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?
26 Comments
  1. This is such great info. Thank you for all your work. Would it rude to as how much is a reasonable price to pay to lease land? I currently live I a very rustic moblie home park and pay $ 400.00 per month for my space. How much more can I expect to pay. I would love to get out of the park.

    Keep up the good work!

  2. Thanks for this, Ryan. I fully support what you are doing for yourself and how thoughtfully you approach it. May you have many happy years in YOUR cozy place.

  3. That is a very well thought out plan. I’m amazed at how much time and money you have put into the prep for the land. I hope you have a long-term lease. : )

  4. Great advice! Especially for those of us that are in the planning stages. I am not going with a moveable tiny home but instead either an arched cabin or concrete block home. I am curious about the composting toilets and how to dispose of the waste. I realize you say you are leasing but if an individual owned their land, what do you feel is the best to care for this situation?

    Thanks for your article!

    Stephanie

  5. This is truly one of the best articles I have read on this site. Thank you for sharing – your ability to plan and see the ‘big picture’ will give others in the thinking about or planning stages a huge leg up toward success! Good luck to you – enjoy YOUR space!

  6. Nice article Ryan thanks! Hey are you ever going to review your HW heater? You got the RV500?

  7. Ryan, this is a very thorough and well-written piece. I’m sitting here trying to think of anything big to add to the list, but the only thing I’ve come up with so far is a comprehensive site analysis. This of course doesn’t apply to everyone, as you don’t always have much of a choice as to positioning your home. I’ve tried to find a good website that explains what I’m talking about:

    http://sustainabilityworkshop.autodesk.com/buildings/climate-site-analysis

    http://dnr.louisiana.gov/assets/TAD/education/ECEP/drafting/b/b.htm

    If you do have options, the site analysis (it’s a DIY thing, you don’t hire someone, so no expense) will make your house placement specific to your immediate area, so you can take advantage of winds, solar, views, etc.

    This is really something that is best used if you have the property but haven’t yet built your house, but can help anyone.

    Also! “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.”
    I so agree! I have repeatedly put out there that owning a specific number of possessions won’t work for everyone, and simply isn’t reasonable. It’s great if you want to do that, but I don’t think it’s the Holy Grail of Tiny Home living.

    Ok, this comment is getting too long, so I’ll stop now. :)
    Parker

  8. Wow, such a high-impact prep. Bulldozer and truck full of gravel? Why do you need a 4,000 Watt inverter? Why do you need a heat exchnger. To each their own, but this is not how i do it. I have a 240 watt panel and a single battery, and i also like to use candles. I use a little wood stove in the winter. When it’s hot i open a window and go to the pond for a dip. It’s ok, you be you and i be me.

    • Sage, It simply wasn’t possible to access the land without doing so and what we did was kept to a minimum. All in all only one tree over 2 inches had to come out and it was a pretty small tree. To move in a 6,500 lb house onto the land wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. A 4,000 watt inverter allows for the peak load from the lock out amperage I need to accommodate, most of the time its way overkill, but when you have a motor ramp up, it uses 2-3 times its amperage compared to its running draw.

      As for when it’s hot. I know from seeing a video about your tiny house you live in the Boston area and if I lived there too I wouldn’t need one either. Here in North Carolina not only is about 10-15 degrees hotter on average than Boston, but the real killer is the humidity, which we often are almost double your humidity. Last week I was working on my tiny house, it was 2 AM, it was 85 degrees and 90% humidity, again that was after the sun had been down for 8 hours. It’s just not practical and using solar, beyond the manufacturing impacts (which you can’t get away from), there aren’t any impacts.

  9. A very good explanation of why acquiring a tiny house and “just parking it somewhere” needs a bit more thought. As Thoreau said “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”

    • Alice H,

      Hi, I am just wondering how it’s going for you and having a Tiny Home of your own…I’ve seen your name around and about in comments for quite a while. :) I’m always looking for more folk who are doing this!
      Oh, and great quote ~ I didn’t know the whole phrase before.
      Parker

      • Unfortunately, due to family obligations I’m only able to spend about 1/4 of my time at my tiny shackteau these days. The rest of the time is spent in a 300 sq ft basement apartment in a house shared with family. I’m working away on my place bit by bit, finally built my own stairs down from the road so I don’t need to use the neighbour’s driveway any more. Made little improvements inside the Boler trailer, including solving the condensation under the mattress problem that was driving me bonkers. I’ve almost got enough money saved, should be able to start building a weather tight shell for a 9×18 caravan style tiny home in January. The Boler will be moved over a bit and become a writing retreat for a friend.

