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A comprehensive guide to renovating portable homes in Australia

Plus inspiring portable home ideas for your tiny home renovation project
small portable container home in Australia
image credit: hauslein.com.au

Many people are now buying second-hand portable houses to do up as they offer flexibility and convenience. If you love a sweet, portable lifestyle or just want an additional living space within your property, then mobile homes can be a great investment. Above all, they can be transported, and some types even allow you to travel around in them. If you recently bought one, you may want to renovate your portable home to make it bigger, more convenient to use, or more stylish. 

Renovating portable homes may be unusual for some, however it seems to be an ever growing trend as renovating one can be a super fun project that has so many possibilities! You can use a portable space as a guest room, a granny flat, or just a place to curl up and enjoy a lovely book. 

In this guide, we’ll walk you through the ABCs of renovating a portable home in Australia. We’ll also show some clever and fun design ideas that will inspire you to give a shabby portable home a facelift, and turn it into a mini dream space for you and your family! Before we begin, let’s get our definitions in order. 

What are portable homes 

Portable homes fall under the “tiny house” category, but not all tiny houses are portable. Essentially, a portable home is a tiny house that you can easily move here and there. A portable house usually has wheels and is made of easy-to-assemble materials. A portable house can be assembled off-site. Just load the materials up on a truck and send them to your desired location. However, this still varies on the types of portable homes, which we will discuss later on.

portable home with wheels made of wood
image credit: Macy Miller

Advantages of portable homes

Helps the environment – A portable home uses less energy than a typical-sized house with multiple bedrooms, allowing you to reduce your carbon footprint. It is also relatively easy to make a portable home off-the-grid to help keep the environment clean and green.

Social benefits – A portable home provides housing for those who don’t want to live in a costly single-detached house or apartment. It allows them to live in their backyards and stay in their preferred communities where they can be close to  families and friends. 

Commitment-free – Buying a real estate property and renting an apartment in Australia are both commitment-heavy ventures. It will take many months or years before you can transfer to a different place and live there. When you have a portable home, you can disassemble it and travel virtually anywhere.

Easy to clean, renovate, and expand – Considering the small size of a portable home, it is much easier to clean than an average-sized home. Deep cleaning a 4-metre tall and 3-metre wide tiny home will probably take a couple of hours versus cleaning a three-four bedroom house that will take the entire day.

Renovating the space is also easy because you can easily attach and detach prefabricated materials. If you want an additional room, you can just use another prefab space beside your main space and build access between the two spaces.

Fun to decorate and customize – Almost all portable homes embody the personalities of their owners. Because the space is small, it’s easy to stay consistent with the design that reflects your character. It can be boho, minimalist, modern, tropical, or fantasy-inspired – anything goes. The design can be consistent even on the home’s exterior. Either way this type of home provides an opportunity to really have some fun and be creative with the design.

How popular are portable homes in Australia

Portable homes are a huge hit in Australia because many people see them as a solution for an ever-relevant housing affordability crisis. They offer flexible and diversified housing options for the country’s youth and the ageing population alike. They also provide a sustainable off-grid living option for environment-conscious individuals.

Looking at Google Trends, you’ll see that interest in tiny houses in Australia has zero signs of declining. In 2020, a “tiny homes carnival” in Sydney had attracted 8,000 plus people. The carnival showcased tiny houses for sale. Celebrities like Bryce Langdon of “Living Big in a Tiny House” and John Weisbath and Zack Griffin of “Tiny House Nation” attended the event to talk about tiny homes and their advantages.

The cost of living small in a portable home

Surprisingly, a professionally built tiny home on wheels costs 3x more per sqm than a standard-sized house. However, of course, the overall cost is cheaper because the average size of a portable home is around 27sqm only. That is why it can be a better option to renovate an existing portable home than build a new one.

Expect to spend about 3,000 to 5,000AUD per sqm for a portable home. You can save about 500,000AUD because an average apartment in Australia costs around 500,000AUD to 700,000AUD (and even more in some states).

