Tiny House, Tiny Living, The Tiny Life.

Setting Up Your Land For A Tiny House

One thing I’ve realized through my entire journey is that not only do you have to build a house, but there is quite a bit that goes into setting up the land itself.  These things include access, infrastructure, security and utilities.  Each of these categories can be tricky and expensive in their own right, but very necessary for living.

RyansPlace-wKey

General Considerations

You’ll notice that I have a field at the edge of the property which I have two entrances/exits to my gravel pad.  This allows me to bring in the house, unhitch it and then have a place to exit with the truck.  It also allows me to gain access to my storage trailer if I want to move it or take it off the property.  It’s important to consider before you bring your house to the property:

  • How will you enter the property?
  • How will you exit the property once the house is placed?
  • How will you exit with the house if you need to move?
  • Are the curves to tight to make with such a large trailer/house?
  • What direction do you want your front door (back of trailer) to face?

Another thing to consider is parking for your car and visitor’s cars.  I also like to be able to pull right up near the door for move in day and also bringing in groceries.

I would also suggest placing your tiny house in a place with deciduous trees so your house is shaded in the summer and open to the sun in the winter.  Before moving the house to my location, I made sure to go around and inspect all the surrounding trees to see if any needed to be removed because they posed a danger because of rot.  I discovered one tree that was ready to fall any day, so I cut it down before the house was ever there.

Access

The first step to getting the land to the point where you can live on it is simply being able to access it.  This comes in the form of roads, driveways, turnarounds and parking pads.  Before you even think about laying down the road, you must first clear the way, remove trees, level the dirt and make your path to your new home.  You have a couple options: gravel, cement, and asphalt.  Gravel is the most economical, I wouldn’t suggest just dirt, because you are bringing in a very heavy house, it’s likely to get stuck, plus it gets muddy in the rain.

Here is a video of the installation of my road, turnaround and parking pad.  Note I had a much easier time because there used to be an old dirt road in this location, so it was simply a matter of cleaning it up and leveling it out.  The whole process took about 6 hours of hard work.

Infrastructure

Laying the lines, pipes and other key connections is a pretty tricky part because it often requires either backbreaking work or heavy equipment.  When you’re running pipes and lines over any distance you run into issues of drop in voltage and pressure; so you need to take care to size things appropriately and it will dictate where you can actually place your home.  When I first looked at the land, I had wanted to place my house about 300 feet away from it’s current location, but it meant I’d have to run a #3 wire to compensate for the voltage drop as I ran the line to the closest solar exposure, that would have cost an additional $700 in just wire!

For water I am connected to the city water.  The meter and installation cost me $2,200 (city sets price), but that is only from the water main to the closest edge of your property.  You then need to connect it from there to your house, which will cost me an additional $800:  $500 materials, $300 for ditch witch rental, me doing all the labor.

water

For showers I have a 32″x32″ shower stall in my house, but also will be building a larger outdoor shower which I plan to use most of the year, except in the cold months.  Both will feed into the grey water system, but I love outdoor showers and it affords a bit more room in the shower.  My indoor shower is workable, but a little cramped.  I have designed my plumbing system so that I have a hot water line that feed out to my outdoor shower, but it has a ball valve on the inside of the house so I can turn it off to prevent freezing during the winter.

Another aspect of infrastructure is how you are going to handle your waste streams.  For me this breaks down into five categories:

  1. Trash
  2. Recyclables
  3. Compostables
  4. Grey water
  5. Composting toilet waste

For trash and recyclables I have barrels from the city which are picked up at the end of my driveway once a week.  For compostable materials such as food scraps (no meats, fats, or citrus) I handle those with a red wriggler worm bin which I keep in an outdoor bin.  I prefer vermicomposting over regular composting because it much more of an active process, its super easy and if I forget about it, it will continue on without me.  It also breaks down things much faster.  In the warmer months it can handle a few pounds a week, going from scraps to dirt in about 4-6 weeks without me turning.

photoFor grey water I am going to build a small reed bed that takes the already pretty clean water, removes any solids, and cleans it up, then feeds into some irrigation pipes that snakes through the trees.  Its important to note that I’ve spent about 6 months finding biodegradable alternatives to all my detergents (shampoo, hand soap, dish detergent, etc) so the water coming out of this system is pretty good to begin with.

Finally my composting toilet waste is the most difficult to handle because my city doesn’t allow for composting systems.  I am also leasing land so I don’t think its right to do a humanure composting system on the land itself.  If I was I’d follow the Humanure Handbook.  So what I’m doing to meet local code and respect the land owner is bagging the waste every few weeks 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.

