Archive for the Tiny House Category

Tiny House Electrical Guide – Wiring & Powering Your Tiny Home

Tiny House Electrical Guide – Wiring & Powering Your Tiny Home

tiny house electrical guide
When building, tiny house electrical questions are bound to come up. I know I had a million of them:

  • How does a tiny house get power?
  • How do I wire a tiny house?
  • What kind of wire, outlets, and breakers do I need?
  • How much will it cost to wire my tiny house?

I want to dig into a lot of these bigger questions, then point you to a great resource that goes into a ton of detail on wiring your tiny home.

How Does A Tiny House Get Power?

How Does A Tiny House Get Power

For the most part a tiny house is set up just like a regular home, but some people who are more mobile opt to have a temporary connection as opposed to a permanent one. Whatever your approach, there are some technical details you need to follow.

Temporary Power Connections – 50 Amp Plug

50-amp plugThis is my preferred method and how I power my tiny house. I use a 50-amp plug from an RV supply store for about $30, plus an extension cord that I assembled myself by purchasing the ends and wire. The wire for a 50-amp drop cord is pretty pricey — $3 a foot if pre-made or $1.50 per foot if you do it yourself.

Essentially, this is just a giant outlet that pumps a lot of power through it. I’ve found with my local code enforcement that if I use this approach, it being “temporary” is a critical factor in being legal.

If my tiny house was hard wired, that would open up a huge can of worms legally speaking. Being that it is “temporary” by nature of the plug, building inspectors instantly lost interest, which is exactly what I wanted.
The other benefit of this approach is that you can roll into almost any RV park and plug in, which makes this a win-win in my book.

Tiny House Power Extension Cords

Tiny House Power Extension Cords

If you’re using a temporary power connection to your tiny house you’ll need a way to connect the house to your power source. The simplest way to do this is to buy an RV power cord. Keep in mind this needs to be sized properly to be safe.

Permanent Power Connection

Permanent Power Connection

The only real difference here is wiring the power line directly to the panel, without a plug. First you need to have your power box and power access installed and inspected. Then it comes time to actually connect the power to your house.

This is usually done by the power company who brings the line to your house and connects it to your power box. The key thing to remember is that each municipality will do this a little differently, and it will need to be inspected.

The National Electrical Code – NEC

The National Electrical Code

The National Electrical Code is the main code reference for you to refer to when it comes to all things wiring. This book is pretty dense, but for most things, you’ll be able to figure out the different key sections you need to know as you start to wire your tiny house.

Hiring an electrician is, of course, advisable to help you get the details right, and an inspection is always required. Electricity in a tiny house is a big deal, as doing anything wrong can create a dangerous situation that could lead to a fire or even death. Proceed at your own risk, as I’m not liable here.

guide to building codes and zoning for tiny houses
simple electrical for tiny houses

Calculating Your Tiny House Electrical Needs

Calculating Your Tiny House Electrical Needs

It’s a good idea to figure out how much power your tiny house will need and use for a couple of reasons. First, you want to size your power source coming into your house correctly. If you’re living off the grid, you need to make sure your solar panels for your tiny house are sized properly. You also need to make sure your circuits, wires, breakers, etc. are sized properly to make sure they are safe and up to code.

The good news is that calculating this in a tiny house is really simple. Since we’re so intentional about what comes into our house and we are often designing and building the house ourselves, we know exactly what is going to go in it. When I was wiring my tiny house and figuring out my solar panels, I literally had a list of everything that needed power in my tiny home.

The Basics: Amps, Volts, & Watts

The Basics of Amps Volts and Watts

I’m not going to get into a comprehensive guide to electrical theory, but there is one thing to understand that will make this all a whole lot easier:

watts equal amps times volts

That seems simple enough, but let’s take it one step further. If you remember back to your algebra days, sometimes your teacher would give you an equation where you had to solve for one variable, but it required you to move it around. If you were solving for X, you had to manipulate the formula so X was on one side of the equal sign and the rest of the variables were on the other side.

You moved things around by dividing, multiplying, and so on to shift things around where you needed them. That’s what we need to do here in a lot of cases because we may know two parts of the equation, but not the third.
For example, if we knew the watts and the volts, but didn’t know the amps, we could do this:

watts divided by volts equals amps

Another example is if we know the watts and the amps, but needed to know the volts:

watts electrical equation

So the one thing that makes this so much easier is realizing that watts, amps and volts are related. The interplay between them is proportional to the others.

A practical example is if a toaster says it’s 1200 watts and you need to know what the amps are for some reason, we can do the math quickly. Houses are most often 120-volt circuits (more on that below). That means we know two variables:

  • 1200 watts
  • 120 volts
  • We need to solve for Amps

solve for amps

How Much Electricity Do Items Use

How Much Electricity Do Items Use

Here is a chart of common things you’ll find in your tiny house and how much power they use.

common household items electric usage

120 Volt Vs. 240 Volt

120 Volt Vs 240 Volt

Much of your house in the USA is running on 120-volt circuits, but that will vary in other countries. Also in US houses, you will commonly find circuits that are 240-volt used for larger appliances, HVAC and other large power draws.

One thing that confused me at first is that sometimes people say 220 volt, 230 volt or 240 volt when talking about these types of circuits. There are technical differences, but largely they are referring to the same thing.

I say 240 volt, but what it really means is that instead of a single 120-volt wire going to that outlet/appliance, there are actually two 120-volt hot leads going to it. A 120-volt lead plus another 120-volt lead adds up to 240 volts.

In 240-volt wires, you’ll typically find a red wire and a black wire, which are the “hot” leads. You’ll also find a single white wire that is neutral and a bare copper or green wire that is ground.

