Winter is here and with it, the cold. So far we’ve had some nights down in the low 30’s, maybe even below freezing. Last year I did a post about my first winter, which you can read here. Since I do live off grid, there are quite a few steps I take to get ready. So today I thought I’d share some of those here today.
The biggest consideration I make is the fact that with the days getting shorter and in the winter, you tend to have more overcast skies. This means one thing: less solar gain for my panels. Now in the design of my system (I talk about my tiny house solar setup here), I calculated everything based on the winter months when solar exposure is the least. This means in the summer my system is making way more power than I can use. But in the winter, a low producing day will actually be enough to power everything I need.
With this in mind I make my preparations.
The first thing I did was get out both of my generators and check them out. I have two generators for two very specific functions: a small super efficient and quiet one to run for real time power and a larger one that just dumps a ton of power out at 240V to refill my batteries quickly. I make sure that things look good, I start them up, and I change the oil even if it doesn’t need it. While doing this I discovered that my larger generator for whatever reason was only putting out 120V out of my 240V outlet, which is a real problem because my inverter requires 240V to trigger its power shunt to charge the batteries.
Luckily it was still under warranty and I checked this now, not when I really needed it, and was able to get it to the shop to get fixed for free. With the two generators squared away and in good working order, it was time to move onto the consumables that go with them.
Consumables For Generators:
I first checked my stock of spark plugs, oil and fuel stabilizer. As a rule I try to keep these things on hand so I can ward off “Murphy,” AKA Murphy’s Law: anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. Sometimes a spark plug just gets too gummed up, and it can be easier to replace it with a new one rather than clean it off; at $1.58 each I usually just swap it out for a new one.
The oil I just keep on hand in case there is a leak or I would need to drain it for some reason. I prefer to use a higher grade of synthetic oil which my generators can use for longer run time. I also keep fuel, gloves, a catch basin and paper towels to change when I need to. Finally I have a large bottle of Sta-bil which is a fuel stabilizer that allows you to maintain the quality of gas for a longer time; I make sure it’s the type for ethanol because gas with ethanol mixed in goes bad faster. Ideally I’d seek out non-ethanol gas, but it’s increasingly hard to find and it’s not offered near my house reliably.
The last consumable I stock up on is this product I found called “Gas Off Cleaning Wipes.” Initially I thought this was a silly product, but I tried one and was completely sold. It always seems that I had to fill up my generators right before I would go to bed and no matter how careful I was, my hands would always get a little gas on them.
These little wipes remove that gas smell, which isn’t normally a big deal. I noticed that the odor was very strong because when I sleep, I curl my arm up so my hand is near my face. These wipes remove the gas smell and for a few bucks, I now keep a pack handy.
Gasoline and Propane:
Going into the winter I always start with all my tanks full. I currently have six 5-gallon tanks, four 2.5-gallon tanks, and six propane tanks. I never need this much at one time of course, but I find its easier to load it all up and do it all at once.
For gas, if I have any remaining gas in the tanks, I put it in my car. This allows me to only have gas that is at most a few months old. With empty tanks, I put Sta-bil in each tank, then fill them up. I am on the hunt for gas pour nozzles without the EPA spill free spouts because they are a royal pain and I usually end up spilling because of the nozzle being so awkward to use. I then store the gas out of sight, but still in a well ventilated space away from my house.
Propane is a reality of living off the grid. While I had really wanted to get away from fossil fuels altogether, heating water on electric is a huge power suck. Also, I love grilling out, but don’t always have time to get some charcoal going. Right now I run about 3 months on a single 20lb bottle of propane for my water heating. I also use a 20lb bottle for cooking (grilling and stove top) every 3-4 months. So I always keep 2 tanks hooked up and 4 in reserve. I’m thinking about buying two more because I find it easier to fill up a bunch at once than do a lot of little trips. One tip for refilling your propane: getting refills is much cheaper and you get more propane for your dollars at a refill station.
With living off the grid, you always need to have a backup plan, and a back up to that back up. Two is one and one is none. In this case my main concerns are my ability to heat, my ability to cook, and my ability to get water.
With this in mind I went out and stocked up on 1lb propane bottles for my back up heater. The heater is a Mr. Buddy heater that costs about $35 and is straightforward to use and pretty portable. I’ve used it in the past and it’s worked well, so it’s a great back up heat source if I need it. They do sell an adapter for a big propane tank, but I find the 1lb tanks convenient in the rare instances that I do need it.
