Alternative living arrangements?
May 6, 2013 2:24 PM   Subscribe

I may be on the lookout for a new residence soon, and I'm open to alternatives to the usual apartment/house rental. In particular, living in an RV or camper trailer parked on the street outside of a friend's house (or in their driveway if long-term parking on the street is illegal) seems doable. And fun. And possible (I asked). What's it like?

Other suggestions welcome—the vehicle option is just what came to mind first.

I have a 2002 Subaru Outback that apparently has a max towing capacity of 2,000 pounds, so I guess I need a motor home or a very light camper trailer.

I'm interested in something with a built-in shower and toilet, which I suppose means I definitely need a motor home with black and/or greywater containers that would need to be dumped out every so often. How often? How much does an RV park charge for this service?

What models should I look at? What specific features should it have? How much is a reasonable cost?

I'm assuming a propane tank for cooking, tiny fridge, etc.

How viable would solar power be? Electricity needs would consist entirely of reading lights, my laptop, phone, possibly external speakers, and a tiny fridge.

If I ran everything off batteries that I charged every day/every other day, how much electricity would that use up compared to regular home usage? I mean, is that a "Here's 20 bucks for letting me recharge this month" situation, or is it more like "Heres $100 for this week?"

I've seen this post. Any others?

Fresno, CA area.
posted by jsturgill to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oh, and any thoughts on getting something that doesn't include a bathroom and showering at afforementioned friends' place or the gym instead? I think living in a converted school bus or VW Van would be pretty exciting as well.
posted by jsturgill at 2:27 PM on May 6, 2013

Where are you planning to dispose of your toilet contents?
posted by Ideefixe at 2:32 PM on May 6, 2013

Something to keep in mind is that most municipalities have ordinances against doing exactly what you are describing. So check your local area for these and be prepared to have to move if anyone complains-and work hard to not be a source of problems in whatever neighborhood you move into. Most people only complain when someone is, for lack of a better term, an a-hole and most code enforcement is done on a complaint only basis.

Also, parking in the street means you are camping in the Public ROW and you will definitely get the attention of the police if you are in a urban area.
posted by bartonlong at 2:35 PM on May 6, 2013

I know a couple who comes to my town and lives in their RV in a park for like 4-5 months a year. They look great and have a ton of fun. They are retired so it may be more 'socially acceptable' , however.
posted by sandmanwv at 2:38 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Ideefixe, the question included a request for information on grey and black water disposal at RV parks.

And like I said, I'm potentially open to the idea of using a gym for showers and such.
posted by jsturgill at 2:48 PM on May 6, 2013

A quick google shows a good number of RV parks in Fresno, with varying nightly/weekly rates; none of the ones I clicked through to indicated how much they charge to just let you clean out your tanks, so you might have to call around.

If you can get a cheap gym membership that's an easy walk/bike distance from where you might be parking, that can solve the showering problem - but where will you pee and poop when the gym is closed? I think that counting on friends to let you park in their driveway and use their facilities might be counting on lot, unless you have very clear boundaries on how long this will go on.
posted by rtha at 2:49 PM on May 6, 2013

Response by poster: There is also a 24-hour hacker space with a reasonable price for membership and clean bathrooms. FYI.
posted by jsturgill at 2:51 PM on May 6, 2013

If you can get past the Comic Sans and c. 1997 web design, this site probably has all the info you want. Don't miss his blog.
posted by desjardins at 2:52 PM on May 6, 2013

I used to have a tiny RV -- not a trailer, but a heavily modified 1986 Toyota 1-ton pickup. The black and greywater tanks were really small, and had to be emptied every couple of days, which I think of as doable while on vacation but probably very onerous as a sustained way of living. Besides the cash cost, it means pulling up to the dump, pulling out a plastic waste hose from some storage spot (ours was kept in the bumper), hooking it to the grey water tank outlet and putting the other end in the dump's opening, opening the valve, waiting for it to empty, moving the hose to the black water tank, emptying that, then rinsing the hose clean and putting it away. Every.two.days. If you have to drive out of your way to get to a dump site, you could be looking at hours every week spent dealing with raw sewage.

2000 pounds is not a lot of RV. Heck, my neighbor's little landscaping trailer weighs 350 pounds, and it's just a steel deck on a light-duty frame and a low rail around the perimeter. The contents alone of two 15-gallon water tanks would weigh around 250 pounds. It adds up fast enough that I don't think you can tow all the stuff you want with an Outback.

In my little RV, the bed and dining table occupied the same space and had to be switched back and forth every morning and evening. The closet was tiny, the shower smaller than a phone booth, with a toilet in the phone booth. The tiny combination propane/electric fridge was temperamental when run on propane. The ceiling had to be cranked down and latched into place before going anywhere. All of it was built to be cheap and light, not durable. Little things were breaking all the time.
posted by jon1270 at 2:53 PM on May 6, 2013

There is a group called "VanDwellers" that has lots of interesting info, and their Facebook group (also called "VanDwellers") that, according to a friend of mine, has lots of good discussion. She also recommended getting involved with the Boondockers groups. There's also a bunch of Yahoo groups like Car Living that you might want to google and join!

