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

Homesteading in a trailer

Homestead trailer

It's a good thing my father's alive, because otherwise he'd be rolling over in his grave.  The first Christmas after we pulled a trailer onto our farm, he gave me and Mark matching "Redneck Trailer Service" hats.  Later, he begged me, "Just don't built onto your trailer!"  And now...I'm writing a book about it.

My next ebook is a response to the tiny house and build your own house movements, combined with the voluntary simplicity movement.  The Simple Trailer Life (or maybe The Trailer Homestead --- what do you think?) will suggest an even cheaper and more
environmentally friendly method of lowering housing costs --- living in a used mobile home.

Inside a mobile home

And I need your help!  First of all, any title suggestions would be much appreciated.  Second, I'm looking for some homesteaders whom I could quote about why they wouldn't dream of living in a trailer.  I've got several great case studies of happy trailer-dwellers already, but if you have a good story, I wouldn't mind hearing from you about that too.  (The photo above is from Holy Scrap Hot Springs, one of our featured trailer-dwelling couples, and you'll be hearing more from one of our long-time readers as well.)  If you're interested in participating, just email for more information.

This ebook is flowing out of my fingertips like water, so hopefully I'll be able to let you read it by the end of the year.  Stay tuned!

Our chicken waterer kit takes the guesswork out of making a POOP-free waterer that fits your flock perfectly.


Edited to add:

Trailersteading is now available for $1.99 on Amazon.  I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!

Anna Hess's books
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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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How about:

The American Dream Gone Awry


(Trailer Trash and Loving It)

Comment by Tom Blum Thu Oct 11 07:35:09 2012

First, I would like to thank you for everything you have written and posted here, as I truly enjoy reading about your homestead. Also, I have learned a great from you.

As for your title, I like the second one better, Trailer Homesteading.

Comment by April Connett Thu Oct 11 07:57:57 2012

Tom Blum --- I was considering something like your second option, but figured I'd turn away too much of my audience. Personally, I like to laughingly call myself trailer trash, but it probably wouldn't feel so much fun if I'd ever been called that in earnest.

April --- Thanks for your kind words! I like your tweak of the title better than mine, actually. Maybe, "Trailer Homesteading: Voluntary Simplicity in a Mobile Home".

Comment by anna Thu Oct 11 09:01:37 2012

I like trailer homestead and trail homesteading, as well as your longer version of the latter. I find the phrases "simple living" and "simple life" somewhat overused these days. Cool that you're writing another book! It shouldn't have surprised me!

Comment by jen g Thu Oct 11 10:53:44 2012

You asked for comments from those who would NOT consider homesteading in a trailer. I would not. I grew up in house trailers. I actually love them on an emotional level. They feel more homey to me. :-) I also love that they are designed so smartly! Every single inch of space is utilized in the trailers I've been around. I love that. It seems that stick built homes often are built with lots of wasted space. My ideal would be to have a stick built home made from the designs of a house trailer.

The main reason I won't live in one now, though, is the chemical off-gassing. Trailers have a distinct smell. I know that as they age it supposedly gets better, but the trailer my parents bought in 1984 STILL has the same smell as the day we brought it home. It may be milder, but it's still there. There is a high incidence of cancer on both sides of my family, and I do everything I know how to take care of my body and prevent that dreadful disease.

A secondary reason I avoid house trailers is fear of fire. Trailers burn so quickly you really only have time to realize it's on fire and get yourself out before it's gone. Our home was struck by lightening and cought fire this past spring. If it had been a trailer it would have been gone. Instead we had time to grab the fire extinguisher and put it out. The damage to our home was minimal and within two weeks' time everything was back to normal.

Comment by Michelle Thu Oct 11 11:25:20 2012
Awesome! I live (simply, happily, and in the country) in a newer trailer that is very basic on the outside. Basic wood stairs at the front and back door. That's it. I am dreaming of the day when my husband and I can build a modest porch on the back side of our trailer. Can't wait to get this book! =o)
Comment by Monica Thu Oct 11 14:19:39 2012
I just learned about your site this week and I also purchased one of your kindle books (Microbusiness Independence). I enjoyed it very much. I live in a semi rural area with poor internet choices and was wondering what your internet choices are in your location?
Comment by George Thu Oct 11 15:00:41 2012

Hmmm.....Correct me if I am wrong but I thought you and Mark lived in a mobile home not a trailer. Mobilehomesteading (oxymoronic).

I have raised the same quetion...Why build small/tiny homes when we have mobile homes(trailers, too) many that are built with ecology taken into consideration and like you mentioned, many available used for little or just for moving. One problem (at least where we live) is that zoning is not favorable to mobile home living :(

Another great topic.


