Tag: recreational vehicles

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 remodeled, 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 the 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 and toilet, 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. 


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.  


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. 


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


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. 


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.


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 on 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.

Can a Tiny House Be Registered And Used As An RV?

Can a Tiny House Be Registered And Used As An RV?

Recently, I’ve seen a lot of tiny homes on the highway. Because they resemble recreational vehicles (RV) so much, it got me thinking. Can a tiny house be registered as an RV and be used as such?

Based on my research, most states allow registration and usage of tiny homes as an RV. The process involves someone from the regulatory board inspecting your unit. Only when your unit meets their standards can it be certified as an RV.

Many star energy tiny homes on wheels (THOWs) owners prefer to register their unit as RV for one main reason- parking. Very few establishments allow long-term parking of THOWs. On the other hand, numerous places such as RV parks and private properties allow parking of RVs.

However, one of the downsides in registering your tiny home as an RV is the total cost of the certification process. However, if you have made up your mind in doing so, here is a step-by-step guideline:

tiny house registration as RV

Can a Tiny House Be Registered as an RV Legally?

There are two legal ways to register a small house on a trailer as an RV:

1. You can apply for your mobile home inspection. An inspector from the local office of the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) does the evaluation.

Independent inspection are also carried out under alternative programs. These organizations can also issue tiny home to RV certificates:

● Pacific West Associates- can issue a similar certificate if your THOW met the same standards as that of a traditional RV. They can either issue an ANSI 119.5 or NFPA 1192.

●     National Organization of Alternative Housing- releases certificates stating your mobile home has met standards unique to the construction of small houses.

2.    Buying a tiny home from a manufacturer that sells units in partnership with the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) clears you with this issue. However, make sure you’re buying a fully built model and not a partially constructed one.

However, if you want to build a tiny home by yourself, inspection will be done while you build your home. Same thing when you use plans from a manufacturer to aid you in your construction efforts.

 Difference Between a Tiny House on Wheels and an RV

By legal definition, a tiny home is an RV. However, most small homes on trailers are for permanent residence. Whereas, RVs are for temporary residence.

Moreover, most RVs follow the NFPA standard 1192 and usually have certifications from its manufacturers. Meanwhile, THOWs may not have certification even though it came from a tiny home manufacturer.

The design of tiny homes on wheels and an RV are also quite different. The former is much like home including its exterior. Tiny homes also use materials for constructing traditional homes, such as wood.

Meanwhile, appliances and living amenities such as refrigerators, sinks, and beds fit into an RV. These mobile homes have a metallic shell that protects its interior. 

Can you Live in an RV or Tiny Home?

small home registered as an RV

You can live in an RV or tiny home for a few days or weeks, but not permanently. The law requires that a residential property needs to be built on a foundation.

Building codes and other structural regulations only apply to structures with a foundation built beneath it. When you are parked outside an RV park, most jurisdictions consider you to be “camping.” Hence, your tiny home may be restricted in the same way as tents.

However, there are a few loopholes that tiny home owners used to “prolong” their stay on their tiny house. In some states like Idaho, you can live a few weeks inside your parked tiny home or RV. However, you need to change spots every now and then to avoid breaking the law.

In most cases, tiny home owners eventually settle in one place for about a year or more. In exchange, they need to build a foundation beneath the tiny home for it to comply with the building code. Furthermore, they need to file the property as an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU)

 A Few Exceptions to the Rule

While making your RV as your permanent residence has several prohibitions, there are also few exceptions. Such as:

●     Many jurisdictions authorize full-time occupancy of an RV or a mobile home while its owner is constructing a permanent residence.

●     Several jurisdictions also allow people to live on RVs and mobile homes near a commercial site. However, it’s residence must be providing 24/7 security on an associated business.

How the Different States Deal With Tiny Homes and RVs

One of the reasons that people register their tiny home as an RV is that they want to get around the country with their dwelling in tow. Various states treat tiny homes differently especially in the issue of parking.

Some states are very considerate when it comes to building and parking tiny homes. However, there are also areas that are very restrictive of tiny homes whether they are on a foundation or on wheels.

Let’s take a look at how some states regulate small houses:


·         Small homes on wheels are considered as RVs and confined to R-5 zones.


·         Most counties here treat mobile tiny homes as an RV. They can only park on RV parks. There are a few tiny house communities such as the one near Bella Vista Lake Park.


·         Still has no one advocating for tiny home development. They are very strict when it comes to anything that could crowd residential land such as RVs and tiny houses. The state has zoning regulations that discourage anyone from building or living in a tiny home.


·         Overall, the state is quite friendly and supportive of the tiny house movement. There are plenty of RV parks and small home hotels around. However, tiny homes on wheels must have corresponding registration at a DMV in this state. Sarasota County only allows mobile tiny homes to stay in a park for less than 45 days, or it will require it to be built on a foundation.

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·         The state of Maryland has yet to acknowledge tiny homes. While they may be registered as RVs, the only places they can park are in RV parks. However, most establishments place a restriction on the number of days a unit can park in their vicinity.


·         Owning a tiny home built on a foundation is fairly easy here because you can declare it as an ADU. Camping in a tiny house parked in an RV park is also allowed, albeit only for a short period.


·         State acknowledges two types of tiny houses for zoning purposes- ADUs and RVs. Finding a place to park your unit can be tricky as regulations and code vary by town and county.

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·         State allows registration of tiny houses. But they are restricted only as RV or travel trailer and not as suitable housing.

New Hampshire

·         State has a law that allows ADUs. Owners are not required to live on site. There are 13 municipalities without zoning laws. Most of the RV parks are further up north.

