Archive for the Essentials Category

Tiny House Composting Toilet Blues

composting toilet

I’ve been living in my tiny house now for a good while and the big challenge of composting toilet has been going well.  Initially I had wanted to have a flush toilet and my house is setup so I could drop a toilet let in quickly, but the quotes for a sewer line alone started at $50,000 so I begrudgingly went with the composting toilet.

I haven’t really read too much online about people’s experiences with composting toilets, the few I’ve read were just over the moon, glowing reviews.  So I thought I’d share my experience so far.  It has mostly been positive and easier than I thought, but with this recent incident it goes to show it isn’t all great.

It's more than a dietThe other thing I don’t think people talk about in their composting toilet posts is diet.  I have learned that a good diet beyond good health, impacts how easy it is to use a composting toilet.  Good healthy foods, meals with salads, and less processed foods makes composting toilets easier to manage.

With a good diet your body functions better, it can extract more moisture and nutrients out of the what you eat and keeps things with composting toilets easier.  I also know the better one eats, the more regular one is; for my body, I usually need to visit the restroom at 10:30 am almost without fail, which 9 times out of 10 means I’m out and about, where there are toilets for me to use.  So diet is worth noting and was something I felt was missing from the discussion.

Currently it is illegal in my city have a composting toilet, as it is in most municipalities; plus I’m renting my land, so I wouldn’t want to be composting on land I don’t own.  What seems like the happy medium and it is what I do, is bagging the waste every week 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.

I am currently using pine bedding (from the pets section) which has a nice scent, but I don’t think it absorbs as well as other options.  I’m thinking I’m going to switch to a mix of half pine bedding and half mix of peat moss which is very absorbent.  Peat moss is a pretty good option, but it isn’t a sustainable material, it’s harvesting is actually quite destructive to wet lands.  I know for gardening that coconut coir (husks) is the sustainable version of peat, but I don’t know how it performs in composting toilets.  I’ve ordered an 11 lb block of coconut coir for $16 to try out, which I’ll report back on later.

It has been pretty straight forward, but I still opt to keep my bucket setup outdoors.  I do keep my liquids and solids separate, which at this point means I go peep in the woods and then use the bucket.  Later on I hope add a urine diverter later on, but it isn’t a must at this time.  I have a mini deck space that I keep it on.  The smell isn’t anything to be concerned over, but I’m not sure having it inside with no moving air would be a good idea at this point.

luggable looMy bucket has a pretty tight seal on the lid, so it is pretty hard for things to crawl in, but it is possible.  The other day I went to use my setup and when I opened the lid, I was greeted by a swarm of fly larva.  A hundred wriggling maggots.  It was gross!    What was interesting was they were on the seat between the seat and the lid.  What I don’t know is if that was because the flies couldn’t get into the toilet or if they just preferred that narrow space.

Luckily it was very simple to take care of.  I easily popped off the lid, then hosed it off in a very sunny spot.  I figured the intense sun would kill the larvae so I didn’t have a ton of flies.  I double bag the bucket so I closed the first bag, then tied up the second bag that was still clean.  Job done, took all of two minutes, but I realized something is flawed in my system.

I did some googling to discover that this is a semi-common issue when the heat of summer comes on.  You’ll be going along in the winter, it gets warmer and then all a sudden the flies come out.  I learned about a product called Mosquito Dunk, which you crumble into a spray bottle, mix up with water and then when you use the toilet, you give it a few mists on the surface.

mosquito dunkMosquito Dunk as described by the maker  is a “larvaecide that kills mosquito larvae only. It is deemed organic by the USEPA.  Dunks are harmless to beneficial insects, pets, birds, fish or wildlife.  Kills within hours and lasts for up to 30 days.”

So I’m going to give this option a try and see how things pan out.  I will report back in a few months as I learn more,

Tiny Houses Are Hard, But So Is Everything That Is Worthwhile

The truth is that when it comes to tiny houses, there are many things that will be difficult.  No ShortcutWe all love to dream, we all love to imagine what could be, but when it comes time to actually pull the trigger you need to grapple with some of the realities.  This isn’t to say you can’t live tiny, it is to say that it comes with a lot of hard work, but it’s worth it.

