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How I Would Improve A Tumbleweed

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We all know and love Jay’s amazing design that truly sparked the imagination of thousands.  When most people say Tiny House, we see in our minds an image of a Fencl or a Lusby, but it is important to remember that Tiny House come in all shapes and sizes.  This is important because by choosing a Tiny House we are breaking out of a mold, but sometimes we find ourselves in a new mold.  The out-of-the-box thinking that started Tiny Houses must be continued to improve an already great idea.   I submit these five improvements of the Tumbleweed Houses, but the face of Tiny Houses isn’t limited to Tumbleweed by any means.

Radiant Heat Floors

radiant floors

The Tiny House is typically heated by a small boat fireplace, which can run close to $1000, must be vented (which means cutting a hole in the roof) and I don’t like the look of the chimney.  Now radiant floors for those of you who don’t know, are wires inlaid into the subfloor to heat from the bottom up.  This gives a nice cozy feeling for your feet and since heat rises, you are heating the space as a whole.  It has been successfully done in the PAD (portlandalternativedwellings.com)

The best part about this option is that it adds about ½ inch rise on your floor level, which is unnoticeable, while the boat fireplace takes up a lot more space.  The downside to this is you will need electricity.  At 50 square feet (remember you don’t heat areas you don’t walk on) running an hour will need around 6 amps at 120 volts for a total use of ~750 watts.  Most folks are going to have power, so this is pretty reasonable when combined with a programmable thermostat.



I came upon this idea over at Jonathan’s blog (http://gungy.livejournal.com) and it just made sense.  Upstairs in the loft he has created small “lockers” that line the side of his bed.  This frames the mattress, adds storage and keeps things looking neat while still having access to it.  He did an excellent job at taking the existing structure and integrating the storage to match.  The added bonus of this is that your mattress will have less room to shift as you climb in and out of bed.  I would take this option one step further by adapting one of the “lockers” near the head end to have a power outlet inside of it with holes to run cables to the top, this would create a way to charge your cell phone and ipod etc. neatly.

On Demand Water Heater

on demand water heater

This one will certainly take a bit more expertise and planning, but there is one thing I would miss after a long day in the garden is not having a hot shower.  These water heaters are really small, can fit just about anywhere and mean that you only expend energy when you are in need of hot water.  Take all that and top it off with tax credits and it sounds like a great idea.  What is the catch?  You will need electricity (albeit a small amount and propane), which I feel is something that most Tiny House people have, either solar or grid.  You certainly can design it so you can bypass this when you are running off the grid.

Integrated Jacks


One thing many people don’t realize is that if you are going to be setting up in one spot with a Tiny House on a trailer is that just letting it sit there can lead to tire shock, which will put flat spots on your tires or break down the walls faster.  It is probably a good idea to jack the trailer up and remove the tires, this way people can’t steal your house. With jacks you also have a more stable floor, it could be argued that it is safer too.

Integrated jacks aren’t anything new, look at trailers and popup campers, but for $100-200 you can get some nice looking jacks that can be integrated into the trailer so you are never without them.  Be sure to take into account what weight they will be holding, 4 tons per jack will be overkill, but you will never have to worry about it.  The added benefit of these are if you ever get a flat tire on the road, these are already in place and are safer because they are welded to the frame.

Flexible Shelves

flexable shelves

This one is a bit of a stretch, but I decided to add it anyway.  Jay’s craftsmanship is nothing short of beauty, the quality is superb, which is why he is a premium brand.  I felt the need to have my storage in these to be a bit more flexible.  With moveable shelves, rolling shelves, etcetera you are able to accommodate a wider range of items and have them tucked away out of sight.  See my photo here and take a look around my blog for lots of ideas.

  1. Lots of good information.

    One caution on the integrated jacks. I have owned multiple trailers and pop-ups, and the integrated jacks will generally have warnings to the effect that they are for stabilization purposes only, and not to be used for jacking up the trailer in the case of a flat tire. I always carry a small bottle jack for that eventuality.


