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How to Run Air Conditioning On Solar Power

How to Run Air Conditioning On Solar Power

Today I wanted to share information about running air conditioning on solar power.

When I was first planning to move into my tiny house, considering the possibility of running a solar powered air conditioner and cooling system weighed heavily on my mind. After all, living in a humid state, I’ll tell you, I’m one who can’t tolerate the heat. This is especially true, coming from New Hampshire—I’m a cold weather guy and here in North Carolina, it gets hot! An AC unit is critical, even if you’re running on solar power.

How to Run Air Conditioning On Solar Power

Well, Charlotte’s heat really came full force this week.  I know for many their climate doesn’t get as humid as it does here, so there are other options besides running a house air conditioner. Unfortunately, here, it’s necessary.  Without AC I can’t really sleep, even using a fan to passively cool the house.

Right now, the humidity is still tolerable, but it’s HOT and the humidity is coming soon.  It has been in the high 80’s and low 90’s outside, which made my house in the mid 90’s inside.

So, what are the tiny house air conditioner solutions? How do you cool off your tiny house (even off the grid) and beat the heat?

Deciding to Buy a Solar Powered Air Conditioner

I thought I’d do a post today because I’ve been able to run a few real-world experiments with my tiny house and solar powered AC.  I haven’t seen any experienced reporting on the topic of running air conditioning on solar power, so I figured it would be helpful for you all to hear what I did.

When it comes to cooling a tiny house, there are three areas to look at: isolation, such as shade, seals and insulation; ventilation, such as fans and setting open windows for cross-winds; and artificial cooling. Many tiny homes, by their portable nature, don’t have basements, where you can retreat if you need to cool off. Since heat rises and your entire home is above the ground, you need alternative methods to cool down.

Desert-dwellers may be able to rely on swamp coolers and evaporation-based cooling systems Here in the humid part of the world, these setups never work because our air is already humid. It’s impossible to cool humidity with MORE humidity.

Isolation, using shade and insulation to your advantage, is important if you live in off the grid. You can keep your house fairly cool by simply, closing off your space, especially in the heat of the day. This is why I decided to park my tiny house under the trees for shade and run my solar panels in the wide-open field.  While these methods help and should be employed, of course, chances are you’ll still need to rely on a solar powered air conditioner system to get through the hottest days.

After doing my research on what unit would work best with my solar panel set up and power levels. I ordered my unit before I found an installer. I have yet to hook up my mini split air conditioning system (see the update below where I talk about life on solar with my mini split) because it has taken me a long time to find a HVAC installer who would install my mini split AC. As I discovered after buying my mini split unit, most installers insist they need to sell you the air conditioning equipment if they are going to install it. Obviously, this was an unknown factor to me when I ordered my house air conditioning unit…but these are the bumps in the road you experience when you live The Tiny Life.

Fujitsu air conditioning system.

Fujitsu Air Conditioning System

How Much Power Does an Air Conditioner Use?

For heating and cooling, I opted for the Fujitsu 9RLS2 which is a 9,000 BTU Ductless Mini Split Air Conditioner Heat Pump System with a SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) rating of 27.  To give you an idea, older, less efficient mini split air conditioning systems have a SEER rating of around 8 to 10. Modern air conditioning systems, labeled highly efficient may have a rating of 15 or so, but most today are around 12-13.

The SEER rating was very important because my tiny house solar panel system simply couldn’t handle the less efficient cooling systems.  The SEER rating is determined by BTUs (British Thermal Units) to Watts.  The higher the number, the better.

The other big reason I choose this particular mini split air conditioning unit versus a standard window air conditioner was aesthetics.  My air handler is wall mounted, out of the way and above eye level.  This has a few advantages. First, it keeps my limited square footage clear of clutter. Secondly, it keeps my windows looking nice because there’s no window unit blighting a good design. Lastly, keeping it above eye level also helps you forget about it because as humans we don’t often look up.

Tiny House Friendly Air Conditioning

While I’m working on getting an HVAC installer lined up to put in my Fujitsu Air Conditioning System, I’m using a portable air conditioner, which has worked pretty well.  The downside to using a portable AC unit is it takes up a lot of space and it’s not as efficient. The portable AC unit I’m using has a SEER rating of 12, which means my new mini split system will be 225% more efficient once it’s installed.

UPDATE:  It’s been several years now since I first wrote this post and I’ve been living full time totally off the grid and it’s wonderful.  I was able to find an installer to pull the vacuum in my system and this thing cools like a dream.

During the summer the AC pulls between 450 watts and 700 watts, on “powerful” mode it draws about 1,000 watts.  As a side note for heat, it pulls about 700 watts to 1,000 watts, 1,100 on “powerful”.

If I had to do things all over again I’d go with a Mitsubishi brand mini split over the Fujitsu, because they seem to be a bit more well-designed. The Mitsubishi has also the critical feature of auto dry, which dries the coil of moisture before shutting down.  I’ve had to clean my coils several times in the 5 years and a drying feature would almost eliminate this.

Stress Testing My Portable AC Unit and Solar Panel Power System

I decided to “stress test” my solar panel system by turning the portable AC unit on high and setting the thermostat to 60 degrees. I wanted to see how long it would take for my solar panel system batteries to bottom out (50% discharge).  The charge controller on my solar panel system automatically turns off the power to my house if the batteries power discharges down to 50%. This automatic shut off on the solar panel system prevents damage to the batteries by discharging too deep.

Solar panel batteries and a chart of number of cycles and depth of discharge to determine battery life.

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

UPDATE:  It’s been several years now since I posted this. Last year I bit the bullet and added 6 more solar panels and 4 more batteries.  This was mainly to avoid needing a generator in the winter months because they’re a royal pain.  Cooling my house in the summer is still pretty simple since my house is so small.  I usually turn my air conditioner on when I get home and shut it off when I leave.  This allows the batteries to fully recharge and doesn’t really impact cooling.

My solar panel battery stress test was an interesting experiment. I ran the less efficient, portable air conditioner for three days solid, starting with a very warm house.  At the end of the three days, I was very close to hitting 50% on my battery reserve, but it didn’t ever dip below that threshold.  I decided, after three days, the test had gone on long enough to get an accurate reading and I stopped the test.  I typically turn off the AC whenever I’m gone.

Following the test, the past few days were a bit trickier because since my solar panel battery system was so low, I needed it to build back up. Unfortunately, we had a series of cloudy days, making it tough to get more energy.  While I’ve had plenty of power to run the AC overnight, the battery reserve is lower than I’d like.  To give you an idea: on a normal sunny day my solar panel power system makes about 8,000 Watts, but on a cloudy day (when the clouds are very thick with no gaps) I get between 2,000 and 4,000 Watts.

The Advantage of Solar Powered Air Conditioning

When it’s hottest and the sun is shining the brightest, I can make lots of power!  This allows me to run the AC full blast to keep my house nice and cool. Even with the air conditioner on high my solar panel system still makes enough power to add 2,000 Watts into the batteries. Compare this to heating, where you often need the heat the most at night when the sun isn’t out. This results in a major drain on your batteries.  Compounding the issue of running heating off solar panel energy, heaters are more energy intensive than cooling and air conditioning units.

