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I am preparing to build a tiny house on an old camper frame, and am looking for advice on how to build the exterior walls. I'm planning to use 2x3 wood studs at 24" o.c., with 1/4" plywood on the interior and 3/8" plywood on the exterior. I'll use house wrap on the exterior, and r-13 insulation in the wall. Everything will be glued and screwed together.

Does this sound like the proper way to build the walls?

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    Do you ever plan to move this unit once completed? – bib Mar 16 '16 at 12:33
  • I know you want to limit the weight but 24 OC sounds a bit weak unless using vertical grain 2X3. today's wood is much less dense than the wood they used back in the 70's and prior. I repaired a camper that had leaked and the wood rotted. I was able to re use the Aluminum siding that was stapled and lapped. It was 2X2 walls on 16's with cross bracing. Still don't know how it held together. – Ed Beal Mar 16 '16 at 13:18
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It has wheels. Do you have any plans to move this thing? EVER? Because trailers flex, and there are two strategies for dealing with that.

#1 make careful material choices so the trailer structure can flex without taking damage. That's where drywall and mud may not be your best choice, for instance.

#2 make the trailer base and structure, so rigid and strong that it forces all the flex into the suspension. You might think #2 happens automatically, but it does not. Either way, you have to deal with the forces at hand.

The reason for thin walls is simple: it adds square footage. If motion is an issue, I'd say "think like an airplane not a house". Airplanes are insulated.

Unfortunately, the simple-living and alternative-energy communities are often hijacked by the "I wanna live in squalor", "gov't off my lawn" and "off-grid, like the unabomber" fringes. Look at any of the "government shutting down timy-homes/off-grid tech" and it's actually the latter they're concerned with: drinking downspout-water or not having smoke detectors in a house full of kerosene heaters, which is usually about being "cheap, the bad way".

And in your town, you will be one of the people swaying the government on the question of whether tiny-houses are good or bad. My advice is be a good ambassador: don't be cheap, be classy. Be the magazine showpiece tiny home, which is done less in dollars than in time, care and pride. (well old-pride, when it was a motivator to excellence, not new-pride, which is puffery instead of work.)

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It depends what you're after & if you'd "hope" to get an official Use & Occupancy approval. Will you be hauling it around the nation (or locally) or just parking it on a piece of land to drag it into the Sun for the winter & under the trees for summer?

If it's just a Glorified Shed Dwelling, then whatever your Local Building Dept. says is whom you have to please. So, they don't condemn it, fine you $10,000 & destroy your masterpiece. Being a dwelling is what paints the bull's-eye on you. Everything will be legal & fully inspected & corrected until it passes as proper & safe...or you can't live in it, period.

Otherwise, I agree with Ed Beal. A house is a house & 2x4's 16"oc with 1/2" exterior plywood properly screwed are the minimum structural elements, for just the walls, that your Local Building Dept. will approve.

Toting this puppy on the road is a whole different issue & your Dept. Of Transportation will have another set of requirements. Maybe, they want 1/2" plywood inside too for structural & vehicle intrusion stability or 12"oc spacing or the building sealed with Poly Sheeting or all screws & no nails.

Other people's Tiny's aren't your concern. They may not take them anywhere nor did it legal at all & will pay the price for not building it proper with well proven & tested materials, methods, procedures & designs.

Here's a very loose Summary of CA's Notice to Tiny Housers

Here's the Full Notice from CA, directing you to their Uniform Construction Codes

  • I'm not sure the same building requirements apply, since it's built on a chassis it may not have to meet all the codes a typical dwelling would. I've ripped apart a few travel trailers in my day, and none of them were 2x4 16 o.c.. They also tended to be skinned in a thin layer of aluminum, with no exterior plywood at all. – Tester101 Mar 16 '16 at 17:42
  • Yeah, I have only a little bit of knowledge of the tiny community & they're just looking & promoting shortcuts & sidesteps. The key difference from a travel trailer or camper is that this would be a full time actual dwelling. Most States & their subsidiaries won't recognize you as a camper if you spend 30-days or more living in this. As soon as it's considered a dwelling, even by intent, all of the rules change. At a minimum it would fall under the category of an RV, even though it's not self propelled. – Iggy Mar 16 '16 at 19:04
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    Trailer park trailers aren't built any better that travel trailers, and people live in those year round. I'm not sure what codes govern trailers, I'm just pointing out that typical building codes may not apply. – Tester101 Mar 16 '16 at 20:43
  • Yeah, there's a difference & it's not just because they're bigger. The Tiny houses are much heavier than a travel trailer & much more like a mobile home than needs to be stiff & resist twisting over it's length. Again though, the big deal changer is being a dwelling. 7' minimum ceilings, plumbing, heating, electrical, water & cooking all have to up to regular house &/or RV codes & capacities. – Iggy Mar 16 '16 at 20:55
  • @Tester101 - Trailers do not have to meet local building codes unless they are going to be permanently fixed to the land. Even then local inspectors wouldn't care because they would never pass a full inspection. The fact is when you buy a tiny house you are buying a "nice mobile home". Mobile homes are better than most tiny houses I have seen and can be moved just as easy. The only requirements are personal safety. – DMoore Mar 17 '16 at 0:45
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Don't take it as a criticism, but your design strikes me as a muddled compromise: It's too weak to be considered "real framing" but too heavy for being a lightweight trailer.

I'd either go the full-on 2x4 on 16's framing route, or I'd build a "foamy". I wouldn't try to split the difference.

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