For water I always keep a few gallons on hand for drinking, cleaning and cooking. In a pinch I can heat some of it on the stove and do a sponge bath if the hot water heater were to go down. The heating of the water can be done on my portable stove top which runs on butane cartridges. All of this is just handy to have ready to go if I ever were to need it, but it isn’t for the everyday; anything to help keep Murphy away.
Keeping Your Solar Panels Clean:
With the fall and the winter, it’s like Mother Nature is out to get you sometimes, and coming up with ways to cover your panels happens a good bit. Whenever your solar panels get covered, even partially, your power production can start dropping. In the fall it’s leaves, and in the winter it’s snow. It’s also a good time to clean the panels of dust and grime.
Food and Home Provisions:
Since I’ve been doing so much preparation for nesting I also took the chance to clean out my house and then stock up stuff for the house. I got extra tissues, paper towels, trash bags, soaps, shampoo, and other stuff like that. I also started building out my pantry a little bit more by picking up general cooking ingredients, soups, snacks, and warm drink options.
Heating A Tiny House:
Things have changed a good bit with the installation of of my solar and mini split system. I am happy to report that the mini split has been able to cool and heat my house very effectively, to the point that I was able to keep my house at 64 degrees on a 98 degree day easily and with the cold nights dipping down to freezing I was able to keep my place very toasty.
The beauty of the mini split is that I have a lot of control over the temperature, including the ability to set a range so it automatically heats when it gets too cold and cools when it gets too hot. I can set schedules, have it be motion activated, and all is done with just a simple press of the button. Compared to wood heat, this is a much more superior way because often wood heat get too hot and many times you find yourself waking up in the morning to a cold stove. Since it’s solar, I don’t have much guilt about setting it to my ideal preferences and there’s no chopping wood. I feel like the tiny house mini split evangelist here, but I love this thing.
So all in all I have just been trying to get a lot of last minute things done so I can head into winter with everything in place, the house cleaned and well stocked. Between it dropping temperatures and holiday parties, seeing friends and other things filling up this busy time of year, I’m glad to get ahead of things. Living off the grid certainly does come with its own set of considerations, but I’ve found it to be a very comfortable life and some simple preparation makes it pretty easy to do too.
The past few weeks have been pretty crazy around here at The Tiny Life. All have them are great things, but all have involved a lot of work, time and even a little stress in some cases. Luckily all this work has really set us up at The Tiny Life to do more of what we do, so we are super excited to get rolling. So here is a quick run down of what’s been going on:
One Year In A Tiny House
I’m going to write a longer post on this soon, but I’ve officially been living in my tiny house for more than a year. The experiment of tiny living is in full swing and it has been going really well. It now seems so normal and in a weird way I no longer think of my house as a tiny house; it’s just my house. I love sleeping in my loft, the couch is comfy, the kitchen is great and things are just working out really well.
Tiny House Conference Shaping Up
The Conference has really been shaping up. This year we have an amazing line up and already have 5 tiny houses confirmed to be there. We’ve also added two new programs: Tool School and Tiny House Masterminds. We’ve had record numbers of people signing up and we can’t wait to see folks in Asheville, NC April 2-3 2016 for the Tiny House Conference!
Amy Joins The Team
Image Source: tinyhouseexpedition.com
A while ago I made a big decision to bring someone on to help with The Tiny Life and the Tiny House Conference. Things were getting to the point where even though I am able to crank out results pretty quickly, there were some really amazing projects I was having to put on the back burner because I didn’t have enough time. Three months ago I brought on Amy and we are now The Tiny Life Team.
Finished Our Second Book
While I haven’t been writing a ton on this website, it was mainly because I was already writing a lot for the book. The thought of writing more after a long day of book writing just wasn’t going to happen. I’m pleased to announce that we have turned in the book, our second traditionally published book from The Tiny Life, to the publisher. More on that in the coming months!
Built Out Our Podcast Studio
The studio is pretty much done now. We have some acoustical treatments that we need to add, but the other day we recorded an episode and it sounded great. With the studio we’ve upgraded our mixing board and mics, so the sound should be better and we can start having guests!
Launched A New Business
I think some of the big gains I’ve had when it comes to living in a tiny house are that I need less money, I have more time and more control over that time, and I get to create things that I wish existed in this world. One of my big bucket list items that I wanted to bring to Charlotte, NC is a great coworking space. Coworking is essentially a shared office space where you have an open office in which collaboration and community is key. This week I just launched a space that meets that vision and we had a tremendous response: 30 members in our first week.
