RVs and ADUs: Which one would suit you best?

RVs and ADUs: Which one would suit you best?

RVs and ADUs have become more in demand, as everybody is downsizing these days. From their eating habits and their clothing to their houses—people are craving more for something less in their lives. 

But how do you know which of those two is suitable for you? You must carefully consider this. Just because you’re pining for smaller dwellings doesn’t mean the consequences for the wrong choice is also tiny. 

In this blog post, we explained the differences between Recreational Vehicles (RVs) and Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs). We also listed the things you should consider when shopping for an RV or an ADU, so you can make a better-informed buying choice.

RVs and ADUs: What are the differences?

two white RVs on the mountains
RVs and ADUs: Which of them is right for you?

First, let’s make it clear. Recreational Vehicles (RVs) have wheels, but Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) don’t. A property has to be built on a foundation to be legally considered an ADU. 

RVs are also known as tiny houses on wheels, while tiny houses on foundations may be considered as ADUs given they meet the required minimum size. That size varies in every state. 

RVs are not considered ADUs because they have added safety risks due to being mobile. As a result, they are more difficult to regulate. For instance, the city of Boise, Idaho, prohibits tiny houses on wheels (THOWs) from being recognized as ADUs. They consider THOWs as RVs and vice versa. 

ADUs can be any small structure that is a standalone unit. It can also be a former attic or garage that you remodelled, which has its own living space, bathroom, and kitchen. It can also be an added room to an already existing residential house. 

The term ADU also includes structures like casitas, cottages, granny flats, and in-law suites. RVs also have many types, including truck campers, travel trailers, toy haulers, and more, which we discussed in the later sections. 

Choosing between RVs and ADUs: Things to consider

In the later sections, we discussed the different types of RVs and ADUs. However, below, we’ll give you a rundown of the important things to consider when choosing between RVs and ADUs. 

Purpose of buying/building

cute small white house on green grass
For whom or for what are you building this property?

It’s easy to make a choice when you’re clear about your purpose of buying an RV or an ADU. And when we said clear, we meant laser-focus clear. 

For instance, ask questions like: Are you having a family member come over and/or live beside you? Are you financially equipped to tour entire North America? 

If you want to care for your aging in-laws or elderly relatives, then an ADU will be your choice. If you already set aside a budget for travel-by-land expenses, RVs will easily fit your lifestyle. 

Don’t just plan to buy an RV or build an ADU “in case” you might need them in the future.  This is a property, mister/miss—you’re still going to spend a huge amount on these. As a result, your purpose should be clear, urgent, and sure.  

Features and amenities

ADUs can have a similar amount of amenities in a regular house. The only difference is theirs are smaller versions of their amenities.

For example, an ADU like a Granny Flat can have two bedrooms, a toilet and bath, a kitchen, a living area, a porch, and even a garage. You will not get these together with an RV. If you want to live with accessible amenities, then your best choice might be an ADU. 

Although, some RVs have bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchen, and a common area. For instance, these travel trailers, such as the Forest River Wildwood, can let up to four people sleep, with each trailer having two to three beds.

Bigger RVs like Fifth-Wheel trailers and Travel Trailers can give ADUs a run for their money when it comes to space. However, if space, especially outdoor space for amenities, is crucial to you, we suggest building an ADU. 

Resale value

RVs and ADUs - resale value
How will this property fare in the future?

If your goal is to live a sustainable life, then you should mull over for a while. Think about a property’s resale value. 

RVs are terrible at holding their value, especially those poorly designed ones and, interestingly, the luxurious, high-end RVs. Although, if an RV is well-designed and well-maintained, it will fare well in the resale value department. 

If you don’t want something that loses its resale value in a wink, maybe an RV is not for you. 

On the other hand, since ADUs are often built separately but nearby the main house, the original property value will increase. Your original PV will increase a good half of its value at 51%

That’s why if you prefer developing your property for a tasty resale in the future, building an ADU is a good idea. 

