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Planet Structures

Live Small - Live Smart - Live Free

THOW History and Certifications


Over the past couple years there have been many feel good stories of people who have built their THOW utilizing used trailers and recycled building materials, as well as higher quality builds utilizing new lumber and other materials.  These builds didn't save time but they certainly did save money, and made a lot of sense with little to no regulations pertaining to certifications being required.

Today a number of people dream of building their own THOW just like they've seen on TV or YouTube, but the days of taking these home built units onto the roadways will be coming to an end.  It's a long and somewhat complicated story, but we'll do our best to explain in layman's terms what has been happening in the industry and what to look for in the coming months.


The Tiny House movement got its official start (in our opinion) when someone wrote a news article about 6 years ago about Jay Shafer, who pioneered the credibility of living in a 96 square foot house.  The story went viral and the rest as they say is history.  There are some authors who are credited for starting the movement a little earlier, but in our opinion Jay not only talked the talk but walked the walk.  When he was gaining a lot of attention to his newfound way of low impact and sustainable living, the question of "where can I park this thing" was one of the foremost questions that all in the new industry had to deal with.  Ingeniously he put his tiny house on a trailer, and voila the problems with permits and zoning bylaws almost disappeared, and the term "Tiny House On Wheels" or THOW was born.  He also started the grand-daddy of THOW companies, called Tumbleweed Tiny House Company.  He has since moved on to run a newer company called Four Lights Tiny House Company.  A shout-out to Dee Williams needs to be made here as well, as she has gone from living in her own tiny house as a necessity (she built it herself) to running a successful tiny house business and being a sought after speaker in the TED Talk circuit.  Since all of this transpired, many tiny house companies have sprung up to design and build tiny houses on wheels, mainly in the US but now getting more popular in Canada as well.


We have found that the majority of people who have been inquiring about our tiny houses plan to keep them stationed on a specific property most of the time, with the possibility of towing them to another location every couple of years as life changes dictate.  Many of the articles and blogs out of the US however detail the travels of young couples trailering their THOW all over North America, enjoying the freedom of lifestyle for which these buildings allow.  Regardless of how often or how rare these buildings will be trailered on the road, they will definitely at some point be trailered.  At the very least this requires licensing so they can legally be on the road.  And this is where the differences between the US and Canada come into play, and where this is going in both countries in terms of upcoming certifications and being legally roadworthy.


This is where the troubles really start, and why it becomes very important as to who you get to build your tiny house if you plan on towing it on the roadways starting next year.

Tumbleweed, like a number of other US based tiny house companies, certify their THOWs as recreational vehicles, or RV's.  Although technically not RV's as THOW's are built for 4-season use, designating their THOWs as RV's allows for customers an easier route to bank financing and insurance, as well as making them legal for towing on the US roadways for years to come.  Other US based THOW builders do not certify their THOWs as RV's.  For some it is a financial issue as it costs money to be certified as a RV builder, and for others it is a "purist" view that they build houses, not RV's.  They say they build tiny houses that just happen to be on rolling foundations.  The problem now arises that as the tiny house on wheels movement becomes more popular and is a real industry, federal regulators are now knocking at the industry's door.  Without some sort of quality assurance certification, nobody truly knows if an uncertified THOW is actually road worthy.  Instances are now taking place in the US where a THOW plated in one state cannot be trailered in another state without proof of certification, and is forced to return home.

In Canada at the moment, there is no certification required for a THOW to be considered road worthy.  All that is required is the VIN number of the trailer from which a license plate is issued.  But those days are coming to an end.  Although the actual certification or governing body is yet to be determined, it will be either a CSA, a RVIA, or combination of the two bodies that will dictate the requirements for any THOW to be legally road worthy.  So a THOW built in the past year or two with no or little documentation or engineering stamps may not be legal to tow on Canada's roadways starting next year when regulations are sure to rear their ugly heads and be enforced.


A smart THOW builder will recognize that industry regulations are coming, and to build the THOW's for their clients so that there won't be huge problems in keeping the THOW legally licensed for towing in the near future.  Some builders are already CSA certified.  Others like us have the entire structure engineered and stamped professionally, as well as have our RV connections supplied and installed by a certified RV service centre.  This will help ensure there will no issues with our THOW's remaining on the road when new regulations do come in.  Ultimately we will be certified by whichever governing body is the authority.

This is a very important conversation you need to have with your THOW builder before signing any contracts.  You really need to make sure your THOW will still be legal for the roadways when new regulations will inevitably show up and be enforced, and you need to ask how your builder is addressing this to protect your investment.