This also does a few other things for us: it gives The Tiny Life an office to work from, and we now have a podcast studio and work spaces to do our thing. It gives us a community, because working from home can be isolating, and we now are able to work alongside other people in a community. I think that while not everyone wants to do something like starting a business, it at least shows the potential of what can be; starting a business is really just an analog to whatever your passion is in the world.
Tiny House Expedition Comes For A Visit
Image source: Tinyhouseexpedition.com
Alexis and Christian from Tiny House Expedition came by The Tiny Life headquarters to hang out and record an interview. They’ll be featured in our next book and it was great to talk with them, learn about what they’re doing and chat about tiny houses.
Back in 2011, I started planning the first Tiny House Conference because I wanted to bring tiny housers together in a single place to connect, learn, and hang out with other folks who “get it.” Back then, we were a very, very small movement – it was easy to feel alone – so it was great to spend time with other tiny house people. Fast forward to today: we are already ramping up for the third annual Tiny House Conference and we are excited to make it happen again. We will be gathering in Asheville, NC on April 2-3, 2016 for the next conference, and we wanted to invite all of you to it. Right now we are offering $50 off if you register before November 1st!
We’ve already confirmed most of our speakers, our schedule is locked in, and we’ve already confirmed three amazing tiny houses for attendees to tour! For those of you who haven’t been to the Tiny House Conference yet, there is nothing like connecting with and learning from so many of the amazing people that make up our movement.
Over the course of a weekend, we will have many leaders within the movement come to present, answer questions, and meet you all. Saturday and Sunday are jam-packed with sessions on key tiny house topics designed to help you get the details on what it’s like to live tiny and build a tiny house.
This year we are adding three really exciting features to our event that people have been asking for:
While the Conference requires registration to attend, this portion is free and open to the public. You can grab a drink and meet other tiny house folks the night before the Conference. This will be a casual get-together on April 1st from 7pm-8pm in the main lobby/bar at the Crowne Plaza in Asheville (1 Resort Dr, Asheville, NC 28806). Come hang out with us and meet other tiny house folks!
One thing we are always trying to do is help people get the information they need. People have been asking for a hands-on portion to the Conference, and this year we doing just that. In an add-on session, Tool School is where you’ll get hands on with all the major power tools. You’ll be taught by professionals about which tools you’ll need to build your tiny house, what each tool is used for, and most importantly, how to use it safely. Participants then will get a chance to actually use each tool, guided by a professional to make sure you feel completely confident.
While a big part of the Tiny House Conference is learning, a huge part of it is also the connections. Meeting people at the Tiny House Conference has consistently been named as the number one thing people like about our event. So this year we wanted to take a good thing and strengthen it. Tiny House Masterminds are small groups of individuals that we match people into based on where you live and what stage you are in your tiny house journey. The idea here is we’ll introduce you to others who are close to you and at the same place in your tiny house build. You can as a group decide to meet during the conference to connect, and possibly form local groups back home where you can share your passion and support each other. To be part of the Tiny House Masterminds you will need to register for the Tiny House Conference and soon after we’ll email you to opt into a Mastermind. It’s free for attendees.
I’ve been back and forth on whether to post this for a while now, but recently Jenna and Guillaume of Tiny House Giant Journey did a post about how to break into your tiny house and it couldn’t have been a better push to share this rather hilarious and equally embarrassing tiny house story.
Here is Guillaume breaking into his tiny house while his partner, Jenna, encourages him while filming. My story does not come with a video for reasons soon to be revealed.
It all started like most mornings. My alarm went off and I made my way down the ladder and blearily began my morning routine. I grabbed my towel, put on my flip flops and headed to the shower. The thing is, during the summer months I always opt for my outdoor shower, which I think might be my favorite part of my morning routine. Being situated on a huge private lot of 26 acres, I don’t really worry about being seen, I just kick off my drawers in the house, walk outside and hop on the shower pad which I have yet build any walls around.
This is my morning every day, but then something strange happened…
I dried off and went to go inside, when the door handle didn’t seem to work. I have a key-less entry, so I thought to myself, “no problem, just enter the code and open sesame!” HOW WRONG I WAS. The door started doing all sorts of crazy beeps and refused to open. I tried again and again, nothing.
I was locked out of my house, butt-ass naked with only a small camping towel, no keys, no phone.
A million thoughts flew threw my mind: “How am I going to get inside?” “OMG I’m going to have to go to a neighbor and ask to use their phone with a towel so small I’m going to have to strategically prioritize what not to show,” and “This can’t be real! Seriously? This couldn’t be more ripped out of every sitcom that has ever existed.” At that point I just had to laugh and proclaim, “What the f$#k am I going to do now!”
