Tiny House, Tiny Living, The Tiny Life.

Precision Temp RV500 Review – Tankless Hot Water Heater

For a long time I have recommended the RV-500 Tankless Hot Water Heater from Precision Temp, but recently I found myself no longer being able to recommend it.   I don’t normally do product reviews, but the RV500 is one of those appliances that a lot of tiny housers use and people wanting to build are planning on installing.  So I thought I’d share my experience here.

tankless-rv500-review

To be transparent, I owned the RV550, which is very similar to the 500, the only difference is the 550 vents out the bottom via a pipe, where the 500 vents out a side panel.  While there are technical differences, they’re almost identical, save the vent method.  Most people don’t know about the 550 as its just a product variant, it’s fair to say its the same series, hence me reviewing this under the RV500 title because that’s what most people will search.

So to the review.

I purchased the unit in 2013 after doing a lot of research about the unit.  It seemed like my options where this unit or an Atwood variant that honestly didn’t look that great as an option.  I laid down the $1100 for the unit (gulp) and awaited it’s arrival.  In addition to the unit I purchased the 110V to 12V adapter, which let’s you simply plug in the unit to a standard power outlet.

When the unit arrived I was checking it out when I noticed an odd noise when picked the unit up.  At first I thought it was just a check valve or some wires jiggling, but upon further listening I became concerned.  I decided to crack open my brand new unit and I’m very glad I did.  What I found was one of the main vent hoses had come loose and the hose clamp was rattling around in the bottom of the unit.

carbon-monoxide-gas-safety

I realized that this was a pretty serious thing, because if I hadn’t investigate and just installed, it would have mean that the vent would be pushing exhaust into the interior of my house.  Very dangerous.  As a side note I later got a new unit and looking at how firmly that vent host was attached, I’m guessing that it was never connected in the first place, not just wiggled off in shipping.

It was then I asked for a replacement unit because I wasn’t sure I could fix it, plus it was brand new out of the box.  I put it right back in the box, repacking just like they sent it to me.  Called them and they sent me a new one and asked for me to send it back, the customer service was good on that call.

wrong

What wasn’t good, was later on, when they received the unit back; one of their staff sent a snide email telling me how there was nothing wrong with the unit and how scratched the unit was.  He then began telling me how I was wrong because they “test every unit before it goes out.”  The unit would have worked fine even if they test it, it just was not venting out the vent tube.  Keep in mind I sent it in the exact packaging they sent it to me in.

The email was rude, the email was petty, but more concerning was that as a layman I could figure out that the unit was not assembled correctly, but the person working for the company didn’t notice a 4 inch vent hose being so loose it wasn’t seated on the connector at all.  I was annoyed by the person’s unprofessional behavior, but ultimately I realized I had a working unit and that’s all that mattered.

I got my new unit and I immediately opened it up to check the internals, all looked in order.  I then installed the unit in my house a while later.  I had a professional plumber come in and install it because I don’t like messing with gas lines.  The install went smoothly until we had to turn the thing on.  The unit would start working, but the vent fan wouldn’t kick on.  Later on we were able to get the vent fan working, but it wouldn’t light.  Finally I gave Precision Temp a call after going round and round, he told me to un-ground the unit by disconnecting the green wire.  The unit turned on and worked instantly.

wiring

This really frustrated me because as you can see above – this is a screen shot from the install manual – you’re supposed to ground the unit.  The support person said that 12 volt is very sensitive so if it’s grounded, it can cause trouble.  This is all true, but their install guide says green goes to ground.  In the end, I didn’t care too much, I had hot water and it was great to have hot showers.

Later that year winter came and I was finding that even in the mild winters of North Carolina, the unit couldn’t get the water hot enough for my showers.  It would be solidly warm, but never hot.  I really like hot showers, one of the best things on earth, so this was disappointing.  I tempered this with the fact that the unit could only rise the water temperature so much, it was rated at around 55,000 btu and that inherently can only warm cold water so much.

I really did like how efficient the unit was, using a 20lb propane tank (like you have on your grill) I could have hot showers and cook meals on my gas range for around 4 months per tank!  That was really nice, I bought four tanks and that would allow me to shower and cook for an entire year, plus have one extra.  This meant my gas cost was $4.50 per month!

Then it all went to hell.

I was taking a shower about a month ago and once I was done, I stepped out to towel off.  I noticed that the tankless didn’t turn off, but instead kept the burner going.  I turned the water back on to see if I could trigger it to turn off, nothing.  Tried the sink, nothing.  I unplugged it, nothing.

