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.
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:
Some renderings before hand (note the colors aren’t correct here):
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.
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:
What features do you want in your tiny house kitchen?
Having been involved with tiny houses for over 6 years now, having built my own tiny house, and now living in it, I’ve realized something: I got a few things really wrong. Some were assumptions I made about living in them, some of them were about the lifestyle, and some of them were about building them. So here are 5 things I got totally wrong.
1. I thought it was about the house, it’s not
When I first started with tiny houses, I was in love with the house, the design, the materials, and all the appointments. Now that I’m living in my house I realize that was so wrong; it has absolutely nothing to do with the house. It has everything to do with the lifestyle. The truth is, a tiny house is just another thing you buy, under the guise of breaking away from consumerism. But the break is not from the diminutive dwelling, it is in the mental separation from conspicuous consumption.
2. I thought I couldn’t buy things
Long before I found myself in the tiny house realm I was a big consumer. I loved gadgets and tech. Once I started going down the path of tiny houses I thought that portion of my life – and somewhat, my identity as a nerd – needed to come to a close, but I was all right with that because the benefits outweighed the “costs”. But then I realized it wasn’t that I couldn’t have the things I wanted, I just needed to be more intentional about them; in reality, I’m able have the things I want more readily because I have the cash to buy them.
3. I thought money worries would be a thing of the past
I crunched the numbers, made spreadsheets, and had a budget, all things pointed to me not really having to worry about money. The truth is that my tolerance for how close I was running to zero just changed. Before a tiny house if I had less than $2,000 in the bank I’d be nervous. Now that I live in a tiny house that anxiety hasn’t gone away, it’s just at a different level.
These days I freak out when my bank account drops below $20,000. I know what some of you are thinking, “$20,000! that’s a ton of money, you have nothing to worry about!” and 3 years ago I’d be in the same place, but it somehow is still just as real, just as scary; I can’t quite explain why, but the truth is that angst will never go away.
4. I thought my tiny house would be perpetually neat and tidy, just like all the tiny house photos
AHAHAHAHHAA! Boy was I wrong! There are many times my house is very tidy, but there are times it gets way out of control. I always keep a clean house, it just isn’t always neat. The truth is your tiny house will go from tidy to way out of control in about 5 seconds flat because it’s so small. It’s not that you’re a messy or dirty person, but if you put a single thing down, it starts to add up quickly due to the small space you’re living in. The other day I walked into my house, dropped my work bag, my gym bag and took of my shoes… it looked like a bomb had gone off and I had to move stuff out of the way just to open my closet to drop my keys and wallet.
5. I thought I’d be done building
When you build a tiny house, you’ll never be done. There will always be a few things that you want to improve, to try, to fix, etc. That is not to say that your house won’t be livable, you’ll most likely move in and keep doing things. There will always be a board to fix, some more trim to add, or a new shelf to build into a nook. Another part of this is you’ve suddenly acquired a new skill set – woodworking – and even though most of us are still newbies to it, you don’t go out and build a whole house if you aren’t one who likes building things. I’m really excited about the prospect of starting some smaller woodworking projects that I get to flex my fine woodworking skills with.
One very common question I get about my tiny house is about internet. For the most part its exactly the same as getting internet in any home, a tiny house is a house after all, it just happens to be small.
My original plan was to have normal cable internet brought to the tiny house. This took me longer than I would have liked because it was dependent on power. You obviously need to power the modem and to do that I needed to get my solar power squared away.
With solar all setup, I called Time Warner which is the only internet provider that was available to me. I checked all the big companies, local shops and even satellite, but they have things so monopolized you literally don’t have any other choice. I loathe Time Warner, but I need internet, so I scheduled them to come out.
They came out and did a survey, they then let me know the cost to just install it: $2,500! Mainly because my tiny house sits so far back from the road. It should also be noted that the same day I got that estimate, Google announced they were coming to Charlotte to bring Google Fiber, which is fiber optic gigabit internet.
So what I decided to do is wait for Google Fiber, because I expect the install cost will be very similar and I’d give almost anything to never deal with Time Warner again. The other factor that weighed in on my decision was that come September, I will be opening a coworking space, where I will have an office and internet.
While I decided to wait, I still needed internet. So I opted for a mobile hotspot which functions off cell phone signals to get 4G internet. I considered two options:
Verizon Jetpack 6620L
These two options were pretty appealing to me for two very different reasons. The Verizon Jetpack would work well, Verizon has very good 4G coverage, so I knew I could connect almost anywhere. The Karma Go is a prepay setup with no fees, but it uses Sprint’s which has drastically less coverage, even in a city like mine. The other thing is Karma Go is a startup and they haven’t actually released their newest version of hardware and have been pushing their delivery date back for months at this point.
