The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

An incognito trailer

Incognito trailer

David and Mary"I almost never tell anyone that we live in a trailer because, with a normal gable roof and a full basement, we both consider it a normal stick-built house," David said.  "Although if a visitor happens to mention that we have a very nice place, I will then tell them it was at one time a 'mobile home' now converted to real estate."

Over the past three decades, Mary and David have created a vibrant homestead, due in part to the low cost of their initial housing choice.  After two years in a trailer park, they bought seven acres of land and moved their trailer into place (at a cost of $350 plus a lot of their own labor).  A few years later, they had saved enough to hire a cousin to add a roof onto their trailer and to pour loose insulation into the attic.

Building a basement for a trailer

Next came a full basement, constructed for $9,000 in 1985 or 1986, along with double-glazed windows and redwood siding.  "We loved the looks of the siding, but it needed constant maintenance with oil wood preservative," David remembered.  Meanwhile "the wood boring bees loved to get behind the aluminum gutters and bore holes into the fascia boards.  I wasn't going to let some insect destroy our home.  We also wanted more insulation in the walls, and the only way to accomplish that was to put the insulation on the outside."

Insulation behind siding The trailer itself had about three inches of fiberglass insulation in the walls, to which David added foil-faced foam boards for extra heat-holding power.  He "taped all the seams with aluminum tape and used special nails to hold the foam board in place."

About the same time, Mary and David hired a contractor to install aluminum fascia under the gutters and on the rakes of the roof, along with vinyl perforated soffit to protect the attic insulation from moisture.

Rigid foam insulation "As you can see from these photos, we have come a long way since the original metal-sided, metal-roof trailer that we had before," David said.  "You can also see a well-insulated house, but no siding, a large deck, but no railing, no lattice, and most of the decking isn't fastened down."

I asked David if he agreed with the mainstream attitude that it doesn't make sense to put large amounts of cash into a mobile home, and he replied by telling his own story of building as you go.  "If we had bought a big fancy house with a big mortgage instead of the trailer, we Redwood sidingprobably would have lost it back to the bank because, two weeks after moving the trailer to our new property, I lost my job and was out of work for two years because of the bad economy," David said.  "So living in a pre-made structure with wood heat and land contract was cheap living again.

"So let's say after two years I get back to work and money is flowing again, so we decide to build, or contract out the construction of a new house while we lived in the trailer.  Would the house be Energy star appliances in the kitchenwhat we wanted, or would it be what we thought we wanted?

"If I were to build a house now, I know exactly what I want in a house.  I know the type, quality, and placement of windows; I know the thickness of the walls and insulation type; I know the orientation of the structure and placement on the property; I know the roof material; I know on what side of the house utility and low-use rooms should be placed.  These are things I didn't know back 30 years.

Remodeled trialer"The mobile homes now are much better quality than our 1974 vintage trailer.  Young people (or old people) now can buy a mobile home with 2x6 walls and a regular shingled gabled roof, and vinyl siding.  I say if a person can find a good quality used mobile home and move it out to their property, that would save them money, time, and effort.  Then they can direct their efforts toward something more productive, like a more self-sustainable lifestyle."

If you're inspired to give mobile home living a try, or just want to read more about our trailer dwellers' adventures, Trailersteading is free on Amazon today only.  Now's also your chance to email me with your request for a free pdf copy if you'd rather read the book in print or on a device that doesn't play well with kindle formatting.  There are no strings attached, but if you find time to leave a review on Amazon, I'll be eternally grateful.  Thanks for reading!

This post is part of our Trailersteading lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Driving across backcountry Tennessee yesterday, I saw what was an ordinary house except there was a trailer end on one side surrounded by a much larger stick built house. (Wondered why they didn't hide the trailer with a 14 foot wall? Probably proud of what they made of it.)
Comment by Errol Sat Dec 29 16:15:58 2012
Daddy --- You should have snapped a photo! :-)
Comment by anna Sat Dec 29 16:31:43 2012

Hi Anna,

I would like a free copy of your e-book. I am curious to see whether It would be worthwhile to figure out how to buy some more of your e-books.

Great website. I have an automatic watered garden that has been growing stuff inside for quite a bit.

Nice website.


Comment by john Sun Dec 30 15:47:28 2012
John --- Drop me an email at and I'll send you a copy to try out.
Comment by anna Sun Dec 30 16:05:48 2012

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