The same friend bought a conversion van and travelled around in it for a lengthy period of time, she modified it to suit her (inexpensively) and was quite happy living in it when she wasn't staying with friends or camping in a tent or whatnot.
posted by VioletU at 3:07 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

We've been thinking about doing something similar, so we've doing some research along these lines (although we'd likely be staying in an RV park rather than on someone else's property).

The most important thing right now is to go to a dealer and get a sense of the different sizes. You can't really know how much or little space you can tolerate until you're standing in the thing.

The motorhomes are called class A, B, and C. Class B will be the least expensive since it's smallest. Look at RV Trader to see what these things cost. Your Subaru will not pull anything you actually want to live in. 2000 lbs is NOTHING. You can't even pull another car.
posted by desjardins at 3:07 PM on May 6, 2013

There is a strong North American ethic of self-reliance and some of what you are proposing may cross some lines for other people. Parking in someone else's driveway may insure liabilities, fines and poor neighbour relations for them with very little benefit to them of you parking there. The Hacker space may have budgeted their water cost/cleaning/supplies budget on normal use of their facilities, not someone using it constantly. If you are going to relay on others heavily for what culturally is considered an individual responsibility please spread your use as wide as possible and in reciprocal relationships. Give to others and businesses far more than you feel you are taking because they may look at you as taking advantage of the commons and the social contract.
posted by saucysault at 3:10 PM on May 6, 2013 [5 favorites]

Look into the specific codes in your area. Many places have laws to keep people from legally staying in an RV or trailer if it isn't hooked up to a blackwater system. Also Walmart, while it may be an evil corporation, is very accomodating to the needs of the RV traveler, so much so that SOME locations even have free dump sites. Long term parking will also require an electrical outlet to supply your trailer.
Remember how small your trailer is going to be, it will require a significant reduction in the number of your possessions, even if you are already living a sparse existence. As another poster commented, there is also a social stigma to camper living, especially in urban areas.
posted by maleru at 4:41 PM on May 6, 2013

A friend of mine's parents RV around the country now that they are retired. There isn't much insulation in an RV, and they can get pretty cold. Staying warm in the winter might be a real problem.
posted by florencetnoa at 4:54 PM on May 6, 2013

If you have understanding friends and it is legal in their area it may be possible to tie in directly to their sewer and water system. Twice now I've added a port for black water to the sewer line of my house and of course water comes via a hose and power via extension cord. A friend of mine lived in my driveway for almost a year in his RV.
posted by Mitheral at 5:56 PM on May 6, 2013
posted by squirbel at 5:58 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Waste disposal, legal parking and weather are going to be your biggest problems.

Waste disposal: not just where, but how often. Sure, a big tank means fewer trips to ??? to empty the tanks, but more time to dump than a smaller tank would take. And big or small tank, when it needs dumping it needs dumping NOW, no matter if it's pouring rain or snowing or the road is icy or it's 120 degrees there at the dumping station.

Parking: most municipalities limit on-street parking, and it's rarely more than three days. As for a friend's driveway, there's limits on that too; check to see how strict both the rules and enforcement are wherever you were thinking of doing this. (And if the friend in question has a SO, make sure they're okay with the plan too!)

Weather: RVs and trailers aren't very insulated, and cold or hot weather will be very noticeable. Plus, some of them aren't very airtight, either.

Extras: I doubt that going to a gym is a workable longterm solution for showers and/or toilet facilities; surely most gyms are on the lookout for that nowadays. How about mail? Do you plan to get a post office box or have mail sent to a friend's address?

(Not trying to be discouraging, just doing the devil's advocate thing.)
posted by easily confused at 6:03 PM on May 6, 2013

If you're proposing to use your hackspace membership JUST for the bathrooms/facilities, DEFINITELY ask them if that is okay. Someone is going to notice the guy showing up just to bathe. I have been a member of a hackspace and seen the frustrated emails sent about people sleeping in the space, even if it's "just a nap".

Other options: have you considered house-sitting or live-in caretaker situations? There are a few crumbling old houses around here (and one pub) that have signs posted saying that a caretaker lives on the premises. The buildings look run-down enough to be something of an adventure.

There is a guy who lived in a tree for a year and posted about it on reddit:

original post


To me that sounds super-dangerous and illegal, but he apparently survived.

Otherwise: a schoolbus is going to work better than a small trailer as a living space, but worse as a vehicle than a subaru. Your car is not going to be able to haul much, if anything, in terms of a trailer. Do you have to drive a lot for work or school? Could you use a bike? Or is the car a requirement?
posted by dubold at 8:32 AM on May 7, 2013

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