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Tiny Home vs. Airstream


Our journey to the Airdreaming lifestyle did not happen overnight and we bounced ideas around for quite a while before settling on an Airstream.

We became intrigued with the idea of tiny living when we stumbled across the Wheelhaus. We looked at it as a long term goal – when we retire someday we will buy some perfect piece of property and put our Wheelhaus on it.

But the idea stuck in our mind and we started consuming as much information about tiny homes as we could find.  It started sounding like a better and better idea.

To go tiny sooner rather than later, we had to give up the idea of the park model sized Wheelhaus.  We weren’t in a position to purchase a piece of property AND a house – and we didn’t want to buy land in the area we were working.

So we aimed our sights even smaller and started looking at Tiny Houses on Wheels (THOWs).  We liked the idea that we could park at RV parks instead of having to deal with the stress and cost of buying property.

Around the same time – we met some great people who bought a Vintage Airstream to remodel and live in with their two kids.

So simultaneously we started researching Airstreams and THOWs.

We first looked at a 2005 Airstream Safari Bunkhouse.  We drafted out a floor-plan and got estimates on remodeling.  But the cost kept edging up and we figured if we were going to spend a big chunk of money, it might make more sense to invest in a custom built tiny home that would feel more like a house and less like a camper.

We researched THOW builders both local and nationwide.  The brilliance of a THOW is the fact that it’s easy to ship, so you don’t need to limit your search to a local builder.   We finally settled on Ideabox.  We loved their houses and were super excited to discover they also built THOWs.  We worked with the company to draft up design plans and created the perfect THOW.

ideabox-fpSo what went wrong?  The builder was great and we were only steps away from starting the build process.

Ultimately, we canceled our THOW plans and bought an Airstream.  The following comparison drove our decision.



Just like the Airstream remodel, the THOW was getting up there in cost.  Yes, you can find all sorts of blogs of DIY THOWs that cost some motivated go-getters $15,000 and 2 years to build.  As you have probably gleaned from the rest of our posts – that is just not us.

Having a THOW professionally built to the scale we were looking for (30 ft), and with all our specifications, was not cheap.  Our total costs were reaching close to $80,000.  Yep, that’s right – $80,000.  Up front, out-of-pocket.  I started to get nervous.

When you buy a traditional house, you are buying something that has a fairly measurable value. That is not the case with a THOW.

Even though it is trending, tiny living is still a niche market.  We know this because we searched for tiny homes listed for re-sale.  Some of the listings were posted for an extremely long time and were clearly not selling for what the individual paid for it (confirmed on a number of occasions by cross-referencing the THOW with the HGTV or DIY episode it had been featured on).

So what if we didn’t like living in a tiny house?  We would have spent $80,000 on something we couldn’t easily re-sell, didn’t want to live in, and with no place to put it.  It started to feel like too much of a risk.


Airstreams depreciate in value like any other RV.  But Airstreams also retain value over time better than other RVs.

Even so, our Airstream has a measurable value that a THOW does not.  I can look at other similar models and gauge the worth of our trailer.  I can also see what other remodeled Airstreams are selling for and know that even though we spent money to upgrade our Airstream, at least some of that cost could be recouped if we ever had to sell.

More importantly, the purchase price and total cost of servicing and remodeling our Airstream was less than what we would have spent on our THOW.  True, we don’t have a storage loft, tongue and groove walls, or a luxury bathroom – but we have peace of mind that dollar for dollar our Airstream was the better value.



Just because your THOW fits the dimensions and is registered as a travel trailer does not mean you can roll up to any RV park and settle in.

Only one RV park in our area was willing to confirm in writing that they accepted THOWs. One park flatly refused and another said yes but made it clear that “they could change their policies at anytime” – very reassuring.  The one park that was welcoming was over an hour from work.

There are many RV parks across the country that are happy to host tiny homes – even in Florida.  But we aren’t road tripping.  We needed a stable place to park, somewhat long term, and near work.  We were not in a position to gamble and just tell an RV park we were coming in with a 30 ft trailer and just hope they didn’t turn us away – or that they would approve our reservation verbally and then change their policies at any given time.

For folks traveling with their tiny home and that also have the flexibility to pick and choose where they go – articles like these are helpful and reassuring:  Tiny House Giant Journey.

But for us, the idea of not having a place to park our house – and then also not having a back up place to live – did not work.


Our Airstream is an RV.  We don’t have to worry about being rejected by most RV parks.



THOW = NOT aerodynamic & Heavy.

