Traumatic, Dramatic, Ecstatic.
The highs and lows of moving a tiny house…
I have been reluctant to summarise the experience of moving my tiny house for the first time into a brief facebook post, partly because it was so stressful I needed some space to absorb it and partly because I know the usual armchair critics will pick at my errors without stopping to consider that I will have already given myself a hard time about these things already. Social media is a double edged sword. Random people’s comments can both encourage and demotivate. You can use it as an extremely valuable source of information — but you need to develop a thick skin, see past the naysayers and interpret all the information to enhance your own knowledge database. I’m still learning to do this, hence my reluctance to write this. But the thing is, if someone else had written this and I’d read it before my big move I think I would have been better prepared and a little less traumatised now. And it deserves a proper write-up, so here it is.
I’m not a professional carpenter, electrician, plumber, builder or engineer. I’m a digital business analyst who works with software teams to build websites and mobile apps. I am also a tiny house enthusiast who began subconsciously searching for an alternative to the rat race a few years ago. By this I mean it did not feel right for me to sign up to a mortgage and live the life I wanted in the 4 short weeks of annual leave assigned to me by my employer. So having met someone who had a similar background to me (female, no prior building experience, office professional, similar age) who had successfully built her own tiny house I felt like this was the next adventure for me. I do believe that ignorance was bliss — if I had known what it would feel like to work so physically hard that I couldn’t sleep for the pins and needles in my arms, to watch my paragliding ranking stagnate and meander backwards due to the dropping focus on my flying, to not be able to plan a holiday with friends due to the never-ending task list of my build, I might never have signed up for this adventure. But then again, I would not have ended up where I am — in the town I have longed to live in for the past 5 years, in a beautiful little cabin that provides everything I need, debt-free and richer for the friends I have made and the skills I have developed throughout the process. Certainly, there were plenty of reasons not to start the project at all.
If you follow any of the tiny house social media networks you will see plenty of comments made by sensible people which cannot be debated. Things like “but how could you invest so much in a house that the council may not allow you to live in?’, “surely, its not safe to live in a structure not built according to building codes?”, and “there’s a reason you pay professionals to build a house for you”. Totally. But the thing is that whilst their point is that the odds are stacked against you, that still leaves space for things to go your way. And that’s what happened for me. I now understand that adage “Fortune favours the bold”.
I had researched everything about building a tiny house to the nth degree. There’s a lot of information out there on the build. And what isn’t out there on tiny houses specifically, is often available on building in general. There’s not that much about moving a tiny house. Or maybe I just didn’t come across it. But my biggest fears about moving my tiny house were that it would fall apart having not been built solidly enough or that low-hanging trees or powerlines might get in the way and take out my roof. These are things that it turned out I didn’t need to worry about it so much. Or maybe its because I worried about these things that I took care of them. The things that went wrong were things I had not considered.
To be honest, one of the issues had crossed my path and I think I just hoped it wouldn’t be an issue. This is probably only going to be an issue if you are going to get on a freeway and travel at speed. And that is weight distribution. I had seen this video shared on Facebook a while back, felt uncomfortable and pushed it out of my mind. I should have listened to that feeling and done everything I could to mitigate this.
My tiny house has quite a traditional layout. Kitchen over the wheels, bathroom in the back, loft on top of bathroom and kitchen. At the front is the living area which is mostly empty of heavy things — just a couch and a desk. This layout is a problem if you are going to tow at speed.
