Tiny House, Tiny Living, The Tiny Life.

The Search For New Land – Part 4

This is the fourth part of a series, check out part 1, part 2, and part 3 if you’re new to the blog.

Alright I have some pretty bad news, but first let me go back to where I left off in part three.

So I hired my electrician and he put in a plan for the permit, the city had a few questions, but a quick phone call later they approved the permit.  So with a permit in hand the the city’s blessing I had my electrician install the power box.  The box was installed and we notified the city that it was ready for inspections.  The inspector came out and said we needed to push the stranded cable through the main lug another inch because there was some damage to one of the strands, so we did that, quick fix.  He came out again and said everything looked good, but the inspector’s boss wanted me to call him first.

photo-2So I called the number and the man told me that he was going to rescind the permit because they had made a mistake.  The stated reason was that if I just had power out there on this empty land, someone could mess with it.  More specifically he said, and these were his words, not mine: “Junkies will break in to steal the copper and kill themselves.”  I was beyond angry that they messed up and I now had to pay the electrician even though I couldn’t get power and floored he’d say an excuse like that in those words.  So after talking with them, my electrician and the power company, the three people involved called me back and said “we figured out a solution”… I was ecstatic!  ” and it’s only going to cost you about $10,000″…  I was devastated!

I am not going to spend $10,000 for a power pole to be installed, only for them to then turn around and charge me every month.  Its just not in the cards, particularly because I’m only leasing the land.  So plan C…

Plan C was to get a solar power system that would run my house.  Not a big deal right?

Now many people would just swing by Harbor freight and pick up a cheap solar panel kits, but those honestly are woefully underpowered.  You can basically run a cell phone and laptop off that, maybe a fan for a few hours too.  In my house I have the following items that use power:

  • Mini Fridge – 100 watts
  • Laptop – 50 watts
  • cell phone – 5 watts
  • LED lights – 100 watts total
  • Mini Split HVAC – 500 watts on low, 700 watts on high

So if you times those watts by the hours of use, add it all up, you get 11,530 watt/hours.  This translates to a pretty big system, I got a few quotes and they seem to range between $14,000 and $18,000.  The system is so expensive because of the battery bank, I was looking at about $8,000 just in batteries and cable interconnects.  Again, just not in the cards.  What is crazy is that most of the system at that size is just for the HVAC, which currently is the smallest mini split on the market, but also the most efficient on the market at 27.8 SEER rating; compared to a standard AC unit today, most are around 13 SEER.

Before people start emailing me and commenting.  I know I could live without AC, I could use a swamp cooler, I could use a cooler with ice and a fan.  Sure I could, but I don’t want to and that’s my choice. I live in NC and when its 95 and ridiculously humid, I want AC on those days.  I’m also thinking about next year “summer-ing” somewhere colder, as in, finding a place to rent up north during the summer months.

So now to plan D….  Without the HVAC I am looking at a system around $6,000-$8,000 which is a whole lot of money, but its more manageable… Relativity speaking.  I figured that I can start with this smaller system, use my generator on the really hot days to run my AC; I already own a Honda EB2000i (almost identical to the popular EU2000i, this just has a pure sine inverter and GFCI).  Running the generator with the load of my AC unit via a drop cord, I used a Kill-a-watt meter to determine it would run at a quarter load or less on the “eco-mode” and could run 24 hrs on a little over 1 gallon of gas.  So the arrangement is not ideal, but I could at least have power, use fans most of the time and those days that I just want to enjoy the pure bliss of a AC cooled house, it would only cost me about $4 a day.

The Honda EB2000i is also ridiculously quite.  At a quarter load at about 200′ line of sight you almost can’t hear it. If I was inside my house I doubt I could hear it 50 feet away, if the AC was running, it could be at my front door and I wouldn’t hear it.  In this approach I’ve also opted to be in a different place on the property, where I am 100% shaded during the entire day, I’ve found this makes the heat much better, so all you have to deal with is the humidity and a little cooling around the hottest part of the day.

So that is where I am now.  Even though the city had said yes, then changed their minds, I still owe the electrician $800 and have nothing to show for it.  The lesson I’ve learned is if you have land or going to buy land, first figure out power and water.  If you’re buying the land, I’d make an offer contingent on the ability to get both; in fact I’d tell the seller: “I’ll buy it, if you get the power and water running before the sale.  If you can’t I walk away”

 

30 Comments
  1. Fantastic advice to have learned. Sorry you are out all that money but thank you educating the public on what you learned the hard way.

  2. I’m sorry to hear of all these challenges! I hope your plan for part solar, part generator works out well so you can start to enjoy your tiny home!

  3. Gee, and people wonder why we try to avoid the building department. Seems like you ought to have some recourse, maybe bring it up to a city councilmember?

    My folks used to live in NC, I’m usually the “don’t be a wuss, you don’t need A/C” guy, but out there the heat and humidity is no joke. Hope you find the right answer.