In the end I bought both.
I already have a contract with Verizon, so it was easy to add on. I bought the unit out right for $200 so I could stop and start service as I saw fit. When I have service it costs me $20 + data. As on this posting I get 15 gigs a month for $100. My total internet bill right now is $120. If you’re considering this, make sure you get the Jetpack 6620L, because the cheaper versions only do 4G, but not 3G, which you really need both. The 6220L does both, plus international GSM, so you can hop on a plane, buy a sim card where ever you are and just drop it in.
For the Karma Go, it cost me $100 + data with no contracts. I should note that I pre-ordered it in December and still haven’t received it (delays in their manufacturing). The Karma Go will let me load data credits on it and there aren’t fees, so I can drop a few gigs in it and just keep it in my bag just in case. I can get 10 gigs for $100, no other fees.
So far I’ve only had a chance to put the Verizon Jetpack through its paces, but it has held up to it all. I’ve had a few hiccups with it having ip address conflicts, but they are rare and easily fixed with a restart of my hotspot.
To give you an idea of data usage:
Sending an email (w/out attachment): 100,000 emails per gig
Surfing the web varies so widely I can’t put a number on it
Streaming music: 10 hours per gig
Youtube depends on the quality
240p: 6 hours per gig
360p: 4 hours per gig
480p: 2 hours per gig
720p: 1 hour per gig
1080p: 30 minutes per gig
low quality: 3 hours per gig
medium quality: 2 hours per gig
high quality: 30-45 minutes per gig
I’ve learned some tricks to save on data. Your biggest user of data is videos. If you can control that, you can cut your bill down pretty significantly. First thing I did was turn off autoplaying videos on Facebook. You need to do this in two places.
The next thing I did was set youtube to a lower quality. This is somewhat of a pain because when on normal wifi I want full blown HD, but on mobile wifi I want low (240 or 360). To do this you go into your youtube settings and select that you have a low connect:
Those are you big wins with data usage. If you stream tv shows or movies, I’d suggest actually download them in bulk when you are on normal wifi. There are a variety of legal and illegal ways to do that, but I’m not going to go into that here.
I know many of you have been wanting this post for a while, but it’s finally here: my solar panel system for my tiny house. I wanted to get the feel for what it is like to live off the grid so I could share more details with you all about what it’s really like.
So first, the high level details of my system:
2.25 Kw panels – Nine, 250 watt panels
Batteries 740 amp/hr total – Eight, 370 amp/hr 6 volt Trojan L16 flooded lead acid
Cost for parts about $10,000 (excluding tax and shipping)
Off grid, battery bank, plus 5,550 watt backup generator
24 volt system
(9) Canadian Solar CS-6p 250 Watt Poly Black Frame (Spec Sheet)
Before anything I needed to determine the best placement for the solar panels to make sure it had good solar exposure and didn’t fall into shadows too much. To do this I used a tool called a “solar path finder” which is a semi reflective dome that you position at the location, then snap a photo. The photo is then loaded into a program and spits out a whole bunch of calculations.
Solar Path Finder
So once you upload the image into the software and then trace the treeline outline, you enter in your location, date and time. It then can calculate how much power you’ll produce based on 30 years of weather patterns for your exact location and tree coverage.
My reading with the pathfinder
Then it spit out all the calculations:
With that in mind I knew what I could expect out of the system I had designed. It also was a way to verify my assumptions.
Once I verified that the system was going to be well suited to my needs I had to build my panel support racking. I did this out of pressure treated 4×4’s that were each 10′ long. These things about about 300 lbs each so I don’t have to worry about wind picking up the panels. I opted to build them because it was cheaper than some of the turn-key option out there and most of the for purchase ones required me to cement in the ground; I rent my land, so I wanted a mobile solution. The racking is technically mobile, but not easily so. If I remember correctly it was about $500 in materials to build this part.
Next we installed the panels. This part was pretty quick and the stands worked out perfectly. The panels are 250 watt Canadian solar panels. They are wired in groups of three, then paralleled into the system. To give you a sense of scale, these panels are 3.3 wide and about 4 feet tall.
Now I know many people want to know why I didn’t mount these on my roof or could they mount them. You technically can mount on your roof, but honestly the number of panels that you need to practically power your house is too many for the roof.
There is some other major bonuses of being on the ground:
Much cooler, roofs are very hot places in the summer and solar panels drop in efficiency when hot
I can put my house under deciduous trees, this means in summer I’m in the shade, in winter I get the solar gain
Way easier to clean and monitor
Cleaning your panels is pretty important because you loose efficiency as residue (bird poop) builds up. Also as I learned just a few days ago, when it snows, you need to clear your panels. Cleaning becomes super simple and a lot safer when you don’t have to climb onto a roof via a ladder.