Comment by John Thu Oct 11 15:23:39 2012

jen g --- Thanks for your thoughts on the title (and enthusiasm about another book. :-) )

Michelle --- Those are some great comments. Do you mind if I quote you in the ebook?

Monica --- Glad to find another reader living simply in a trailer! I do highly recommend the porch. As you can tell, I held out against building one for years, thinking it would be too much money/effort for too little return, but we've basically lived out there all summer. Maybe our best investment in quality of life after the wood stove!

George --- Thanks for reading! We're actually very lucky to have cable internet at our trailer, which I think is due to a national or state program to bring high speed internet to rural areas. Not sure which, but I'm happy to take advantage of it.

John --- At least around here, many people refer to mobile homes as trailers, especially if they're being mildly pejorative. I actually prefer the term "trailer" because "mobile home" makes it sound like I'm pretending to be posh.

Interesting point on the zoning front. That will definitely be something for me to look into!

Comment by anna Thu Oct 11 16:22:24 2012
Anna, I would be honored!
Comment by Michelle Thu Oct 11 16:38:47 2012
John is right. It is VERY difficult to find land that is not zoned against mobile homes/trailers. Some will allow double-wides, but it is almost impossible to find a parcel that will allow a single-wide. I know this, because we actually own our trailer and have been looking to move onto our own land.
Comment by Anonymous Thu Oct 11 16:43:36 2012

John's comment on zoning is a big deal for me. I live in a pretty rural area and lots of people here live in trailers. Some people (families, small ethnic enclaves, other low-income communities) squeeze trailers on one spot of land like a game of tetris. With that, there's the valid issue of safety, but there's also so much prejudice and it has definitely seeped into our local planning and zoning discussions.

I attended one local planning meeting where I was just appalled at the blatant discrimination against people in trailers. The firm hired to help put the plan together actually pointed out that the punishments that were being proposed were discriminatory. A few examples: trailer communities have to be screened from public view by vegetation or privacy fences and all trailers must have skirting even when they can't be seen from the road, in order to complete all the permitting processes. At one point the planner rolled her eyes about complaints and said "Oh come on, this isn't going to break anyone's wallet. A peice of lattice is $20. They can just buy it and slap it on. No one is going to suffer." Haha! As if one peice of lattice would do the job of skirting an entire trailer.

Now that's better than those communities where trailers aren't even allowed-- but these are becoming increasingly common too. A tiny little city just north of me has already outlawed trailers within the city limits, including very nice, modern doublewides. That's ridiculous.

Comment by Sara Thu Oct 11 16:44:29 2012

Michelle --- Thank you!

Anonymous --- Excellent data point. This isn't an issue down here in Appalachia, but I'll bet the more high class a community is, the less they'll allow trailers in. I wonder how close you have to get to the neighborhood association that won't let you have a clothes line before zoning outlaws the trailer?

Sara --- Great data! I hope you'll include that in your writeup, or let me quote this comment?

Comment by anna Thu Oct 11 17:00:09 2012

I want to suggest something like Mobile Homesteading: Shelter in Transitional Times. Not refined enough, but I thought I'd throw it out there.

My main complaint with our early 1980's mobile home is keeping it comfortable in extreme weather. We (not so affectionately) call it our "tin can." The metal siding acts as a miserable heat conductor . . . cooking us in the summer sun and then whisking away the warmth in the winter.

I have noticed it also tends to accumulate humidity more easily than a stick built home.

I also agree about the off-gassing problem in new models, but I don't notice any off-gassing odors in our older mobile home.

We moved here shortly after my grandmother died, and I am sure she would have been absolutely horrified if she had lived to see it. However we really like the land and hope to build a small house some day. Meanwhile, the mobile home meets most of our needs and acclimates us to living in a smaller space.

BTW, I am really enjoying your blog, as I just found it today.

Comment by Rebecca Thu Oct 11 18:58:10 2012
Rebecca --- Great points both pro and con! Do you mind if I quote you in the book? I'd actually love to include a photo of your mobile homestead too --- if you're interested, drop me an email at Thank you!
Comment by anna Thu Oct 11 20:01:07 2012

Great discussion. I look forward to the book! The one reason I would not want to live in a trailer is that it doesn't have a basement. Growing up in Texas where tornados are a regular fact of life and basements can save lives, and then moving to New England where every house had a basement which, depending on the home, could be used for cool storage of food, or act as a cooler sleeping area in the hot humid summer ( few in new england have air conditioning), I would be at a loss without that very important part of the house. Ok, that was a really long sentence, but basements seem to somehow connect the house as part of the land, and I would feel too "temporary" in a mobile home.

