Utilities!

One major problem that has plagued me since I decided I wanted a tiny house was the utilities. How was I going to get power, water, heating and internet to my tiny house?

I’ve done a lot of research in that time, and that research has caused me to go back and forth on what I want. Do I want a completely off grid tiny house with solar power and water tanks or do I want an on grid tiny house that limits where I can go and may make finding a place to put it difficult? Or do I want to try and meld the two?

I started off eyeing massive 30+ foot tiny houses with double lofts and separate offices or bedrooms. With large luxurious bathrooms complete with bathtub, and rooftop decks. But as I began to research tiny houses, and began to delve onto the tiny house subreddit my dreams were dashed. I originally wanted a tiny house to be able to go from Georgia to Maine and back again each year, following the good weather. Imagine my surprise when my naive self posted on the tiny house reddit about my plans and every comment was “tiny houses aren’t meant to be moved a lot.”

WHAT!? But they have WHEELS!

DSC_3427

I was so innocent and sweet and blind to the world.

Yeah, that tiny house has wheels.
Yeah, its being pulled by a relatively standard pick up (it’s probably either pretty much empty or that is at least a 3/4 ton).
Yeah, it can roll, it can be towed, it can move.

But tiny houses aren’t intended to be moved, at least not a lot.  I learned that the reason they were on wheels was so that they could be classified as RVs and thus get around the building codes. Not the codes that determine safe building practices so tiny house builders could cut corners, but the codes that specify the minimum square footage of a dwelling, which in post places is above 800 square feet (and many higher even than that!)

e5aa0ff357225a75a743b0bf1df70756Well. I wanted to be mobile. So I began to ask myself “how small can I go?” I figured the smaller it was then the lighter it would be, the easier to tow it would be. If I built it really small, I’d be able to be the nomadic gypsy I dreamed of being. Hell, if people back in ye olde times could wander around in their gypsy wagons made of wood, so could I!

So I began researching tiny tiny houses. I looked at actual gypsy wagons, or “vardos” as they are sometimes called. While I loved the adorable size, I didn’t love the lack of a bathroom or shower, or the lack of any actual living space.

I don’t have a problem with outdoors per say, but I didn’t want to cook outside, or have a little compost toilet that slid under the bed like a old timey chamber pot. No thank you! But I did find something that might serve.

wall-bed-hut-by-riverside-shepherd-huts-4My researching of gypsy wagons eventually brought me to shepherd huts, so named because they were little homes on wheels that shepherds could use while tending their flocks. They were not meant to be permanent homes, just temporary working shelters. But I found one I especially liked, complete with bathroom and a large space enough for a family dinner.

So I designed a tiny little house, one floor with a Murphy bed and a fold down table. It was small and would have been light and easy to travel with. I was excited. I even drew out some plans:

nameless

Yup. 14′ long in all it’s glory.

I do still like this design. This sketch is actually taped to my wall by my computer at work, next to a picture of a Tumbleweed Cypress tiny house being pulled by a pickup along the coast (I estimate it’s about 18′-20′). Sometimes I even go back to this design and reconsider it.  I don’t need more than this much space, and it would be very easy to travel with.

7But my research continued, and utilities continued to be an issue that I wasn’t easily resolving. There was also the fact of my computer. It’s a beast, I built it myself. This past week I’ve kept it off, and even unhooked it and set it down on the floor (mostly because I wanted to put my fan where it was on my desk so the cool air would blow on me while I slept). I’ve been doing okay without it. Everything I do on my massive PC I can do on my iPad.

True I can’t play video games, but in the past 10 years or so I’ve only played a small number of games. Skyrim, Portal, World of Warcraft and Elder Scrolls Online. All of which I have since stopped playing for over a month now.

But this computer, the money I put into it, how beautiful it is, how expensive it was to recently pretty much entirely rebuild, it made me reconsider my whole notion of going as tiny as the above drawing.  Not just because of the space it would take up physically, but also because of the power drain. With the above design I envisioned myself running on solar power, but running a full on PC isn’t practical with solar power. Also, how did I plan to get internet?

So my research began anew. I’ve gone back and forth quite a bit, and a lot of the contention and questions revolve around power and internet. I realized that choices would have to be made, and certain things would have to be sacrificed.

As some of my regular readers know, I have been especially struggling with my own identity, with who I am and who I want to be. The ideal vision of myself, and my actual current self just don’t mesh up, and trying to force myself to be that ideal version isn’t going so well.  I’ve been seeing a therapist, but the truth is she can’t tell me what I don’t already know and don’t want to admit to myself. If I want to be that ideal version of myself, then I just have to be it. There is no magical solution. She isn’t going to say something to me one day in a session that will instantly flip a switch in my brain and make me realize my true potential.