  4. I HATE that they did that to you! I so agree with you about needing your AC. I live here in Charlotte too and it is absolutely a MUST have. It gets wayyyy to hot and humid just like you said. I hope it all works out for you.

  5. What is the $10,000 for?

    I can buy a power pole, all wired with a meter socket and have it installed for around $600.

    Try this. Ask the power company if they will provide power overhead to your pole. If there is an issue with trees, then just set the pole so it is accessible, and run underground to your site. That way the wire belongs to you, not them. You may only 50 amps so the wire cost will be less vs running a 200 amp feed.

    Also consider presenting the county with your electricians bill.

    • Hey E,

      Yes I had an electrician buy the materials and install it for $700 plus $100 for the permit stuff. The $10,000 was what the power company was going to charge to connect the grid to the box. They said in my location they couldn’t do overhead line, so it had to be underground.

      • The PC objected to having their wire run to your meter — get stolen etc.

        They were going to connect you for a nominal fee.

        My thought was to move your meter to your front property line where the PC could connect via overhead or underground.

        You own the wire past the meter, and the liability, so the PC should have no say so. As long as you have the installation inspected, you should be OK.

        Sounds like the PC is giving you the run around. I’m guessing they are a public utility and have to make a reasonable effort to supply power.

        • Yeah the city will not issue a permit for that. My box was right at the edge of the property, mere feet from an active power pole. Didn’t matter one bit because if the city won’t issue a permit, they won’t pass it as inspection and the power company will not connect without a passed inspection sticker on the box.

  6. Oh, I believe it. I live in Olympia, which is pretty liberal. Still, to get electrical power on an undeveloped lot, you either have to file building plans… or get an agricultural pole. You need to be on a believably agricultural site to pull this off… and they may check later.

    But really, power is nothing compared to the expense of a septic system design and permit! Yeouch! I maintain an older (1980’s) 3 bdrm approved septic… but when it’s ticket comes up (probably when I decide to build anything else on this farm), I’ll be in for $12-20k! Ugh.

  7. Sometimes it seems like officialdom is just there to make life miserable. They can be so inflexible. I was lucky to get a 30 amp temporary trailer service pole at my place, ended up being almost $2,000 by the time the extra pole and all the bits and bobs were installed. It can be upgraded to regular house service easily if needed later for a reasonable fee. Septic is going to be a real PITA at around $25,000 (no road, steep hillside, lots of trees).

    In the place I had about 8 years ago I was quoted a minimum of $4,000 for power because they had to put in three poles to bring power down from the “nearest” road and that was only if the other two neighbours paid $44,000 each, otherwise I’d be stuck with the whole thing. If the neighbours later decided to hook up to power I’d get some kind of rebate. I thought it was possible to put in just one pole to go from another neighbour’s lot along a power right of way from another direction. They wouldn’t do that route because the line would cross about 3 feet of the most remote part of the neighbour’s lot and they’re not allowed to do that. Even with the neighbour’s permission, which I had.

    • Supposed to be $4,000 each, not $44,000 each. Keyboard sticks sometimes.

  8. Would a 6 foot or higher fence enclosing the electrical box be allowed to solve the issue of someone tampering with it? It could have a padlocked gate to keep anyone out. A wood one would keep it hidden from sight. This definitely would be more inexpensive than buying solar before you have too.

    • Great idea, esp. since it could be used further after the temp. svc. pole is removed from service & location. Make the enclosure 4 future use Mr. Mitchell.

      “Would a 6 foot or higher fence enclosing the electrical box be allowed to solve the issue of someone tampering with it? It could have a padlocked gate to keep anyone out” <= A chain-link fence. Yes, a deterrent only unless razor wire placed on top(?).

      "A wood one would keep it hidden from sight" <= But a wood one is easily broken thru; chain link is absolute tho not hidden.

      dCb

  9. Your power load is light enough to spare yourself the agony of dealing with the bureaucrats.

    I would look at the cost of putting in a set of golf cart batteries, a decent true sine wave inverter / charger, and running it off the generator for now to charge the batteries. Some of those inverter / chargers will even start your generator automatically if it’s compatible.

    You can always add solar and wind later.

    Your calculated load is less than 100w, but keep in mind that things like your fridge and your mini-split can use up to 10 times thier normal power briefly during startup. Size your surge capacity to handle this.

    Sure, you end up being a slave to fossil fuel for a while, but you can add solar and wind in stages, as your finances permit as opposed to forking over a huge lump sum to the PC.

    Charging batteries with the generator as opposed to running it by itself is a lot cheaper too. I’ve seen this firsthand. A local oil dealer supplied fuel for a diesel generator for an off grid home. The guy installed a battery bank and an inverter / charger. He cut his fuel consumption in less than half without adding wind or solar. It’s inefficient to run the generator for light loads.

