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Can I Use this trailer for my tiny house?

 
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I have an opportunity to acquire the hereunder pictured chip trailer in a barter transaction.  One of my ideas is to use it for a 'tiny house on wheels' here in northern Maine.  Toward that end, I would strip off the lightweight walls and bring it down to just a trailer.  This chip trailer is said to be rated for 100,000 lbs.  (It is a 2005 Western Possum belly chip trailer -used for transporting wood chips and the like within the timber industry here in n. Maine.)  It seems to me that the trailer should be suitable for the house construction method that I have in mind.  Namely, a log cabin, the walls of which would be made of stacked 4" x 4" cedar 'logs' of varying lengths.  Please stop me if you think this is a zany idea.
48-ChipTrailerTriaxle.jpg
48' Chip Trailer Triaxle
48' Chip Trailer Triaxle
 
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I love a good zany idea. I think your plan would definitely work. Whether or not it's sturdy enough to move is a different question and if you were wanting to move it semi trailers like this require yearly safety checks (at least in my jurisdiction). So my thoughts are if its going to be parked in one spot permanently than yes it would be perfect but if you were planning on moving it at all it requires some more thought and planning.
 
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that trailer plenty big to make nice bit bigger than tiny home.
I'm no expert but with three axles if that trailer is in good shape It just might be worth a pretty penny. maybe if it is such, sell it and get a old 2 axle semi trailer which can usually be found for about $5k if you do some looking around, take profit and put it into the other building supplies you will need to convert trailer to house.
just my initial thought when I saw picture of specialized trailer.
if converting that trailer instead of stripping off walls, put insulation between those ribs and cover it all over with another layer of some kind of siding.
 
master pollinator
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It looks huge -- bigger than a standard highway trailer. Can a standard rig move it? Putting a log cabin on it will add a lot of weight. But it would look pretty cool.

I look at the weatherproof shell that's already there and wonder about cutting in doors and windows and building out the interior.
 
Alden Banniettis
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Hi, Marc!  The belly trailer has a current inspection sticker, the brakes are said to be at 80%, tires are said to still have plenty of life in them, and I am told there are no rust issues to deal with.  The trailer is said to be road-worthy and ready to work right now.  Of course, I will be inspecting it carefully prior to any deal.  As far as moving it, my plans include little to no moving.  What I mean is, I would build the house right on my property next to my shop.  The site that I intend for the trailer-home is also on my property, but some one-thousand feet away.  To address your thoughts about moving it on the highways and byways of the good ol' USA, that is not what I have in mind.  I mean, if I were to move it on the roadways, it would likely be to a lot that is within fifty miles of here -and then not moved again in my lifetime.  I spoke to truckers and a towing company who advised that they would charge around $100 to reposition the beast on my property, and a few hundred to move it to another town within about a fifty-mile radius.  If you are wondering why I might move it at all, I can say that I likely won't, but I want to be able to sell the finished product if I decide to do so.  Also, my property, though a bit over fifty-two acres, does not have the kind of view that I dream of.  You know, up here in northern Maine, there are inexpensive lots of a few acres that have views going for several tens of miles in all directions.  I love them.  But again, it is more likely than not that this house on wheels will not move further than the one-thousand feet I mentioned earlier.  Also, and significantly, the house on wheels will not cost me property tax!  The code officer said it will be considered an "unfixed structure".  I like that.  Anyway, I have a lot of ideas for this trailer what with my place being a sheep farm.  So far, my dream 'tiny' house is foremost on my mind.
 
Alden Banniettis
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Douglas, the beast is 48' and can be towed in Maine without permit, though a cdl license might be needed if a big truck is used.  It weighs about 12K lbs. so it seems to me that a hd pickup can haul it.  Certainly the newer pickups.  But it would not be me moving it.  I can hardly back up my own ten foot utility trailer, lol.  But any bobcat truck, or tractor trailer cab can haul it.  And you are right, there are numerous ideas for such a trailer on a farm.
 