More and more I have come to realize that the things in life that are the hardest are the most worthwhile.  If you think about it, what I show you how to do on this blog or at the Conference is changing the trajectory of your life in such a radical way that it boggles my mind even today.  So when faced with having our lives change in such a dramatically positive way, it makes sense to put a lot of hard work to make it happen.  So here are three reasons why tiny houses are hard, but really worth it.

1. Its a lot of hard work

It takes a lot of really really hard work to build a tiny house.  It’s not scare anyone, but I think people don’t always grasp this fact.  While the process is easy, the scale is approachable and the learning cure made easier with the awesome resources we have now, it doesn’t make the work any easier.  So the process is easy, but the work is hard.

2.  Tiny House Bring An Inherent Risk

When you build and live in a tiny house, you’re taking a risk.  You will most likely need to do it under the radar.  In the ebook mentioned below, I show you how to mitigate the risk of flying under the radar.  In the end, when it comes to codes, people’s perceptions, dealing with neighbors, and much more: its messy.  There will be drama, sleepless nights of worry, having to move and convincing the guy from the power company that you need a panel setup in the middle of the woods, but “I promise I’m not building a meth lab” type of talks.

Our Writer Andrea had to move three times in a single year because of various things beyond her control.  I thought I found land only to have it pulled out from under me.  There is an inherent level of risk that comes with tiny houses and you need to be able to deal with that; if not, then tiny houses might not be for you.

3. Building Codes Are Sticking Point

No matter what anyone tells you, getting your tiny house legal with codes is rare and if it happens, it took a ton of legwork. I see it in the comments all the time “all you have to do is X” and while we want to to believe that its “just that easy”, it is not.  If you doubt this fact, give your code enforcement office a call and try out that person’s magic phrase or loop hole, make sure you mention you want to LIVE in a house that is 150 square feet, see how that works out.

That said if you put in the hard work, you can find solutions to building codes, but it will take a lot of time, piles of paperwork, getting variances, and maybe even go to court; only then you can get it done…. maybe.  I talk about this whole process in my ebook, so I’m not going to belabor this point much more.

 

So while these three things a very tough, they are very much worth the time, effort, and hard work that comes with it.  Tiny houses have the ability to change you life, isn’t that worth some toil?

 

Your Turn!

  • What are the tough points for you and how are you trying to overcome them?

The Fallacy Of A Cheap Tiny House

So over the years I have seen many people touting their tiny house as only being a few thousand dollars to build and many crying out in protest over how much some Tiny Houses cost.   While I do think there are many ways to save quite a bit of money during the building process, the fact is Tiny Houses cost money and a good bit of it.

Even though Tiny Houses pale in comparison to the cost of traditional homes, the price tag of a tumbleweed style house or similar often leaves people wondering how they can cost so much.  So I thought I’d break down some key factors that those who claim their house is only a few grand often neglect to mention.

 

Time is moneyYour Time:

One of the biggest places that people often don’t assign costs to is time spent on your house; Particularly if you time spent on building your house takes the place of working a normal job.   The fact is that many people don’t have the money to build a tiny house all at once, but they do have time.  So they build it themselves and many spend time sourcing reclaimed materials.  While there absolutely nothing wrong with this, I am taking this approach, you simply cannot say that your time is free.  You have value, your time is valuable, and you are giving it up to build/source in the place of something else.

When it comes to finding reclaimed materials, dumpster diving, checking craigslist every day to find all or some of the materials you need, it takes a huge amount of time.   For those of you who haven’t tried to source materials for an entire house, it can be very hard to understand how much time.  If I were to estimate a figure, I would guess you spend twice the hours spent on building.  Additionally, the ones that do reclaim their materials often have pre-existing social connections that facilitate this that the majority of us simply don’t have.

 

Their Time:

I get a lot of people asking me how to get a tiny house built for them and for many, this is how they want to get to their dream of living in a Tiny House.  For many they don’t have the skills to build a house (though I firmly believe almost anyone can learn)or they have the time to do it.  The fact is that regardless of it being a Tiny House or a McMansion, labor costs to build a home can be anywhere between 40% – 60%.