Just this week we got a decent snow, 3 inches, which is quite a lot for Charlotte. The first thing I had to do when I woke up was clear off the panels because with the snow, they made no power. This was compounded because since it was cold, I needed more heat. I can’t imagine having to drag the ladder out and try climbing on a icy roof… No Thanks.
Next I built a cabinet to house all the gear. I wanted a stand alone space because the batteries are so heavy. At 118 pound each, plus cabling and other equipment the whole unit is over 1,100 lbs. The top and bottom sections are divided so that the gasses from the batteries don’t go up into the electrical section and explode. More on that later.
The batteries are wired in series parallel. The batteries are 6 volt each, in series of 4 the create a 24 volt unit, then I have two of these 24 volt units in parallel. The reason I choose to go 24 volt over a 48 volt (which is more efficient) was because the equipment was a little cheaper, but also it allowed me to select components that I could add more panels and batteries very easily without doing equipment upgrades (just a factor of the abilities of the units I choose). This way I can add up to 15 panels and a lot more batteries without upgrading the electronics; I can also stack these inverters so if I ever go to a normal sized house, I just add another unit and it just plugs into my current one.
In this photo going left to right: Din Breaker Panel, Charge Controller, Interconnect w/ control panel, inverter. In general the power flows in the same manner (but not exactly).
Breaker Panel: manages power from solar panels
Charge Controller: manages power to batteries etc.
Interconnect: a main junction box and breaker, holds control panel interface
Inverter: takes power in many forms then outputs to they type of power you need
Once the power goes through the system it outputs to a huge cable that you can see sticking out of the bottom of inverter then goes right. From there it runs to this:
This is a 50 amp RV style plug. The reason I did this was two fold. City inspectors are less picky when it comes to non-hard wired things. This setup also lets me roll into any RV campground and hook up seamlessly.
The plug goes into a 50 amp RV female receptacle. This is important that you don’t have two male ends to your cord. This is dubbed by electricians as a “suicide cord” because if you plug in to a power source, you have exposed conductors that are live; accidentally touch them, you complete the circuit and zap!
You want a female end to your cord so that you reduce the chance of being shocked. I also turn off my main breaker at the power source when I make this connection, then turn it back on.
If all these mentions of watts, volts, amps, amp hours etc are making your head spin a little, you may need to go back to the basics. I have an ebook called Shockingly Simple Electrical For Tiny Houses which guide your through all the basics. As of now, it doesn’t go too deep into the solar aspects, but the basics of electrical, wiring, power systems and determining your power needs are covered in depth and designed for those who are totally new to the topic.
So once the power passes through the power inlet it goes to the panel. Near the bottom you can see the backside of the power inlet, it has a large black cord coming out of it, into the box and ties to the lugs. From there it goes out to the house.
Back outside now, looking at the cabinet, on the sides of it, you can see the vents. When you use lead acid (LA) batteries you have some off gassing as the batteries discharge and recharge. These gasses are volatile and can ignite, possible leading to an explosion. So to take care of this I installed two vents like this which provide adequate venting. As mentioned before my battery section is isolated from the electronics section where a spark could occur.
This off gassing is a concern with Lead Acid Batteries, but other battery technologies don’t have this issue. I choose LA batteries over AGM (absorbent glass mat) because LA’s have more cycles and cost a bit less. Lithium Ion at this point is cost prohibitive. My batteries should get about 4000-5000 cycles (11-14 years) before I need to replace them. I figure in about 5 years battery technology will have progressed so much I’ll change early. New batteries will cost me about $4,000 of the LA variety.
Here is my grounding wire for my system. This is actually one of two, another is located at the panels them selves. My house is also grounded to this through the cable hook up and to the trailer itself. A really important note: ground depends on a lot of things, one of which is if you house electrical panels is bonded or not, if you don’t know what that means, read up on it, its very important.
The other component of this system is the generators. In the winter months I may need to top off my batteries every now and then, basically when its been really cold and very cloudy for a week or more. I had a Honda EB2000i already which I really like. It’s very quite and small. The one downside to the Honda is that it only does 1600 watts and only 120V and I needed more power and 240V. So I picked up another generator, a 5500 watt 240 volt Generac for $650.
Here is a video that compares the two generators in terms of size, noise, output and price.
So that’s the surface level details of the system, I’m going to be doing something in the future which will be a how to size, choose parts, hook up and all the other details of doing solar for your tiny house, but that is a longer term project, most likely will take about 6 months to pull together in the way I’d like to do it.