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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?

The Search For New Land – Part 3

First you should know this is a continuation of previous post: The Search For Land Part 1 and Part 2. As many of you know it can be tricky to find land and my experience was very similar.  After you’ve read those posts this post will make more sense.

So where I am at today.  The house is nearing the home stretch and I am frantically trying to finish it because the lease on apartment ends next week!  The trick to all of this has been getting a lease on the land.  Then land owner and I struck a deal where I pay $1.00 a month (yes a dollar) and I help him out with some website stuff every now and then.  The land owner also wanted to be sure his liability insurance would cover me being on the property and after them going back and forth for a long while, they had to tweak some things.  The land owner’s insurance went up about $300 and he asked that I pay that amount since it was an incurred cost on my behalf, which was totally fair.  He also asked that I have liability insurance, so I picked up a $2,000,000 policy for $425 a year.  So my insurance total was $725 a year, but my rent was only $12 a year.

Next up is was securing water, power and building a road.  This is where I am now.

Water

This has proven to be the most expensive part of the whole thing.  A lot of people want to collect rain water off their roofs for water, but I crunched the numbers on my tiny house.  A typical tiny house’s roof is 8 feet wide and 20 feet long.  That is 160 square feet; for every inch of rain on a square foot you’ll get .6 gallons of water.   So for my house that is 96 gallons of water per inch of rain, in my area after some googling I found that my area gets about 43 inches of rain per 1511479_762555291518_720276449591449371_oyear.  So the math works out to be that I would get 4,128 gallons of water a year off my roof.  I quickly realized that this wasn’t practical for me because even if I had a 1 gallon per minute shower head, assuming a 15 minute shower, that’s 5,475 a year, which doesn’t include cooking, cleaning, drinking, etc.  The math didn’t add up.

Since I was leasing the land, it didn’t make sense to put in a well (would cost me about $10,000) so I decided to tie in with the city water system.  The water main from the city also happened to be running right along the property line, so it couldn’t be more ideal.  So I went in and filled out the paperwork for the city and they gave me my total bill and I was shocked!  For them to install a meter, I had to pay the city, $2,231!!!  What’s worse was it was the city, so they set the price and you have to go to them.  So I had to pay over $2,200 just for them to install a meter, so they could use it to charge me for the water I used!  Once the meter is in, I still have to get it to my house, because for $2,200 they only bring it to the property line.

Then on top of that they told me it would take 2 months to install; this was a problem because I needed to move in a few weeks (at that time) and I couldn’t apply for the water until I had the lease, which I had only gotten the day before when I applied.  The end result is I’ll be living without water for a few weeks, I plan to get a gym membership and have a water jug service come during this time.

 

Power

Next up is electricity.  Where I am at, the property is densely wooded so solar isn’t an option as of now, but I am looking into it for the future.  I also talked with the power company and an electrician and to get the power setup on the lot was going to be about $800 plus 9 cents a KW which wasn’t too bad considering how little power I’ll be using.  Solar is something I do want to do, but I figured right now it isn’t possible and then I also wanted to track my power usage in the tiny house for a year or so in order to size my solar panel system in the future correctly.

The process has gone like this:  Contact power company, they came out and said where they could bring in a line.  I contacted an electrician to setup the box.  The box will be inspected.  The power company checks the inspection and connects the service.  A few other random details: Installation is a simple affair, takes an hour or so when they get scheduled.  Inspection in my area is between 24-72 hours barring any complications. The power company now only will do a 200 amp service (which isn’t an issue, actually a plus).  The power company said they’d do the first 200 feet for free if I had service for a year, after 200 feet it gets really really expensive.

Road Access

Roads are something that a lot of people don’t think about.  Also note that these price can vary in different areas and I don’t have anyone I know who has equipment or personal connections, so I’ll be paying for it all.  I have only got quotes at this point, but its looking like it will cost me about $500 for labor/bobcat and then about $300-$500 in materials (geo-textile fabric, gravel, etc.).  I thought about trying my hand with a rental bobcat, which honestly would be a lot of fun to drive, but when I got the price for the rental, deliver, fees, taxes etc. it was going to be about $800 to rent a bobcat in my area.  In my area you can hire a bobcat driver and his rig for about $60 an hour which includes him showing up with his machine, the gas, and him running it.  So it was actually cheaper for me to pay someone to do it, plus they’ll do a better job than I would since I’ve never used a bobcat before.

Sequencing of things

Another big thing I’ve run into was how things had to go down.  I couldn’t start anything until I had my lease, which took much longer than anticipated, but I got a formal lease and it worked out.  Once I had that I could put in for the power and water.  I wanted to have all those things done before I ever put in the road, because they are both underground lines, so I would have to dig up my road to install them.  I also wanted to have the water and power installed and inspected, then give myself at least a few weeks so that if an inspector was curious about what was going on and decided to swing by later on, he/she wouldn’t see anything because I built in a cooling off period.  At that point I’d install the road and then move the house out there.  The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray as they say.  I’m going to try to do this the best I can still, but its going to have to happen in a shorter time.