The other night I decided to conduct another experiment.  I got my house very cold by running the AC unit. Then, I turned off the cool air at midnight (when I usually go to bed).  Outside it was about 65 degrees and about 45% humidity–so not bad.  I left all the windows closed to see how much my body heat would warm up the house. In the summer, opening the windows doesn’t often doesn’t help anyway, even if it is cooler outside because the humidity increases the “feels like” temperature.

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

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

So that has been my real-world experiences with the tiny house, AC units and solar panel power systems.  I know I had always been frustrated by not enough stories and real-life examples of AC and cooling issues, so hopefully my story will help others.

Key resources for those wanting more technical stuff:

 

 

The Basics of Homestead Gardens (For Non-Gardeners)

Some of us were born with a natural green thumb. Others of us…well, we aren’t so lucky. That said, one of the draws of homesteading and tiny house living is learning to live off the land. To grow your own food supply, it’s necessary to first learn the basic requirements of planting homestead gardens.

The Basics of Homestead Gardens | a patch of vegetables in a garden

As with most suggestions on this blog, I’m a big advocate of baby steps. Learn to cultivate a small garden the first year, don’t stress too much about it and see what happens. Then the next year you might want to tackle a bigger project. Don’t expect to live off your garden right away, especially if you’re a novice, even experienced gardeners have bad years.

Lean the basics of planning a garden, setting up your plot and growing a few veggies. Research what plants work best in your area. Understand the soil you’re working with and which plants compliment each other (as I’ll explain).

So, if you’re interested in starting to grow your own food this year, here are the basics of homestead gardening for beginners.

1. Research the Requirements of Homestead Gardens

There are several factors to consider when you plan your garden set up and it goes beyond which vegetables you like to eat. Most of us know plants require the basics:

  • Water
  • Oxygen
  • Sunlight
  • Nutrients

It sounds rudimentary, but many first-time gardeners make mistakes by forgetting these simple four requirements. I’ve seen new gardeners attempt to grow plants in the wrong climate or in a shady spot, so plants don’t get their preferred amount of hot/cold or sunlight. Or first-time gardeners don’t know that plants require good soil, assuming they can plant in any patch of dirt. Planting seeds too close together can cause plants to fight for enough sun. There are also plants with competing nutrient requirements that steal from each other if planted together in a smaller space or container (more on companion planting under #4).

Raised garden bed with plants and herbs in soil.

If all this sounds complex, yes, it can be. Ask any farmer and chances are he or she will tell you hours are spent planning for their gardens. To yield enough food for even one person’s needs requires a lot of foresight and effort. Hobby gardeners generally plant their favorite crops to enjoy and for the pleasure of gardening itself, rather than survival. Homestead gardens that serve as a food supply, will require more learning and effort. Again, start small and remember: this is a journey, not a destination. You want to start by planning a garden you can keep up with.

Of course, it’s certainly possible to plant a big garden that will give you many vegetables to enjoy. Start with vegetables recommended for your particular region. Take into consideration the days to maturity and compare it to your growing season. There are many growth charts, like this one from Iowa State University to show you the length of time required for each plant.  Also look up your local “extension” which is a government office that helps people start gardens or farms. They can assist you with troubleshooting issues, conducting soil tests and understanding some common challenges in your area. Extension offices are in each state, in most mid-to-large sized cities and their services are often free to the public.

Compare the growing dates to the plant hardiness zone maps and heat zone maps for your homestead. This will tell you exactly what you should expect in terms of the growing season and which plants will thrive. It will also help you know when to plant each variety of vegetables you hope to grow.

seeds for the garden

It’s hard to say how many plants you should plan for. Generally, beginning gardeners may want to experiment with a variety of seeds and seedlings to see what flourishes and what struggles in your garden plot. As you identify which plants do well, focus on growing those in the future (although it may vary from year to year).  Check out my post on the top 5 vegetables for beginning gardeners, for great ideas to start.

2. Move Beyond Container Gardening (If Possible)

Container gardening seems to go hand-in-hand with small spaces, but from my experience container gardening is challenging because the plants end up pot-bound and their growth is limited. Of course, if container gardening is your only option, it’s better than nothing. But my recommendation is to plant in the ground or raised bed whenever possible.

aquaponics small space gardening

There are many alternatives to container gardening like vertical gardens and hydroponic setups that still work in a small space or if you don’t have much planting space on your land, but I find these to be more trouble than they’re worth. My best recommendation for people with limited space is to join a community garden. These shared-spaces give people a chance to contribute to a garden even if they don’t have room on their property, you get the benefit of more space as well as advice and help from experienced gardeners. Best of all, community gardens are often very affordable.

Transplanting plants from container to ground with seeds.

New gardeners may want to start with seedlings rather than seeds. Eventually, if you prefer to use heirloom varietals you can start saving up your own seeds, but when you’re beginning it helps to have a head start. Seedlings are easily transferred from peat pots right into the ground (or your larger container). If you wish to start your own seeds indoors, you need to harden off the sprouts first before planting them. This gives them a chance to get used to life outdoors, no matter what type of container (or plot) they ultimately end up in.  My suggestion is to wait at least a few years before you add in trying to start your own plants indoors as seedlings. Growing from seed is an art form; keep it simple at first and buy seedlings.

3. Set Up Your Soil for Success

A big factor in the success of your homestead garden is the soil. No matter how large the container, raised bed, or piece of land, the mix of soil is critical for your plants. In short, your soil should have three components: vermiculite, compost, and peat moss. These items are easily purchased at a big box store or in truckloads from a local supplier.

in bed composting

Additionally, you may wish to add in compost from your own food and yard scraps. If you own a composter, you may be surprised at how quickly organic matter breaks down as compost. This nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium-rich compound feeds your plants and helps them grow. I also suggest you include a fertilizer such as bone meal or blood meal. If you prefer to avoid animal sourced fertilizer, use seaweed meal.

If you start with good soil, a soil test isn’t always necessary, but it’s always best practice. After the first year or two, if you feel your plants are lacking in size or failing to thrive in the soil combination you’ve selected, get the soil tested. Soil tests are usually obtained through your state university’s cooperation extension service (CSREES) and are typically inexpensive. You can also purchase a soil testing kit at a home improvement store, but the CSREES test is more comprehensive.

4. Use Companion Planting to Your Advantage

Companion planting is an age-old practice of planting certain vegetables together that support and complement each other. Larger plants might provide shade for shorter plants, which prefer partial sun. Tall plants can be used a trellis for vining plants. Low groundcover plants will block weeds from coming in. Some plants even draw nutrients from deep in the soil to make them available to other plants with shallow roots. These companion plants may attract beneficial insects, add nitrogen to the soil and even give off scents to detract predators.

hornworms on tomatoes in garden

Tomatoes, for example, don’t play well with brassica vegetables like cauliflower, cabbage, and broccoli. They also attract pests who love eggplants and peppers, so avoid planting those nightshades together. Surrounding your tomato plants with marigolds, garlic or basil repels parasitic nematodes and hornworms.

Companion planting is somewhat nuanced, but there are many companion vegetable chats and guides available to help you understand crop rotation and learn which plants complement each other. As you’re planning your garden, take advantage of companion planting to really help your plants flourish.