Alden Banniettis
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Bruce, Yes, I have thought of that option also.  But it will likely not sell as a chip hauler.  The timber products industry up here has taken a beating over the years and these trailers are like all over the place.  One can find flatbed trailers in all shapes and sizes for peanuts, i.e., hundreds of dollars, not thousands.  I would venture a guess that this hauler is worth about fifteen grand IF you can find a buyer up here.  For the weight rating it has, it seems worth more to me as a home on wheels item.
 
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Unless you have a use for it that "belly" is a permanent feature of the trailer, I hauled one of those for years and that belly will seriously limit the places you can take it.
The ones I hauled were rated for 102,000 lbs so your tiny house will have lots of options, but.....that 12,000 lb is an empty weight and once loaded you will almost certainly need a semi tractor to move it, it will have air brakes.

YMMV but I would get one of those "cheap" flatbeds rather than a chip hauler unless you have a specific need for that deep belly.
As you look at them you will see many of those flatbeds have an inbuilt "arch" that settles out under load, if you structure is not heavy enough it will definitely flex as you travel!
 
Alden Banniettis
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Bill, thank you.  Yes, I know it will take a big boy to move this trailer.  I know several guys who haul and have those tractors and it is not an issue for me.  And there are plenty of shops up here for these rigs when needed.  As I mentioned, while I do not intend on moving the house, it will be kept safe and legal if someone else comes along after me and wants to move it.  I agree the belly is something that has to be dealt with in the design stage of the house.  Depending on whether we decide with finality to do it up as a home, I should, as you point out, have no problem finding a flat bed for a tiny house.  Indeed, up in northern Maine, flatbeds with signs for sale are really everywhere.  And some are quite cheap- usually the price is more a function of a need to sell than of the trailers' value.  I am taking this trailer because it is an offer I cannot refuse and there are just so many options, ideas, etc. for its second life.  It involves no cash outlay on my part- I am trading a woodlot for it.  The trailer, belly and all, will not go to waste, lol.  Thank you!
 
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Alden,

I have noticed those trailers with the dropped belly and thought they would be a great portable house.  If you wish you could install a door that would be closer to the ground level and skip the excess stairs or floor over the inside belly and use the drop area for storage.  Lower center of gravity might not be so important in Maine but it can be significant in Oklahoma.  The drop belly trailers I see come through this are are normally household moving trailers.  It sure looks pretty straight for a used trailer that's been in industry!  If you are going to strip it down to the deck/floor  there are a lot of used drop deck flatbeds  for sale.  Please keep us informed if you go for it.

Bryan
 
Alden Banniettis
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Bryan, me too- I often see these trailers and I was not entirely sure as to what they carried.  But I told myself, "tiny house," lol.  And I am surprised that they can handle the roads up here with that belly.  The interstate is fine, I suppose, but the farm roads are full of potholes and washboards.  The guy I am dealing with seems honest enough, but really, it is not too difficult to examine these things.  We have pretty tough inspections up here of timber vehicles and I really doubt that he could pass inspection with a bent frame.  But I will be looking her over real good and I will have a knowledgeable guy along with me.  Even if it were not roadworthy, I can see a use for it here on the farm.  It really does have possibilities.  And I like the fact that I can design the house to not look like an rv.  I have cedar logs galore, and when those logs are dry they are light as feathers.  I am thinking of milling them to 4"x4" and stacking them.  The belly would be a good entry option, but keep in mind that we get snow up here that piles high and then the winds come and pile it higher.  I don't mind much having a few steps.  The mrs. would want a deck anyway.
 
Douglas Alpenstock
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The belly looks like a great place to put fresh and black water tanks under the floor.
 
Alden Banniettis
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Douglas, that would be a good place for water tanks. For me, though, I would be connecting to a well and going with a compost toilet.  Gray water out to the trees, etc.  
 
pollinator
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I don't know. First I would get a definitive quote on how much it costs to move that trailer. And is it still in a good nick so that it does not break down during the move? Other than that I would not like to live in a metal box. The insulation must be very thick and you need to exactly (!) figure out how to fit windows and doors to not lose heat. The conversion might cost way more than the whole thing is worth even if you build yourself. But then for reasons of regulations you might need the trailer. In this case you could build the trailer back to a trailer and move trailer only and sell the scap metal.
 