Security

I get this question a lot from people and it seems very odd to me, but in terms of security I have a few lines of defense.  First off you need to realize that most criminals are those of opportunity, they don’t want to work hard or spend a lot of time stealing it.  The other thing is I do live in a large city, but the land I live on is tucked away deep in back roads and at the back of 26 acres.  The likely hood of someone finding it is pretty small unless they knew to look there.  With that in mind my tiny house weight 6,500 lbs, which means that only a limited number of trucks out there can actually tow the house; even with a good truck it isn’t easy.

jackswheelsNext is I removed the wheels from the trailer because you need to get them off the ground (tire shock) and if I just jacked them up, the house would be really high off the ground.  So by removing them, I could lower my house about 1.5 feet lower than with the tires.  This makes it a lot easier to get in and out of my house.  The tires are chained up out of sight.  Next I have a agriculture style fence gate at the entrance to my driveway, which I will later put on a automatic opener arm with a lock; right now its just chain locked when I’m not there.  photo-5

There are a few other things I do to keep things safe, but at some point you have to realize that you can’t prevent everything bad that COULD happen and you need to go on with your life.

Utilities

For power I plan to use solar, which I’ll be installing a 1.67 Kw system this fall/winter.  The panels and equipment will be mounted on skids on the ground because I’m only leasing the land, I can’t have anything permanent.   For a system this size you can’t fit it on the roof, plus I want to be able to access the panels easily to clean them.  The Inverter will be a 4,000 watt unit, with a large battery bank.  The system will cost about $15,000 if I install it all myself.

In my house my stove and tankless hot water heater will be powered by propane.  The fridge, my 15 LED puck lights, laptop, cell phone, and large computer screen (to serve also as a TV) are all electricity powered.  The air conditioner/heater will be a mini-split heat-pump unit that can handle both, this runs on electricity.

For internet I will be hooked up to standard high speed cable internet. I will also have my cell phone which has internet.  I considered getting a wireless mobile hotspot, but they all have a data cap of about 5-10 gigs, which if you watch 2-3 movies on Netflix you’ll blow through that limit in about 4 hours and be screwed the rest of the month.  It’s worth noting that the wireless cards that claim “unlimited” are not really unlimited.  If you read the fine print they all have a data cap.  For Verizon, Unlimited is 10 gigs.

I will not have a traditional TV or cable.  I get all my TV shows and Movies from online and in general don’t watch a lot anyway.  For laundry I have a laundry mat a few minutes down the road, but for me I hate doing laundry.  So my splurge item is  that I use a service that comes to my home and picks it up, does the laundry and brings it back.

Bulk Storage

Before I get into this section, I know some of you are thinking, “extra storage! That’s not tiny living!”  That’s fine if you think that, but it isn’t practical for me and I’m designing this for me.  The point of this journey isn’t to be tiny, its to design a life that lets you achieve your own goals.  That’s what I’m doing and I think its a disservice to yourself if you artificially constrain yourself by any preconceived notions.

As I paired down my possessions I realized that there were some things that could fit in my tiny house, but I didn’t want to.  Things like tools, camping gear, bikes, large packs of consumables (TP, paper towel, etc).  It quickly became clear to me that even though I could fit everything in my tiny house, I shouldn’t.  This left me trying to figure out what I should do.  I knew that whatever I choose had to have a one time upfront cost, I wasn’t going to do a rental storage unit or the like.  I also wanted it to be relatively protected from water and bugs.

photo-4

Some people suggested storage under the tiny house or little plastic sheds/cabinets.  Since I am leasing, I couldn’t build something permanent, so I needed to find a storage solution that I could move and take with me.  Initially I thought about one of those sheds you see in your big box hardware store parking lots, but they were either too cheaply made or too expensive.  I instead decided on an enclosed trailer which was about the same cost as one of those sheds.  This give me the flexibility of being able to move it, but also being a great storage space.

Outdoor Spaces

Part of tiny house living is making the decision to not stay locked up in your little house, but it instead forces you to get out more.  Part of this is having great outdoor spaces.  For me that means a fire-pit with some comfy Adirondack chairs, places to walk around in, a grill and garden.

Depending on your climate, outdoor living might look different, but about half the year here is very comfortable to be outside.  Outdoor spaces are key to having parties, guests and just leisure time.  Don’t just design the perfect indoor space, design the perfect outdoor space for you too!