5. Choose High-Yield Plants

Select plants that give a high-yield crop. I’ve found herbs and lettuce are continuously harvested all season and offer a lot of bang for your buck. On the other hand, if you have a small space, one pea plant probably won’t give you more than a serving of peas (if that).

Zucchini and summer squash are two types of squash to grow in a garden

Zucchini and summer squash are two notoriously high-yield plants great for beginning homestead gardeners who want enough vegetables to harvest and enjoy for the season. Lettuce and leafy greens are also great starters. Tomatoes and pepper plants may result in a high yield too, depending on your area.

Other plants called perennials come back year after year, like berry bushes and asparagus, take time to establish and may not yield much if anything for the first few years. If you want these plants as part of your garden in the long-term, plan ahead and plant a few each year, but give yourself plenty of payoff plants to help you stay motivated. Find out what plants really thrive in your particular region and focus your efforts there.

6. Plan Your Watering and Irrigation System

Watering and irrigation is a high concern in certain areas. I always try to have a setup because life gets busy, so having your system on a timer keep plants alive and makes life easier. Even small container gardens dry out quickly during dry spells. Fortunately, plants do quite well with recycled grey water (as long as it doesn’t contain soap). Save your extra water from showering and household use, to keep your garden hydrated.

Rain barrel with plants and a hose attachment.

Investing in or making a rain barrel will give you a nice supply of water if a water hook up and a hose isn’t possible. Pour your extra household greywater in your barrel as well if the water gets low. Many rain barrels feature a hose attachment, making it simple to water your garden. Some water municipalities even offer rain barrels at a discounted rate to promote water conservation.

No matter what, be frugal in your water usage—soaker hoses or drip tape help you target only the plants (and not the surrounding dirt). Remember you only need to water the roots of your plants. Water on the leaves of plants will even damage younger plants and cause them to become susceptible to fungus and mildew. Keep the water at the root.

Mulching is key when it comes to maintaining a garden with less water. Mulch holds moisture in the soil and helps keep the water from evaporating. You can create inexpensive (or free) mulch from wood chips, hay, grass clippings and leaves.

7. Weed & Maintain Your Garden Regularly

Homestead gardens require plenty of maintenance, just like any other type of garden. Regular weeding is important. Weeds will steal nutrients from your vegetables, stunt growth, crowd them out and create shade. So, while you may feel there’s no aesthetic reason to pull weeds, it still needs to be done.

If you choose to garden organically, it means avoiding pesticides and other chemicals. Use natural remedies and hand removal of slugs, bugs, and pests. Plucking them off into soapy water is one method. Beer traps and eggshells also work well for slugs and worms.

Chickens roaming in garden and tall grasses.

Of course, some organic gardeners choose to rely on bigger predators to control smaller pests. Chickens, ducks and even garter snakes will help you control the slug and worm population. Attracting beneficial insects such as hoverflies, ladybeetles and praying mantis help control aphids and pests. Certain beneficial insects are also available for order and through garden suppliers.

As for larger pests, fencing and even chicken wire will keep digging, burrowing and stealing to a minimum. Keep brush, stone and wood piles cleaned up so their natural habitat is nowhere to be found. Rabbits and voles are also averse to garlic and hot pepper, so spraying plants with these organic deterrents may also help.

8. Note What Grew (and What Didn’t)

When your garden is finished for the season, it’s important to note what took off and what didn’t. Homestead gardens require careful planning over the course of several years. There’s a lot of trial and error involved, so keeping notes will help you remember what to change from one year to the next.

There are certain crops that succeed in a specific garden patch one year and then fail the next. Often this is because they drain the soil of nutrients (broccoli is a common offender), so changing the planting location and rows in your garden will help you avoid issues down the road. Draw a map of where each item was planted and keep any other notes like pests you saw, drainage or sunlight issues, mildew or disease.

take notes about what worked in your garden

Once you’ve got a year or two of gardening under your belt, you’ll feel more and more confident to plant new plants and expand. If there’s a crop you love to grow, or one that does particularly well on your land, that veggie may even become a source of side income or trade.

Talk to other gardeners in your area and farmers. Learn what common problems they face with crops, what disease and concerns are prevalent in your area and what treatment they recommend. As you become more comfortable with maintaining your homestead garden, you may even wish to volunteer at a local organic farm. This will give you a chance to learn from agricultural experts and see how to garden on a larger scale.

I must admit, gardening becomes addictive. Once you experience success with your first harvest you’ll be well on your way to an entire farm. Take steps today to start your own homestead garden and enjoy the fruits of your labor!

Your turn:

  • What are your favorite tips for gardening success?
  • What are you going to grow this year?

 

27 Great Hobbies for Small Spaces & Minimalist Lifestyles (+ 7 Bonus Tips!)

27 Great Hobbies for Small Spaces & Minimalist Lifestyles (+ 7 Bonus Tips!)

Building a tiny house, downsizing, organizing and simplifying are all time-consuming projects. Over the last several years, my tiny house journey has consumed a big chunk of my free time and focus. However, everyone needs a hobby or two, even when living in a small space.

hobbies for small spaces and minimalists

Of course, I can only speak for myself and I realize not everyone enjoys the same great hobbies I do. Fun hobbies for me might not be the same as fun hobbies for you. So, explore these simple hobbies for small spaces and apply them to your own taste.

If there was an activity you enjoyed before you moved toward a minimalist way of living, chances are, you’ll still enjoy it. The only problem you face is that…well, hobbies often take up a lot of space.

I’ve known people with entire rooms dedicated to crafts: studios for art, sound rooms for recording and game rooms for playing. In a small space, you can still enjoy fulfilling and entertaining activities. If you’re looking for great hobbies to fit minimalist lifestyles, you simply need to shift your approach to your pastime of choice.

So before I get to the list of hobbies, here’s how to make almost any hobby work in a small space.

How to Pursue Your Hobbies in Small Spaces: 7 Tips to Help

1. Stay Organized

First and foremost, one of the keys to hobby success is staying organized. A huge, overflowing and messy workspace won’t fit into a minimalist lifestyle or a small space. If you love paper crafts, organize supplies into a small binder. If your hobbies involve computers and electronics, keep cords and supplies neatly tucked into a container or bin.  Whatever your hobby, don’t neglect the organization of it.

2. Don’t Hold on to Leftovers

When you finish a project—a piece of art, a completed puzzle or a sewing project—don’t’ keep all the leftover scraps. Donate them, trade them or give them away. Use up only what you need for the project at hand. Storing extra bits takes up too much space. Besides, many of us forget about these items when we’re ready to start the next project.

3. Work on One Project and One Hobby at a Time

hobbies do them one at a time

If you love model building, RPGs and fly tying, you may need to focus on one hobby at a time. Depending on your storage capacity and time constraints, it makes sense to focus your efforts in one area. This is a different mentality from the “I’m bored, move to the next source of entertainment,” approach many of us are familiar with. Instead of multitasking, mindfully focus on the single project at hand.  This is what I’m trying to do this year, enjoy the hobbies I already have, not add new ones.

