Dream home = mobile home?!

One of my greatest dreams is to build my own home.  Hiro and I have been designing and collecting ideas and photographs for the past 5 or 6 years.  We’ve been using our various apartments as test grounds for different storage and furniture ideas.  And we take monthly overnight trips by bike and train to explore towns along the Metro rail to better know where we might want to live.

But despite all this work, the dream home feels far, far away.  Financially, building a home anywhere near Los Angeles will be a stretch.  Despite experience with basic woodworking and a few welding classes, the skills required to build our home still feel out of my league.  And we still don’t know what’s important to us in picking a place to live.

But two weeks ago, I had a breakthrough!!!

I’m going to build a mobile home!

Trailer home design concept

Trailer home design concept

Now I know that probably doesn’t sound very inspiring, but a mobile home miraculously solves all these problems!  It’s far less expensive than a full-sized home, even if the cost per square-foot were somewhat higher.  I can wrap my head around something 28′ x 8.5′ — with a little help, I think I can handle the welding, cabinetry, electrical, etc.  And if we pick a place and don’t like it, we can always move!

I also really like the idea of working to minimize our home size.  As I read about small homes, two things resonate with me: If you want to build green, you’ve got to go small… and big, long-term loans can be really oppressive.  I like the idea of building the absolute minimum space necessary to be comfortable now, and if location and finances permit later, we add to it.  I’ve also read about a lot of artists who build big, wonderful homes but then feel stifled by the mortgage.

The dream home is now modular, and I can start working on it now!  Hiro and I sketched out an initial design and went to the park to try it out.  We used stakes in the grass and string to outline the kitchen and living spaces.  Surprisingly, I think it might be possible to make a space only 8.5′ wide that’s comfortable.

Energized by this success, I met with Ron Golan of Central Office of Architecture and he’s in on the project!  We talked about the multiple options; a longer trailer vs a taller trailer.  Shipping containers vs tractor trailers.  But our first challenge is to understand the law and regulations related to this project.  For example, what are the size constraints for a building on a mobile home site?  What are the size and weight constraints regarding transporting this thing?  Can you put a mobile home on a permanent site in any of the places we might want to live longer term?

In any case, I’m extremely excited!  For the first time, I feel like I can start figuring all this stuff out now!  I’m going to use this blog to document our progress on this!  Please let me know if you have any input or suggestions!


10 Responses to “Dream home = mobile home?!”

  1. Brandon Martin says:

    Fascinating post! When I was in school, I almost bought a boat with a bed and a small office below deck with plans to live in it during the three years. I thought maybe the payments that would have gone to rent my apartment would buy me a boat as a graduation present. I backed out when I learned the costs of maintainance and the expected depreciation on the boat, but I kinda wish I wouldn’t have…

    Although, the mobile home is more practical and a much-better-bet, I kind of like this, as well:


  2. Zim says:

    Hang in there, brother! You visited my instructable about the home built school bus, so I thought I would come take a look at your blog. I think you’re head is in the right place and your approach is sound. Keep chasing it! The reward of crafting your own space in the world is well worth it!

  3. Rob, Sharon and the Zoo Too! says:

    I grew up in a “mobile” home back east. First one was 8 x65 2 bedrooms bath kitchen, “sunken” (two steps down) living room with fire place. Second was 10 x 55 the extra 2 feet was appreciated more than the 10 ft length.

    You are wise to consider “zoning” requirements. Some communities allow MANUFACTURED HOUSING that is set on a foundation, however if you leave the wheels on and no permanent foundation you probably will be limited to staying in “mobile home parks..many of which still require “permanent” attachment.

    Many people considering smaller houses look for “in-fill” lots (check those FHB mags). No McMansion would fit and it takes special people to view the site as a viable location for their house….read that as no one else can see the use so it is cheap!

    There is a house in north redondo that is designed around shipping containers, I have seen it from the outside (it is really large) and there are only 2 containers in the 2000 sq feet or so, but it is unique!

    Remember on the moveable house that you must allow for fresh water storage, energy (gas/electric) and of course waste (water especially) storage…and disposal! Can’t just let it run in the street!!! I did not see a sound proof room for Taiko either!!! smile


  4. kris says:

    Thanks for the input, Rob! I’d never heard of in-fill lots and am glad to know that term. I’ve only tracked down a few sections of LA building code (coming to another post soon), but I read that in LA county the minimum house width is 20′ unless setbacks make it impossible, in which case, the minimum width is 16′. So maybe even in-fill lots would not make my initial design legal to place permanently on a residential site. But if that’s true, I’ve been feeling like I’d probably give up on trying to buy land in LA county. The code also says a home can’t be smaller than 800 square feet. That seems ridiculous to me…

    I’ve looked at shipping container houses too and am working out another design concept using them. But I’m guessing that the cranes and setup necessary for a container-based home would fall on the side of too difficult to move. Figuring out that perfect balance of mobility vs standard housing code might prove to be tricky…

    And although there’s no dedicated taiko practice space, I think I feel okay about that. I like the idea of starting first with the absolute minimum space for Hiro and me to be comfortable eating, sleeping, doing office work, and hanging out. I like the idea that we can add on later as resources allow. (And there’s a chance that increasing the square footage will be a necessity on a permanent site.) Until then, I’ll just focus on the practice pad. :)

    Thanks again, Rob!

  5. Brandon Martin says:

    In evaluating constraints on your project design, remember to consider not only the Building Code, but also the Zoning Code and other land use regulations. Zimas is a friendly way to learn more about land within the City: http://zimas.lacity.org/.

    I kind of like the idea of locating your project within a trailer park, though. You are driven, intelligent, and connected enough to navigate the maze of BS necessary to locate the project elsewhere, but there’s no reason to put yourself through all the other nonsense…

    On the other hand, if you *do* find that sort of nonsense interesting, we should get together because I have a scheme for the ages, I’d like to share…

  6. kris says:

    Thanks for the link to zimas! I hadn’t seen that before. The amount of information in those maps is incredible! I took a look at the JACCC and can tell that the photo was taken on Jan 4, 2005. I had a performance in the plaza that day and can see the setup and audience. :)

    Will give you a call right now, Brandon!

  7. jonb says:

    wow, crazy and awesome. :)

  8. Annette MacKay says:

    Hi Kris

    Check into sailboat designs for inspiration, tips and workable dimensions while considering your mobile home plans. I am always appalled at the horrid misuse of space in the motor/mobile homes I’ve been in. Clearly they think about downsizing form a house perspective. It doesn’t work.

    I lived for 5 years on a 48 foot sailboat with my parents and 2 brothers (both over 6 fee tall). Space on a sailboat is very efficiently used.

    Have fun planning and building.


  9. Fernando Morgan says:

    hello i in spain working we a company that have a contract to supply over 300 home in Palestina
    thre wand to be prefabric with avriting inside
    i live in Los Angeles and i now that can be build mobil home
    place sent me information if is posibol to build by my espesification , and would be verry simple detail or you have some tipe of mobil home
    my tel in spain 34-967-474543
    the side would be aprosimatly 70sqmitter in sqf would be 700 aproximated
    the reason is this company would move this from espain to palestina in transportation by road .
    there don want to build this home only want to deliver rery to use inmediatly
    place sent me info

  10. sandrar says:

    Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. :) Cheers! Sandra. R.

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