Budget 

We’re going to give it to you straight. Both are going to be expensive! 

ADUs are basically second houses. It will still require building permits, foundation, structure, electricity, and other essential appliances you need in a regular house. 

Also, other construction fees like the System Development Charges (SDC) may apply to your project, especially if you live in Portland, Oregon. SDC is a one-time payment that will cover sewer and water fees. 

So, it wouldn’t be surprising if your expenses will almost cost you similarly to building a regular house.

RVs, meanwhile, besides their retail price, will have you spending on travel costs and vehicle maintenance fees once you’re out of the car’s warranty. 

When choosing between RVs and ADUs, make sure your budget can compensate for the hidden costs as well. 

Speed of construction 

extended porch, white RV
If you’re in a hurry to travel by land, an RV might suit you better.

This one’s easy, right? RVs are the way to go if you want something immediate. 

You just scour the internet for the best RV deals there is and you’ll find a page or two in a jiffy. If you like customization, you can even design your own RV in RV Wholesalers.

There are even tiny house kits you can use to build your own tiny house. The company will just ship the parts to you. and you can start hammering the nails. Just make sure you have a legal residential lot, first!

Meanwhile, ADUs are generally known to take longer, even if you’re building on the same lot—they often take a year and a half to build. According to Santa Cruz Green Builders, a standalone ADU will take seven months to complete. Converted garages will be faster. 

However, don’t lose hope. There are prefabricated ADUs these days. Prefab ADUs start at $50,000 and can cost as much as $120,000. 

Since they are already pre-built in the factory, they will take a lot shorter to complete. All you need to do is assemble and build it. You can even save a huge deal if you build it yourself.  

Mobility 

This is an easy one, right? If you want a mobile house, go for an RV. ADUs are stuck in your main property’s lot. So, in case you have no plans of moving to another place, ADUs should suit you. 

RVs are for people who don’t like having a permanent address. It’s also suited for people who are financially and emotionally equipped to deal with the legalities of owning a recreational vehicle. 

Living in a mobile house brings many challenges, one of them being the weather. If you’re prepared to weather-proof your RV, then great. Environmental elements will eventually scar your RV, making you spend on maintenance costs. 

Sustainability

a large red house and one small brown house
You can’t invest in a property without looking at its sustainability.

What is sustainability, anyway? It’s the capacity to maintain a property at a steady rate. 

If you want a sustainable property, then all you have to do is to… Go green!

Regardless of whether you own an ADU or an RV, maintenance costs will pile up together with your other expenses. That’s why you should take matters in your own hands before the construction begins or before you buy a prefab ADU. 

Make sure you’re working on an energy-efficient property. Consider solar panels, well-designed ventilation, environmentally-friendly construction materials and sealants, and more. 

Any ADU or RV can be energy-efficient as long as you take the time and effort in making sure it does become that way.

More about RVs and ADUs

Are ADUs expensive to build? 

RVs and ADUs - small white house
ADUs can be as expensive as a regular house.

It depends on the kind of ADU you’re trying to build. However, they are pricey to build and maintain, in general. Standalone ADUs, for example, can cost homeowners up to $400,000. You also have to pay for permit/s. Your property tax will also increase, especially if you’re making it for rent. Meanwhile, yearly maintenance costs can start at 1% of the property value. 

Types of ADUs

Casitas

Casita, in Spanish, means “tiny house”, which makes them more than qualified to be called ADU. It’s often separately built with a bigger, single-family house. In the US Southwest, you can see plenty of casitas. In fact, many realtors offer properties with ready-made casitas because of their popularity. 

Cottages

If casitas are “tiny houses,” then cottages are their more “chill” version. You can find cottages beside lakes or on seashores. They are typically more open, so the breeze can come in. However, cottages can also come in two-story forms, even having bathrooms, dirty kitchens, and bedrooms. 