4. Scale Your Hobby to Your Space

Look at the hobby you love and scale it to your space. If you play an instrument, is there a smaller version you’d like to explore (guitar to ukulele or cello to violin)? If you enjoy woodworking, learning to carve and whittle give you a similar sense of satisfaction on a smaller scale?

5. Move Your Hobby Outdoors

geocaching as hobby

Depending on the climate, some great hobbies fit in very well outdoors. Taking your easel and paints outside, for example, could give you a new subject matter to explore and eliminate the stress and clutter of an indoor studio. Similarly, there are many great hobbies like birdwatching and geocaching that require time outside.

6. Share Your Finished Product

If you’re a creative person, share your finished project with others. Many people build models or paint large canvasses or design, with nowhere to store the finished project. If you’ve got a talent you want to share, consider donating your work once it’s completed. You could even set up an online store, but keep in mind, turning your hobby into a business may require even more time, space and energy.

7. Focus on the Core Value of the Hobby

If you’re looking for a satisfying hobby to pursue, consider the core value of what you already enjoy. For example, if you love to design and build, could you put those same skills to work by exploring culinary arts, making models or miniatures, or gardening? If you’re analytical, would you find puzzle games, escape rooms or web development interesting? Many hobbies use the same values and traits, in different applications.

The List: 27 Great Hobbies for Small Spaces

Ready to get started with a new pursuit? Again, not every hobby fits every personality or aptitude, but here are some ideas for great hobbies that fit well with minimalist lifestyles and small spaces.

1. Gardening

gardening on land

Gardening is one of the oldest hobbies. It’s extremely useful—growing plants and herbs for food or to beauty your home and yard. If you’re leasing property, you may not be able to plant a full garden (or if you’re living in a space without a yard). Fortunately, there are container gardens and even hydroponics that require very little space to produce a bounty. Start with a few plants on a windowsill and let your green thumb grow.

 

2. Stitching & Sewing

Similar to paper crafts, stitching and sewing are great hobbies that can also spiral out of control with supplies and projects. If you’re working on a textile craft in a small space, it’s important to stick to one project at a time, keep your supplies organized and only store what you need for the project at hand. When it comes down to it, needles, thread, yarn and felting tools don’t require a lot of space. It’s the yards of fabric and skeins of yarn that take over a space.

If you enjoy handicrafts and stitchery, consider embroidery, needle felting, tatting, and crochet, which use minimal supplies. Cross stitch is another fabric craft that doesn’t call for a lot of space. Tutorials on these projects are found on YouTube or Craftsy.

 

3. Culinary Arts

The world of culinary arts offers a wide hobby area to explore. While a small kitchen is a challenge, some chefs see it as an opportunity to really push themselves. The best part of cooking as a hobby is the end results are edible (and don’t require much storage). Hosting outdoor dinners to show off your creations is always an option if indoor entertaining doesn’t work for your space.

food dehydrator excalibur

Areas to explore are food preservation like canning, dehydration, and pickling. Bread baking is another popular small-space culinary pursuit. If the science of food fascinates you, explore nutrition or even molecular gastronomy.

4. Woodworking

Woodworking and carpentry becomes a passion for many who build and craft their own home. Once the work is complete, you may realize continuing carpentry requires many supplies and large-scale storage. Rather than give up the skills, consider shifting your focus to small-scale woodworking. Whittling and wood carving are great hobbies that don’t require much space. The results of a skilled woodcarver’s work are truly stunning.

5. Gaming

The world of gaming is huge and encompasses a vast number of interests. Not all games are perfect for minimalist lifestyles and small spaces, but many are. Role playing games (RPGs) require little more than a dice set and a group of friends. Board and card games are another excellent options. Check out the International Gamers Award winners, to find the best games. Chess is another great option for beginners.

Video games are another popular hobby. Most gaming units are relatively small, including handheld devices like the Nintendo Switch (which is a handheld and console unit) or the Sony PlayStation Vita. You can also get started playing video games on your phone or computer. Online gaming offers the option to play with others around the world, right from your own screen.

6. Writing

Writing is a fantastic minimalist hobby. As a blogger and writer, myself, I must admit it’s ideal for small spaces. You can write from anywhere—all you need is a laptop and an idea. Blogging, journaling, and creative writing are all great hobbies and getting started is easy!

writing notebook

If you’re living in a small, or minimalist space, you don’t need to give up your hobbies. With a few adjustments and modifications, you’ll enjoy plenty of great hobbies to fit your small-space lifestyle and help you relax and enjoy life.

7. Mindfulness Pursuits

Yoga, meditation, and spiritual exploration are excellent pursuits for small spaces. Many of these studies and practices help you explore your mind-body connection and learn to be present, connected and aware of your surroundings. Yet, most mindfulness pursuits require very little in the way of equipment or supplies.  You can start with a book or by following yoga tutorial videos. You may also want to download a mindfulness app, such as Headspace.

8. Ham Radio

Amateur or ham radio is a popular hobby that’s been around for many years. It’s a way to communicate with people around the world (English is the universal language of ham radio). Ham radio is also used for emergency communication, such as weather watching, so it’s a helpful hobby to learn. Because radio transmissions are sent internationally (and can receive communications from emergency personnel and law enforcement) the hobby is regulated by the International Telecommunication Union and licensure is required. Learn more from the ARRL (National Association for Amateur Radio).

9. Jewelry Making

Jewelry making covers a variety of great hobbies from beading, to lampwork and metalwork. Many jewelry makers start simply by creating necklaces and bracelets for themselves, friends and family. As the craft grows, you can move to more expensive mediums and a variety of substrates such as glass, acrylic, fine metals, jewels, and gemstones. Explore the classes available on sites like Craftsy to learn to create a wearable work of art.

10. Knots

knot tying

Knot tying may seem like a dying art, but many people still enjoy learning knot tying and it’s particularly useful for sailing and outdoor survival. Believe it or not, there are thousands of knots and the oldest example of knot tying was used in a fishing net dated 8000 BC. You can use knot tying skills to for paracord tying; knots are also a key part of fly tying, both of which are great hobbies for minimalist spaces.

11. Leather Working

Leather goods hold up to years of use. You can create beautiful belts, bracelets, pouches, and bags out of leather. Large leather work requires quite a bit of space and larger tools, but on the small-scale leatherworking is a fun project for anyone. To get started in leatherworking, you may want to purchase a kit for a small item like a coin purse or bracelet and explore online videos and tutorials to help you get started.

12. Illusions & Cards

Magic, card tricks, sleight of hand and optical illusions are fun for many people, but they often require practice. Fortunately, this practice doesn’t require much space or equipment. You can learn by watching simple YouTube videos or taking an online course. Professional card dealers often attend classes and even go to casino gaming school, but you’ll get far with regular practice and self-study.

13. Model Building

model planThe world of model building is huge and combines the art of sculpture, painting, and design as well as engineering. Model-makers create miniature replicas of everything from spaceships to ships-in-a-bottle. A popular model building area is in repainting and redesigning figures with incredible attention to detail. There are even conventions such as WonderFest USA to showcase and award top model-makers.

Similarly, creating miniatures, whether for a dollhouse, terrarium or simply a display is another small-scale hobby many people enjoy. Using polymer clay or other materials they recreate and “miniaturize” everyday items.

