Some single Baby Boomers feel motorhomes are the best option for living tiny but then there’s the tiny house camp. Each has their reasons and so let’s discuss motorhomes, why each side might feel they have the better argument and if they can agree on anything.
- Cost – If you have a healthy bank account, you may be able to purchase the top or the line Luxury RV like the Marchi Mobile EleMMent Palazzo for $3,000,000 with its hand-cut wooden flooring, marble countertops, and a staircase that leads to the vehicle’s upper deck. The living room design and the interior LED lighting give it the vibe of a top-tier nightclub. A full-length sunroof completes the look. The Palazzo is popular among oil-rich Arab Sheiks who don’t even like to travel too tiny. However, I doubt that’s in your price range, so let’s look at the more affordable options.
If you’re willing to at least spend $50,000 to $150,000 for a Class A motorhome, what you usually think of when you picture an RV, you can get the base model. Options and upgrades can raise the price to around $800,000. They can be as long as 45 feet and have multiple slide outs. They’re the best for full-time RVing, but if it’s only you and you don’t travel with your children, grandchildren or friends often, it’s more room than you need. With each additional foot of length or pound your gas mileage and maneuverability decrease. Maintenance, service, and insurance can cost as much as that of a small home.
Photo credit: MillenniumLuxuryCoaches via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC-SA
Class B motorhomes are the smallest of the 3 classes. They’re sometimes called camper vans or conversion vans. They often have the appearance of a van, but are larger and have a higher roofline to allow standing. They’re the least expensive priced at $40,000-$80,000 for a standard model and $90,000-$125,000 or more for luxurious versions. They’ve fewer options with a wet bath (shower and toilet together) and some have a tiny kitchen area. They’re made for up to 4 people if you don’t mind being cramped so you wouldn’t want to invite too many guests or make it your primary home. It can be stored and used as a regular van, offers optimal fuel economy and is easier to drive and park.
This is the second largest of the motorhomes classes. Built upon a truck or van chassis, class C motorhomes attempt to capture the best of both class A and class B motorhomes. Basic new models go for $50,000 to $85,000 and up to $140,000 for luxury models. Under 30 feet, they often have an extension over the cab that provides room for a bed, TV or additional storage. It can fit as many as 6 people, but it’s rare it has high-end luxury items due to lack of room. It’s too big for many garages and some driveways.
Photo credit: Travis Gertz via Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC-SA
A travel trailer is a hard-sided, non-motorized recreational vehicle typically towed by a pickup truck or van. Travel trailers are 10-40 feet or longer. Inside they may have one large open area or several rooms. The outside varies from a rectangular shape to adaptations like the classic Airstream aluminum “silver bullet,” a teardrop or other aerodynamic designs. Specialized subcategories of RV trailers include fifth wheels and toy haulers. New travel trailers cost $8,000-$65,000 but average $15,000-$30,000 depending on size, weight, layout, materials, and amenities. At a minimum, a travel trailer contains a bed, a table (which often converts to a bed), a food prep area and storage. Larger models may include a galley kitchen and small toilet stall or a full kitchen, bathroom, master bedroom and living room.
Photo credit: Steve Walser via Visualhunt / CC BY-NC-ND
A tent trailer is considered an entry-level recreational vehicle. Also called a camping trailer, pop-up camper, tent camper or folding camper trailer, it’s basically a tent on wheels with an above-ground floor, built-in beds, a dinette, cooking appliances and other creature comforts. It folds into a lightweight box trailer which can be towed behind the average family vehicle. When folded, the trailer is about 8-18 feet long and 4-6 feet high. When unfolded with the use of a hand crank or hydraulic lift, it provides a canvas or nylon-sided living area that can be up to 32′ long with average-height headroom and can sleep for 4-8 people. New tent trailers cost $3,000-$7,000 for a basic model with beds, a small dinette area, mini-refrigerator, and some cooking appliances. For example, a refrigerator, awning, and hot water system can be purchased for an additional price. A larger tent trailer with better cooking appliances, a heater, AC, outdoor shower, portable toilet, cable TV hookup or slide-outs can cost between $8,000 and $20,000. The most expensive models may have an indoor shower and toilet. It can take 15 minutes to an hour or more to unfold, slide out and crank up a camping trailer.
Photo credit: dwstucke via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC
- A standard ball trailer hitch on the tow vehicle can cost $50-$700, depending on towing capacity, quality of materials and labor costs. The weight of the camping or tent trailer plus all water, fuel, luggage, gear etc. must not exceed the towing capacity of either the tow vehicle or hitch.
- For a trailer wider than the tow vehicle, extended side view mirrors costing $4-$80 for a pair that clamps onto the existing side mirrors or $150-$450 for permanently installed towing mirrors are required.
- Motorhome insurance premiums vary significantly depending on value, frequency of usage, location, and company.
- If you don’t have a space or garage for your RV or trailer, a storage space can cost $20-$100 a month outdoors and $45-$450 a month indoors. RV covers cost $50-$1,200 or more depending on size, materials, and fit.