Kinds of portable homes

Granny flat 

Usually located beside a single-family house, a granny flat is a self-sufficient living space designed for one to two persons. It can be a stand-alone living area or it can be attached to the other home. It’s called a granny flat as it’s usually used to accommodate ageing family members. A granny flat can be a miniature version of a full-sized house (with a complete kitchen, bathroom, or even a bedroom).

simple transportable granny flat
image credit: tinyrealestate.com.au

Tiny house (mobile home)

A tiny home is a dwelling that measures around 37sqm or less. It can be fixed to land or it can be on wheels, where building codes and permits don’t apply. The difference between a granny flat and a tiny house is that the latter is more compact and transferrable in general, while the former is more self-contained and can even have up to three bedrooms.

beautiful tiny home portable with deck
image credit: Gieves Anderson

Container home (1 box only)

As its name implies, a container home is made of steel shipping containers (yes, the ones that carry goods on ships, trains, and trucks). Shipping containers come in different sizes (3 metres, 6 metres, 12 metres). They’re like giant Lego blocks that you can assemble to build homes of different shapes and sizes. A one-box container home is easier to transport than a two- or three-box container home because you need to disassemble them first.

one-box container home with wheels perfect for travelling
image credit: hauslein.com.au

Caravans (Travel Trailers)

 A caravan (also known as a travel trailer or camper) is a non-motorized trailer. It is towed by a car and commonly used for recreation travels. You can opt for basic models, which may just be a little bigger than tents on wheels. Alternatively, you can choose bigger units with furniture, equipment, and furnishings similar to a regular home.

modern caravan home for travelling
image credit: Adria

Airstreams

Airstream is a caravan brand that has been in the market since the 1930s. It is notable for its distinctively rounded bodywork that gives off a retro-slash-boho vibe. If you want a more contemporary look, you can buy the latest Airstream models that have a modern exterior and interior. The brand offers both travel trailers and touring coaches (a.k.a. camper van), which are all available in different sizes and layouts.

boho Airstream caravan home with deck
image credit: Airbnb

Camper van

The difference between a camper van and a caravan is that the former is a motorized vehicle. This is best to use if you love being on the road because keeping it static will defeat its purpose. A camper van can sleep 2-4 people. While it’s not that big, the size can be an advantage for parking, maneuverability, and fuel efficiency.

campervan home on the road
image credit: maui-rentals.com

Buses

 You’ve probably seen some small families living in buses and for good reasons. If you remove the bus seats, you’re left with a spacious floor plan to design as you see fit. You can add a small living area, kitchen, bathroom, and bedrooms. Another advantage is that a bus is more durable than a camper van and a caravan. Above all, buses are commercial vehicles. They are specially constructed to accommodate a large number of passengers.

bus converted to portable home
Image credit: giggster.com

Ideas and inspiration to get the creative juices flowing

 Have you envisioned what your portable home would look like if you upgraded yours or invested in one to fix up? Check out these portable home design ideas that will ignite your imagination and inspire your desire to embark on a new project, and give your tiny home on wheels a much-needed facelift!

Benefits of renovating a portable home

Renovating a portable home may raise a few eyebrows but it  is worth doing for several reasons:

Budget – You won’t spend a lot compared to upgrading your existing single-detached home that doesn’t fit your modern lifestyle any longer. You can remodel a portable home, design it based on your preferences, and use it as an extension of your existing home.

Better returns – Once you’ve refurbished your portable home, you can sell it for a higher price. There is a market for portable homes, particularly the youth living with their parents and families with senior members. You can also put the tiny home on Airbnb if you’re in a prime location that tourists frequent. To boot, you can rent out your granny flat to gain additional income.

A good size project for beginner renovators – Renovating portable homes is not as overwhelming as remodelling regular-sized houses. If you’re new at renovating, starting with a tiny home can be a fun challenge.

You can use recycled materials – While it’s nearly impossible to use recycled materials when building an entire home, you can undoubtedly use them when renovating portable homes. Some designers incorporate reused or salvaged materials into a portable home, which gives it a crafty or artsy feel.

Renovating portable homes in Australia (interior and exterior)

Before starting your renovations, there are crucial things you need to consider:

  • Determine the areas you want to remodel – The part you want to renovate will dictate the amount of time and money you need to complete the renovations. If you are working on a budget, identify the section requiring immediate renovation and start there.  
  • Identify the scope of renovations – Once you’ve decided on an area that you want to renovate, decide if you want a total renovation or to renovate just a part of the section because it will affect the amount of work you do need to put in. If you want to renovate only the shower area of your bathroom (if your tiny home has one), then you need to work on the shower and shower head, the plumbing, shower tiles and enclosure if you have one. Drawing up a plan can help you visualise the new look that you want to achieve and give you an idea of the materials you will need. 
  • Come up with a budget – After identifying the part you want to renovate, allocate a sum for your budget and try to stay within the said budget. You should hire an expert designer or renovator who has the know-how to properly set your budget. They will lay everything out and make sure that the materials and labour costs are within your means. Superdraft can connect you to designers who specialise in portable home design. They can assist with establishing a realistic budget and can also provide you with a free design quote for your project. 