14. Music

If music is your hobby, there are many ways to adapt your creative outlet to fit in a minimal space. Singing, music writing, and many instruments are still easily incorporated into many different sized homes and lifestyles. Of course, you may need to pare down a collection of instruments (and a piano is much harder to fit in a small space than a ukulele), but many people embrace music as a hobby.

15. Nail Art

Now, I can’t speak to this personally, but I’ve heard nail art is one of the preferred hobbies for women. Painting designs as part of a manicure or pedicure requires few supplies. Your fingers and toes are your canvas and nail artists get quite into their craft—some nail artists even add jewels to accent their designs.

16. Paper Crafts

When it comes to paper crafts, it’s a hobby that can quickly take over a space. After all, paper can result in a lot of clutter. Yet, there are ways to enjoy paper craft on a small scale. Origami (the art of paper folding) is one such example. Quilling, or paper rolling is another. When pursuing a hobby such as paper crafting, it’s important to remember the seven guidelines above to keep your supplies organized and only keep the project you’re working on at the time.

17. Photography

camera and photography

Of all the great hobbies for small spaces, photography is one of the easiest to pursue—particularly because of the advance of digital photography. With little more than a camera and photo editing software, you can capture and design incredible photographs. Learning how to alter and edit photos using Photoshop (or any free editing software) is another way to explore the hobby even further. Many of us carry a camera all the time, via our phone, so learning to take great photos is the next logical step.

18. Puzzles & Deduction

Many hobbyists enjoy cracking codes, figuring out puzzles and playing logic games.  While boxes of jigsaw puzzles may not fit with a minimalist lifestyle, there are plenty of digital puzzle games, books of crosswords, Sudoku and logic puzzles you can check out. If you enjoy forensics, check out Hunt a Killer, which is a monthly detective puzzle game.

Brain benders, meta, and wooden box puzzles are also a fun pursuit to stretch your brain and turn the gears. Rubik’s cubes and other combination puzzles will keep you occupied for hours. Similarly, lockpicking is a popular pursuit, where you apply the same techniques to locks (check out Locksport International for information on getting started).

19. Outdoor Exercise

Perhaps one of the easiest ways to pursue great hobbies is to do them outdoors. Outdoor hobbies can be split into two categories: active and leisure. On the active side, of course, the options are limitless but bear in mind, many outdoor hobbies require equipment: skiing, kayaking, golfing and so on. Fortunately, if there’s a hobby you really love, you can possibly rent the equipment to cut back on the need for extra storage.

A few outdoor pursuits that don’t require much in terms of supplies are swimming, jogging, running and hiking. Fishing, tennis, Frisbee golf, and even snorkeling is possible, provided you parse down the extra supplies you need to the bare minimum. Team sports like soccer, softball, and volleyball are other great options, where all you need are some friends and a ball to play.

20. Outdoor Leisure

Outdoor leisure pursuits include walking and spending time outdoors. You can enrich your outdoor exploration by including an element you wish to study, such as plant identification or birdwatching. Foraging for wild edibles is another hobby you can leisurely pursue outdoors.

hiking with gps and a moutain view

Geocaching is a fun option many outdoor explorers enjoy. Geocaching is essentially a big outdoor treasure hunt using GPS. They keep a log book, recording whenever they discover an item (using GPS coordinates) in a cache. They take an item, leaving behind an item of greater value (items are typically small toys).

21. Reading

Perhaps the ultimate minimalist hobby, reading is a favorite pastime of many people. That said, books take up a lot of space. If you’re cutting back, downsizing and decluttering, you may want to sell your used books as you finish them. Other options for avid readers are using an eReader (like a Nook or Kindle) or borrowing books from the library. Check your neighborhood for Little Free Libraries as well—you can drop off and pick up books any time. If reading is your preferred pastime, you can easily enjoy it and still embrace a minimalist lifestyle.

22. Computers & Technology

Computers and technology are great hobbies for minimalists. With cloud storage, web, app and game development is possible from nearly anywhere with very little equipment. Frontend developers focus on design and user experience and generally need to learn to code (like HTML or JavaScript). Backend developers work use logic and problem solving to improve the function of an app or site, using server language like Python.

On the DIY building side, Raspberry PI is a small programmable computer that’s a lot of fun for beginners. Arduino, is a micro-controller motherboard popular in the DIY computing community. If you’re interested in computer technology, it can become an excellent and even lucrative hobby.

23. Video & Recording

Similar to photography, videography and recording works well with a small, minimalist space, provided the hobby stays on the small scale. Cameras like the GoPro Hero are used to film some really fun videos with very little extra equipment needed.

If you enjoy making videos, you could start a YouTube channel and vlog, or record tutorial videos for others (those who are camera shy, may prefer to explore podcasting instead). There are a vast number of topics and ideas for videos, so the options are endless. If video and filmmaking is high on your interest list, you could also try your hand at digital or stop-motion animation.

24. Visual Arts

Visual artists often worry they’ll need to give up their art if they move toward a minimalist lifestyle. After all, tubes of paint, easels, and brushes can take over a space pretty quickly. If art is your outlet and one of your preferred hobbies, consider drawing and sketching which are more portable and only require a notebook and graphite.

Other options for visual artists are to explore the world of graphic design. Apply your art skills in the digital world and learn to create on a computer. You could also do micro portfolio work. Artist Trading Cards (ATCs) and ACEOs (Art Cards Editions and Originals) are miniature works of art measuring 2.5” x 3.5” and they’ve become quite popular. Many artists swap them online and at swap events. The collectors market is rising for these miniature treasures.

25. Wine, Beer & Spirits

I’ve seen brewing listed time and time again as a suggested hobby for homesteaders and tiny lifers. It’s interesting because brewing wine and beer (and fermenting drinks such as kombucha) can take up quite a bit of space. Homebrewing also has specific temperature and sanitation requirements and it can give off a smell you may find overpowering in a small space.
beer and homebrewing

If you’re a hobbyist who loves homebrewing or the culture of beer, wine, and spirits, you may want to explore other areas of the beverage field. Wine pairing, beer tasting, and appreciation can become quite a fun and pleasurable hobby. Bartending and learning mixology is another great area of focus. Not only can you learn a (possibly) marketable skill but it’s useful knowledge for many situations.

26. Floral Arranging

Floral arranging is a beautiful and useful hobby, particularly if you enjoy growing flowers in a garden, or have access to fresh flowers. Flowers are temporary, and the arrangement is enjoyed for a while and then transitioned to a different look. The short-term aspect of flowers makes floral arranging a good option for those who live the tiny life. One place to get started is by exploring Ikebana, the traditional Japanese style of flower arranging.

27. Astronomy

Amateur astronomy doesn’t require much equipment or setup, other than a telescope and a notebook. If you live in a rural area (away from city light) this is a fascinating hobby where you can really explore the universe. Sky & Telescope is a great place to get started.

Your Turn!

  • What are some of your favorite hobbies for minimalist lifestyles?

 

How to Buy Land for a Tiny House: 3 Big Tips + 12 Experts Weigh In

The tiny house movement has made huge strides in the past few years by promoting efficient living spaces and minimalist lifestyles in 400 square feet or less. More homeowners are seeing the benefit in downsizing to lessen environmental impact, save money and eliminate home-related stressors.