Total Costs

I think this should be a real wake up call for a lot of people who think that the cost of a tiny house stops at the tiny house.  Some lots will have these things already which is something you should try to get.  These are my real world numbers and while they will vary for you in your area and if you have connections that will save you money that will help, but at the end of the day you’ll have to deal with the city and the power company and they hold a monopoly, setting the prices that you can’t get around.

Insurance: $725 a year
Rent: $12 a year
Electricity connection: $800
Water connection: $2,231
Road: $1,000
____________________________
Total: $4,768

Tiny Tack House

Science Friday did an awesome video about Christopher and Malissa Tack and their tiny house.  What I really like about this video is that they show a lot of the details of the power, water, and greywater.  It was a great to see some of the house, how they live and some of the things not often covered elsewhere.

Malissa and Christopher are coming to the Tiny House Conference.  Christopher will be our photographer and Malissa will be presenting about organizing small spaces in a tiny house.  Check out the video and see how amazing their tiny home is.  Meet them and many others at the Tiny House Conference; more info here

Photos courtesy of Christopher Tack tackphoto.com

Tiny_Tack_House

 

My Window Saga

So it has been a long time since I’ve updated you all on my tiny house because of what I am dubbing “The Great Window Saga”.  It all started last spring when I made the decision to widen the door from my existing plans.   The door of the Fencl is only 22 inches wide and after I framed it, I realized that I couldn’t walk straight through my door, because – after measuring – my shoulders are 27 inches across.  So doing that math I knew it didn’t add up.  So I re-engineered the whole front wall.

1

I had designed this to widen the door, but I was still able to use the three windows my plans recommends in the front bay.  Everything was good and I wouldn’t have changed a thing about that.  Fast forward to installing the windows.  The plans recommended to have 3 window sashes that you can integrate together by making your own window frame.  So I thought about it a long time and came up with the best way to do this.  I then fabricated all the wooden pieces I’d need to make the frame and got assembling.  photo

I decided at that point that I wanted to have my windows at this point be able to open, because I wanted the air circulation and its also the area that I’m going to be looking out the most as it is my desk space.

sdfsd What I ended up with was a double casement window that matched the rest of the windows.  This window opens up really wide so I can let a ton of air in if I want and it also looks really nice because it will be the window I look out most as it is where my desk will be.  So I bit the bullet, ordered it and waited.

downloadHere’s where the real saga began.  Since it was a custom ordered window, it took 4 weeks to get in.  The window finally came in – yeah! – then I realized something…. They had made the window the wrong size!  So we reordered it.  A month later the window came in – yeah! –   and at the store I asked to inspect it before I signed for it.   We’ll I’m glad I did because they sent the window with the wrong grill pattern!  So we reordered it, waited a month, the next new window came in – yeah! – oh wait… what’s that a crack?  Is that corner bashed in?  yup!  So we reordered it again!!!!  Wait a month!

Now at this point what I decided to do was because the issue was with the casement, not the actual frame, they told me I could install it and they would come out and replace just the casement/sash part when it gets in.  So that’s where I am now.

All in all this one window has held me up 4 months!  Which meant I had to extend my rent 4 times!!!  All of which culminated into the worlds most expensive tiny house window and killed my timeline.  Since I didn’t have the window in, I couldn’t finish the siding, which meant that I couldn’t really start doing interior finish work.   Now I am finally back at work on the tiny house after this saga.

I’ll post more photos when I get a chance.

House Boat

So found this gem the other night, struck a certain cord with me so I thought I’d share.  It shows their house boat a bit, but also the guys are not only really funny, but can play some killer bluegrass!

Some of you have seen this cabin on the water, but its really amazing.  They rent this shore for pretty cheap in BC Canada.  Its very beautiful county, I’d love to just spend a month with some books and my camera.  Here is the description from Trendir.com

Canada’s beautiful British Columbia is home to majestic mountains, endless forest and wonderful lakes – a nature-lovers paradise indeed. So the opportunity to incorporate sustainable housing into these surroundings has led to the awesome innovation of the floating house. Gently bobbing atop Powell Lake in Coastal B.C. is the Lutz’s own floating cabin, which they’ve happily made their retirement home. The wonderfully rustic cabin sits on a 40-by-40-ft. cedar float. The cozy 20-by-21-ft. water-top retreat boasts a main floor with two bedrooms, a kitchen, and dining and living areas. Upstairs, a spacious loft houses the master bedroom. In addition to the main float, a series of smaller floats accommodate a boat dock, a floating woodshed, and a floating vegetable garden. In order to help keep these surroundings beautiful, the home’s power comes via off-the-grid sources – solar and wind power, and propane for cooking, refrigeration and additional lights.

cabin far

cabin far

If you can float a house, why not float a garden!

If you can float a house, why not float a garden!

More photos, click link below to see it all!

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