  2. I have been kicking around the radiant floor heating idea for a while now. I think it would be a wonderful addition to Jay’s fabulous houses! Or any tiny house for that matter. Isn’t radiant floor heat supposed to be the most efficient form of heating?

    Great post!

  3. First, let me say I like all of these. They are all good ideas.

    However, As far as I know most tumbleweeds have both the ondemand water heater and the stabilization jacks.

    You can also get a liquid based radiant floor heater, feed from said hot water heater, and only need the minor amount of electricity needed for the pump and heater controls. A lot easier on a off grid option.

    • I like this idea better. I’d be concerned about EMFs with the electric floor heat (I like to lie on the floor). Also, I wonder if one might be able to heat the fluid via a small wood stove? Any ideas? Maybe the two systems (wood stove and radiant floor heat) would be overkill in a tiny house? Or perhaps liquid based radiant floor heat would just be a more efficient addition to a wood stove – burn less wood?

      • What about a fluid based floor heating that could circulate from your tank-less water heater? Take some finagling, but it would be doable.


      • Modern radiant heating cables are designed to cancel EM radiation. They do this by running the hot and the neutral wire withing the same jacket. The current in both wires runs anti-parallel thus canceling out most of the EM field.

  4. Great post! These are fantastic design ideas. Thanks for sharing them with the great vlogging medium! 🙂


  5. I would add just one or two things to this excellent list…

    There’s a tiny house designer who added dormer windows to the loft. I get claustrophobic 😀 so that would be a must for me! And dormer windows can provide a cozy place to sit and read, etc.

    Second – I’ve never seen any kind of “sunspace” or perhaps a built-in hydroponic system that would make it easy to grow herbs and other small plants without needing a large garden or greenhouse. Also, since it’s moveable, I would love to take my “garden” with me in the event I did move my tiny house.

    Those two things, plus what’s on this list, and I think my Tiny Home would be just about “perfect”!

  6. Great post. You brought up several points that we have done. I have a few ideas for those living in cold & hot environments:

    We have the propane boat heater and our floors are well insulated but midway through last winter my shoes froze to the floor! If you live in a cold location, a semi insulated trailer skirt helps keep your floors much warmer. I like the idea of radiant floor heating in conjunction. Radiant heat is most effective if you have a dense energy sink (ie cement floor) to slowly release the heat and disperse it more evenly. We have reasonably thick hardwood floors which could work but I am interested to hear reviews from folks using this system. I imagine that the areas with the tubing is quite warm, while areas without the tubing are chilly. Also, does this affect the wood over time? ( warm air holds more water so more possibility of warping). Again, I am interested to hear reviews.
    Ideas about off the grid:
    Radiant heat is possible in cold environments that have sunny days with a black box solar water heater as the primary heater and an auxiliary propane water heater. The primary issue here would be having a storage system that holds enough hot water to keep the house warm at night. Otherwise the propane heater would run constantly and use a lot of fuel.

    Composting toilets can work well but require a bit of trial and error in cold environments. We have a black water tank under the trailer that drains the liquid from the toilet. Get a toilet with a fan! Also, extend the vent pipe 6″ above the peak of the roof… Or you will experience a Tiny-out-House! Needless to say, I initially did neither of these and quickly regretted it. If you are worried about the total height requirements as I was, it is pretty easy to make a detachable extension for the vent pipe. Email me if you want pictures: stuckinarut721@gmail.com

    The biggest learning curve with the composting toilet & black water tank was the freezing of said tank. I did build an insulated box and put low watt lights inside (which burn out frequently) to prevent freezing. Even RV black water tank antifreeze wasn’t quite enough. This did cause some issues and I haven’t totally figured out a solution. The winter nights here are frequently -10*f and can be -28*f, so this may not be an issue for everyone. I looked on RV sites and it seems like a couple squares of electrical radiant floor heating under the tank may help. If anyone has suggestions, I am all ears.

    Other thoughts:
    I am perplexed that such an expensive and high quality propane heater lacks a pilot setting and any thermostat. Just saying…

    Makes sure you get a loft window that can open! When it is a balmy 105*f in your loft in the summer, you will want that! Also, it is a good idea to have this window be large enough to use as an egress. We found a reclaimed double pane wind and paid $50 to have it modified so it will open. Totally worth the money!