Portable homes renovation ideas to try

Here are some tiny house renovation ideas that can help you get started with your project.

For bedroom/s, you can try the following:

  • Replace old wardrobes with bigger and sturdier ones
  • Update lighting fixtures with something brighter
  • Repaint your bedroom walls with lighter colours to make them look brighter and more spacious
  • Maximise space by installing storage options under the bed
  • Create a workspace by turning your bedroom into a loft with an office space under an elevated bed
image credit: New Frontier Tiny Homes

For the kitchen, you can try the following:

  • Install new and more durable cabinets
  • Replace old and grimy countertops
  • Utilise your ceiling by putting up storage rods where you can hang pots and pans
  • Install ledges where you can stack mugs, cups, bowls and saucers
  • Install sconces over your countertop and sink area to make it brighter and more efficient
  • Install a pull-out pantry to minimise clutter. For the pantry door, install a chalkboard where you can write down reminders. 
portable tiny home kitchen idea
image credit: Tiny Home Builders

For the bathroom, you can try the following:

  • Replace old and scuffed tiles with brighter coloured ones to make the bathroom look more spacious
  • Maximise space by installing overhead storage spaces
  • Install a shower enclosure to avoid splashing the entire bathroom
  • Replace your bathroom door with a pocket door to maximise space.
  • Install a shower niche for storing shower accessories
  • Replace your old sink with a corner sink to maximise space
space-saving bathroom design for portable tiny home
image credit: Tiny Heirloom

For the living room, you can try the following:

  • Install multipurpose furniture such as coffee tables with storage options
  • Replace windows with colorless ones to let in more natural light and make the living room brighter
  • Use a pale colour palette to create a sense of space
  • Replacing wooden furniture with glass-topped ones will make your living room look airier 
  • Install built-in cabinets and shelves to utilise space
space-saving living room for portable home
image credit: Backcountry Tiny Homes

For roofing, you can try the following:

  • Replacing the roof with a higher roof pitch can make portable homes look more like traditional homes 
  • Add wider eaves makes portable homes look bigger and keep water away from your windows 
  • Adjust the slope of your roof to a more acute angle for improved ventilation and help snow slide better 
high roof pitch tiny home
image credit: Ariel Celeste Photography

For exteriors, you can try the following:

  • Installing larger doors can make portable homes look more like traditional homes. 
  • Add a garage that can double as a storage shed 
  • Install lattice underneath your patio to improve curb appeal 
  • If you don’t have one, install a patio to increase your living space 
image credit: www.homedit.com

For interiors, you can try the following:

  • Remove walls for more continuous and open space 
  • Replace your ceiling with a vaulted ceiling for an airier and more spacious look 
  • Replace lighting fixtures with brighter ones 
  • Hang additional mirrors to reflect light and make the interiors brighter
interior design of portable tiny home

Let’s connect to start your portable home renovation project

Want to renovate a portable home but don’t have the luxury of time? Hiring an expert designer-slash-renovator is essential to carry out any project seamlessly. However, it may be challenging to find the ideal contractor to do the job just as you want. A designer should be well-versed in city council requirements, so you don’t have to read up on building codes if you’re planning to add to an existing or new block.

Superdraft can connect you to professional designers and renovators with years of experience in the industry to complete the renovation of your portable home. Using Superdraft, you can carefully compare screened professionals in one platform. These contractors are recommended to you based on your requirements. The final choice is always yours! 

Use Superdraft’s project coordination app to help organise your portable home project

Ready to embark on a portable home reno yourself? Seamless projects start with Superdraft. Using Superdraft’s project coordination platform, you can take advantage of helpful features to organize a customised project for free. The planning resources are also free and you can find tons of inspiration ideas in our gallery.

Feel free to start planning your project for free or request a free quote today so you can get started in no time!

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