What I didn’t know was that the safety pressure release valve had failed and the unit was building steam pressure, all a sudden the unit tore itself apart.  The unit had built up so much steam pressure that it literally ruptured the wall of one valves and tore the threads out of another.  It scared me half to death, but luckily all the steam and debris was kept within the case when it exploded.

rv500-valve-bad

Water began to pour out of the unit, propane began to bubble through into my house, in a few seconds my floor was covered with water and the air was thick with propane.  I ran outside and turned off the water and the gas.  When I turned back water was dripping out of my house from all corners.

I let the gas vent out and then I got to mopping.  This was the last straw for me, what if I hadn’t been home, the water would have flooded my entire house for hours!  What if I had pulled off the cover to inspect it with my face right there as it ruptured!

I cleaned up and called a plumber and schedule an appointment to have a different brand to be installed, I was done with the Precision Temp tankless hot water heater.  I’ll do a post soon about what I opted for in it’s place.

Final thoughts:

In my opinion the unit is way more expensive than it should be.  I was able to get a new unit for around $600 and it has three times the btu and a similarly compact vent system.

I have personally seen two manufacturing failures on two different units.  One faulty unit might be bad luck, getting two faulty units points to a larger issue in their standards and at $1100 a piece, their standards should be high.  Obviously not.

Having a safety valve fail is a really big deal.

Your Turn!

  • How are you planning to heat your water in your tiny house?

What Is The Number One Indicator Of Someone Actually Going Tiny?

Having covered tiny houses for eight years now, I see many people who want to live in a tiny house, but only a fraction actually take the leap.  So I thought it would be interesting to ask what some of the experts thought about what separates the people who actually make the leap to tiny house living.

kristie-wolfe

I think they aren’t afraid in the unknown. People that are okay with not knowing everything but confident that they’ll figure it out.

alek-lisefski

The only commonality really is just the ability to trust their own common sense. But I also think it takes a bit of a rebel and change-maker. It really is a subtle act of civil disobedience. Most tiny housers are not afraid to buck the trend and take tangible steps to live in manner that is more affordable and sustainable in the face of a massive culture of consumerism.

ryan-mitchell

They don’t make excuses. People who want to live in a tiny house will stop at nothing to live in their house.  They don’t want to live in a tiny house because they think they’re cute, they realize the life changing potential they afford and pursue their goals with zeal.

dan-and-jess-sullivan

An irrefutable desire to get back to the most basic and fruitful things in life, connections with family and friends, connection with nature, and freedom to live life outside the chains of debt.

deek-diedricksen

They often hold the hammer upside-down. No, there are like 4507 of ’em, but I frequently see terrible window placement on many of the tiny houses of today- that being window placement without regard to airflow, privacy, aesthetics, and rigidity/safety (while in transit for wheeled homes).

ella-jenkins

Faith in things working out. If you wait until you have every possible component and have thought of every possible thing before you start you’ll be waiting a long time. Risk takers and ‘build it and they will come’ types seem to have a much greater likelihood of taking the leap.

ethan-waldman

Unyielding determination to live the way that you want to live. And creativity- so many tiny house dwellers are amazingly creative people.

gabirella-morrisson

Making a decision to bring the dream to fruition. We often see people amass a ton of information, line up their ducks. figure out their finances, but nothing can move forward unless a decision is actually made to take the first step.

jenna-spesard

Happiness. Living in a Tiny House is a challenge, yet the challenge is extremely fulfilling. If you make that leap, you will be proud of your achievement.

laura-lavoie

Someone who is a risk taker. I see it again and again. If you’re willing to take risks in other aspects of your life, you are far more likely to go follow through with going tiny. This isn’t a movement for someone who wants to play it safe.

macy-miller

Persistence. It has nothing to do with talent, or expertise, you have to be patient and persistent. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

kent-griswold

Commitment to make the changes to downsize and follow through with the steps it takes to make a dream become a reality.

steven-harrell

Dwellers IMHO seem to be decision makers. Some folks see something and decide its right for them, tossing excuses aside. Others decide something it right for them but never move the needle from “wanting” to “doing.”

 

A very special thanks to the folks who participated:

Your Turn!

  • What are the biggest barriers to you making the leap?
  • What have you learned that might make your journey more likely to succeed?