Granny flats

Granny flats, like Casitas, are structures built in one lot together with the main house. Although, granny flats have more amenities and features compared to Casitas. You can say granny flats are smaller and slimmer versions of the main house.

In-law suites

Also known as “mother-in-law suites”, these structures are typically made for a family’s in-laws or/and grandparents. They are either attached to the main house or built separately on the same lot. Like granny flats, the elderly commonly live in these structures.

Guesthouse

Guesthouses are secondary housing units meant for friends and families who want to stay temporarily. The guesthouse’s difference with the previous structures is that the amenities are meant for temporary use. They could be adjusted to be viable for permanent living, of course. 

Are RVs pricey to build?

three white RVs, parked in the mountains with pillows and blankets on the ground.
RVs have the ability to drill a hole in your pocket as well. But is it worth it in the long run?

Just like an ADU, an RV is also expensive to build and own. Buying one alone can cost you up to $300,000. However, the overall cost can depend on the features, materials, type of RV, and your state’s imposed sales tax (if you’re buying one). 

So, some types can cost cheaper than others because of their design and amenities. In choosing an RV, you also have to consider the tax laws in the state in which you’re planning to register your RV.

Types of RV trailers

Classic travel trailers

These RVs stay faithful to their name. Travel trailers are not complicated to set up in camping grounds. You can also park most travel trailers in campsites. So, if you’re the type to move around a lot and camp with your friends, the travel trailer is a worthy investment. 

Truck campers

If you want a reliable RV with incredible towing power, you should start looking for truck campers. You can cook, do number 1 and number 2, and sleep on a truck camper. However, we don’t recommend bringing a lot of stuff since most truck campers have limited storage. 

Fifth-wheel trailers

If you see yourself living in an RV for a long time, this is your choice. It’s more spacious and has more storage area. It’s easily recognizable for its elevated frontal part, which gives the illusion of two floors. You can even set up an outdoor kitchen area with this. 

Toy haulers

This RV is more suitable for business use, especially if your business involves towing motorcycles and smaller cars like golf carts. It has a big rear opening and a ramp. Since they can also serve as fifth-wheel trailers, they become heavier once they carry another motor vehicle. 

Pop-up trailers

Pop-up trailers are soft-sided small and cheap trailers. Soft-sided means their sidewalls are made of cloth or plastic. Although, some sellers are already making pop-up trailers with hard sides or frames. Pop-up trailers are usually for temporary use since they don’t have enough space for storage and essential facilities like a bathroom. 

Hybrid trailers

Hybrids are a mix of pop-ups and travel trailers. They are still lightweight like a pop-up, but they have more space like a travel trailer. It also comes with a small bathroom, a canvass, and a kitchen. You can’t park it in your garage because of its bigger size, but it can sit comfortably in a camping site.

The bottom line

In choosing between RVs and ADUs, you will go through many considerations. You might even give up and slide back to looking for regular homes. 

However, you must not falter because the truth is there is no perfect RV or ADU. 

As long as either of these two dwellings meets your needs, keeps you safe, and enriches your life, then you are free to choose one. Your choice won’t lead you to a doomed life. 

Regardless, just keep learning and watching out for regulations, so you can live a healthy and sustainable downsized life. 

Related questions

Should I buy a travel trailer? 

If you’re a single person who lives an “on-the-go” lifestyle, and if you see yourself in the future sustaining it, then, by all means, consider buying one. However, if you see yourself settling with a family, please reconsider. Raising a kid in a travel trailer poses many challenges. We don’t recommend it unless you are emotionally and financially prepared.

How long do RVs last?

Similar to other vehicles (or house-vehicle hybrid), RVs will last up to two decades or fifteen years if you work hard to maintain them. If you skip service schedules, it might only last a decade or even less. You can also drive an RV up to more than 250,000 miles if you take good care of it. So, remember to do preventative care on your RV, especially if you travel around a lot or/and live with your family in it.

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