Every tiny house trailer is unique. Even Tumbleweed trailers, though they’re “standardized,” have their own quirks trailer by trailer. It’s just the way it goes when you custom fabricate large obects. Each weld is different, each component of each axle, the way the lights are attached, they shape of the tongue. If you’re thinking about purchasing a tiny house trailer, accept this now: Your trailer will not be perfect. New or old, you will have to account for something wonky.
This is something we didn’t recognize, so when we began leveling the trailer, we were frustrated, despite the fact that the steps to leveling a trailer are actually pretty simple.
- Purchase trailer leveling jacks. We bought 6 of these jacks, and used them all. They are heavy duty, and their total capacity will more than handle our house under a full load. You may also need to purchase a lifting jack, like a bottle jack. We bought this one, although we didn’t use it in the end.
- Put some sort of chocks behind your wheels to prevent the trailer from shifting as you are lifting. We used logs.
- Position your leveling jacks under your trailer, about 2-3 feet towards the axles from each corner, lined up with a rail that runs from the front of your trailer to the back. It will help if you place your jacks on cement pavers or perhaps plywood, which will prevent your jacks from sinking into the ground as you are leveling.
- Raise your jacks so that they are just barely engaged with the trailer, and not lifting anything. You may also need to use the trailer hitch jack to get yourself close to level.
- Figure out how out of level you are. You can do this by checking your level across several points as you walk around the trailer.
- Raise whatever end needs to come up, or lower whatever end needs to go down. This may be tricky depending on how tall your wheels are and how sloped your ground is.
- Recheck your level. If your level bubble is between the two lines all the way around, you’re fine. Even if the bubble isn’t centered, you’re going to be fine. So long as the bubble is within the lines, call it good.
See? Easy. So why did it take us several hours?
For starters, our trailer has a quirk: it’s built with a slight arch to it called a camber. This means that the axles are the lowest point of the trailer, and the corners arch very slightly up — in our case, by about a half inch. We were able to level this out for the most part, except for one corner which is arched up higher than the rest. Everything we did from that point on made the camber worse.
On top of that, we didn’t realize it was a camber until we took a string and stretched it from one end of the trailer to the other, straight down the length, and saw the gap under the middle of the string. It was like a light blinked on. Oh! The trailer itself isn’t flat.
Thankfully, we have knowledgeable friends who were able to talk us down from our 95-degree day frustrated stupor. The trailer is fine if it’s mostly level, they said. Putting the weight of the house on it will flatten out some of that arch, they said. And you won’t be able to notice a 1/4 inch difference across a 24 foot span, they said, once the camber has flattened some.
In the end, we were able to get the trailer mostly level. When it comes time to raise the walls, we’ll build them so that they are perfectly level. The wood framing will allow the house to shift and sway as we’re traveling, and regain levelness when we’re parked. And we’ll have a house we can be proud of.
- Get jacks meant specifically for leveling a trailer, and not for lifting a car to change a tire
- Purchase a drill bit that will enable you to raise and lower your scissor jacks quickly
- Use a longer level — 6 feet long if you can get one, or better yet a laser level