You’re into tiny living but also like to travel. What matters most to you is a sustainable lifestyle that lets you have fun while treading lightly on the planet. How can you minimize your footprint with an eco-friendly trailer conversion?
As technology advances, so do your options. You must consider three factors — fuel economy, energy, and water use.
So, what should you keep in mind as you plan?
Before you start your project, spend a few mindful minutes considering how you can best make your rig more sustainable within the confines of your budget.
Here’s how to minimize your carbon footprint with an eco-friendly trailer conversion:
First Things First – Start With Your Base
A considerable part of the overall eco-friendliness of your trailer conversion depends on the total weight of your finished rig.
Generally, the heavier a vehicle is, the more gas it will guzzle — and the more emissions it creates.
A standard tiny home on wheels can top 10,000 pounds on a heavy-duty, multi-axle trailer intended to support the load. That’s a substantial tonnage for your vehicle to tow.
You need a hefty trailer to support your structure, meaning you must carefully consider which building materials you choose. For example, steel offers superior durability but adds to your overall weight load. Lumber is nearly as heavy.
You might have better luck looking for an enclosed trailer. Doing so has several advantages, not the least of which is sparing you a ton of framing work. However, you also have more materials from which to choose.
For example, aluminum is highly durable and lighter than steel, resisting rust and corrosion and requiring little maintenance. Many such models have doors already installed — while you may lack windows, a well-placed skylight and your vent fan offer natural illumination.
The rest of your lighting comes courtesy of low-energy LEDs. You can hippie it up with festive string lights or hang strips beneath cabinetry for a refined look.
4 Important Things to Consider for an Eco-Friendly Rig
These are four key considerations to take into account when you’re planning your eco-friendly trailer conversion:
1. Consider Your Lifestyle
Another option for your eco-friendly trailer conversion is to locate and refurbish an existing toy hauler, fifth-wheel, or travel trailer.
These offer the easiest path for those who aren’t too handy with a hammer or want to segue into an on-the-road lifestyle with minimal fuss.
You should know the differences between each type to make the best selection:
- Fifth-wheel: While these are easier to tow — thanks to the mid-bed placement bringing the center of weight forward — these models are often the largest. They might be ideal if you have a family, but you can find a more eco-friendly choice for your conversion if you’re single or a couple.
- Travel trailer: A lightweight option that tows from your bumper. Some of these can be tiny, such as teardrops. Others — like Airstreams — use aluminum and fiberglass to keep the weight low.
- Toy haulers: These can be your most lightweight option when empty. They’re ideal if you have toys to bring with you, preferably similarly lightweight ones like canoes. You can drive a car into some toy haulers, but it will impact your fuel economy and carbon footprint.
Here, too, materials matter. Many trailers use fiberglass to reduce weight. However, delamination is a huge problem with such models, as exposure to the elements can make these costlier to maintain. One trick is to reinforce the seams with steel or lightweight aluminum to prevent this damage.
Airstream takes the cake for using lightweight aluminum most effectively to increase durability. There’s a good reason these trailers maintain their value year after year.
However, the quality will cost you. Even the Basecamp 16 — their lowest-priced model — rings in at over $45,000 and only sleeps two.
2. Insulate, Insulate, Insulate
Going lightweight improves fuel economy, but what about once you land? As you’ll see in the FAQ section, your HVAC system uses the most power, and guess what? You use the same tactic to increase energy efficiency in your trailer conversion as you do at home — insulate. Here are ways to reduce energy loss:
- Plumbing: Frozen pipes and water pumps are the twin curses of RV life. Wrap them with heat tape and redirect your ducting if necessary to keep warm air circulating to all areas, including duct bays.
- Insulate your windows: Lightweight design lets cold air come in. Cover them with an insulating coating, using a heat gun to apply — it also makes them more shatterproof. Use a combination of Reflectix and bubble wrap to make window covers for the outside when you’re stationary in cold weather to stop heat escape at night. Heavy curtains serve a similar purpose.
- Insulate your vent covers: Your vent covers are notorious heat-loss vampires. Invest in foam pillows that fit precisely into the vent to keep warm air inside.
- Skirt: Foam board, Reflectix panels, or vinyl keep cold air from coming in from below.
Insulating your RV’s walls is a bit more labor-intensive. Many people call the pros, although a dedicated DIYer can do the job.
Fiberglass is lightweight but is prone to moisture and mold. Rigid foam is best for those who go back and forth across the country for its durability, but it is also the toughest to install.