While it’s true, building a small home is generally less complicated than planning and constructing a large home, there are a few challenges presented with embracing the tiny life. Aside from downsizing, simplifying and the logistical aspects of living in a tiny home, one of the main questions is: where do you put your tiny house?

I put together a video that outlines the challenges involved when searching for land for a tiny house, whether you choose to lease, buy or borrow. Please check it out.

The Challenges of Buying Land for Your Tiny House

Solving challenges

When you decide it’s time to find and buy land for a tiny house, you may be faced with a big challenge: it’s more difficult to find appropriately-sized and cost-effective land for micro homes than it is for average-sized homes. Most micro home builders aren’t looking to pay full price for open plots, since tiny homes are more economical to build. At the same time, small lots are hard to find and come by. Landowners often aren’t eager to split up their property to sell, especially in rural areas.

This presents a major challenge for those who are ready to take the plunge. How do you find the right-sized land to buy for your tiny house?

If you’re ready for a simpler life and you’re interested in joining the tiny house movement, consider these three tips for finding and buying land for a tiny house.

Tiny House on a plot of land

Tips for Buying Land for a Tiny House

1. Look for the Right Location, Size and Price

location of land marker

First the good news: Micro homes can be built anywhere as long as construction follows state building codes. Some states even allow homeowners to build micro homes in their backyards also known as accessory dwelling unit commonly referred to as ADUs.

However, a lot of people considering building tiny homes don’t have preowned properties to use for construction or to park on. After all, economics is usually a big reason behind the shift toward smaller space. Property is expensive, and chances are, you need to find a plot of land that fits your needs and your budget. It’s important to have the size, location and price in mind before you begin your search.

Use sites like Zillow, LandWatch or Land And Farm to find land based on location; just search within a designated city under home type: lots/land. You can also search based on size or price, if any of these factors are negotiable. Of course, regardless of size, prices will vary by location, accessibility and other factors. Typical tiny house proponents stray from city centers, as the land is more expensive and prone to complicated building codes and zoning laws.

If you’re still weighing the merits of exactly how much space you’ll need, you can even check out sites like Try It Tiny to rent of visit a tiny house for a short time. Before you take the plunge to purchase, this will give you a taste of small-space living.

2. Consider Zoning Laws

tiny house building code lawsI wrote an in-depth post about all of the considerations that need to go into your land setup for your tiny house. One of the biggest concerns is zoning and building codes. Especially if you plan to connect to city water (or if you plan to be on the grid). It’s extremely important your tiny house is up to code because each of these connections will require a building inspector to come to your house and see it in person.

Zoning is a set of rules about how land can be used—think of it like rules that help neighbors get along.  Zoning will dictate the type of building, its placement and its function; while building codes regulate how it should be built safely.

building codes and zoning for tiny houses

Tiny house builders sometimes find that building codes will require them to build a larger home than they first thought, and zoning might require you to park your tiny house in a campground or trailer park because it’s on wheels (and thus considered close to being a camper).

Tiny house folks should start with a basic plan and a conversation with their local municipal building code enforcement office. From there, you’ll be able to understand some of the requirements of your local town hall, identify issues that need to be addressed, and get a realistic picture of what can and cannot be done in when it comes to tiny houses.

There are also some cities who encourage building and will even offer lots for free to interested parties. Cities such as Spur, Texas, Portland, Oregon and Marne, Iowa use these incentives to encourage city development and boost revenue. That said, it’s important to review the zoning restrictions for building even on these free lots. In the case of Marne, dwellings must be at least 1200 square feet. There are opportunities for free and very inexpensive lots available throughout the U.S. but be sure to research the restrictions thoroughly.

It’s also worth checking out government auctions. There is a lot of land out there and the government holds auctions where you can buy it for dirt cheap. Some of this land is seized for tax reasons while some is surplus land. how to pass building codes for tiny houses on wheelsOther properties are environmentally degraded, needing extensive bio remediation. If you go this route, be sure to do an extensive search on toxic waste sites through the EPA’s website. If you have a desire and willingness to revitalize such land, it can be an incredibly cheap way to acquire property. Check out Govsales.gov to view these listings.

For all you need to know on tiny house coding and zoning, please check out my book, Cracking the Code where I outline all you need to know.

3. Use Your Network

A few years back, I had to suddenly move my house to a new piece of land. I’ll admit, finding a plot I could lease was one of the most frustrating experiences I’ve had when it comes to tiny homeownership. Fortunately, in my case, I was able to find someone who was willing to let me lease his lot in exchange for covering the insurance on the property and helping him with computer work. I realize everyone isn’t so lucky.

One of the biggest ways to help yourself on your tiny house land search is to network with other tiny home owners. When I was starting out, my network was so valuable to my journey. In fact, connecting and sharing with other tiny homeowners was largely the impetus for my starting the blog as well. If you’re wondering how to connect with others and find local tiny house owners, check out this video below.

If you decide to purchase land, whether large or small, it’s important you search for a real estate professional who will aid in your tiny land search. This is another member of your network who will really boost your search and point you in the right direction. There are agents who specialize in niche markets—tiny homes included. Make sure to check up on an agent’s qualifications before hiring them to ensure they are the best fit for your tiny house land search. A well-versed agent will lead you through the process without too much stress.

You may wish to search for property online first; once you have a piece of property selected, check on the listing agent. If the property is for sale by owner, you may still wish to get a buyer’s agent to help you through the process. It’s tempting to forgo an agent (and paying the commission) but you’ll face fewer problems down the road if you have someone in your corner.

It’s important to remember land often can’t be leveraged in a loan with the bank. For most land purchases, the property will need to be paid for outright and in full. An agent will walk you through the process and help you navigate.

While these steps won’t guarantee the perfect plot for tiny home construction, they certainly help homeowners get started. Leasing property is of course another option (and the route I took). There are considerations to be made when you’re leasing property too, but in many ways the pros may outweigh the cons.

Tools For Planning Your Land

Even at the early stages when you’re just looking at the land, possibly under contract, you need to start to imagine how things will layout.  I love this part because it’s fun to think about what the land could one day be.  It starts to feel real when you are thinking about where you’ll put things and how it will all come together.  Here are the tools I use to plan out my land:

A Good Measuring Wheel

This let’s you measure distances easily and help with planing where things will go.  You want a larger wheel because it can bridge the bumps in the land and make it a bit easier when you are going over logs etc. I recommend this particular measuring wheel if you’re looking for one.

Avoid the Kenson brand, I’ve found that they don’t hold up. And when you’re planning your land, make sure you know where the property lines are and that most places require at least a 15 foot setback from any property line.  I always figure what it is and double it just in case I’m off in my property line.

Marking Flags

land marking flagsOnce you have an idea where you want to put things, start marking them out with these little flags.  It will give you a better sense of space and let you understand where things are going to be in relation to other things like storage, solar, patio space and parking areas.

You can get these marking flag for cheap here.

A Waterproof Notepad

rite in the rain notebook for taking notesI always take notes when I’m doing this so later I can refer back to them when I draw things up back at home or for figuring out stuff after I’ve left.  My go to notebook is a Rite In The Rain Notebook which is an amazing little note pad that doesn’t matter if it’s wet.  They’re tough and super helpful.

