Tiny House, Tiny Living, The Tiny Life.

Your Tiny House… In a Book!

tiny house reclaimed book

Attention tiny house fans! Do you you have a friend who built or lives in a tiny house made with reclaimed materials? Do you have one yourself? Do you want see your house featured in a book? (Of course you do!) The Tiny Life wants to talk to you!

We’re looking to connect with people who have used reclaimed materials to build their tiny homes to be included in an upcoming book project. Maybe you used reclaimed pallet wood for your walls, or found all your kitchen cabinets at the Habitat for Humanity Restore. Maybe you found windows by the side of the road on trash day, or the perfect farmhouse sink at the dump. However you used reclaimed materials in your tiny house build, we want to hear about it!

Imagine seeing your house in a printed book that you can pick up at any Barnes & Noble around the country! Pretty cool, right? If you think you and your house would be a great fit for our book project, please fill out our online form below.. We can’t wait to learn more about you and your house!

 

Welcome Amy Henion

Today I wanted to make a special post and share some good news.  The Tiny Life has been around for almost 6 years and looking forward, I knew I wanted to do more.

1780649_10155524629350104_4519050556008505929_nIt is with that in mind, that I want to introduce to you and welcome to the team, Amy Henion.  She will be joining The Tiny Life to help me continue and expand the work we do here.  Many of you know her from the TEDx talk she did (video below) or from her part in the Tiny House Conference.  Amy describes herself as “a tiny house advocate and enthusiast. Passionate about houses and design.”

 

Amy will be helping me share more about what it means to live tiny.  We are looking to bring new stories, teach more people and spread the word about tiny houses.  I have some exciting things planned and Amy will be there to help bring these dreams to reality.

Check out her great video below and join me in welcoming Amy in the comments section!

 

Tiny House Composting Toilet Blues

composting toilet

I’ve been living in my tiny house now for a good while and the big challenge of composting toilet has been going well.  Initially I had wanted to have a flush toilet and my house is setup so I could drop a toilet let in quickly, but the quotes for a sewer line alone started at $50,000 so I begrudgingly went with the composting toilet.

I haven’t really read too much online about people’s experiences with composting toilets, the few I’ve read were just over the moon, glowing reviews.  So I thought I’d share my experience so far.  It has mostly been positive and easier than I thought, but with this recent incident it goes to show it isn’t all great.

more-than-dietThe other thing I don’t think people talk about in their composting toilet posts is diet.  I have learned that a good diet beyond good health, impacts how easy it is to use a composting toilet.  Good healthy foods, meals with salads, and less processed foods makes composting toilets easier to manage.

With a good diet your body functions better, it can extract more moisture and nutrients out of the what you eat and keeps things with composting toilets easier.  I also know the better one eats, the more regular one is; for my body, I usually need to visit the restroom at 10:30 am almost without fail, which 9 times out of 10 means I’m out and about, where there are toilets for me to use.  So diet is worth noting and was something I felt was missing from the discussion.

Currently it is illegal in my city have a composting toilet, as it is in most municipalities; plus I’m renting my land, so I wouldn’t want to be composting on land I don’t own.  What seems like the happy medium and it is what I do, is bagging the waste every week into a biodegradable “plastic” bag and then sending it along with the city trash; at that point its essentially like a diaper, but the plastic will breakdown in a landfill quickly.  There are other options out there for this too and I considered them, but for me this works.

I am currently using pine bedding (from the pets section) which has a nice scent, but I don’t think it absorbs as well as other options.  I’m thinking I’m going to switch to a mix of half pine bedding and half mix of peat moss which is very absorbent.  Peat moss is a pretty good option, but it isn’t a sustainable material, it’s harvesting is actually quite destructive to wet lands.  I know for gardening that coconut coir (husks) is the sustainable version of peat, but I don’t know how it performs in composting toilets.  I’ve ordered an 11 lb block of coconut coir for $16 to try out, which I’ll report back on later.

It has been pretty straight forward, but I still opt to keep my bucket setup outdoors.  I do keep my liquids and solids separate, which at this point means I go peep in the woods and then use the bucket.  Later on I hope add a urine diverter later on, but it isn’t a must at this time.  I have a mini deck space that I keep it on.  The smell isn’t anything to be concerned over, but I’m not sure having it inside with no moving air would be a good idea at this point.

luggable looMy bucket has a pretty tight seal on the lid, so it is pretty hard for things to crawl in, but it is possible.  The other day I went to use my setup and when I opened the lid, I was greeted by a swarm of fly larva.  A hundred wriggling maggots.  It was gross!    What was interesting was they were on the seat between the seat and the lid.  What I don’t know is if that was because the flies couldn’t get into the toilet or if they just preferred that narrow space.

Luckily it was very simple to take care of.  I easily popped off the lid, then hosed it off in a very sunny spot.  I figured the intense sun would kill the larvae so I didn’t have a ton of flies.  I double bag the bucket so I closed the first bag, then tied up the second bag that was still clean.  Job done, took all of two minutes, but I realized something is flawed in my system.

I did some googling to discover that this is a semi-common issue when the heat of summer comes on.  You’ll be going along in the winter, it gets warmer and then all a sudden the flies come out.  I learned about a product called Mosquito Dunk, which you crumble into a spray bottle, mix up with water and then when you use the toilet, you give it a few mists on the surface.

mosquito dunkMosquito Dunk as described by the maker  is a “larvaecide that kills mosquito larvae only. It is deemed organic by the USEPA.  Dunks are harmless to beneficial insects, pets, birds, fish or wildlife.  Kills within hours and lasts for up to 30 days.”