As first time tow’ers, I was not looking forward to hitching up a house on a trailer and cruising down the highway.  MOST tiny homes are pretty heavy when it is all said and done.  Which means you need a tow vehicle equipped for the weight.  Super Duty Truck = Super Expensive.


Airstream = Aerodynamic & Light.

Even with the remodel, we aren’t worried about the weight of our trailer.  We removed a lot of the heavy cabinetry and the dinette and didn’t add much.  The heaviest addition is likely the kitchenette and counter-tops.  This gives us greater flexibility in selecting our tow vehicle.

Ultimately, the Airstream is made for the road and I wouldn’t hesitate to hitch it up and go.


If you’re looking for the community that goes along with owning a THOW, there are plenty of fellow Airdreamers out there chatting it up on forums and living The Airstream Dream.

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Before it was ours…

Before we get too far ahead in the renovation process, I wanted to post some before photos and talk a little bit about how we bought our Airstream.

We found our Airstream listed online.  We live in Florida and the Airstream was in California.

We did have the trailer inspected by someone in California before we bought it.  He caught a few minor issues but didn’t catch others.  Overall, the trailer was in good shape and was roadworthy.

This particular trailer caught our eye because it was the right year and the layout seemed perfect for our needs.  At 28 ft, it was about 2 ft shorter than what we had been aiming for – but we wouldn’t have to modify the existing floor plan significantly.

airstream 28 fp

We had previously looked at a 2005 Safari 30 ft bunk-house with the Queen bed in the front.  By the time we planned and re-arranged everything the way we wanted, we would have spent way too much money fixing it up.

So we opted to lose 2 ft (which in RV-life is a whole lot of closet space) – but we figured we could make it work.

The previous owner had already removed the dinette – which we would have done anyway. The L-shaped couch provides a great and practical TV watching area and the floor plan has the split bathroom layout that we wanted.

These before pictures are from the listing.  Similar to pictures you might see of a staged house on, the photos show the trailer at its best.  When it arrived to us, it was not as clean and there was more wear and tear than we were expecting – one drawback of not being able to view the trailer in person.

We probably would have offered a lower price if we had seen it in person- but knowing that we are replacing most of what is worn and the fact that trailer was priced well within range for the year and size – we feel good about the purchase.

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In the next week or so we will post in-progress renovation pictures.  We already pulled out the desk and started ripping off the wall-fabric (endearingly referred to as mouse-fur).

More to come!

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Buying an Airstream – New, Used, or Vintage?

So you’ve decided to buy an Airstream.  Do you buy New? Used? Or Vintage?

First it may help to define what we mean by New, Used, and Vintage.

We considered an Airstream “New” if it was brand new or up to 5 years old (give or take).  Why?  Because models in that range generally had a pretty high price tag and still looked new – both in wear and style.

“Vintage” included those rare gems built circa 1980 or earlier.  These Airstreams could often be found for an affordable – even bargain price – but might need significant repairs.

Take a look at this great post on buying a Vintage Airstream from LivinLightly – Before You Buy a Vintage Airstream.

“Used” fell somewhere in between “New” and “Vintage.”

We decided to go with a Used Airstream and ultimately focused our search on early to mid-2000 models.

A Used Airstream would probably need some maintenance and repairs, but have no major service issues.

We knew significant service issues (water damage, electrical work) would be outside what we would be comfortable doing ourselves and would end up costing us a ton of money to get fixed professionally.  If you don’t have the time or skill to DIY –labor costs will end up being the most expensive part of your re-model ($124-$129/hr in our area – Tampa, FL).

A Used Airstream would also be dated enough that we wouldn’t feel bad about ripping out the interior to customize our living space.

We plan to live in our Airstream, so no matter what model we ended up with, we were planning to make some modifications (we don’t need the space consuming dinette that comes standard in most Airstreams).

And, while we plan to use professional help for complex renovations, we figured we could manage some minor aesthetic improvements ourselves to save money (see our post Airstream Cabinet Update – DIY).

So far, our 2005 Safari has suited our needs perfectly.  After a thorough inspection it needed some repairs but nothing outside basic wear and tear.

For us – not having some huge wood-rot surprise was worth the higher up front cost.

We are still tallying up our overall expenses for our Airdreaming lifestyle and will share in an upcoming post.

If you’re trying to save the most money and you have a lot of time (and hopefully skill) to do the work yourself – I would say go for the best trailer you can find at the cheapest cost.  A lot of people go that route and end up with a great remodel at a low cost.

Take a look at this great thread on Airstream Forums:  What does it cost to buy and renovate a Vintage Airstream).