Comment by Deb Thu Oct 11 21:52:13 2012

In the late 80'S my wife and I bought a 60's model trailer and moved onto our 3 acres ($1500 total).Of course we spent more than the original cost in upgrades and repairs but we were comforable. This trailer served us well for several years before we were able to upgrade to a new mobile home. Our daughter, son and a couple renters lived in the trailer for many years until it was finally converted into a storage container.

When the new mobile home was destroyed in a hurricane the trailer was used to store items that were not damaged. Unfortunately the insurance was not upgraded over the 18 years we lived in the mobile home so we were not able to replace it immediately. We did receive enough to allow us to get a nice 5th wheel travel trailer which was really handy since I was working on the road at the time.

Three years later we are in a really nice double wide on the original property. I don't recommend a trailer but mobile homes are another matter. Trailers were very poorly constructed but mobile homes are built much better with insulation and all the conviences of conventional homes. They can either be a good starter while building a new home or with proper maintenace just as warm and nice as a conventional home.

When our home was destroyed the insurance adjuster did a quick walk through and wrote us up for 100% coverage since the contents were worth more than everything was covered for in the original policy.It is the occupants that must choose whether they want to be 'trailer trash' or not. Good luck on the new book.

Comment by Tom Thu Oct 11 23:54:45 2012

Hello Anna,

I like the longer title, with "...voluntary simplicity..." in it. We currently live in a typical suburban, 4 bedroom, etc, but a year ago bought thirty acres out of town and a worn out trailer. Since then we have gutted 2/3 of it to replace the floor, and a little at a time are trying to get it livable. Thinking about moving in to it is making us look at our possessions differently, this will go, that will stay, etc. I look forward to moving, reducing our living costs and getting out of town. Re-using things like old trailers is a great way to recycle.

I have been enjoying your blog for about a year now, hope you continue to do well!

Comment by James C Fri Oct 12 00:03:44 2012

I certainly didn’t mean to offend. I would not want anyone to get the wrong impression. My goodness, no one wants to be thought of as being POSH :)

Trailer it is. Trail’er Tales of Hinterland Homesteading.

Comment by John Fri Oct 12 00:35:50 2012

We've considered a trailer for our future homestead. Here is why we decided against it (for now): --My husband is a carpenter who has been building/remodeling his own homes since he was in his twenties. He's very artistic and prefers buildings that are inspiring. And he works for food and beer. :-) --My experience with living in used trailers involves the indelible smells of cat pee and cigarettes. A new trailer would be fairly expensive compared to an owner-built home, so that's out of the question. --Trailers are hard to heat and cool (as mentioned above). --Yes, they are also quite flammable, and I prefer to heat with wood. --The quality of the surfaces (bathroom sink, walls, etc.) in the trailers I've been in is often lower, which means that (for example) the fiberglass tub will probably wear out more quickly than a salvaged cast-iron tub. --We live in the Appalachians, and it's difficult and expensive to get a trailer up our road, although it can be done if you have a truck with independent front and rear steering.

If I wasn't married to a fantastic (and visionary) carpenter, I would probably opt for the trailer. But if we can have a larger space for only a little more money, why not go for it?

Comment by Faith T Fri Oct 12 08:13:17 2012

Everybody --- I appreciate folks chiming in with more negatives! I really want to give a balanced view in my ebook, and many of those are points that need to be addressed. Even if I don't respond to your individual point here, I'll definitely be taking notes for the book. :-)

Deb --- Lack of a basement is a major downside. Adding a root cellar is definitely on our long term wish list....

Tom --- "I don't recommend a trailer but mobile homes are another matter. Trailers were very poorly constructed but mobile homes are built much better with insulation and all the conveniences of conventional homes." I'm going to have to check on the exact use of the terms, but it seems to me that you're talking about the difference between a modular home and a mobile home not a mobile home and a trailer? According to Wikipedia (and my own experience), a mobile home and a trailer are the same thing. A modular home is different --- a normal house without wheels that's built out of prefabricated modules and assembled using a crane.

James --- It sounds like you're on a fun journey!

John --- You made me laugh. :-)

Faith --- I think that in your case, you made the totally right decision. If Mark and I really enjoyed building, I suspect we would have done a lot more of it. As it is, it's near the bottom of the list of homesteading tasks we enjoy (with chickens and plants at the top, obviously :-) ).