The Purpose Of Stuff And The Questions You Should Be Asking Yourself

Recently I came across this post about “The purpose of stuff” and I thought it was a really great way of thinking about the items in our lives.  To Summarize, we have all this stuff in our lives and they largely fall into four distinct purposes: Functional, Aesthetic, Nostalgic, and Dream Placeholders.

posessions-tiny-house

I liked this line of thought and realized that this frame work is useful, but it contains a lot of pitfalls.  For example: Functional.  There are a lot of things that could be deemed functional in our lives, kitchen gadgets are the first thing that comes to mind.

Many of us have drawers stuffed with gadgets that will peel garlic, steam broccoli and core an apple.  The kitchen gadget industry has come up with a solution for every possible problem.  The truth is, much of these purpose built items don’t make us better cooks and most of these things serve an outlier need.  How often do you actually core apples?

So I wanted to offer up some questions that can help you navigate around the pitfalls of each of these.

Functional:

There are things that we simply need to get through our daily lives.  We need a bed to sleep on, a fridge to keep food in, a towel to dry our hands and so on.  Much of what is in my tiny house has a very strong functional purpose, but it’s easy to say we NEED something.  What most people fail to do is examine motivations and take a step back and understand the motivations.

compact-can-openerA perfect example for me was: do I need a washer and dryer?  I was convinced I did, but I didn’t know how I was going to fit it in my house.  It was then I took a step back and said “I hate folding clothes, why would I want to have a thing in my house that caused me to do things I hate doing?”

Now it would be easy to say, well everyone wears clothes, clothes get dirty, you need to wash them, therefore, you need a washer.  That is a pretty logical argument, it’s how most houses are built, and how it’s been done for a long time.  But I was willing to ask myself, what if I didn’t have a washer/dryer?  So I said, well maybe there is someone that I could instead pay to do my laundry in lieu of buying an expensive compact washer/dryer.  Low and behold I found a company that will come to my house, take my laundry, wash/dry/fold, then bring it back to me… for $15!

Ask yourself these questions around functional items:

  • What assumptions am I making about this item and the “need” it fills?
  • What are other ways I could achieve this same end result?
  • Is there something I could use instead that does this in a smaller form or is multi-purpose
  • How often do I actually do this function?
  • What if I didn’t have this thing?  What would the impact be?

Aesthetics

There is a great quote from William Morris: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”  Aesthetics is very important in a small space and for minimalists, we have very little so we must be intentional with all our decisions.  When it comes to minimalists choosing beautiful things for our lives, we need to be discerning.  This is the case where less is more, not out of some dogmatic adherence, but by have a few beautiful things we bring focus and honor to their purpose: enrichment through beauty.

have-nothing-that-is-not-useful-and-beautifulThe trouble with aesthetic items we can have too many of them, which leads us to have a cluttered feel.  Focus on a few select things that allows you to enjoy them without being distracted by other things.  If you find yourself not appreciating it’s value each day, it might be a sign it needs to go.

Ask yourself these questions around Aesthetic items:

  • Where will this item have a home, a spot, in my house?
  • How do you want your space or home to feel?  How does this item help you achieve that goal?
  • Is there enough space to draw your focus on this item each day?
  • What items will distract you from enjoyment of this item?

Nostalgic

This is the most difficult of them all, because we are human beings and as such, we are inherently laden with flaws and complications.  Nostalgia is a powerful force of the human experience and its valuable, healthy and an important part of life.  There are times when it can weigh us down.

memories-posessionsIf you ever have watched a show of Hoarders, you hear over and over again how people don’t want to throw something away because it reminds them of their late spouse, passed away family member or some other part of their past.  While hoarding is an unhealthy expression of this need to connect with the past, we can all relate to these feelings.

For me I spent a significant amount of time sifting through my memory boxes and was able to organize into a few albums and boxes.  I then placed the whole thing into a large waterproof container for safe keeping.  I think what I really need to do is get better is spending a little more time enjoying these memories.

Ask yourself these questions around nostalgic items:

  • Is it possible to keep this memory from some other prompt?
  • Is this a healthy memory to keep coming back to?
  • Would a picture of the item suffice?

Dream Placeholders

I have a soft spot for nostalgic items, but when it comes to items that are place holders for our dreams, hope and even fantasies I take a pretty hard line.  Dream placeholders are things that we involve in our lives that nod to a life we wish to live, the are things that we want in our lives, but we don’t have them, so we instead have things that remind us of that.  Dream placeholders are toxic. Period.

We should have goals, but the difference between goals and a dream is that goals are things we work towards, we are driven to achieve and we make meaningful progress towards; dreams are things we just remind ourselves that we don’t have them with no end in sight.

born to liveIt’s the difference between someone saying they hate their job and going home only to do it all over again, versus a person that works 9 to 5, only to come home and work on their side hustle until midnight.  It is the difference between people who say they want to live in a tiny house and the people who I’m going to do it and are building their dream home weeks later.