Whatever you use, make sure you write stuff down because so many numbers will be going through your head.

Tiny House Experts Weigh In On Finding and Buying Land

Because this is such a challenging topic for tiny homeowners (and what I would argue is the number 1 dilemma we face), I asked 12 top tiny house experts to give their best advice on such a big topic: finding land for your tiny house.

I asked them, “What is the one tip you would give to someone looking for a place to park or land for their tiny house?”

Talk to friends and community members about it all the time. You never know where the parking spot will come from. While I have been lucky on Craigslist, I think by far the best way to find parking is through a friend of a friend of family or friends. Network and ask all your local contacts before resorting to CL. — Alek Lisefski: tiny-project.com

Get out and talk to people. You need to expand your social circle in a big way. Have a solid game plan in place, develop your pitch for landowners, focus on overcoming objections and putting fears to rest. Then let people know what you’re looking for in a clear concise manner. — Ryan Mitchell: TheTinyLife.com

Ping your own network of folks that really enjoy and support what you are doing. Provide a quick message about who you are and what you are looking for, that they can forward along. They are far more likely to connect you with people of a similar mindset, therefore more open and willing to help you out or further your cause. — Jess and Dan Sullivan: livinginatinyhouse.blogspot.com

Honestly – be secretive. Get along with your neighbors and they’ll have no reasons to rat on you – zoning enforcement is often complaint-based. In some areas, it’s legal or “more legal,” and in others it just won’t happen, so do your research. Farmers too – look into talking to them, they could use the rental income, and have the land. — Deek Diedricksen: relaxshacks.com

Check out wwoof.org, a fantastic organization that places volunteers with organic farms the world over. I see it as a great resource for someone looking to move somewhere unfamiliar. Find a willing farm, tow your house over and you have a place to park, food to eat and work to do. — Ella Jenkins: littleyellowdoor.wordpress.com

Start with people you know and put the word out. Your network will produce your best leads when it comes to finding parking. — Ethan Waldman: thetinyhouse.net

Flyers on local supermarket and library walls are actually a very sensible place to advertise this kind of information. We know a lot of people who have found their tiny house parking matches using those channels. — Gabriella Morrison: TinyHouseBuild.com

Reach out to local communities. Try Facebook groups, Meetup and Craigslist. Don’t be afraid to talk about your Tiny House. The more people that you meet, the more likely you will have an opportunity to park it somewhere. — Jenna Spesard: TinyHouseGiantJourney.com

I think the best way is to find land and then ask the owners if you could work out a deal. People are more receptive than you might think. — Kristie Wolfe: Kristiewolfe.com

I wish I had a good answer. We bought land well before we decided to build a tiny house, so it wasn’t an issue for us. I do recommend that people get involved in local politics to make changes in their own communities that can help pave the way for tiny homes. — Laura M. LaVoie: 120squarefeet.com

Get creative, build your network, be open and honest and try to be ‘on the radar,’ it will make you feel more secure during the ‘living’ part of tiny house living that you will appreciate once you are living. It stinks to feel like any knock on the door may be asking you to go. — Macy Miller: MiniMotives.com

Don’t be afraid of building your tiny house before finding a place to park it. The majority of my clients and other tiny housers found their spots during their construction. After finishing the shell with the exterior siding, you can place a photo with a description of what you’re looking for on Craigslist. Most property owners will rent their space only after they can see an image of your tiny house, and what utilities you will need. This has proven a success time and time again. — Vina Lustado: vinastinyhouse.com

Check with local codes in the area you wish to build or park a tiny house. If it is not allowed you need to find an alternative route or do it under the radar somehow. — Kent Griswold: tinyhouseblog.com

 

A special thank you to all the experts who weighed in on this important topic. Finding and buying land is one of the toughest aspects of the tiny house lifestyle. It may take time, but eventually, using these smart strategies, you’ll find a spot. Explore all your options before you decide.

If you’re looking for land to buy, it’s possible. For more on finding land to buy or lease, check out my Ultimate Guide to Finding Land.

Your Complete Guide to Dehydrating Food

Your Complete Guide to Dehydrating Food

I wanted to do a post about dehydrating food—a topic several readers have asked about regarding food preservation and storage—but one problem, I’ve never dehydrated food before!

Undaunted, I decided the best way to teach was to learn about it myself. So I interviewed my pal Jennifer who’s an expert at the process of food dehydration and made this great video to share. Unfortunately, when I got home, I discovered the video was garbled, so instead, I went through my notes and created a step-by-step guide and getting started video for you guys. (Check out my video on food dehydrating below…)

 

Dehydrating food is a great way to preserve food and enjoy it for weeks and even months. To dehydrate foods, they’re simply heated at a low temperature with plenty of air circulation. Using a professional dehydrator is an easier method but you can also dry food in the oven, as I’ll explain.

When it comes to food preservation, I think a lot of people immediately bring up canning. I’ll break down and compare the two methods below, but when you weigh the equipment and cost, dehydrating is a cheaper, easier way, especially for those starting out.

Are you ready to get started? Here’s what you need to know about dehydrating food!

Dehydrating vs. Canning

The aspect of dehydrating that appeals to most homesteaders is the simplicity. Both canning and dehydrating have their strengths, but when it comes to dehydrating, less equipment is required (and it’s a simpler process.) Canning, as you will learn from our video is often a more involved process. While canning gives you a longer shelf-life (1-2 years), there’s a greater risk of serious issues like botulism.

For beginners, here’s the breakdown.

Cost

A food dehydrator is hardly pricier than the initial investment of canning. Most food basic dehydrators start at $40 and some are priced much higher. For fruits and veggies, a simple model should work. You can also dehydrate in your oven but it’s a less exacting process. (Some people even dehydrate food in their car—but let’s leave that to the pros!) In an oven it also takes a long time, during which you’re stuck at home. A food dehydrator requires less supervision.

bannana chips low cost

For newbies using a dehydrator is often the way to go. It does require electricity, so if you’re off the grid, that’s also a consideration. Fortunately most dehydrators don’t require a lot of energy. For a breakdown on dehydrator electricity usage check out this chart. Aside from your food dehydrator, you need knife and a cutting board.

Canning on the other hand requires more gear (depending on your method). If you use the water bath method, you’re looking at an investment in the pot, the jars, lids and tongs. A pressure canner on the other hand costs between $60-$300. So canning ends up being almost the same, if not higher cost than dehydration.

Food Safety

Again, canning and food dehydration are both safe methods of preservation if done correctly. With dehydration you’re removing 90-95% of the water content of food, making it an unwelcoming environment for bacteria and mold. With canning, food is heated to a bacteria-killing temperature and the sterile food is sealed in jars using heat and pressure.

With both processes, you need to follow proper procedures and use common sense. The benefit of canning is you know a jar is sealed by listening for the telltale “pop.” That said, when canning goes bad, it goes really bad (like food poisoning bad). Yes, everyone has a story of their grandparents eating canned food over a decade old, but don’t risk it. Canned food is good for 1-2 years, but you must use an exact, proper method.

food saver bags holding dehydrated fruit

With food dehydration, you check for doneness simply by testing the food. With most fruits and vegetables, they will feel completely dry to the touch. When your food feels dry it’s ready to store for a few weeks or for months in a FoodSaver bag or container. If you’re making jerky on the other hand, you don’t want to play around. That’s when it’s important to test for correct temperatures and follow dehydration procedures.