    • Mr. Mark:
      X-lent idea / comment / method. Allows 4 Mr. Mitchell’s future “growth” to B off-grid. BUT, state gov’ts (FL, ?) R disallowing off-grid usage by STILL CHARGING 4 utilities (WHAT?? So much 4 the environment)!

      • So who actually sends a bill for utilities if you decide not to use them? The power company certainly cant bill for services not provided. That’s just outrageous. Up here in Miane, if they tried that it wouldn’t work very well and people wouldn’t stand for it.

        When I built my house in Maine in 85, I had to fight with both the power company and the public utilities commission to get them to run the power 2000 ft down the street to hook me up. Central Maine Power didn’t want to do it and when they were forced to by the PUC, they charged me for all the wire and the installation. I paid on that for 5 years as a “line extension charge”. Now when someone else builds in between, they get to hook onto the new primary that I bought, for free.

        A lot of people go off grid here just so they don’t have to deal with this scenario. The guy I spoke about with the diesel generator and the battery bank would have had to run (and pay for) a mile of wire. He did the math and decided that it was cheaper to go off grid and wait for someone else to run power down his road.

        He quickly learned that running his generator for light loads was horribly expensive, so he put in batteries and an inverter. He used the generator to charge his batteries and for heavy loads like welding in his garage.

        • Mark:
          Maybe U should charge / sue the intervening property owners to recoup ur $$’s U spent on the 2,000 ft. “line extension charge”. After all, it seems it’s urs anyway. U paid 4 it. Break down the number of properties / lots that can use the extension charging the property owners ‘equally’.

          My reasoning is analogous to paving / curbing a street / road. Ur only charged 4 the linear footage fronting the street / road. dCb

  10. I meant to say that your calculated load is ledd than 1000w, not 100w…
    Typo…

  11. I’d have a chat with my council member and maybe the mayor about the money you spent based on the permit guy’s bad advice. I think they can get you connected for a lot less than the $10,000 he quoted you.

  12. Any new updates on a new property? I’m counting on you to succeed because we live in the same town and I want to build a tiny house as well.

  13. Wow, what a headache. Love your persistence man, keep at it. You are inspiring a lot of people! :-)

  14. I’m sorry to hear you’re having such a problem finding a power source! We’ve decided to go with solar4rvs.com.au, they are an australian company but they’re absolutely lovely so if you wanted to talk to them about other options that may be available to you, I’m sure they would love to chat. Good luck!

  15. Hello! This post could not be written any better! Reading this post
    reminds me of my good old room mate! He always kept chatting
    about this. I will forward this article to him. Fairly
    certain he will have a good read. Thank you for sharing!

  16. Your experience can be very instructive,but unlike others who have commented I am not sure that I understand the nature of the problem.

    The meter installed by the power company can only be supplied by one of two methods – overhead or underground. In any event all meters are located at eye level so it is impossible to have power without ground level access. So how does a pole make a difference?

    What was your original plan? Put a meter at the property edge and run a trench with power to your House? ????

    Hopefully y

  17. PS Hopefully your not talking about Ashville, an area I am considering for a similar endeavor.

  18. Alex,it’s been awhile and i was wondering how you have made out with the electrical problems? We all are watching and wondering ? can you gi9ve us an update?? thanks

  19. give sticking keys sorry

  20. I’ve been thinking about going the Tiny House route for about a year now and was glad to find this post which brings up many of the hurdles one may run into while taking on such an endeavor. I have thought about many of these hurdles myself but could never really find clear cut answers on how to solve them. It seems I’m not only one who has these types of questions.

    I’m wondering if maybe the reason why the power company and inspector are playing hardball is because they realized you may be trying to pull the wool over their eyes in regards to your planned usage of the property?

    As I read thru these articles I saw mention of needing to come up with “stories” of why you needed power on the property. The first thing that popped into my head after reading that was “Why would you do that?”. I’m sure I am just missing the point of why one would want to play around with the legal aspects of the ownership of their home and where it resides. In my mind, playing legal games with your home seems like a foolish choice.

    The last thing I would think anyone would want to deal with is being forced to leave or abandon their plans or home after they spent all that time, money and effort to get settled in only to turn around and have to leave because some county inspector with an unlimited legal budget for lawyers decides to stop by one day out of the blue and crap all over your party.

    I hope you get things worked out and thanks for writing on this topic

  21. I am an old woman who makes less than $1,000. Per mo. I am hoping to find a tiny house comunity. My house is falling apart and I can only sell the land. It is inside city limits and all the rules are killing me. The people who build sheds are selling cabins.

    Do you have any ideas?

    Thank you for your attention

    Wind

  22. Hi, I am soo ready to build one of these tiny homes, but u r honestly scaring me with all these issues. I need to be in town as I dont drive after dark, health issues etc. I plan on putting my tiny home on a foundation. Does putting it on a foundation change any of these issues? So looking forward for updates.

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