I had towed my tiny house from the back of the paddock I built it in to the front of the paddock before the big move day, to make sure the wheels worked and it moved ok. It did move ok. In fact, it moved just great to the point where I felt confident I could move it short distances with my Holden Colorado. Turns out this is really not going to tell you much about how it tows at 80km/hr for 500km. Once we were on the freeway out of Sydney, the video above gives an indication of how the tiny towed. Every time there was a sideways gust of air, either from the wind or from passing trucks, the trailer would move from side to side. I had paid a tow truck driver using a Dodge Ramcharger to tow it for me and he had his work cut out for him. I paid him a few thousand dollars to do the job, and whilst I baulked at the cost originally I am so glad I didn’t attempt to move it myself (which I considered doing by renting an appropriate vehicle). I do not possess the skills or experience to handle such a tow and moving a tiny house is definitely not the ideal situation to learn those skills from scratch. The tow truck happened to get a flat tyre before we were clear of Sydney and so we stopped at a tyre repair place to get it fixed. It was at that point the driver informed me it wasn’t much fun to tow. I was towing a smaller cargo trailer full of belongings and the driver instructed me to pull anything heavy out of it and put it into the front end of the tiny house. I pulled out 80kg of hydraulic jacks and 60kg of generator. Back on the freeway it was still moving around.
Next stop at McDonalds (tow truck driver was in desperate need of coffee) I mentioned to the driver that it was terrifying to watch him tow the tiny, hoping he would settle my nerves by assuring me it wasn’t that bad for him. Nope, he informed me it was still no fun to tow. Shit. I asked him what I could do, and told me to go to the next Bunnings and buy 100kg of cement. So I went ahead of him (which was not nearly as stressful as following him) and bought said cement. We loaded that in the front of the tiny and whilst the trailer did not stop moving around completely it seemed a lot easier for him to keep it under control. The next stop I nervously asked him if it made any difference and he confirmed it was better — not awesome, but better.
So for the next 7 hours I watched 2 years of hard work, the lion’s share of my savings and many of my possessions hurtle down the Hume Highway as my stomach turned knots and I visualised the worst. Luckily, I had asked a good friend to accompany me and share the driving. Due to the late finish making last minute preparations the night before I was running on adrenalin and not much sleep so when the tow truck driver advised tiny was towing better I relinquished control to her and nervously watched from the passenger seat. Those were the longest 7 hours of my life. Every time Tiny would waver, those knots in my stomach tightened and my stress levels maxed, only for the wavering to quickly come under control and the knots loosened. A little.
I moved my tiny 1 week after the biggest rainfall event in Victoria for the year. I was worried about access and local flooding, but the rain didn’t result in any obvious issues. When we finally arrived at the property that was to be my new home it looked fine. However, the property driveway which is gravel (and has always been a little eroded) was now looking quite eroded. The driver turned the tiny around so that it could come up the driveway at the best angle, but the tow truck was not 4WD and could not make it up the driveway. A passing cyclist stopped to watch and pointed out that the rear of the Tiny was mere centimetres off the ground as it was halfway up the driveway. I wish we had taken more notice of that comment. We were so focused on getting the tiny up the driveway we weren’t paying attention to the clearance at the back. At that stage we had determined the driveway wasn’t going to work and just backed it out, no issues.
The driver at this point said we’d have to get a tractor to get it onto the property. I wish we had listened to him at that point. Although maybe it wouldn’t have mattered. We decided the only way to get Tiny into the paddock was to cut the fence and drive it more directly into the paddock. There appeared to be remnants of an old driveway at one section so we cut the fence there and thought it looked ok. I should have driven my vehicle up there first to feel it. But we were tired and wanted the day to be done. So the tow truck driver tried it. There is a decent incline up the paddock and the tow truck gave it a good rev to gain a little momentum. And that’s also when the rear hit the road. I have a removable bumper bar on the back of my tiny which has tail lights and space for a licence plate. Thank god that was there. The bumper bar gouged into the road and bent. When it bent, it bent into the corner of my rear bump-out, splintering the corner piece of cedar, as well as the corner of the bottom row of siding. The problem was that to reverse was jamming the now-bent bumper bar further into the road and to move forward was bending it more into tiny. Shit.