Now there are some that criticize tiny house builders of charging $50,000 when it costs $25,000 in materials, as building in huge profit margins.  The fact is, if you sit down and really crunch the numbers for what it takes to hire workers, insurance, rent a build site, tools, utilities, and a million other things, I’m surprised that they can eek out a modest living; in fact I don’t know for sure that anyone has been able to have it as their sole job.  Even Jay Schaffer had to expand into books, classes and plans when he first started.

 

Consumables:

Updates on a Tiny Home Take TimeSo I am going to cry foul on many people who claim they made their home for only $3-5,000 because at this point in building my Tiny House (only about 1/3 of the way built) I have spent almost $900 on nails, screws, bolts, glue, fasteners, brackets, etc.   There is no way you can get around buying these things because you can’t really reuse nails, screws or glue.  As for brackets and bolts for tie downs, you might be able to reclaim them, but in most examples (not all) I have seen, people simply were cutting corners and not adequately anchoring their houses to the trailers.

Read more

Part Two – Solutions To The Top 5 Barriers Of The Tiny House Movement

This is the second installment of this post, I posted the first part of this here, this is the second part of a post I wrote on the solutions to the top five barriers to living in a Tiny House.

Social Pressures

Social Pressures was something that Lloyd over at Treehugger took issue with because, as he pointed out, much of the rest of the world lives in small houses.  I guess I need to clarify that these pressures I speak about are not on a macro level, but a more micro, person to person, local interaction pressure.  This fact certainly wasn’t lost on me and ironically I had a moment of pause when it came to this article because I know living smaller is pretty status quo for most people.  But ultimately I decided not to go into all that for a few reasons: 94% of my readers are from the United States, an individual will typically get direct social pressure from their friends, family, and those around them, not from someone in another country, finally we are talking about Tiny Houses, not small houses; Building a small house typically can be done within the current legal confinements and are more widely accepted as just being practical, frugal, or a product of density.  Ultimately in the US, Tiny Houses are an extreme and only serve to spark a conversation about how much house and possessions do you really need.

As for dealing with these pressures I think it is very important first have a firm understanding of yourself, from there understanding the issues and engaging in respectful dialogue with opposing view points.  In the end you cannot convince everyone, but knowing yourself, the motivations, the convictions and gaining the support of those close to you can help you manage this.  Most often this is a pretty moot point because those you socialize with are of the like mindset, the rest are often fascinated by how cool your Tiny House is.  Just keep in mind that it isn’t for everyone.

Fear

The final point kind of extends the points from the previous heading, but understanding that to build a Tiny House you must pay a good chunk of change to do it is stressful in some ways.  I guess for me, spending $30,000 in one shot is very stressful and evokes doubts no matter what.  When purchasing my first new car, I remember just before signing the line I had a brief moment of fear hit me, what if I crash the car, what if it’s a lemon, what if, what if what if.  Simply put, for me, spending that sum of money is scary no matter how sure I am, because you are taking the leap.

Things that help with this is to be intentional about what you do, do your homework, think it through, look at ways to mitigate risk.  I always try to put it in perspective, that if I were to live in my Tiny House for 2-3 years, I could walk away after that because I would have broke even when compared to paying rent.

 

What Are your Other Solutions?  Let us know in the comments!

Solutions To The Top 5 Barriers Of The Tiny House Movement

About two weeks ago I wrote a post on the five barriers to living in a Tiny House and it sparked a lot of great discussion and got some coverage around the blog-o-sphere, but I promised to do a follow up post on what might be some possible solutions to those barriers.  So today I wanted to do just that.  This got really lengthy so I have split it in two parts, the next one will go up later this week.

Land

Land is expensive no matter how you slice it, but there are a few things you can consider when looking for land.  If you are willing to live in very rural areas, you can pick up land at a better price, but you trade being close to things and having more employment opportunities.  Since many Tiny Houses are off the grid, you might consider purchasing land that has failed to pass the “perk test” which is way cheaper, but consider the implications down the road.

Many people have found success in parking their Tiny House behind other people’s houses or on a corner of their property in exchange for money or barter of services.  I have seen this particularly resonate with retirees as keeping up a lawn or things that need to be fixed around the house becomes too daunting psychically.  In this case you simply work out an agreement and officially you state that you sleep inside their house, you just happen to park a trailer in the back yard.  Most zoning (but not home owners associations) usually allow for a trailer to be parked out of view of the road as long as it has a market value over a few hundred bucks.  Tiny House Trailer

Next option is cooperative purchasing, co-housing, or intentional community models.  These are a huge topic in and of themselves, but in short, you find a group of like minded individuals that pool their money to purchase some land.