- Unlike a tiny home, you may be moving your motorhome often. Class As average about 8-10 mpg. A typical fuel tank holds 100-150 gallons and lasts 800-1,500 miles. Class B camper vans, which are similar to a standard family van, get 10-25 mpg. Class C motorhomes average 10 mpg with fuel tanks that hold 25-55 gallons and last for 250-550 miles. Tires, brakes, and filters wear out in direct proportion to the miles driven. Some Class A motorhome owners recommend having a maintenance/repair fund of $3,000-$5,000 a year, especially if living in the motorhome full time.
- Like cars, motorhomes start depreciating as soon as they leave the dealership. A well-maintained Class A that’s a few years old can be 20% to 30% below its original purchase price. Prices for used RVs, travel trailers and campers depend on age, mileage, and condition. Tent trailers don’t depreciate as much as the other more expensive RVs, but a well-maintained tent trailer that’s a few years old might cost 20% to 25% less than its original purchase price. As I mentioned in my previous blog, tiny homes depreciate also unless they’re built on a permanent foundation on the owner’s land. Information found at http://cars.costhelper.com/motor-home-rv.html.
To sum up, if you compare the cost to the tiniest tiny home, a comparable motorhome would be the base model travel or tent trailer. The midrange basic Class B and Class C models would cost about the same as a midsize tiny home with some upgrades and the base Class A’s cost is comparable to the largest luxury tiny house. As with tiny houses, all options add to the cost. If your tiny house is towable, then a larger vehicle may be necessary whereas an RV has its own engine, a travel trailer can often be towed with a standard size truck or van and a tent trailer only needs a car. However, if you want to unhook the vehicle to go somewhere and improve your gas mileage then you have to consider that. You may want a car for day trips with your RV, so towing a car is necessary. Consider renting a motorhome before you buy to weigh the many options available, to see if you can handle set up and how it handles on the road.
If these figures still make you nervous, then you might want to either buy a used motorhome and use it as is or renovate it. Since RVs and trailers depreciate, you can buy them at a substantial discount. You can repurpose items much as you do in a tiny house and make your motorhome as eco-friendly and homey as you desire. See how Mariah Pastell renovated her 1960’s Avalon trailer into The COMET (Cost-effective, Off-grid Mobile Eco Trailer) at http://www.treehugger.com/green-architecture/restored-vintage-comet-camper-cost-effective-mobile-eco-home-mariah-coz-pastell.html.
2. Location – Close your eyes and imagine your small motorhome parked next to the ocean, a lake, a stream or on the brow on a mountain. I live where some of these locations are a possibility in a RV parks, but this isn’t always an option with a tiny house unless you own the land. RVs and other travel trailers are regulated by state and local government agencies and so they can be parked in RV parks. You can also set up long-term in some RV parks, however, some don’t want older, beat up models. Some stores, such as Walmart, allow you to park in their parking lot for the night. Remember to ask permission, leave the area clean and to keep a low profile. You can’t do that with a tiny house. See more parking ideas at http://www.frugal-rv–travel.com/Overnight-RV-Parking.html.
3. Mobility – I’ve piloted small planes, ultralights, motor and sailboats and driven cars, vans and trucks of varying sizes. I even drove the largest rental moving truck available while towing a car through the Rockies in construction on a rainy day, but I still found pulling my 28-foot travel trailer ranks right up there with flying. The most difficult part for me was backing it up and moving it into the parking spot. Unless you’ve experience with a trailer, you’ll find backing is a challenge. You have to train yourself to forget about the rules that apply to backing other vehicles. Driving with a swaying trailer on the open, sometimes windy road can also be challenging. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration offers safety tips for driving with a trailer at http://www.nhtsa.gov/Cars/Problems/Equipment/towing/safety_tips.htm. RVs are easier to maneuver on the road unless you’re towing a car. Hooking and unhooking it from your vehicle is also a problem. You need another person to guide you into position. These same problems apply to a tiny house on wheels.
- Set up and sewage – As with tiny houses you move, set up can be difficult. The biggest and most luxurious RVs offer motorized hydraulic jacks to help with leveling your RV and electronic slide outs eliminate the need for muscle power when setting up. Utilities, if available, are easy to connect, but raw sewage (a euphemism for another word) happens and you need to either set up sewage disposal lines each time you move or go to the RV dump station. Either way, you have to handle and attach the pipes to the sewage system. While it’s not difficult, it can be messy and if you’re squeamish, you may want to wear gloves and boots, hold your breath and pray there isn’t any black water left in the outlet tube when you unscrew its cap. In my opinion, this option is preferable to a compost toilet.
Leveling is important
- Comfort – While you could be comfortable in either option, even the high-end RV isn’t well insulated. You can heat it to a livable temperature in temperate and warmer climates and cool it in the summer heat, but it takes a great deal of fuel and electricity. It’s best to stay in warmer climes in the winter and search for cooler locations in the summer.
Here’s where tiny house and motorhome owners may agree.
Having a small house and a small motorhome may provide the best solution for flexibility and freedom. The tiny house could free you financially and a moderately priced motorhome may free you geographically.
Whatever you decide, it’s your adventure but do your research before you make the decision. Most single Baby Boomers are either saving for retirement or living on limited funds and need to make the most economical decision for their needs and wants. We focus a lot on our needs, which is important, but it’s not only our funds that are limited so is our time to enjoy life the way we want. If travel is important to you, these are two great movable options. Next time, just for fun, we’ll discuss other alternative housing options. You may be surprised what other single Baby Boomers call home.
Continue the adventure!