Dream placeholders can be toxic.  Living this lifestyle is one of purpose, of intention and of pursuit of your best life.  If you can’t actively pursue something, then it’s best to come to terms that it will not happen and move on.

Ask yourself these questions about Dream Placeholders:

  • What have you done in the last week to achieve this dream?
  • Why haven’t you achieved this already and is it just an excuse?
  • Does this item serve a function in getting you closer to your goals?
  • Should I lay this dream to rest and move on?

 

Your Turn!

  • How do you make sure the things in your life are meant to be there?
  • What tricks do you use to keep down clutter?

My Tiny House Saved Me From Financial Disaster

why-youre-broke-tiny-house

I’ve been back and forth on writing this post for a long time, 5 months in fact.  Baked into this story is a fair bit of embarrassment. But in the end, I know that many people out there have been put in similarly compromising positions and this might be helpful.

This is the story of the worst financial disaster of my life.  The story starts with me working with an accountant for the first time in my life.  I’ve always done my own taxes, but things have gotten very complicated now with owning multiple businesses, a small army of contractors, etc.  I earn very little from this website, it’s my other ventures that bring in most of my income.

Tragedy Strikes:

I had submitted everything to my accountant way ahead of time and he had informed me that my taxes for the year would be around $3,000.  Not great, but as a self employed person you usually get pretty slammed with taxes.  From there I made a lot of decisions about spending, planning and budgeting for the next year.  I was feeling really good.

Then I got the bad news in a phone call….   “Ryan I’m so sorry, we made a mistake with your taxes, you don’t owe $3,000, you actually owe, $30,000 in taxes.  We made a decimal mistake”

I was at a total loss for words.  I was sick to my stomach. I felt hopeless.

I eventually calmed down and started to think.  This was a problem, a problem that had a solution.  It was a budget that needed to tighten the belt in a way that I had never done before.  So I broke out my computer and started a spreadsheet that allowed me to fully understand what I owed and when.

Identifying two important facts:

1. I needed to come up with a lot of cash, which I now had a real world number for

2. I also understood that timing was going to be a huge factor.

The name of the game for me was to earn more income while I timed very precisely spending to meet all my commitments.  Certain bills weren’t due for several months and my taxes weren’t due for about two months because I had done them so early.  Each time I paid a bill I had to quickly ramp my account back up in a perfect way so that I could be on point for the next bill.  This meant that there were times I’d be close to zero, but it would be part of the plan.

The ripple effect… of Death

The real chaos came from the fact that I had some other big bills coming up, having to pay $30k in taxes all of sudden was creating a ripple effect that left unchecked, would spell disaster.  A lot of my planning deals with working with cash flow, I don’t get a steady paycheck since I’m self employed.  This means I earn money and have to make it last until the next time I get paid.  Timing is so critical and a shock to the system of this magnitude was devastating despite me having a solid emergency fund.

The main considerations to my budgeting:

  1. Understand my expenses down to the dollar.
  2. Understand my income, but operate under the worst case scenario
  3. Develop a strategy to increase income, assumed most would fail
  4. Remove costs that weren’t critical, go as lean as possible
  5. Stick to my budget no matter what

The big thing here was understand expenses and income, but operate in the worst case scenario when it came to my income projections.  For expenses, I used my real fixed costs and projected variable costs with 6 months past data

I then needed to come with a strategy to earn more income fast.  What this meant was I needed to get two big projects I had been casually working on out the door, I had to hustle a second income from somewhere and I had to make this happen quick.  This lead me to my first lesson:

Lesson Number One:

I’ve learned that sometimes it comes down to income, not expenditures.  This is a particularly tough pill to swallow at times because when we talk about budgeting, debt and savings its often a discussion of what we can cut out.  The truth is we can cut out all the fluff, go very lean and still not have enough; that is what happened here for me.  What this means is that we need to work on the other side of the equation: income.   I realized that was the case with me, cutting lattes would get me no where.  I need to earn more to make this equation work.

How I Boosted My Income:

As I mentioned I was able to get two projects out the door, but I didn’t stop there.  I operated under the assumption that most of my efforts would fail.  With that mindset I knew I needed to move on a lot of ways to earn income to find a success.  So from there I looked at my skills and sent some emails to connections offering my services.  I was able to land a business coaching gig and a marketing strategy coaching session.  I did a few other things, but you get the idea.