Taste & Ease of Cooking

Again, people love the taste of dehydrated food and the variety of possibilities. You can make cookies, fruit leather and even bread and crackers with a dehydrator! Many foods like vegetables and fruits are regularly enjoyed in their dehydrated form. Other foods are rehydrated by soaking in water or boiling.

With canning, the contents of the jar are completely cooked. Anyone who’s eaten cold beans out of can knows while they aren’t delicious, they’re certainly edible even without heating. Because of the chemical requirements of safe canning, you need to balance the salt and acid content in the food. This means certain foods are a little saltier or sweeter than your preference. Canned food also has a distinctive texture and taste some people don’t like.

Nutrition

Proponents of dehydrating foods often cite the nutritional benefits of raw food. When food is dehydrated it isn’t cooked. The dehydrating happens at a very low temperature, which means it’s an appealing solution for those who follow a raw food diet.

sun dried tomatoes taste amazing

With canning the food is cooked. However, it is often preserved right from the garden—much fresher than if it had to travel miles from harvest to processing plant. Food preserved in it’s peak state, whether dehydrated or canned often has the same or better nutrition than food stored in the fridge for a while. In both methods of preservation, plenty of good nutrition remains.

Canning or Dehydration: Which Method Wins?

So, which is best? Canning or dehydration? It really depends on the food. Both methods are excellent and serve a purpose.

For storage in a small space, however, dehydration certainly has benefits. After all, when food has been dehydrated, it’s often smaller and “shrunken down” from the original state (think of a raisin versus a grape). Dehydrated food can also be stored in vacuum seal bags or airtight containers—boxes or even reused jars. Canned food is stored in well, cans (or Mason jars) which take up a fair amount of space.

Your dehydrator also requires storage, which is a consideration before you invest. But many dehydrators are fairly compact. Again, the dehydration process also works in your oven (and yes, even in the sun).

What Can be Dehydrated?

You can dehydrate all kinds of different foods. The most common of course are fruits and vegetables and people often think of jerky as well.

Did you know you can also dehydrate breads and baked goods? Make crackers, naan and flatbreads right in your food dehydrator. It’s not difficult, but most require you “flip” them part way through the process to dry both sides. Many people love making cookies and bars in their food dehydrator. You can create fruit leather and even yogurt in some dehydrators.

Most foods need to be cut into small chunks to dehydrate properly. Here are the typical drying times and process to get you started.

Fruits

To start dehydrating fruits, it’s best to begin with the simple basics. Sliced apples, pineapple, apricots and mangos are all great dried fruit for first-time dehydrators.  Banana chips are another common dehydrator-friendly food. Slice the fruit into bite-sized pieces, 1/4 to 1/8 inch thick.

fruit leather

Fruit puree results in easy, delicious and portable fruit leather. Puree three cups of cooked fruit (frozen or fresh) and add water as needed so it’s spreadable. Pour it 1/8-inch-thick into parchment lined trays of your dehydrator or a lined baking sheet. Dehydrate fruit or fruit leather at 140 for 6-12 hours. Test for tackiness as you go. Use honey or syrup to sweeten.

Vegetables

With vegetables, you’ll want to blanch or steam the vegetable first (particularly if it’s a veggie you’d eat cooked normally like green beans). Mushrooms, onions and other “raw-friendly” vegetables don’t need pre-cooking. As with fruit, slice the vegetables into bite-sized pieces, 1/4 to 1/8 inch thick.

The method for drying vegetables is very similar to fruit. The drying often concentrates the natural sweetness in the vegetables and with a little salt and seasoning they turn into great chips. Try tomatoes and peppers for a chewier snack too. Depending on the moisture content in the food, it will take anywhere from 6-12 hours.

dried corn for cooking

Once dried, store your dehydrated food in airtight containers, jars or FoodSaver-type vacuum seal bags. Once opened or exposed to air, the food should be enjoyed within two-weeks. The shelf-stability will depend on the amount of moisture left in the food, so use common sense. Obviously, if you see signs of mold or spoiling, discard the food.

Meats

To make jerky in a dehydrator, you’ll need to heat it higher. Meat needs to be cooked to a temperature of at least 160 degrees, so preheat your oven or dehydrator first for at least thirty minutes, before you start. Marinate meat ahead of time, using your favorite flavoring.

The internal temperature of the meat must reach 160 during the cooking process to remain food safe. You can do this by either drying your jerky for 4-6 hours in the dehydrator and then cooking for 10 minutes in a 275-degree oven OR steam or roast the meat to an internal temperature of 160 degrees before dehydrating for 4-6 hours.

When it comes to meat, remember you aren’t limited to just beef jerky either. Try pre-sliced ham, beef or turkey for a great, different flavor (following the same method). You can also dry fish, such as salmon!

Methods for Dehydrating

There are several methods for dehydrating foods. The oven is probably the most convenient (since most people own an oven), but if you enjoy dehydrating often and like the convenience of “setting and forgetting it,” a dehydrator is a worthwhile investment.

Oven

Using the oven to dehydrate your food is easy. Simply preheat your oven to 145 degrees for fruits and vegetables and 160 degrees for meat (following the jerky process outlined above). Using a wire rack on a cookie sheet will help air circulate, but food dries well on a silicone baking sheet also. You may want to use parchment too. Parchment works especially for fruit leather– easily peel, cut and roll the leather before you enjoy.

Smoking/Salting

preserve food with salt

If you want to cure and preserve meat the old-fashioned way, smoking and salting are tried and true methods. Because the objective is to remove all moisture from the food before preserving these methods work well and add great flavor. There are a number of food safety guidelines to follow if you decide to cure, smoke or salt your own food. For the best guidelines I recommend visiting the National Center for Home Food Preservation’s site on Smoking and Curing.  The internal temperature and sanitation guidelines are critical especially when working with raw meat.

Dehydrator

You can purchase a basic food dehydrator for $60 on up to deluxe models costing in the thousands. If you frequently preserve food, investing in a dehydrator may be worth it. This is especially helpful for hunters, gardeners or those who rely on food storage during the winter months (or if you simply enjoy dehydrated and dried foods). Dehydrating is a great way to extend your food storage capacity and safely prepare food to enjoy later.

food dehydrator excalibur

The Nesco and the Excalibur brand food dehydrators are the most popular and well-reviewed. There are also models from Presto, NutriChef and Cuisinart. For simple, small space dehydrators Nesco offers both a small square dehydrator and small round version for well under $100. Watch second-hand stores or Craigslist to score a dehydrator on the cheap.

If you’re interested in preserving food for storage or simply for delicious snacks, food dehydration is a great way to go. It’s easy and fun. You’ll end up with plenty of delicious foods to enjoy for months. After talking to Jennifer about dehydrating, I’ve definitely decided to give it a shot. Even if you’re a beginner, dehydrating is a great way to preserve food!