That’s when the neighbour with a tractor came to the rescue. Well, he could pull the tow truck and the tiny up the incline but we still had the issue of it being jammed in the road. After looking at the problem from all different angles, we decided the solution need to start with removing the bumper bar. The problem was that you need to access the underneath to pull the fixing pins out. Even then I wasn’t sure if the bumper bar had twisted inside its holding channels and may still not be able to be removed. So we got my super-heavy 2500kg hydraulic jack out and jacked up the rear enough to access the holding pins of the bumper bar. Luck was on our side and the bumper bar slid cleanly out of its holding channels and came free of the tiny house. We dug some space out beneath the rear of the house to provide a little more clearance, eased it off the jack and slowly pulled the tiny up onto some timber to give it a little more height. Once we were clear of the ditch the tractor was able to pull the tow truck and the tiny up into the intended spot without a problem.
I paid the tow truck driver and thanked him profusely for his efforts and proffered that he may never want to tow a tiny house again. Despite having gone through an entire pack of cigarettes on the trip, he said he would tow a tiny house again but he’d charge more and not be responsible for getting the house on or off the property. Fair enough. He also said another 100kg in the front and it would tow just fine.
So I now find myself exactly where I dreamed I would be. The spot is better than I hoped because the chestnut tree it is parked behind provides much needed shade from the afternoon sun and a decent amount of privacy from passing traffic. Its hard to fully rejoice in getting to this point because I am still recovering from the realisation that it nearly didn’t happen. I think that’s mostly because I am such a planner and I didn’t account for the things that so very nearly unravelled the project. A tiny house is still a relatively unknown quantity so I am trying not to give myself too hard a time. In the interests of sharing my learnings and experience, here are some of my thoughts on the key issues to consider when moving a tiny house.
- Talk to your trailer manufacturer about your design and where you expect the heavy stuff (like appliances and tiling) to be situated. They may be able to optimise the trailer for your intended layout. Better still, just don’t put all the heavy stuff at the back.
- Be realistic about your weight distribution and have a plan on how to deal with uneven distribution. Its not the end of the world if your design is back-heavy (try to avoid this if you can) but you will need to counter balance that to enable safe towing. Move heavy appliances to the front of the trailer, and/or add some bags of sand or cement. Have a plan to be able to stop and purchase more if required.
- Conduct your move during daylight hours. My driver originally wanted to do the move after dark and travel through the night, but I insisted on doing it during daylight hours so we could see any low-hanging branches or powerlines clearly. Actually, the bigger issue was about being able to stop and resolve issues as they arose with the help of businesses during business hours — like repairing flat tyres and purchasing additional weight. Ensuring everyone involved is awake and alert is also important.
- Unless you have a lot of experience towing heavy trailers, hire a professional for the first time. A tiny house is not your average trailer and unless it has been professionally built, finished and test-towed take the conservative approach. Pay a professional.
- Consider the route you will take from start to end and visually check all the powerlines and trees. If you know that large vehicles (like semi-trailers) travel near your start and end points, use the route they take.
- Secure everything well. Remove fly screens if they are on the outside of the window, bolt down air-conditioner units, protect forward facing windows and make sure any doors are locked. Secure everything on the inside — jamming things in is better than securing to the wall. Use your clothes and linen to protect your walls and fragile items.
- If you arrive at the destination after a long day, consider leaving the final manoeuvring till the next day when everyone is fresh. The adventure isn’t over once you get to your destination and the stress of watching your hard work for hours on the road is taxing.
- When you are fresh, consider all the things that could go wrong in manoeuvring the tiny into place. Drive the path with another vehicle and be aware of how your much-longer-trailer will fare when following the same route.
- Have enough people ready to watch the tiny. Make sure you have eyes on every corner. Make that their only job.
Ok, so there you have it. The honest truth about moving a tiny house. It’s not for the faint-hearted but if you didn’t build in an ideal living location, you need to do it to complete the dream. I was very lucky in that the damage was not extensive and not structural. But I am very aware that it could have been. I do think my tow truck driver operated on the conservative side and would not have continued the tow if he felt it was not safe — he just didn’t enjoy it very much. Hopefully, my painful experience will benefit those still on the journey!
Originally published at My Journey into Tiny.