Here is a prime example. I’ve always wanted to be a good artist. To be as good as the artists I admire. I’ve always envied their unique style, how I can look at them and see their pictures and say to myself “Yep, that’s so-and-so.”  But I’ve never really tried.

So, recently I decided to actually sit down and practice. The pencil sketch above shows some practice faces from the start of my attempts. I watched and read tutorials, copied other faces, and practiced daily. After just maybe 5 or so hours of practice stretched over a few days I went from those sketches to the picture on the right.  It still has issues of course, but the amount of improvement that picture shows is amazing to me.

I am getting off track… The point I am trying to make is that I won’t be the person I want to be until I actively change myself. And changing myself will require some sacrifices. And those changes in myself directly affect the tiny house I want to build.  I don’t want to spend my life in front of the computer. I want to be the kind of person who takes their sketchbook out someplace and spends the day away from home sketching. I want to be the type of person who does stuff, who doesn’t just sit on their butt in front of a TV, computer or game system hours on end, wasting what few free hours I have to do as I please doing stuff that wont get me anything.

So, while I’ve been researching utilities and tiny house sizes, I’ve also had to keep in mind who I want to be. And how I design my tiny house will kind of be a forceful push in that direction. If I don’t design my tiny house to support a sedentary lifestyle, than perhaps I wont pursue such a lifestyle.

All of this preamble to get to the point! Utilities. I want to talk about utilities, but I felt some of that rambling background was required to explain and understand (perhaps more for myself than for you) the reasons behind my choices.

tinyhousedesign

Here again is my latest design for my tiny house. It has a few questions that still need answering, but some research just between when I first posted this yesterday and today have shed some new light.

teaserbox_9156790First, Power:
I want to be primarily non-reliant on the grid for anything, and that includes power. I intend to have the standard RV hook ups, so that if I am somewhere that I can plug in, I’ll do so. But I also want to be perfectly comfortable off grid. So I want to go with solar, and possibly wind.

Check out this tiny little wind turbine. They make slightly larger ones, like this one that can generate 450 watts.  Now that of course wont run everything in my house, and what if there is no wind? So I’d couple it with a standard solar array, like this one that produces 1500watts. I’d probably go a bit bigger then that, but I’ll have to do some actual work to determine the wattage I would actually need. I intend to get one of those things you plug all your stuff into to get the wattage you use.

For power I would need:

To charge my ipad and cell phone: 30 watts for both at the same time.
Refrigerator: Not finding any luck on this, seeing anything ranging from 30 watts to 500watts.
Microwave: I know these are a big draw, like 1200 or more. I did however find an adorable one here that is 750 watts.
Lights: I think the last time I tried to figure this out I estimated (with a large safety buffer) 500 watts. I think that is overkill, especially if I get low power. But good to be safe.
AC in summer: A video on a 5000btu AC showed around 500watts. I’d round that up to like 600 to be super safe.

Total: 2380

Now, I of course don’t have to run the AC and the Microwave at the same time. So if I shut the AC off while I run the microwave, thats a max of only 1780.  So a 2000 watt solar set up would be more than enough. Add on a little wind turbine and I’d be good to go. A 2000 watt solar set up can cost around $4,000 – $5,000. The wind turbines are anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand.

You can see I didn’t include my PC in that. That is because I don’t intend to take it. I could get a small laptop, which use less than 100 watts, and still be in good shape. But really, my iPad can do anything I’d need.

Tiny-house-water-tankSecond: Water

There is a lot that goes into plumbing. Not only do I need to decide how water gets to my house, I need to decide how it leaves.

This will require further research. I plan to use a composting toilet, which means I won’t need a black water tank. I’ll be able to either compost my toilet waste, or bag it up and throw it out with the trash.

But there are regulations for each area. In some places you aren’t allowed to compost human waste. Some places you can. And most places you can but only non edible stuff like flowers.  There are also regulations for what is called gray water, which is water from your shower, kitchen sink, dishwasher and washing machine. In many cases you need a gray water tank that must be emptied by a service. But in some areas you can build a drainage system, basically a ditch in your yard that you fill with layers of rocks and gravel, and I think some kind of fiber that acts as a filtration system.  I am hoping I can do that, but I have plans for either scenario.

