Getting up to speed: trailer talk


In the interest of getting up to speed on the Matchbox's current status with a long overdue post, let's talk trailers.

A basic utility trailer.
As mentioned in the latter half of my rather lengthy first entry, tiny homes are typically built upon utility trailers. Why? Because putting a house on wheels changes the structure's legal status: it's no longer a house, but a vehicle, and thus it's not subject to coding regulations that require all dwellings to be, well, larger than a typical tiny home. The first step of building a tiny home, then, becomes getting a utility trailer.

The trailer, of course, sets the parameters for the entire home: its length, its width, its height. A few constraints are consequences of the home's not-a-house-but-a-vehicle status: as something that will be on the road, a trailer's width is typically limited to 8.5' and its height to 13.5' (length is more flexible; anything under 40' or so is fine). For my design, I opted for a custom-made unit with fairly standard dimensions: 22' in length (enough foundation for the house and the porch), 6'10" of space between the wheels, and about 29" off the ground (allowing for roughly 10' ceilings inside).

Brian and I both ordered our trailers from Kaufman Trailers, a trailer wholesaler based in North Carolina. After a few weeks of tweaking preferences and making a few key trailer design decisions, our orders were put into production, and by the end of May, they were ready to ship to their new home on the Boneyard lot.

My trailer being unloaded from the delivery trailer.
Unfortunately, shipping two 22-foot-long trailers from North Carolina to DC was more difficult than expected. It was determined that it would be more cost-effective to ship the trailers up together: that is, stacking them upon a third trailer and driving them up, but doing so would require crane equipment (and room to put and maneuver a crane) in order to unload the trailers and affix the tires (which are removed in transit) to the frame.

The solution to this conundrum was to have our trailers shipped up with a third trailerone being delivered to a site with a crane and the space to operate itand have the recipient of that trailer help us unload ours as well. And so, the day before the start of Memorial Day weekend, Brian and I rented a pair of Uhauls, drove down to Sterling, VA, and watched as our trailers were individually lifted from the delivery trailer, placed onto firm ground, and reunited with their detached tires. We then hitched our now-complete trailers to our now-much-slower-to-accelerate Uhauls, paid the crane operator an unexpected and mildly unfortunate $100 each for the offloading job, and hit the road back to DC with trailers in tow.

Brian's trailer entering the District.
Observation worth noting: a Uhaul with a trailer hitched to it is difficult to operate, particularly in reverse. Alas, it took four instances of ramming into my own jack-knifed trailer with my own frustrated Uhaul to discover this, and a bit of coaching from Brian to actually get my truck-and-trailer on the road and pointed toward the District.

Upon arriving at Boneyard with our dusty Uhauls and our shiny new trailers, we began the arduous and surprisingly challenging task of correctly backing the trailers onto the lot. The narrow alley and aforementioned difficulty in operating a trailer in reverse made a clean offloading impossible, so after getting them as close as we could to their ideal locations, Brian, Tony, and I had to manually lift and roll each of the three-thousand-pound behemoths to just the right spot.

You'll notice that the trailers pictured don't have any decking on them: since we'll be building our own subfloors, it's simply easier, cheaper, and less wasteful to opt for a bare-bones steel frame and just work from there (consequently, I am now the proud owner of a utility trailer that is virtually useless for all pursuits but building a tiny home upon its foundation).

The Boneyard lot, with the trailers in the background.
And so, trailer on lot and all, I spent the first few days of June firming up floor plans, the next week or so talking with Tony about framing specifications and crucial design decisions, and am now just about to move into the terrifying-yet-exciting phase of actually purchasing materials and, well, building myself a home and whatnot.

I'm including a list of trailer-related expenses below, along with a running cost of total tiny home expenses (which, right now, just includes the trailer). I should probably note that this doesn't include things like registration, titling, sales tax, and other bureaucratic complexities that are introduced when one makes the not-a-home-but-a-vehicle jump; these will likely be covered in a future post. Questions about the cost, the delivery process, or anything else trailer-related? Let me know!

Cost, utility trailer foundation
  • Custom-made, 22' trailer, sans decking, from Kaufman Trailers: $3,494
  • Delivery from North Carolina to Sterling, VA: $300
  • Crane offloading and tire installation, provided by Down Under Construction: $100
  • Uhaul rental, round-trip, Washington, DC to Sterling, VA: $157
  • Trailer, total: $4,051
  • Matchboxes expenses to date: $4,051


  1. I'm glad you explained about the trailer your house will be built upon. I was a bit confused, as you know. I enjoyed the hoary details about shipping the trailer and maneuvering the U-haul. Margaret


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