Tiny House, Tiny Living, The Tiny Life.

Yearly archive for 2016

Happy Holidays From The Tiny Life

This week I’ve been winding down for the holidays.  I have been doing some last minute shopping before I head to my folks house.  With tiny houses you don’t always have room for a big Christmas tree, but I actually ended up getting two trees!  The first was at my coworking space that I own, each year we have a holiday party and a real tree.  Here it is:

I also got a really small rosemary shrub that has been grown in a Christmas tree shape.  This is great because it’s small, but still has a great smell.  Plus I love rosemary, the last one I had, I planted it outside and it took off like gangbusters.

For gifts this year I held back on some purchases I had wanted to make, so I could share them with my family if they needed ideas.  I have been wanting a headlamp for around the house.  I live deep in the woods and it’s always really dark outside the house.  For those nights I need to turn on the generator, grab something out of the trailer or car a headlamp is great to have.

I also asked for dish towels, as my old ones were ready to retire.  Finally I asked for credits to Audible, the website that I get my audio books from, which download to a phone app; I love audible and read 34 books this year (down from last year’s 41).

That’s all I have to report this year, I hope to see you all in the new year!

My New On Demand Hot Water Heater

So last week I talked about how I was ditching the RV-500 from Precision Temp and moving to a whole new system.  Today I thought I’d share a bit about what I decided to go with instead.

After looking around I had narrowed my options to a propane outdoor on demand hot water heater.  This did a few things for me:

  • It allowed me to regain my under skin storage space
  • Choosing an outdoor version keeps venting very simple, indoor versions require bulky venting
  • I almost tripled my BTU’s from 55k to 150k that meant I could have hot showers on very cold days

There were two major downsides to this option however.  The first was that I was going to have to redo most of my plumbing and gas lines, that meant that it would most likely require a plumber (I don’t like messing with gas lines), which is expensive.  Having to hire a plumber isn’t too bad, but the next downside was the real kicker.  Because the unit was going to be outdoors, if it drops below 32 degrees, most units have a heater.  Heaters are great, because they keep it from freezing, but it’s not great for off grid solar setups.

Winter is a challenging time for solar because the sun is a lower angle, plus its often overcast on many days.  Heating also takes up around 20% more power than cooling, so there are times I need to break out the generator.

What sealed the deal for me was when I talked with one plumber that Rinnai (a tankless manufacturer) had a power failure dump valve kit they could add on.  Basically what this is two solenoid valves that would close the feed line and open a drain valve to drain the water out of the unit.

This meant that if I knew it was going to freeze that night, I could flip a switch to drain the whole unit after I finished cooking for the evening.  If for some reason I forgot or was away, if the power went out, it would automatically drain since the heater couldn’t keep it warm enough.

In total, the unit, the solen0id kit, installation, other parts, and removal of the old water heater came to $2900, which is a lot of money, but after I saw how much work they put into it and how complex the additional solenoid kit install was, I think it was money well spent.  I believe it also meets requirements for a 30% federal tax credit, which is $860 off what I will owe to the IRS.

Initial Impressions:

The unit I got was the Rinnai V53e, which is their value line.  It’s frankly more than I need in terms of capacity, but it’s the smallest in the line.  So far I’m very happy with the unit.  I’ve been using it for 3 weeks now and the biggest change I’ve noticed is that I can take very hot showers, even when it’s very cold out.  Just today it was in the high 20’s and the water was hot enough I had to turn it down a fair bit.  With the RV-500, at temperatures like today, I’d be taking a cold shower even when it was working full steam.

The unit’s pump and vent make more noise that I expected, but it’s not too loud.  In a normal sized house I doubt you’d hear it.  For me it’s mounted on the other side of the wall from my shower so you hear it’s thrumming.

The biggest win is that I get my under sink storage back and the dump valve kit is amazing.  If I’m worried about the heater unit wearing down my batteries.  I just flip a switch and the water is instantly dumped on the ground, problem solved.

 

Your Turn!

  • How do you plan to heat water in your tiny house?

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.

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 draw a pretty hard line.  Dream placeholders are things that nod to a life we wish to live. They 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. The difference between goals and dreams is that we work towards goals. We remind ourselves that we don’t have the dream but enjoy thinking about it.

born to liveThis is 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 say 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 are you creating excuses?
  • 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?
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