Comment by anna Fri Oct 12 11:46:48 2012

Greetings Anna,

I really like trailers and their coziness, or potential to be. Like the picture you posted of the trailer interior, they can be made to look really nice inside. I would certainly live in one, but, given options, I would not choose one as my permanent residence because of their "throw-away" nature. What I mean by this is that where I live (Canada), they are not a good investment at all and are looked upon as temporary. You cannot easily get financing for them and often, they have to be replaced, as noted by some of the comments in your post here. Their value does not appreciate. A well-built home can withstand the test of time, over hundreds of years. I am also a fan of a basement for cold storage and to go to when a hurricane or tornado looms, or to have as extra living space. You can definitely put a foundation under a trailer, but the stairs would take up a large portion of your interior. My husband is also a carpenter and for that reason too, we would prefer to build. I like a good design, pleasing to the eye, and trailers are usually just a long rectangle, rather banal. (The designers could step it up a bit, one would think.) You can use any comments, if needed. Good luck with your new e-book.

Comment by Heather W Fri Oct 12 14:32:35 2012
Heather --- Excellent points. Of course, there's the flip side of the coin too --- trailers can cost next to nothing if you get them used. :-)
Comment by anna Fri Oct 12 18:19:02 2012

Anna, in response to your question you can quote me in the comments if you like, but I can probably neaten up my thoughts a little better in a more formal written interview.

I notice a lot of people are worried about safety, and that's one of my biggest concerns, too. I don't know a lot about design differences in trailers, but my dad has worked in construction for over 30 years and was impressed with our 1998 model that is made out of a pretty standard wall construction-- wooden studs with fiberglass insulation and fire-resistant sheetrock on the inside. There's a lot of plywood, but I don't think our place is too much more flammable than the typical stick-frame house. The fact that it is off the ground would probably feed a lot more oxygen into a fire, though.

As far as wind, one of my big future projects is going to have to be some kind of small wind shelter. We don't have a history of bad tornadoes here, but obviously Louisiana is right in the path of some major hurricanes every few years. Our trailer went through Katrina, Rita, Gustav and most recently Isaac, without any issues at all. It gives me some sense of security for our belongings, but I still would not want to stay in it during a big storm. Some of the spring storms that come in with fronts can have pretty violent wind.

Comment by Sara Sat Oct 13 12:46:00 2012
Sara --- I'll be looking forward to your interview answers! I especially like hearing about your father's take on your trailer because I've been at a bit of a loss about why everyone thinks trailers are fire traps. When we opened up our walls, they were two by twos instead of two by fours, but other than that, it could have been the wall of a stick built house. Although I can see how lack of sheetrock on our walls would let fires spread faster (which would probably put that on the list of things worth renovating).
Comment by anna Sat Oct 13 17:26:03 2012
In older trailers, interior walls are chipboard, which is held together by a very volatile adhesive. I've observed ceilings which were plastic. The chipboard walls are coated with a fake woodgrain made of plastic. Because of these materials and the narrow space, a small flame quickly reaches flashpoint. You might want to check local statistics, but when I lived in the area it seemed that half or more of house fire deaths were in trailers. As I recall, furnace fires, bad wiring and cooking stove fires were the most frequent causes.
Comment by Errol Sat Oct 13 18:45:18 2012
I remember learning in fire safety courses that from the point of ignition to there being nothing left but the steel frame underneath is three minutes when a trailer burns. I know that materials used in some newer models have improved, and with that improvement has brought longer burn times, but there are still models being produced today that are just as bad, unless they are laced with flame retardants, which brings us back to one of the reasons I don't ever want to live in one. A traditional stick built home can take hours to burn all the way down.
Comment by Michelle Sat Oct 13 18:58:49 2012
My sons friend died in a trailer fire.It was too fast and he was trapped. The boy was only 16, and very talented musically. A terrible shame.
Comment by Irma Sat Oct 13 21:57:41 2012

Daddy --- The chipboard walls makes sense. Sounds like that should be a top priority for replacement as folks rehab a trailer --- it wouldn't be that hard to put in sheetrock (or at least, not for normal people who don't have to figure out how to get a fragile sheet through the floodplain without breaking it into little pieces. :-) )

Michelle --- I was pondering your three minute information, and couldn't help wondering what they meant by "point of ignition". I suspect that's not when the first flames start flickering, since it takes me longer than three minutes to get a fire in my wood stove to be self-sufficient. Perhaps the point of ignition is once a real fire is raging, which could be ten minutes after you see the first flames?

Irma --- I'm sorry for your friend's loss.

