Dream home = mobile home?!

Dream home = mobile home?!

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org]

Update 161112

It's fun to see these early designs, just as we're renovating our apartment.  The mobile home idea stalled because we couldn't figure out the legal aspects of this concept.  I love the idea of using small homes and beautiful trailer parks for compact, dense housing, but apartments are a much more established approach.  In the intervening 8 years since this first post on mobile home design, I learned the following.

  1. It's difficult to build a mobile home to code because there is no method for established inspection system outside of factory manufacturing.
  2. It's difficult to find a place where a non-code mini home might exist in Torrance.
  3. It's difficult to find an odd slice of land ready for residential construction (other than in Echo Park, where you'd build on very uneven terrain).
  4. It's expensive to live in a trailer park (HOA fees and trash services are often $800+ in Torrance).
  5. None of this matters anymore when your mom buys a triplex!

Original post

One of my greatest dreams is to build my own home.  Hiro and I have been designing and collecting ideas and photographs for the past 5 or 6 years.  We've been using our various apartments as test grounds for different storage and furniture ideas.  And we take monthly overnight trips by bike and train to explore towns along the Metro rail to better know where we might want to live.

But despite all this work, the dream home feels far, far away.  Financially, building a home anywhere near Los Angeles will be a stretch.  Despite experience with basic woodworking and a few welding classes, the skills required to build our home still feel out of my league.  And we still don't know what's important to us in picking a place to live.

But two weeks ago, I had a breakthrough!!!

I'm going to build a mobile home!

Now I know that probably doesn't sound very inspiring, but a mobile home miraculously solves all these problems!  It's far less expensive than a full-sized home, even if the cost per square-foot were somewhat higher.  I can wrap my head around something 28' x 8.5' -- with a little help, I think I can handle the welding, cabinetry, electrical, etc.  And if we pick a place and don't like it, we can always move!

I also really like the idea of working to minimize our home size.  As I read about small homes, two things resonate with me: If you want to build green, you've got to go small... and big, long-term loans can be really oppressive.  I like the idea of building the absolute minimum space necessary to be comfortable now, and if location and finances permit later, we add to it.  I've also read about a lot of artists who build big, wonderful homes but then feel stifled by the mortgage.

The dream home is now modular, and I can start working on it now!  Hiro and I sketched out an initial design and went to the park to try it out.  We used stakes in the grass and string to outline the kitchen and living spaces.  Surprisingly, I think it might be possible to make a space only 8.5' wide that's comfortable.

Energized by this success, I met with Ron Golan of Central Office of Architecture (broken link -- COA now defunct) and he's in on the project!  We talked about the multiple options; a longer trailer vs a taller trailer.  Shipping containers vs tractor trailers.  But our first challenge is to understand the law and regulations related to this project.  For example, what are the size constraints for a building on a mobile home site?  What are the size and weight constraints regarding transporting this thing?  Can you put a mobile home on a permanent site in any of the places we might want to live longer term?

In any case, I'm extremely excited!  For the first time, I feel like I can start figuring all this stuff out now!  I'm going to use this blog to document our progress on this!  Please let me know if you have any input or suggestions!