Mobile Home parks, RV parks and campgrounds are the next option, the two big caveats on this is that some places require that an RV or mobile home must be legally designated as such in order to be allowed into the park.  This can good and bad in some ways; you can operate in a box that municipalities know and understand, but also you might be limited by that box.  With Campgrounds you will have to be sure that they don’t have a limit on stays, many do.

 

Loans

Loans are a tricky one; banks inherently want to manage risk, which means they don’t want to step outside the box.  Some people have had luck with securing personal loans, but this option has had limited mileage.  The kicker is if you build a Tumbleweed style house yourself then you are often looking at what is normally 2-3 years worth of rent.

The solution I advocate for is to be self funded, aka save up and pay with cash.  This is not what many people want to hear, but philosophically I feel that it is very much in line with the Tiny House movement.  We have recognized that how our society currently conducts itself isn’t always the best approach.  Part of the philosophy of living in Tiny Houses is to reduce the things you have to remove the clutter and stress from your life.  Entering into a Tiny House without debt is essentially removing stress from your life so you can enjoy it more and focus on what is important.  A Tiny House is not inherently the solution, it is the process and change in living that brings it.  Taking Out Loans

Realizing that no matter how much I try to convince others that saving up is the solution, many will not heed my advice, there are other ways to get there.  Some people found a low APR credit card (all things relative) and used that to pay for the house, then treated the monthly credit card bills as their mortgage payment.

Some have been able to have family or friends loan them money and they work out a payment schedule.  Some even pay interest to them.  The downside to this is that it can put a strain on relationships and change the dynamic, so proceed with caution.

 

Laws

When it comes to laws you need to make a decision, are you going to abide by them or not and understand that there are very real consequences to both sides.  It is a tricky problem. Ask for help with tiny homes!

For those who want to be above board on everything, the best advice I can give you is hire a contractor/developer who is sympathetic to your cause.  What you are buying is their expertise and knowledge on how to navigate the codes and permitting process.  They know how to get variances, they speak code enforcement’s language and might even have relationships they can use.  When approach them, make sure that your homework is well done, you should have sample drawings, plans, photos, and copies of sample codes that other municipalities have used to deal with Tiny Houses.

For those who wish to do it under the radar, understand you are technically breaking the law, it could have criminal consequences.  I personally haven’t heard of people getting in trouble, but there is a potential and legally they have the right to pursue criminal charges.Get the loans for a tiny home

When it comes to skirting the law, there are some things you can do to mitigate the risks.  First off, be a good neighbor, this will go a long ways.  This is because most municipalities are complaint driven, meaning only when code enforcement gets a complaint, do they investigate.  The other thing to add to this is, don’t be obvious.  Have your house be out of sight of the public and keep a low profile.

Next powerful tool to have in the tool box is know the laws, codes and speak the language.  I can’t stress this enough, it take a lot of time and it is a frustrating process, but being legal savvy is very helpful.  For example, if you state your primary dwelling is, in fact, the normal sized house you park your Tiny House behind, this means that you do not live in the Tiny House and it is simply a trailer.   By knowing the system we can exploit it’s weaknesses in a legal manner, much as a shady lawyer would do to get his client off on a technicality.  Basically you want to legally show you live somewhere else, that no one lives in the trailered Tiny House, and that it is a trailer that is compliance with zoning.

TAnalyze why you want to go minimalhe last way to mitigate risks legally is know that many municipalities now use satellite and or aerial photos to do tax assessments.  Essentially they take photos at different times and compare to look for changes in your land.  If they find something has changed, they will often send someone out to check it out.  Usually this is a tax assessor or they just send a letter, but you can usually settle their fears when they see that it is on wheels and you can say that you are storing it here for a week, month, etc. in accordance with zoning laws; at that point pull out a copy of the code and they will generally leave you alone.    Again, knowing the legal speak can get you out of this.

 

The rest will be continued in part two in a few days.   UPDATE:  part two is here


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