Comment by anna Sun Oct 14 08:57:19 2012
Anna - one suggestion I have in order to get a more balanced overview is to talk to a mobile home manufacturer or read up on one of their sites regrading how things are done today that address the challenges of fire, health and safety. It would be interesting also to learn what they consider to be their greatest moves toward being more eco friendly.
Comment by Jayne Sun Oct 14 09:40:31 2012
Jayne --- Excellent suggestion. I'm definitely going to do some digging into the issue (along with various others, like history of the mobile home). I like your idea of going straight to the source to see what they have to say.
Comment by anna Sun Oct 14 10:19:00 2012

A Tale of Two Trailers.

Sorry -- that's silly. Couldn't resist. I guess it depends on whether you're looking for a serious title or a cutesy one.

Comment by Heather Sun Oct 14 12:07:22 2012
Heather --- I'm afraid that Dickens and I get along about as well as Thoreau and I do (for many of the same reasons), so I probably should go naming my books after his. :-)
Comment by anna Sun Oct 14 14:29:06 2012

Trailer Talk. (Like Car Talk, only not.)

Trailers and Trash.

The Art of Tailer Living

Artisanal Trailers

Homesteading the Trailer Way

Blazing a Trailer

Comment by Heather Sun Oct 14 17:30:48 2012
Heather --- Great ideas! I especially like Trailers and Trash as a subtitle if I didn't use Trailer in the title. The Art of Trailer Living has a wonderfully seventies feel to it and Artisanal Trailers might be just right. I'll have to mull those over. Thank you!
Comment by anna Sun Oct 14 18:12:31 2012

The Art Of Trailer Homesteading

The Art of Homesteading in a Trailer


Comment by AprilConnett Mon Oct 15 11:43:09 2012
April --- Nice combinations! I might like these best so far. So many good choices!
Comment by anna Mon Oct 15 12:13:57 2012
Trailersteading? Trailerstead? Mobile Homesteading? Hope these haven't already been mentioned. =o)
Comment by Anonymous Mon Oct 15 12:38:11 2012
Oops! How about just Trailersteading? LOL
Comment by Anonymous Mon Oct 15 12:49:05 2012
We never really considered a trailer because the lot we purchased had covenants forbidding them (part of a rural subdivision). I remember in my teen years though I was not too fond of the one we lived in as in my bedroom, if I stretched, my hands were often whacked by the ceiling fan blades. On the rare occasions there was a freeze in coastal NC, I would be sent outside with a hair dryer to defrost the water pipes to my mom's bathroom. There are things I would definitely appreciate about a trailer, like the ease of changing the plumbing for gray water usage. My house is on a slab and so my options there are few or costly. Had we bought land where it was possible to have a trailer, it would have certainly given us more options as far as our money is concerned too. I can appreciate that in the building process there is likely less waste as the size is uniform but the one thing I do not care for is that they all seem to be mostly in the same style and therefore do not reflect the regional style differences. Interestingly, when I lived in California, they were most often referred to as manufactured housing and some were indeed real beauties.
Comment by Tisha Mon Oct 15 14:41:12 2012
Tisha --- Thanks for chiming in! Good point on the greywater --- I hadn't even considered that.
Comment by anna Mon Oct 15 16:32:00 2012

Anna, By point of ignition I mean that moment when the flames catch on whether that be on or in the trailer. (It could be a piece of furniture within it.) The flames just go crazy. You have to remember that every component of a trailer has been bathed in a petrochemical cocktail, unlike your natural stove wood. :-) Three minutes is a very real time frame for a trailer to burn from start to finish.

Comment by Michelle Mon Oct 15 16:39:54 2012
Michelle --- It sounds like I should run a test burn in the wood stove with a bit of the interior paneling from our trailer. That's the only part that isn't plain lumber that's the same as you'd put in a normal house.
Comment by anna Mon Oct 15 18:05:56 2012
The tornadoes we have in the SE often wreak the most havoc on trailers, mobile homes, modular homes, or whatever vogue term is applied. My father lived in a modular home in Florida and I had to work on it to sell as part of his estate. These constructions use non-standard doors, plumbing, windows etc for the most part making recycling difficult if not impossible. Also limiting the supply and selection of replacement tends to elevate price as well. Often, stereotypically, in the country in this state those who can only afford mobile homes often have an assortment of junk cars, overgrown grass and other "eyesore" features which leads to restrictive zoning. I personally would prefer to live an an unrestricted area with sufficient acreage as a buffer to someone who has no pride in their home, mobile or not.
Comment by Robocop5626 Thu Oct 18 16:26:26 2012

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