        My obligations are likely to extend for another couple of years, probably as long as it will take to finish off my caravan, then I’ll be able to full time at last.

        • So, you’re just plugging along, living life. That’s great. :) I can’t wait for you to get your caravan going ~ that’s a nice footprint, and the additional width makes all the difference in the world.
          Good summer to you,
          Parker

  10. Just thinking about your black water disposal idea. I own land so this is not an issue for me but there is a video by a woman in Oakland that uses plastic barrels to compost her waste, since she is within city limits.
    I thought that this was a creative way to compost! Check it out on youtube– not sure exactly her video but I think if you type in humanure in barrels you might access it.
    Within a year she had useable compost.
    Best to you
    Corina

  11. Wow, thanks for the great tips, everybody! Hearing how many ways there are of setting up for a tiny house and how much of it has DIY options just brought our plan a lot closer! It was really fun reading your itemized list, kind of brings it all to life!

    We live in Riverside County, California and have fairly restrictive regulations that constrain “tiny living” – but that said the letter of the law is there for us to use, too. Staying legal is the best (only?) way to keep from being chased off of your own land.

  12. Ryan, thanks so much for sharing your info…it saves us a lot of mistakes! Can you write more about your grey water system and a review on the green soaps you found to use?
    Thank you!

    • I will do a post on that soon. I’m only beginning to plan it out.

  13. Hi Ryan!

    I realized I haven’t seen a post from you in quit a while when I got your mailing list entry for this post. Guess my feed reader had an issue. It’s great to see how far you’ve come.

    I think the storage trailer was a great idea given you constraints. The heat pump is really the best choice to heat with electricity if you can. Let us know how well it works over this winter. Best of luck!

    As a PS, thanks for doing the THC in Portland next rear, makes it really easy for me!

  14. Oooh, a conference in Portland? That’s great! I will have to try to save up to attend! I’m up north from there, but it’s only a half-day car drive…not big deal.

    I too, wasn’t receiving the blog updates, which explains why it didn’t look like I was using my email notifications. Am now, though, yay. :)

    Ryan, I have an idea about working safely that I’d like to share with you, would you mind emailing me so we can chat?

    Thanks!
    Parker

  15. Thanks for a well written post. So many things I hadn’t considered!

  16. Excellent article and very well written. Still looking for property for my tiny house, but the plan grows a little every time I look at another one! At least I know what I don’t want and that narrows the search for just the right place for me. My tiny house will be permanently set on a concrete slab, no more moving. The older I get the more sedentary I get, and I can’t wait to retire to my little corner of the woods.
    Journey Well!

  17. If you don’t mind me asking, why would you put so much money and work into someone elses land? That was like $10,000 worth of improvements to the property that you can’t take with you. Are you doing lease to purchase? Is the land owner reimbursing you for the improvements or taking it off the rent?

    For people who do not have land of their own, I was just wondering if leasing would be a worthwhile option for them.

    Thanks

  18. Another consideration is your proximity to emergency services, for those with health problems. You’ll want to be within a half hour to forty five minutes of fire, paramedics,police,and hospital. My implants gives me a few extra minutes, but as much as I love the solitary rural life, I’m not ready to push it too far. To really enjoy the experience, it’s really good to have a garden, and maybe a few chickens, so that even outside, you can feel productive. It’s a great experience.

  19. Ryan, I am moving to NC within the next 12 months and am curious if you have any info on rv regs or housing authority regs as they pertain to tiny homes? I can’t find any specifics. I will be living in Madison County on 2 acres zoned RA.

  20. Agree with Jonnie above. Unless you plan to die without fanfare, a big consideration is access to medical care. I went through this with my mom, who was remote and had alzheimer’s. It taught me and my husband to plan our locations with this in mind.

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