So I’m going to give this option a try and see how things pan out.  I will report back in a few months as I learn more,

Wifi For Your Tiny House

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.

all-i-want-is-a-cabin-in-the-woods-with-wifi-af0b9With 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:

  1. Verizon Jetpack 6620L
  2. Karma Go

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.

452150-verizon-mifi-jetpack-6620l-angle

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.

Karma_device_2_white_smallFor 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
  • Nextflix/Hulu
    • 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.

Your phone:

wpid5500-open-settings-in-ios-and-navigate-to-facebook

Your computer:

Facebook-Auto-play-Video-Settings

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:

 

How-to-Set-the-Default-Video-Playback-Quality-for-YouTube-VideosFor netflix:

ultimate-guide-smoother-netflix-streams-any-device-anywhere.w654

 

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.

 

Air Conditioning On Solar Power

Today I wanted to share some info about air conditioning on a solar panel system.  Charlotte’s heat really came full force this week.  I know for many their climate doesn’t get as humid as it does here, for us here, AC is pretty key.  Without AC I can’t really sleep, even with a fan and my house being passive cooled.  While the humidity is still pretty comfortable, it’s HOT and the humidity is coming.  It has been in the high 80’s and low 90’s outside, which made my house in the mid 90’s inside.

I thought I’d do a post today because I’ve been able to run some real world experiments with my tiny house, the AC and solar.  I haven’t seen any real world into practice reports on this stuff, so I figured it would be helpful for you all.

I have yet to hook up my mini split system because it has taken me a long time to find a HVAC installer that would install my mini split, the reason being they all want to sell you the equipment if they are going to install it.  This was an unknown factor to me when I ordered my unit, but these are the bumps in the road you experience when you live The Tiny Life.

Fujitsu-RLS2-System-Image-630x470

For heating and cooling I opted for the Fujitsu 9RLS2 which is a 9,000 btu unit with a seer rating of 27.  To give you an idea, older systems have a SEER of around 8 to 10, modern systems that are labeled highly efficient have a rating of 15 or so, but most today are around 12-13.  This is very important because me being on solar, my system simply couldn’t handle the less efficient systems.  Read about my tiny house solar panel system by clicking here.  The SEER rating is simply a function of BTUs (British Thermal Units) to Watts.  The higher the number, the better.

The other big reason I choose this unit versus a window unit was that my air handler is wall mounted, out of the way and above eye level.  This does a few things:  keeps my limited square footage clear of stuff, it keeps my windows looking nice because I don’t have a window unit blighting a good design, and keeping it above eye level also makes you forget about it because as humans we don’t often look up.

el_pac_08e9_unit_picWhile I’m trying to get an installer lined up I’m using a Portable Air Conditioner which has worked pretty well.  The downside to it is it takes up a lot of space and it’s not as efficient; it has a SEER rating of 12, which makes my mini split system 225% more efficient than this.

I decided to “stress test” my system by turning the Portable AC unit on high and setting the thermostat to 60 degrees and see how long it was going to take for my batteries of my solar panel system to bottom out (50% discharge).  The charge controller on my system automatically turns off the power to my house if the power in that batteries discharges down to 50%, this allows me to not damage the batteries by discharging too deep.

batter tiny house discharge

As you can see by the chart above, keeping discharge at 50% or above gives me a little shy of 2,000 cycles or 5.4 years.  I plan to add another set of four batteries to the system pretty soon, which will give me a good capacity and keep my discharge rate much higher than 50% (though I don’t often get that low)  In about 5 years we should start seeing some really interesting battery technologies hit market, so I plan to hop on that as soon as my batteries begin to fade.

My stress test turned out pretty good.  With the much less efficient portable air conditioner I ran it solid for 3 days starting with a very warm house.  At the end of the three days I was very close to hitting 50%, but it didn’t ever dip below.  I decided that the test went on long enough to be pretty happy, so I decided to stop.  I typically turn off the AC when I’m gone.

The past few days have been a bit trickier because since my system was so low from the stress test, I needed it to build back up, but we have had a series of cloudy days.   I’ve had plenty of power to run the AC over night, but it’s lower than I’d like.  To give you an idea, on a normal sunny day I make about 1600 watts, on a cloudy day I get between 600 and 800 watts when the clouds are very thick with no gaps.

The really great thing is when it’s hottest, during the day, I can make lots of power.  This allows me to run the AC full blast and I can make enough power to run the AC and still be dumping 1000 watts into the batteries.  Compare this to heating, you most often need the heat at night the most, which is when the sun isn’t out, so its a major drain on your batteries.  To compound the issue of heating, heaters are often more energy intensive than cooling.

The other night I tried an experiment.  I got my house very cold and turned off the AC at midnight (when I usually go to bed).  Outside it was pretty cool, about 65 degrees and about 45% humidity, so not bad.  I left all the windows closed to see how much my body heat would heat up the house and because in the summer, opening the windows doesn’t help even if it is cooler outside because the humidity increase the “feels like” temperature.

As it turns out in just three hours my body heat warmed the loft of my tiny house up to the point that I woke up from being so uncomfortable from the heat.   Around 3:30 am I woke up and it was very hot in my loft.  I checked the time and was surprised how little time it took.  I should note that I’m one that when I fall asleep, I stay asleep all night, even if I get warm, so the fact that I was woken up goes to show how uncomfortable I must have been, because it takes a lot.

I had prepared for this and all I did was crank open my sky light (the highest point in my house) and the loft end window and switched on a fan to draw in cool air.  Within 5 minutes the whole place dropped about 5 degrees and I was back asleep.

So that has been some of my real world experiences with the tiny house, AC and solar.  I know I had always been frustrated by not enough stories on this stuff, so hopefully I can help others.

Some key resources for those wanting more technical stuff

 

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