    Loft roof
    Open window in loft

  7. Oops, I hit submit instead of the back key… Please forgive any grammar issues, I had not edited my post.

    Another Tumbleweed Modification idea:

    As for the loft roof, the A frame is ok for one person. If you are savvy with building, and want to deviate a bit from the plans, a 2 stage or rounded roof would give more head room for parties in your loft… Or 2 people quietly reading.

    Not a mod, but worthy of mention:
    If you don’t like styrofoam or fiberglass insulation, consider Sheep wool! It is great! You can get battens just like fiberglass insulation. More expensive but I think it was worth it.

    Oh boy, a bag of worms:

    If your house is located in a field, consider a cat. First consider all the nice song birds they will undoubtedly eat and all the other havoc that they may impart on the local ecosystem (yes, there are lots of studies). Then consider mice in your sweat earnered home. Honestly, once mice move in, it is bad. Probably one neutered ferral should do the trick.

  8. I know this is an older post, but I thought I’d see if anyone felt compelled to follow up on radiant floor heat. I’m considering it for my tiny house build and wondering if it’s a good choice. Anyone done it for a tiny house around or over 150sf? Does the loft get warm enough, too? Thanks!

  9. Crystal,

    The radiant floor heat should work well to heat the place from floor to ceiling. It heats the way a wood stove does, except the floor isn’t drafty because that’s where the heat is coming from. If you have experience with that you’ll immediately understand the concept. If you’d like to try something as an interim step before commiting to the project you could try a portable oil filled radiator as a heater. They cost about $45 to buy and one could heat 3 times that amount of space very comfortably. It has a built in thermostat as well. I heat a 880 sf 2 bedroom house (4″ walls – limited insulation) with only two of them even though I have built-in electric heat, because it’s a more comfortable heat. That would be an easy experiment and the fact is that oil filled radiator could be your final solution a well provided you have permanent power available. It would also be very affordable for that minimal space, but not as affordable to run or as “off grid” as the propane. However, propane can introduce moisture into the room depending on how it’s done. The radiator would not.

    Also, for another propane option… A Mr. Buddy Heater will run on propane and is rated for indoor use in CA (IIRC). That is a meaningful standard as that means it has multiple safety mechanisms (CO detection, tip sensor, etc.). It runs on 2 camping propane cylinders, but it can also be connected to a bulk cylinder for dramatic cost savings. If you consider this method I’d recommend the one capable of 18k max btu’s to insure you have enough capacity. There is no thermostat, but one can choose between three settings of something like 5k btu, 9k btu, and 18k btu. I think the unit itself is $90 to $100 (IIRC). If adapted to a bulk tank (use quick connect fittings) that would add around $40 to $50 in parts, then one needs to get the bulk cylinder of their choice or keep buying the small replacement cylinders. It’s very affordable to run once the bulk adapter system is in service with good run time. I can heat an uninsulated one car garage/shop with mine to about 55 to 60 degrees in 20 degree temperatures, but it takes a while to do it without insulation and with that much area to heat. In a small insulated space it should be radically efficient.

    • Hey Tim:

      Thanks for the awesome reply.

      Believe it or not, I already own a Mr. Buddy, which I bought as a backup in case of power outage!

      I prefer electrical heat…just a little scared of any gas heat/cooking (although I realize my fears are mostly unfounded with proper precautions in place).

      Planning for my tiny house, I’m considering radiant floor heat as my primary source (I live in VA, the winters can go either way here) with a propane heater back up, (already installed).

      I like your suggestion of test running with the oil filled radiator…I currently live in a 750 sf house and could try that easily. Sure would beat the inefficient and awfully expensive electric baseboard heaters we use!

  10. http://gypsyturtlejournal.com/about/ has a great post about her systems including radiant heat with a heat system supplying both hot water and radiant heat. Robin passed away but her daughter maintains the site and her blog is still available showing her design and build

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