Alden Banniettis
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Angelika, the trailer is actually easy to move, what with it being only 12k lbs.  Several quotes came out to pretty much the same: $100 to reposition the trailer anywhere on my property of fifty-two acres; $300 to $400 to move it to a lot within fifty or so miles -and likely less if we were to move it on a weekend.  The trailer has passed a recent inspection and that inspection is good for one year.  Plus, I will be inspecting it within a few days with at least one and perhaps two knowledgeable friends.  I have not decided yet exactly which of several ideas I will go forward on with this bad boy, but no one is going to live in any metal box here.  The trailer is stickered for 100,000 lbs.  If I do my tiny house idea I will be building with 4"x4" stacked cedar.  I have stands of gorgeous Atlantic White Cedar on a thirty-acre woodlot that I own less than a mile from my farm here. It will look like... Home Sweet Home.  This is not my first build.  But see my posts above regarding your general points.  Thank you for your response.
 
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I am curious. How are things progressing?
 
Alden Banniettis
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Hi, John- We are getting documentation together.  Titles, etc.  Drafting transfer contracts.  It is now winter here, so really all that I will be able to do for the next several months is play around with designing the interior.  My workshop is way too small to get the belly container inside and it will soon be buried in the northern Maine snows outside.  The cedar logs are piled up and ready to be milled for flats as soon as the snows go away next April.  The field that I intend for this beast has to be surveyed since I will be parting it off of my farm property and I will likely just do a satellite survey.  I also have to do the driveway and trailer pad next spring.  Once we move, I will be selling this property as an operating sheep farm. So, there won't be much progress in the coming months. I might be able to get some work done on what I call the 'water trailer' which is a separate small utility trailer upon which will sit an IBC water tote to serve the new 'tiny' house.  Not sure.  The snow that we get up here keeps me pretty busy in the winter, plus I have the sheep to tend to and the meat store.  I don't work long days because of some arthritis and back pains.  The work will really progress when my sons come up in the spring.  They work well and they work fast.  But my wife will be doing a video record of the project and I intend on making Permies forum the place for it.
 
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If you cut the sides off you will weaken the til the side walls are part of the trailers strenght
 
Alden Banniettis
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Ron, it is a belly chip trailer.  There is no roof.  Instead, it has a roll of vinyl on top.  The trailer is rated for one hundred thousand pounds.  I cannot see how the relatively thin sidewalls, no matter how they were engineered, is going to excessively weaken the bed once removed.  Those steel beams under there are massive.  The weight of my cedar log cabin's walls and roof will not hit even ten-thousand pounds.  My calculations have them at about seven thousand pounds. I have hoped to find such a trailer for years.  Not only is it good for a tiny house on wheels, but it could also be good for many uses on my farm.  The trailer is not going to be an rv; if it be on the road, it will be for a relatively short trip for repositioning.  I do agree that I might be reducing the weight rating in taking off the steel walls.  The only concern I had was that it was too long for non-permit travel on US roads.  I have since been advised that no permit is necessary.  I also have a ten-foot utility trailer.  On that trailer, I am sure the sides do figure significantly into the engineering.  Thank you!
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Ron Warner
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I know it's a chip trailer but the sides are a big part of the strenght of it. As for permit issues your in Maine 105$ plate it for five years no inspection required with the three axels it was permitted for probably 120000# take a look at the dumb people who wack a bridge see how the buckle you can buy roof bows and aluminum roof for it.i know your trying to get as low to ground as possible I get the minimal stair idea but thier lot step decks or double drops out thier that are structurally sound but decks are rotted I think those would serve you better lot less work and headache those would save you so much time and are cheap 2500-3500$ not bad for a foundation and can be moved just as easy
 