New Mexico

·         Tiny homes on wheels are required to follow the same residential code standards and the ANSI codes. You can convert a THOW into a legal dwelling by obtaining a certificate of occupancy. The house must have at least 70 square feet and not less than 7 feet in length, width, and height.

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·         The state doesn’t have regulations on tiny houses yet. THOWs are generally considered as RVs. Few tiny home communities are in development like one in Wheeler District.  


·         THOWs owners need to get a special permit to build or own a tiny home. When moving the unit you need to also have a permit for a commercial hauler to move your small house. The state allows one small home or an RV to be hosted in a residential property.


·         Tiny homes are widely regulated in Texas. The town of Spur is dubbed as the first tiny house friendly municipality in America. Tiny houses on wheels are required to be tied down and their wheels removed.

Here’s a Texas home decor that doubles as a hook for your clothes. Check out this Texas Metal Key Holder Hooks Clothes Hanger Western Vintage Home Letters.


·     The state allows THOWs in an R-6 or a Manufactured Home Park zoning district. The city of Cody is one of the few exceptions as it treats small homes as RVs, but also doesn’t allow them to be used as ADUs.

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The rest of the other states generally allow tiny home owners to register their tiny home units as RVs. However, they don’t have any other specific restrictions when it comes to its design and where it can legally be parked.

tiny house on wheels

How to Apply for a Zoning Variance to Help You Out

Not all states immediately accept mobile tiny homes as RVs. Some states require that the THOWs also have specific dimensions and/or amenities like toilet, kitchen sink, and bedroom. Others require tiny home builders to follow the building code or ANSI guidelines.

However, there are a few loopholes that small home owners can use to make it legal to drive a tiny home registered as an RV. One of these methods is to apply for a variance. Once approved by the city council, it can exempt you from some provisions of the zoning laws.

You can use variance in cases when the design of the house doesn’t conform to the existing zoning laws. It is most effective when the jurisdiction you are in has unclear rules pertaining to tiny homes.

The city code is often a guideline rather than a set of rules that must strictly be followed even during exceptional cases.

Here is how you can apply for variance:

1. Choose the type of variant you want to apply.

Area variance may apply when you encounter difficulties in complying with the physical requirements of the building code. Meanwhile, use variance may allow the owner to use his property in a way that is quite different from the local zoning standards.

2. Submit a variance permit request to a building inspector or a zoning enforcement officer.

They will then decide if they will allow the variance or not. The initial application review usually takes anywhere between 2-4 months.

If it also has to undergo an environmental review, you need to wait an additional period of 6-12 months. You also have to pay a certain amount for filing the variance which is approximately $2,000 to $5,000. The fees vary depending on the state you are in.

3. If you get denied, you can still appeal to the local zoning board of appeals.

Their decision usually will depend on whether the variance can negatively impact the community or neighborhood.

4. However, once approved, property owners within a radius of 300-feet from where you plan to build your tiny home will receive a public notification.

To ensure that you have a high chance of being granted a variance, please check the existing building codes in your jurisdiction. You can also consult with an attorney or someone familiar with the housing or construction industry.

tiny house parking options

Top Places Where You Could Park an RV or Tiny Home

RV parks and nature parks are just a few of the places where you can leave your tiny mobile home (registered as an RV). Numerous establishments also encourage RVers to park in their vicinity. Below are some of these places:  

 1. Walmart

Some Walmart branches, especially in tiny home-friendly states, allow temporary RV parking. However, some stores are very specific as to what type of RVs can be allowed in their parking lots.

Take time to inquire about this arrangement with the store manager, so you will know where exactly to park. This is quite useful when you want to shop for supplies without having to leave your THOW in an RV park or tiny house community.

2. Private Property

If you’re driving cross-country you can stop by a friend’s residence and park there for a few days or nights. In some states, you can temporarily park your mobile tiny home in a property’s driveway.

You can find properties that allow RV parking using platforms such as Outdoorsy and RVwithMe. However, check first the city regulations, especially the provision that covers private property parking just to be safe.

3.    Casinos

Numerous casinos allow RVs to park when there are available spaces. You can find RV parking along the NASCAR circuit in Las Vegas. These casinos usually charge a small fee, which slightly rises during holidays and weekends.

If you want to ensure that you can park your RV in their establishments, check first with the management. Some casinos also have a designated parking area for RVs which is separate from the regular parking spots for their customers.

4.    Truck Stops

This might surprise you, but you can actually use truck stops for RV parking. However, you also need to observe rules meant for truckers. Be mindful, though, as you will have larger vehicles such as tractor-trailers and oversized rigs parked in the vicinity as well.

The great thing about truck stops is you will get to meet people who also choose to stay there for a while. On the flip side, you also need to better secure your vehicle and belongings.


Registering and using your tiny home as an RV is one way to make your tiny home on wheels legal. However, doing so also has its own consequences in some states because it is now a vehicle rather than a dwelling place.

Related Questions

What are the advantages of registering my tiny home as an RV?

There are numerous pros when you register your THOW as an RV. For example, it can help you bypass some provisions of the building code. But for the most part, its main advantage revolves around mobility and gaining more places where you can park it.

What are the disadvantages of cataloging your THOW as an RV?

Once registered as an RV, your mobile tiny home is now a vehicle. RVs are generally temporary shelters for camping. Hence, you can’t use it as a permanent dwelling.

Is it required to register my tiny home as an RV?

Not necessarily. However, if you have decided you want a mobile tiny home rather than a stationary one, you best do so. Registering your THOW as an RV can help you prevent stiff fines once you drive the unit.