on this? Because I haven’t found any myself and I don’t want to mess my soon to be home up.

  7. Waqar Tahir

    My name is Don and I have one 1982 and that I buy 3 month ago when I bought that rv that time I was thinking that I can park this rv in my owne lot with full huck up water gas electric and drain but then I figer out I can not park this rv in my own lot with full huck up I can fix mobile home in my own lot with full huck up but not rv with full huck up so I wants to convert this rv in a mobile home and park in my own lot how that can posibale so city can not make any problem for my because this is rigester as a rv not as a mobile home can I register as a mobile home after I convert this rv in a mobile home how that canposibale I am from Tulsa ok USA

  8. Kim Perkins

    20.4.01 Effective July 1, 2017 House Trailor ! Any trailor oe semi trailor designed to provide living or sleeping facilities and drawn by a motor vechicle.Does not include mobile home. NC General Assembly !!! Nice cause my RV just got refused electricity on a Bona Fide Farm Exemption State Law by Planning and Zoning.

  9. Hello, I am in the middle of converting a travel trailer to a tiny house – I was just wondering if anyone had any info on registration/insurance/etc. for this kind of conversion…since it is to be used as a permanent dwelling instead of recreationally, I’m a bit confused about how I should proceed, or really, the cheapest way to make sure I’ve got all my bases covered…. Thanks!

  10. […] For a practical guide to converting an RV into a house, check out this link. […]

  11. Any suggestions about winterizing?

  12. I would also like to know about winterizing. We are getting ready to move my elderly mother into one on our property because she doesn’t want to move into the house, she wants to feel like she has her own place. We live in Indiana and winters can get pretty cold. This is our biggest concern.

  13. […] the recent popularity of the tiny house movement, many RV owners have sought to convert their RVs into a tiny home. This option is extremely economical and has become a reason for the increase in RV sales across […]

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  16. Roxanne Hillis

    Hey there. Where do you have yours parked? I am looking at land, it’s just confusing whether it can accommodate an rv etc

  17. Great blog and recommendations. Enjoy your wonderful blogs.

  18. Hi I’m trying to convert my RV to a mobile beauty bar. Do you tho k pulling everything out and adding dry wall and new flooring then adding my beauty set up would be okay?

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