Lesson Number Two:

One thing I realized at this point was I’m pretty good at a lot of marketable skills .  This brings us to the second lesson: be valuable.  Whatever this means for you is the correct answer as long as you can do some thing and people are actually willing to pay you for it.  For me I realized I have experience in building businesses and marketing.  I can do these things and the outcome of that activity is I can earn other people money.  Hence I’m valuable in my own way.  Think about how you are valuable, because everyone is, the trick is identifying that talent and who you’ll sell it to.

How My Tiny House Saved Me:

Through out all of this it struck me how different this time in my life would have been if I been in a traditional housing option, namely renting.  Right now the average rent in my city is around $1000 a month with utilities.  What compounds this fact is that if I had been renting I would have not be able to pay off my student loans earlier so in addition to rent and utilities, I’d also have to content with a $250 student loan payment.  This all would add up to me needing to come up with additional $5,000 on top of the $30,000!

Beyond money considerations living in a tiny house meant one thing that was extremely comforting: I would always have a place to live.  That comfort of knowing that, let me take a deep breath and know I was going to be okay.  To top it off, my utilities are $15 a month with my tiny house and push comes to shove, I could work any job part time and make it if I had to.

Lesson Number Three:

Tiny Houses buy you security, peace of mind and a place to lay your head.  More importantly, it let me say “I’ll be fine” and move from trying to survive to finding a solution.

Once I realized that I would always have a place to stay, I could focus on executing my plan.  The plan gave me confidence, it let me put aside the knot in my stomach and get down to the work at hand.

Lesson Number Four:

With a budget in place, I found that I could move past fear and act with confidence.  Simple things like grocery shopping became empowering experiences because I could buy the food I needed AND it was a positive reinforcement because I knew the money was there for me, that it was part of the plan.

The Results

After all the worry and hard work, it came time to start paying the bills.  I think the daunting thing about the entire process was that I knew the entire plan was going to take 4 months to execute.  This essentially meant that I was holding my proverbial breath for that entire time.  Even though I had a place to live, a budget to rely on, I found it very difficult to keep pushing.

Part of this journey was trying to keep myself above water emotionally.  I knew I was on the edge of slipping into depression, teetering there in a very precarious way.  I felt a knot in my stomach, knowing that the stress wouldn’t end for months at which I’d either make it out barley or crash horrifically.  I carried this with me and it weighed heavily on me.

As I moved through the critical execution phase of my plan I had to trust the plan.  In the budget I trust.  The plan called for at one point I’d have a whopping $256 in my account for a period of 48 hours; After which a payment would hit and I’d ramp up for the next bill.  The whole thing hinged on me hitting things perfectly paying bills and crushing income strategy to face the next big bill.

In the end I was able to earn enough and then some.  Along the way I got hit with some unexpected bills and needed to up my game, to keep pushing and never stop.  At the end of this I have started to rebuild my rainy day fund, which I hope to expand to $30,000 with enough time.

I’m also cognizant that even though I paid those bills, it’s a double edge sword, I now have to pay taxes on the money that I earned to pay them.  A lot of this can be offset with business write offs, but not all.

Your Turn!

  • What tips have you learned from your own tough times?
  • How has budgeting save you?

Ryan’s Tiny House Kitchen

It’s been a long time since I’ve done an update on my house, I had my kitchen done a long time ago, but never really took any photos.  So today I wanted to share some of those photos and the design that went into my kitchen.

tiny-house-kitchen-8

So first off I started by putting together a Pinterest board of ideas I liked (I’ve since deleted it).  This let me consider features I wanted to bake into my design, I also narrowed down to my color scheme for the tiny house interior.  I have such a hard time choosing colors so this was a big hurtle for me.

I then got into the design:

tiny-house-kitchen-layout

Some renderings before hand (note the colors aren’t correct here):

tiny-house-kitchen-rendering

With this rendering you can see the main cabinet which will house the sink, the hot water heater and it has this pull out storage bin which was designed for cans.

tiny-house-kitchen-cabinet

This is the main storage cabinet which allows me to keep pots, pans, food below.  In the top drawers I custom designed them for utensils and spices.

The whole thing came together like this:

tiny-house-kitchen-1

tiny-house-kitchen-7

tiny-house-kitchen-4

tiny-house-kitchen-3

tiny-house-kitchen-2

tiny-house-kitchen-10

tiny-house-kitchen-11

tiny-house-kitchen-12

tiny-hous-kitchen-13

tiny-house-kitchen-14

Your Turn!

  • What features do you want in your tiny house kitchen?

 

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