How to build a Tiny DIY Trailer on a Budget
As Brian and Joni Buzarde closed in on their 30s, they were eager to settle down in a place of their own. But there was a problem: Neither knew where their fledgling careers would take them. So they devised a solution that was unorthodox but practical, and they built a house that could go with them no matter where they ended up.
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Their 236-square-foot trailer—which Brian’s brother, Brandon, nicknamed Woody—has made upward mobility possible, having moved with them from Austin, Texas, to the Rocky Mountains hamlet of Marble, Colorado. Before finding its current mooring, this modern backcountry cabin on wheels was nestled in a trailer park not far from cattle ranches and wilderness trails, where the couple’s home stood apart from the clunky double-wides and anchored Airstreams that surrounded it.
Altogether, Woody cost about $50,000 to build. The couple put Brian’s skills as a recent architecture school graduate to the test by designing it themselves. They decided early on that they would take on all of the construction work, too, even though they had no experience. "Just doing it was a leap of faith," Brian says. "We maxed out all the assets we had. Most of our family members thought we were crazy."
They started by purchasing a 26-foot-long flatbed chassis for about $7,000 and then bolted on walls made from structural insulated panels—foam insulation sandwiched between sections of oriented strand board. The cedar-clad trailer is slightly taller at the back, giving it an angular, contemporary shape. It is eight and a half feet wide and reaches a height of 131/2 feet at its tallest point, reaching legal limits for highway travel without a special permit.
Inside, the dominant material is birch-veneer plywood—a modern choice, versatile enough to serve as walls, floor, ceiling, and kitchen cabinets. The place is full of tiny-house efficiencies: There’s a loft bed, a half-size refrigerator, and eight-inch-deep storage compartments built into the floor. The bathtub is a galvanized-steel cow trough, and a closet area omits a formal dresser in favor of hanging baskets. A large sliding-glass door cuts down on interior storage possibilities but adds natural brightness, enhanced by two skylights. "We got rid of a lot of stuff when we moved in, and it was really freeing," says Joni, who works in marketing. "It felt good."
As construction proceeded, they embraced their inexperience and opted to leave the plumbing and the electrical conduit exposed, reducing costs and giving the living spaces an industrial edge. "This place is a visual history of us figuring out how to do things on the fly, with a limited budget," Brian says.
Building a residence on wheels allowed them to sidestep the permitting process, cutting expenses and lead times. "I thought I would knock it out in a few months," Brian says, but the project, which the couple squeezed in around their jobs, took about a year. Woody became their home in June 2012.
The couple, who married in August 2014, plan to continue living in the trailer full-time until they start a family. Woody may be big enough to handle a 55-inch flat-screen television, a pair of fishing rods, and their dog, Sheba, but it would be a tight fit if children entered the picture. The trailer, which can be hitched to a pickup truck, isn’t that easy to move; it holds all their possessions and isn’t aerodynamic like a typical recreational vehicle. When the time came, however, Woody hit the road one last time. Fulfilling their dream, the Buzardes bought a five-acre piece of open space in Marble, Colorado, where they parked Woody permanently.