Spray foam is easiest to apply and lightweight, but its low R-value can mean some heat loss.
Take a look at this video by Old Man Exploring to learn more about trailer insulation:
3. Towing Your Rig
Can you tow your rig with an electric truck? It’s possible, depending on your total weight.
Consider the numbers:
- GMC Hummer EV: 7,500 pounds.
- Rivian R1T: 11,000 pounds.
- Ford F-150 Lightning: 10,000 pounds.
- Chevrolet Silverado EV: 10,000 pounds.
Your toughest challenge might be finding a station that lets you dump your grey and blackwater tanks while charging your truck.
If you go with traditional fuel, remember that rigs requiring a 1-ton towing capacity will have less fuel economy than those you can tow with a half-ton.
4. Eco-Friendly Water Use
The final consideration in your eco-friendly trailer conversion is your water use. Fortunately, living on the road forces you to conserve water — there’s only so much room in your fresh, gray, and blackwater tanks.
How much water you carry also impacts your sustainability as it adds weight. Each gallon of water adds 8.33 pounds to your trailer, plus the tank’s weight.
What are some strategies for minimizing your water use? Try these tips:
- Turn taps off: You probably know letting taps run isn’t eco-friendly. You should also address all drips and leaks immediately.
- Limit toilet flushes: Remember — if it’s yellow, let it mellow.
- Go low-flow: Low-flow showerheads and faucets make a difference.
- Save your graywater: Take a bucket with you in the shower or reuse your dishwater.
- Limit showers: Wet yourself, turn the water off, suds up, and then turn it back on to rinse.
Go Even Greener With an Eco-Friendly Trailer Conversion
You might not think life on the road can be eco-friendly. However, the right approach when converting your trailer can make all the difference for your overall fuel, energy, and water consumption.
Follow the above tips to minimize your footprint with an eco-friendly trailer conversion. You can enjoy life on the road while keeping your environmental impact small.
About the Author
Oscar Collins is the editor-in-chief at Modded, where he writes about cars, auto news, and similar topics. Follow him on Twitter @TModded for frequent updates!
Frequently Asked Questions
Eco-Friendly Trailer Conversion Power Use - How can you power your rig on location?
Traditionally, you had two kinds of generators — gas and propane. Propane produces half the carbon emissions of gasoline, so opt for this model as your backup. What if you want to create as close to zero emissions as possible? Here's where it gets exciting — once upon a time, it was tough to power all your needs through solar. Your HVAC system draws too much energy. However, technology advancements have made it possible to go completely off-grid, although you may need a combination of rooftop and portable panels to stay cozy. Read the full guide to learn more about powering your rig using renewable energy.
How Much Power Does the HVAC in an RV Use?
On average, your RV needs 1,800 watts of electricity to start the air conditioner and 650 to keep your interior comfortable. If you have a solar setup with a 2,000-watt capacity, you have 1,350 watts left over to power everything else. Read the full guide to learn more about using cost-effective and renewable energy for your RV's HVAC system.
How Much Energy Do Typical Appliances in an RV Use?
Here's the wattage of some common RV appliances you should consider in your setup:
- Refrigerator: 350+ watts
- Microwave: 650 watts
- Four light bulbs: 300 watts
- Toaster oven: 300+ watts
- Hot plate: 1200 watts
- Laptop: 50 watts
- 19" color TV: 160 watts
- Battery charger: 25 watts
- Inflator pump: 50 watts
- Device charging: 5 watts
Read the full guide to learn more about how much power RV appliances need, and how to set up renewable energy sources for your rig.
How Much Juice Do You Need to Stay Connected to the Internet in an RV?
If you plan to work on the road, you need connectivity. Depending on where you are, relying on cellular data sharing can be too unreliable. Starlink RV offers a new alternative that's more reliable. You also must factor it into your overall energy needs — it uses 100 to 150 watts when active. Read the full guide to learn more about how much power you need for your rig.
How Long Does a Solar Generator Take to Charge?
Your solar generator takes anywhere from an hour and a half to 48 hours to charge to capacity, depending on environmental conditions. Read the full guide to learn more about using solar power for your rig.
References and Useful Resources
Riding Tiny: How to Choose and Order Your Tiny House Trailer
BigTex Trailer World: Different Types of Trailers and What They Are Used For
Modded: Planning an RV Trip? Keep These 5 Points in Mind
RV Lifestyle and Repair: How to Fix RV Delamination (Video)