Visibility

In general I think its important to have your tiny house placed where no one can easily see it from the road.  Legal or not, its not prudent to attract a lot of attention.  Make sure the house can’t be seen during all seasons, if you move in during the spring, then during fall you might be able to see the house from the road because the leaves are gone.

Solar Exposure

I talked about this in an earlier section, but thought it deserved it’s own section too.  In terms of solar you want to consider how your house is positioned for solar gain during the seasons.  You also want to consider how close you are to a great solar exposure opening if you want to do solar panels.  Anything beyond 50 feet between your house and your solar panel placement is going to result in a big enough voltage drop that it will need to be addressed.

Proximity To Things

This section is more about how close the land is to other things.  Your land needs to be in a location that is close enough for you to get on with living and all the things that come with that.  This includes a reasonable distance to commute to work, to go out to dinner or lunch, close to a gym, library, and other similar services.  I would also consider where your friends and family are, how close do you want to be to them?

For me I am 30 minutes from family, 15 to friends, the city center, as well as the “hot spots” that I like to hang out and dine. I work from home or wherever I have my laptop and an internet connection.  I often plan out my week to what I’m doing and then choose coffee shops near where I’m already going.  I also have access to a co-working space, which I can hold meetings at and work from if I just want to get out of the house.

 

Your Turn!

  • What other consideration should you make?
  • How do your plans differ?

Tiny House Building Codes

It’s been a while since I did a post about how tiny houses deal with building codes, so today I wanted to share the top 5 myths about building codes, zoning and tiny houses.

Building Code Myths(1)

Myth 1:  I don’t need a permit if it’s under ___ sq/ft.

This is true, typically if you are building something under a certain square footage than you don’t need a permit.  The catch is there is an exception to this is and it’s when you want to dwell/live in it.  The second you place any personal property in that house, it is classified as “dwelwing” and it doesn’t matter if its 10,000 square feet or 10 square feet, you need a permit.

Myth 2: It’s an RV, Mobile Home, Camper.

Again this true… If your home is being built by a certified RV or Mobile Home manufacturer; also important to note, to become a manufacturer it will cost you several thousand dollars, an LLC and an inspection process to ensure you meet all 500+ requirements.  So you can’t just build an tiny and and say “look!  it’s a RV or Mobile Home.”  To top it off once you do become classified as such, you often can only reside in certain zoning areas, which are fast disappearing.   There is an exception to this: if your state has a “home built RV” class, but these are few and far between and more and more campgrounds and trailer parks refuse entry on them.

Myth 3: I can just say I’m “camping”

Somewhat true.  Typically municipalities have limits of how long you can camp.  This is is often 2 days to 30 days in one spot or on one parcel of land.  In the city I live in, you are legally not allowed to camp at all unless FEMA has declared a state of emergency.   In some cases you can “camp” if you move every few days, but the city could also say “you’re not camping, you’re dwelling” and then its curtains.

Myth 4: They can’t stop me!  I’ll do what I want.

In some places you’re right.  It’s often the case that its not that they can’t stop you, but they won’t unless it becomes a big public issue.  In most places they can stop you.  They will come in and condemn you tiny house, which means if you enter it, they’ll arrest you for being in your own home!  They can also fine you, run a bulldozer through your house to destroy it, or deny you utilities like they did to me (read about it here).  All of which they legally can do, have done and you have no recourse for.

Myth 5: It’s on wheels codes/zoning don’t apply.

This is a big myth perpetrated by those who want to make a quick buck of tiny house people.  It is true that having a tiny house on wheels will help things generally because it confuses the bureaucrats, you can move it so easily, etc.  But the truth is that the second you dwell in it, all bets are off and the city can do what they want.

So what can I do?!?

There are two approaches to this:  1) you can beat them at their own game and know how to leverage the codes 2) you can fly under the radar.  Each of these have their pros and cons.  To get a better understanding of these things I have an ebook of how you can work within the system to gain legal status with your tiny house.  I show you the key barriers for tiny house folks, offer possible solutions and give you strategies to beat the system.  I also show you how to fly under the radar, how to live in your tiny house without getting caught.  Both are covered in Cracking The Code: A guide to building codes and zoning for tiny houses.