After a good bit of laughing at my own predicament and a fair bit of cursing, I hunkered down for a game plan.
Step 1: Kick the sh!t out of the front door
At this point I had moved beyond all the options of finessing the door open, so we quickly moved on to plan B: kicking the living sh!t out of the front door. A dozen mule kicks to the door and I realized it wasn’t going to un-jam the lock and it wasn’t going to pop open without tearing out the door jamb. To tear out the door jamb, I was pretty sure I’d have to break something in my foot because I had purposefully reinforced that section of the door frame to prevent anyone from doing exactly this.
Step 2: Try to pry a window open
Next I moved onto the windows, trying to get my fingers to have enough purchase to pull them open. The problem was the windows were built so well, the gaps were very small, only large enough for a flat head screw driver to be inserted. I was able to access my tools, so I grabbed a flat head screwdriver and tried to force open the window, but no luck. The window locks were just too strong and I wasn’t able to get enough leverage. I also tried a crowbar, but the gaps were too small to fit.
Step 3: Shimming your door lock
Initially I had avoided this because I knew I was going to mess up my door frame, but I was pretty desperate. I tried inserting a thin flat piece of metal into the door jamb to push the door catch open, but the door frame I had built was so perfectly fit, the metal kept bending. I eventually got it worked into place, but since the door was so tight to the frame, there was too much friction to wiggle it into place.
Step 4: Smashing a damn window
So after all that, I had been trying to break into my tiny house, naked, for over an hour at this point. It was then I came to realize that I was either going to have to go meet the neighbors in a very naked state or smash a window. I wasn’t willing to destroy my very expensive windows until I realized something. My front window had been delivered damaged and I had a replacement already sitting at my tiny house, and I just hadn’t got around to putting it in. That meant I could smash the window, get in, then just swap the sashes. Bingo! I had a way in!
I figured if I was going to break a window I should do it right, so I went over to my tool box and picked up my claw hammer. I walked up to the window and took a swing…. I was expecting a crash, but all I heard was a hollow thunk noise. My hammer bounced off the window. I figured I just didn’t hit it hard enough, so I swung again. Nothing. I slammed it into the window. Nothing! I began to wail on that window over and over again, slamming it with all my might. Nothing!!!! My hammer just bounced back off the glass over and over again. Then I got really mad and just went straight up hulk on that window. After a while I was exhausted, out of breath, and I had to take a break. That’s when I realized something: I have tempered glass! It was made to withstand impacts like this!
Step 5: Giving up
It was at that point that I gave up on the house. I had resigned myself to taking the walk of shame, to say hello to the neighborhood in only a towel, and beg for a phone call to my family members to bring some clothes and a lock smith. I started to walk down the driveway towards the neighbors wondering which house I should impose upon when I saw my car, it was then I remembered something: I have a manual key that might still work, but it was locked in my car!
Step 6: Breaking into your car
I had no idea how I was going to get into my car. If I couldn’t get into my tiny house, surely I couldn’t get into my professionally made car! I figured it was worth a shot. I started by trying to shim the windows open. No luck. I slid a long flat piece of metal into the window crack to get at the door unlock button. No luck. I finally popped the door open by sliding a scrap piece of molding into the window gap, through the door handle and the pressing down against the floor, bowing out molding so it lifted the handle! I was in!
I’m not sure what to think about how I was able to MacGyver my Smart Car open with such ease. While it did take about 30 minutes, I would assume a car made by Mercedes would be harder to break into. At that point I didn’t care, I had the key!!!
Step 7: Unlock the door
I rushed over to the door with the key, slid it in the slot, and turned. I then turned the handle and… Nothing! It was still jammed! I repeated Step 1 a few times, kicking the door and wiggling the key. Then, finally! It popped open! I was in!
Step 8: Do a happy dance: clothing optional
It was true, I hadn’t felt so thankful for such a simple thing in a very long time. There might have been some happy dancing occurring, it only seemed like the right thing to do. I was in my tiny house! Once the celebration had subsided, I realized that I had worked up quite a sweat in my many attempts to break into my tiny house, so I went back outside, left the door ajar, and took yet another glorious shower. This one seemed to be just a little better than the last.
I couldn’t but help share this story. It is instructional, embarrassing and hilarious all rolled in one. People always ask about tiny house security and now I feel like I can adequately say that my tiny house is certified against any naked burglars that might come my way. My car, not so much. I have since hidden a key in a lock box outside my house and no longer keep a spare just in the car, because you never know when you’re going to be locked out of your house, butt-ass naked.