Then there is getting fresh water into your house, and also heating it. But I’ll get to heating in the next section.  My plan, based on my desire for an off grid lifestyle, is to get one (or two if I need one for gray water) large 5000 gallon tanks that will sit outside my house. These would need to be filled (and emptied) by a service, but for just me and if I conserve water I would only need to do that once every like 400+ days.  These plastic tanks can be loaded up in a truck bed or something for transport if they are empty.

I may also have a smaller 50-100 gallon gray water and fresh water tank hidden in my house. The picture above shows an on demand water heater and what looks like about 75 gallon water tank under the kitchen sink.  This way I will have water if I travel with my house. I can fill up at RV parks just like an RV.

Whether I do the little tanks or not, I intend to have standard RV hookups for both water and electricity so that if I do park somewhere that I can utilize those things I will have them available.

tiny-house-tankless-water-heaterThird, Heat:

This is an on-demand water heater for a tiny house. Isn’t it cute?  It uses propane, but it doesn’t use a whole lot because it only heats the water as you need it, unlike normal water heaters that keep a tank of constantly hot water. It takes a bit for water to heat up, but it uses less propane.

I will also use propane for the stove, and also to heat the house.

stoveEnter this adorable little fellow. This is actually a woodstove. It can use propane as well I believe, and is designed for boats or yachts. You can fill that adorable little oven with a handful of wood and it produces enough heat to warm up your tiny house.

I wont need this a whole lot, as it doesn’t get cold enough down here in Georgia to really bother me. I am more apt to just put on a thick sweatshirt and wrap myself in a blanket. There is only a few weeks of the year where it really gets cold enough that I would need this (and that I’d worry about frozen water tanks).

Both propane for the stove, the hot water and heating the house and the ability to also use wood to heat the house, means I don’t need to use electricity for those things, which takes a lot off the solar system.

Finally, Internet:

This one is the headscratcher for me. I looked at what mobile companies like AT&T and Verizon were offering, but wasn’t really finding anything that offered the kind of speed I would need for streaming videos. At home I get around 10-12mbps and that works just fine for streaming shows, and moderately well for playing my video games.  As I don’t intend to bring my computer, 12mbps is fine.

I did find this one outfit, WildBlue, that offers at least 12mbps basically anywhere in the country. I checked my current zip code and it said we can get up to 50mbps where I currently live, for $100 a month. That actually isn’t bad (though I’m sure it doesn’t include whatever equipment fees and other fees they tack on).  I’m sure it would still be less than what my family is currently paying for 12mbps plus our dish network.

I of course wouldn’t need 100mbps, and their 12mbps plan is $50 a month.

I will probably end up looking into a service like this. I’ll have to check with them and see if it’s able to travel with me if I move.  My alternative is to just not have internet at home. I could download any shows I want to watch at work. But I love my youtube tutorials and Hulu (which doesn’t offer download options) so would probably end up missing internet pretty quickly once the initial charm wore off.

Totally Off-Grid

The end result is that I will be able to park my tiny house anywhere I want. I could find someone with a massive bit of land, and park way off on my own and not need to park close to some other building so I can run power and water. Because in most places it is illegal to park a tiny house on its own land, it requires being on a place with a normal “dwelling” on it.

Mostly people do this because they can claim to live in the proper dwelling and only “recreate” in the tiny house. It gets around those pesky laws.

But those laws are changing. Already tiny homes not on wheels have made their way into the building codes. My hope is that by the time I have the means to purchase my own plot of land somewhere, it will be legal for me to park my tiny house on my land.

Of course, being completely off grid, if I bought some land, parked my tiny house there, and you couldn’t see it from the road and it didn’t have power/water running to it, who would ever know?

Regardless, I feel like this is the right path for me, and what I really want to do with myself. I can see myself sitting in my little living room nook, watching the world out my little window, drawing or reading or watching a show on my iPad, sipping hot cocoa, and living the dream.  I can see myself tossing my laundry bag in the car and going to the laundry mat on a saturday morning, washing my clothes while I sit there and read or stream something.  I can see myself cooking some pasta on my little stove in my little kitchen, and climbing up out my skylight and sitting on the roof watching the stars.

I may even do things like garden. I’ve always wanted to make a massive fairy garden, sculpting the little houses and things myself, building them out of things I find. I can see myself wandering around my property with a walking stick and a couple of dogs, looking for things to use for my garden.

I just want to live my quiet, secluded life. And once I’ve got my tiny house, once I’ve got my property, and paid off my student loan, in as little as 20 years from today, at the young age of 53, I could be working part time or less, living easily off just a few hundred dollars a month, and spending my days doing whatever I want.

It’s a dream that I’m going for. 🙂

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