Cracking-278x350

 

Keepin’ It Tiny

I just can’t hide from tiny houses. They seem to just fall in to my life in random ways. For example, I came home from work the other night and found this lovely house sitting by the entrance to the drive-way. It belongs to a local artist who lived with my friends up the road from my current location.

tiny-houses

A few weeks ago this awesome house rolled in to the parking lot of a contra dance I attended in Southern Vermont. Just another amazing tiny house from North Carolina!

The best tiny house coincidence occurred when I was looking for a placeto live this past spring. I was led to my current tiny life experience through friends and while my ideal was to once again find a tiny space to habitat I wasn’t banking on it. Lo and behold this adorable space was offered to me by lovely people who I am now privileged to call friends as well as neighbors.

photo 5Thus, I now live in a revamped chicken coop! The Coop, as it is adorably referred to, is a 6′ x 8′ space on one of the most beautiful properties I have ever lived on. My friend and neighbor who runs Carpenter Brook Artisans replaced the siding, ripped out the old carpet and re-painted the plaster walls. It is a beautiful space. I have the joy of a shared garden space, I get to enjoy the clucking of their adorable chickens and just a short walk away is an amazing private beach on a gorgeous river. Could it get any better? Believe it or not the answer is yes.

When I lived the tiny life previously in La Casita it was hard to find photo 2community to live in. Just when I thought it was within reach, one thing or another would keep that dream from coming true. Now, without having planned for it, I live by people who enjoy a similar lifestyle and wish to create community in the ways that matter most, such as growing food together, sharing meals, splitting chores and hosting communal gatherings. I am so grateful to have found this tiny home in Vermont and feel so lucky to be living with people who are caring and supportive. It’s an incredible opportunity and for it to have fallen in to my lap the way it did is pretty remarkable. I suppose it just goes to show that I am destined to live a tiny life.

 

Your Turn!

  • How has the tiny life style found you?

Enough With Excuses

I just got reading an inspiring post fromScreen_Shot_2013-05-23_at_4.33.02_PM Laura LaVoie of Life in 120 Square Feet (you should read it to get an idea about this post).  I thought I’d respond to it in a way and maybe expand upon it from my viewpoint.  It basically sums up so much of what I believe when it comes to tiny houses, a career and life.  It is easy to make excuses for not doing something, to follow the path of least resistance, to settle into complacency, but to our own detriment.  Even today I do this, but I am now more cognizant of it and call myself out on it.

The point is when it comes to making drastic changes, whether building a tiny house, making a career change or some other life altering decision, IT IS HARD.  More acculturate, it is REALLY FREAKING HARD and by hard I mean lots of sleepless nights, tons of work, years of making your way to the goal; The saying  “blood, sweat, and tears” only begins to cover a rough approximation of it.

Right before I started building my tiny house I realized that the only thing that was stopping me from building my tiny house was myself.  I had no idea where I’d live in it, I had no idea how to build, I didn’t know how it would all go down, but I went for it.  When I started, I didn’t know about how the building codes and zoning would work, how I’d get utilities, where I was going to park it, but I decided that I needed to move to action now, because otherwise me saying “someday” would turn into never.

recite-3412-388918378-1iym69What I realized about the changes in my life, career and my housing options was that no matter how scary it would be to change these things, the price of doing nothing was too high.  Living in house loaded with debt, working in a job I hate and in a life left uninspired was not worth it.  To make the changes I have made – and am still making – was the only rational option.

The truth is when I started this journey I was unemployed, loaded with debt, didn’t have any money in the bank or any assets.  Since doubling down on me and my life, I own my tiny house, I should be able to clear all my debt in the next year, I have a job I love done on my terms and I have money in the bank.  What I did was nothing special, the concepts and ideas are already out there for free, you just have to stop making excuses and say “I am the priority and worthy of an epic life”.

So today resolve to make you and your life the priority, to make your life epic.  Realize it is a ton of work, it’s scary, it will take years and after laying all the excuses to rest, you will have a life others only dream of.

Your Turn!

  • What did you do today to achieve your dreams?
  • What excuse have you left behind?

Ways You Can Live The Tiny Life Now

Many of you have been following me in my journey to The Tiny Life for a while now.  While I tend to focus on the building and design of tiny houses, what I have come to realize is that even though its fun to talk about the houses and how to build them, it really isn’t about the houses, it’s about the life you lead in them.  In an odd way, its not the house that is so great, its the life that is amazing.

Recently I was thinking about this fact as I was re-reading my book that just released (find it here) and I realized that in many ways you can still live tiny, without a tiny house at all.  So here are some ways you can live The Tiny Life right now.