Alden Banniettis
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Ron, I know that most people want to be low to the ground in tiny houses.  But I also want to be able to get easily under there and keep an eye on things since the house will be rarely if ever moved.  I don't want the axles, hubs, etc., crapping out on me over the years.  We also want a deck.  This is all part of the challenge, and here is where I have to be mindful of the thirteen-foot height limit.  I hear you regarding trailers.  I did not understand the part about wacking bridges, but you do have a good point about there being so many flatbed trailers out there to be gotten cheaply- though not forty-eight footers.  I realize that stripping down the belly trailer entails lots of work.  I am hoping that a careful tear down will permit for re-use of the sides.  I do like the belly.  But to address your point better, I should explain that I have little cash but lots of dry cedar and a woodlot that has not proved itself amenable to a near-future sale despite the valuable timber and water.  (I live near the Canadian border in a rather sparsely populated region.) I am sixty-five and not getting any younger.  I have finally found someone who wants the woodlot who is also cash poor but has a forty-eight-foot belly trailer.  Some years ago, I noticed something.  I had cut some large cedar logs to use in building livestock shelters.  They were green and pretty heavy, even for cedar.  I could not move them by myself.  A couple of years later, I went to move the pile and I was simply amazed at how light they were.  I was picking up ten-foot-long logs and carrying them away without even sweating.  I said to myself, "Hmmm...."  I cannot be confident at this moment that I will not need to consult an engineer regarding my idea for the trailer.  The consultation would cost me about $400 though I am told I could likely find it for less if I be patient.  I know I have to be mindful of flex in the trailer if I modify it.  But those long rv's have plenty of flex, too.  I think it can be done.  I am grateful for your input.  Truly.  
 
Ron Warner
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I get the barter system I always like to do everything with out cash out of pocket I've been in trucking since 92 between driving fixing and owning.im also have aback ground in building and farming I was trying to save you a lot work.im not shure how Maine works for shure but if it's liencened it may not be taxable so leaving the axles may be to your benefit don't worry about tires breaking down just but piece would under them. As for side walls they are part of the strength I know it doesn't seem like it but they are and tearing them apart ain't easy lot grinding the are also glued together best luck to you
 
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This sounds fantastic!
That trailer is clearly over engineered for what you are aiming to do, so any lost if strength should be no big deal.
Those sides look like they might work as roofing, that would be a real cost savings.

I might have missed it,  did you say how are you securing the timbers together?
They sound like they might have insulative properties.
Are there any good sources for chinking/mortar  on your property?
I understand some people use raw wool and clay to chink.

 
Alden Banniettis
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William,  I am certainly banking on that trailer being overbuilt for a cedar house on wheels.  I do not see ever using more than fifteen percent of its rating.  The steel walls will be removed carefully with an eye to re-using them.  Roofing certainly comes to mind, but there are just so many purposes to consider for them.  I doubt that they would go to waste on the farm.  Regarding the construction style of the tiny home, I will be stacking Atlantic and Northern White cedar logs, in a style similar to the conventional log cabin.  However, unlike log cabins, the logs will not be notched.  Rather, the logs will be milled for flats on three sides and the ends squared off.  They are stacked one upon the other in a running bond pattern upon the perimeter of the trailer.  They are drilled and pinned with rebar.  There are cross-beams and walls within for stability against sheer.  I have not yet decided what exactly shall be laid down between the logs as a sort of chinking.  I will likely choose some silicone-type caulking.   As well, the stacked log walls will be through-anchored to the trailer via threaded rods and bolts.  The idea is to have a unibody and monocoque structure.  Tentative designs do not include a metal roof.  I have built before and I like the benefits of metal roofing, but I am going with a different look here.  I am thinking of conventional shingles or cedar shakes, despite the extra weight and work compared to metal roofing.  The insulation value depends, of course, on the size of the logs.  At a bit less than R1.5 per inch, I will live with what I get from 4" or 5" square logs.  We are looking for a colorful appearance- a home-sweet-home look.  Sorry, but I am just not good at describing my vision for that.  For the moment, think "fairy tale cottage".  I may get some help from a grad student of design.  But, in general, the build will entail some 'create as you go' aspects.  The last thing I would want to think of when looking at the completed project is "RV".  I am at the very beginning of things, so much of what will end up being done is yet to be determined.  I hope to enjoy myself doing it.    
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