tiny homes have captured the collective imagination and become a symbol of a sustainable and financially free lifestyle that many thought would forever be unavailable to them. Those who’ve just stumbled upon the tiny life and want to know more are often overwhelmed by the sheer number of tiny home types out there.

We put together this handy guide to explore some of the most popular and commonly encountered tiny home types and help you get a better understanding of which ones interest you most.

Tiny House on Wheels (THOW) 

When most people picture a tiny house, they’re imagining a tiny house on wheels. THOW’s are the gorgeous little homes built on trailers that fill up your Instagram feed and (If you’re lucky) drive by you on the highway. 

A THOW allows tiny dwellers to build homes that they can travel the country in or park and live in permanently. There are as many different types and styles of THOWs as there are people, but generally, they offer everything a traditional home would, just in a much smaller package.

THOWs can be as small as 100 sq ft and towable behind even modestly powerful vehicles or ‘massive’ tiny houses that require a fifth-wheel or even a semi-truck to move.

Tiny House Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs)

ADUs are tiny homes permanently built onto a foundation that are secondary homes on a lot that already has a primary home on it. They’re one of the most expensive fully hooked up options to build since they don’t require the purchase of a trailer and are already on a lot with grid connections.

ADUs are very popular in cities with high housing costs and otherwise restrictive zoning requirements. Homeowners can construct an ADU in their backyard and rent it out to provide an affordable place for friends, family, or others to live in. You can even order a kit with all the basic structural elements needed to build one.

Los Angeles, San Francisco, and other incredibly expensive cities have seen an explosion in ADU construction over the past few years.

Container Homes

Container homes are a fascinating offshoot of the tiny house movement that uses shipping containers as the shell for a home. Shipping containers are available at a reasonable cost just about anywhere on earth and are designed to be weathertight and highly resistant to damage.

A single 40-foot container offers 285 sq ft of usable space that can easily be expanded upon by connecting multiple containers together. The shape of a container is very conducive to running cabling, plumbing, and attaching fixtures to, making it easy to customize to your desired living plan.

Container homes offer the benefits of modularity, easy shipping from a manufacturer/distributor to your home site, and numerous options to purchase fully built-out homes. They aren’t a good choice if you want to move around frequently, but for a sustainable, affordable, and minimalist living style on a permanent lot they offer a great option.

Want to know more about container homes? Check out our comprehensive container home guide.

RVs/Park Model Homes 

Recreational vehicles include everything from pop-up campers all the way to massive (and expensive) Class A motorcoaches. For tiny living, the most common RV types we see are teardrops, tow-behind travel trailers, and Class C motorhomes. Park model RVs are the most like tiny homes, with an exterior that resembles modern tiny home aesthetics but interiors all but indistinguishable from other RVs.

RVs are already furnished and include electrical, water, and sewage systems that make them attractive options for those looking to get moving quickly and affordably. The secondary RV market is filled with gently used examples with bedrooms, showers, kitchens, and all the other facilities needed to live.

The downside is that most RVs aren’t designed to be lived in full time. Many of the appliances, fittings, and furniture pieces in RVs will wear out quickly when subjected to constant use.

One way to get around this is to use the shell and basic wiring/plumbing systems of an RV while gutting and replacing interior fittings with more permanent options.

Skoolies 

Skoolies are buses, usually school buses, that have been converted into highly mobile living spaces. They combine many of the best features of RVs, tiny homes, and container homes.

They offer similar space to many tiny homes but have their own engine, like an RV. Unlike an RV, the interior is highly customizable and can be designed with the kind of permanent fixtures and longer-lasting furniture that makes skoolies feel more like “home”.

Skoolies also offer significantly more storage space than a van or smaller RV. They’re a great option for couples and families or those who want to travel widely without sacrificing comforts.

Cabins/Yurts

One of the oldest and still most popular types of tiny homes are cabins, yurts, A-frames, and other living structures on remote land. They can be grid-connected or off-grid, and offer the ultimate way to get away from the hustle and bustle of modern life and try your hand at creating a sustainable and self-sufficient lifestyle.

People have been building cabins in the woods for thousands of years. If you really want to take it to the next level you can fell your own logs, cut them to size, and build it yourself as conservationist and sustainable living legend Dick Proenneke did.

For those of us who don’t happen to be master woodworkers, there are tons of cabin kits, cabin builders, and other options out there. One of the easiest and most affordable are yurts. They’re distinctive round tents based on those used by the peoples of the steppes for thousands of years.

Final Thoughts

Tiny homes on wheels may be the adorable and free-wheeling tiny houses most people think of, but they’re by no means the only option out there. The tiny house movement is deeply inclusive and happy to accept anyone with the desire to embrace a more sustainable and affordable lifestyle while living well with less.

Josh Davidson

Josh is a freelance writer and avid outdoorsman. He graduated from the University of Georgia with a B.A. in Political Science and has done his best since to live location-independent. He's been a firm supporter of the tiny movement, new homesteaders, and sustainable alternative living and used his knowledge of these topics to convert a 1999 Dodge Ram van to explore as much of Wild America as he could reach.

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