Learn To Say No

ba7688b4e4a544d65380ef9bc19087a9In this world saying no is almost unheard of.  We often either get pulled into things we really don’t want to do or we say non-committal things like “Let me get back to you” when you hope they never follow up.  One thing I’ve learned is important is when there is something that I am not interested in participating in or doing, I just clearly decline and make no apologies for it.  Be willing to say no, you don’t have to be rude, but be clear, “Honestly, I’m just not interested in it” or “I don’t have the time to do a good job with this, so I’ll have to pass, thanks.”

Proactively Remove Negative Influences And Sources Of Stress

I have had two people that really shaped this rule for me in my life:  I once worked with a person who always had some sort of drama in their life, no matter how good things were, there was always some catastrophe happening.  The second one was when I found myself in a situation where I had to regularly interact with someone who frankly was just a really terrible human being; they were manipulative, easily moved to violence, and had a lot of self destructive behaviors that they inflicted on others.

It taught me a valuable lesson, there are people or situations that you must actively work to remove yourself from.  If they cause stress, unhappiness, or cause drama in your life, you need to get them out of your life.  This goes for friends too.  I will only put in effort into relationships that I feel the other person equally values me.  There have been times where I have had friends who were flaky, always late, or didn’t ever develop into a deeper platonic relationship that I just let go and let them peter out.

Thin Your Email In Box

inbox_zeroOne thing I have learned with running this website is how to handle a lot of email effectively.  I have developed a few rules that I abide by to make it easier.  I realized that I don’t want to be efficient with email, but instead I have worked hard to reduce the email volume, which I must be efficient in handling.  Spending an hour to help setup a system where people can find their answer on their own, has come back 100 fold.  Think of how you could do the same in your life or situation, just adapt it.

  1. Realize your email inbox is a convenient way for other people to organize their agenda.
  2. Always think about how you can reduce the volume of emails you get.
  3. Always to clearly define the next needed action, otherwise close the loop on that email.
  4. If they don’t ask a question, it isn’t actionable or are not clear in message, don’t respond.
  5. Set up email filters for things that you get often or as a way to segment different areas of your life.
  6. If its a newsletter that I find myself not reading regularly, I unsubscribe right away. I can always add myself back.
  7. If they ask for something I often follow up with a request to do a small task (want to talk? I ask for an agenda) this weeds out people

Define You Career By The Life You Want To Lead, Not The Other Way Around

Your job/career should support and accommodate the life you want to lead, not the other way around.  To do this you must first know what life you want.  It is easy to fall in the trap of letting your career dictate the life you lead (work schedules, vacations, soul crushing activities),

I’ve been there myself and there are times where you just need a job to pay the bills.  So if you are in a tight spot, get a income source, but once you have gained that stabilizing income, you must then quickly move to a more proactive place where you either morph your job to be what you need or start looking for / building your perfect job that accommodates your life.

I once took a job that I knew I would hate, but I realized that it would buy me just enough time (3-6 months) of income to allow me to find the job that I really wanted.  It meant that I could walk away from offers that weren’t great and hold out for a better one, at that point I really didn’t have anything to lose.

The Pareto Principle

This is more commonly known as the 80/20 rule which states that 80% of the outcome or effect comes from 20% of the cause.  For example, 80% of the happiness comes from 20% of the people in your life, because they are the most important people to you.  On the flip side, 20% of your time spent at work actually yields 80% of your income.

The trick with this rule is to identify that 20% that causes the 80% and if its good, focus on it; if it is bad, eliminate it.   So in the instance of something good, say relationships, spend 80% of your time on the top 20% of your relationships.  Conversely, if 80% of customers complaints at work come from 20% of your customers, break it off with them.

Learn To Slow Down, But Be Intentional

excuseI’ve learned over the past two years that I can be far more productive if I am intentional.  I have had so many people in my professional life say to me that I always seem laid back, but get a ton done.  The truth is I do a lot less work then them, but when I do work, it is calculated.  I actively work to minimize what is on my plate instead of working longer hours to get an overloaded to do list done.  I think about what I can do that is most effective and then how I can achieve it most efficiently.  Finally anything I do more than a few times, I look for ways to automate.

So when it comes time for me to do something, I have the time to do it correctly, I have worked out the best way to do it, and then in many cases I have automated it so I don’t have to worry about it at all.

 

So these are just some of the ways you can start living The Tiny Life now, even if you don’t live in a tiny house just yet.

 

Your Turn!

  • What things have you done or do to live The Tiny Life?

 

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