Doing The Math

Doing The Math

I’d start by first making a full list of all the electrical items in your house (plug in and hard wired) and list them in a column on a spreadsheet. Then next to that column, have another column for watts, amps and volts. If you’re wanting to implement solar power, you can add an extra column for hours you’ll use each item in a day.
Then start filling in everything you know about each item. To find that information you can do the following:

  • Check the label, which usually lists some of the electrical numbers.
  • Go to the manufacturer’s website and find a spec sheet or manual for the item.
  • Use a Kill-a-watt plug in meter or clamp meter to measure it directly.

Tiny House Wiring Diagram

Tiny House Wiring Diagram

Let’s start out with an overview of how a tiny house is wired for electrical. Wiring your tiny house is dependent on your design and use, but in general, people wire their tiny house like this:

  • Left side of the main floor
  • Right side of the main floor
  • Loft
  • HVAC
  • Kitchen
  • Appliances
  • Other large draws

Each circuit should be designed for its expected load + 25% (as stipulated by code). That usually means a 20-amp circuit breaker on each circuit of your house except for appliances and HVAC, as they often are large draws.

I did mine a little differently. Here is a functional diagram of how my tiny house is wired:

power distribution from main breaker box

Here is a layout diagram of how I placed my electrical connections when I built my tiny house. You can see how this diagram differs from the functional diagram by showing the locations of the outlets, lights, fans and other connections. The functional diagram just shows how they’re all connected.

tiny house wiring diagram

how to build a tiny house

Electrical Drawing Symbols

Electrical Drawing Symbols

When reading a diagram or making your tiny house plans, electrical symbols are shorthand to know what goes where. They can quickly tell you what is going on within a house.

standard electrical symbols

Tiny House Electrical Materials List

Tiny House Electrical Materials List

There are a lot of elements that go into wiring a tiny house. Choosing the right components and connecting them correctly is key to a safe install. The NEC dictates many if not all of these considerations, so make sure you follow those guidelines.

Here are some of the key elements and my recommendations for them:

Tiny House Electrical Panel / Breaker Box

Tiny House Electrical Panel

breaker boxThe breaker box is the central hub of power for your entire tiny house. The power comes from a power source (the grid, solar panels, etc.) and then is broken down into smaller runs called circuits. My suggestion is to have at least 10 spaces in your box for an approximately 100-amp box.

In many cases, your power company will default to a 200-amp service, but you may be able to request a smaller one. Although it isn’t a bad idea to have a larger service and slightly larger box than what you think you need in case a need pops up in the future. Often the cost difference isn’t a ton.

Wire For A Tiny house

Wire For A Tiny house

The wiring for your tiny house will typically be done with Romex (a brand name used broadly to describe this type of wire), also known as non-metallic sheathed wire that is typically used in residential wiring.

One quick point I want to make about terminology. You have wires and cables. Wire is a single solid copper conductor, while cable is several strands of smaller copper conductors combined into a bundle. For the layman, we use the word “wire” casually, but for clarity, realize that what people often call a wire is often actually a cable.

wire types for tiny house


Wire Sizing

Wire Sizing

This wire/cable comes in a variety of sizes measured in wire gauge. The thing to remember about wire gauge is the bigger the number, the smaller the wire. Typical wire sizes for residential are 14 gauge, 12 gauge, and 10 gauge.

WIRE GAUGE RATED AMPERAGE COMMON USES
14-2 Romex 15 A Lighting Circuits
12-2 Romex 20 A Lighting & Outlets, Refrigerator
10-2 Romex 30 A Electric Water Heater, Baseboard Heaters
10-3 Romex 30 A Electric Clothes Dryer

Understanding Romex Labels

Understanding Romex Labels

Romex also come with different numbers of conductor strands that are bundled up to make the wire. Typically, you’ll have Romex with 2 conductors (plus a ground conductor) or 3 conductors (plus a ground conductor).

The wire labels on Romex packaging are a combination of the wire gauge, followed by the number of conductors that make up the cable. For example, a cable that is made of 2 conductors (plus a ground) that are 14 gauge in size, will be labeled 14-2.

12-3 romex label

Conductor Wire Color Coding

Conductor Wire Color Coding

In most cases, wire colors are used in a standard way, but you should never assume this. Usually the conductors in the wire are exactly the same, just with different color coatings for ease of keeping track of which one is which.
The most common convention for wire color coding is the following:

  • Black for your hot lead
  • White for your neutral lead
  • Red for your second hot lead in 240 volt
  • Bare copper or green for your ground
two wire cable color coding
three wire cable color coding

Color Coding Exceptions

Color Coding Exceptions

Wire colors often aren’t substantially different. When you encounter a wire, they are probably done correctly, but then again, if you didn’t wire it, you don’t actually know for sure. So be smart.

There are other cases where the colors will be different. The main one that comes to mind is in a three-way switch, it isn’t uncommon to find that the white wire is used as a “traveler” in the three-way circuit and could in fact be hot. To signal this, standard practice is to wrap tape around the white wire at all the boxes to signal this, but that doesn’t always happen.

If you know of other exceptions or tips, drop them in the comments!

how to build a tiny house

Circuit Breakers

Circuit Breakers

Breakers are safety devices that stop the flow of power when there is an overload or a short in the circuit. That means that they need to be sized properly for the application that they’re being used for. Below is a chart to give you an idea of common pairings.

In my tiny house, I had a 30-amp double pole circuit breaker for my minisplit and the rest were 20-amp single pole breakers.

wire gauge and circuit breakers

GFCI – Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters

Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters

You’re probably familiar with these because you see them in bathrooms. These are special breakers designed to stop the flow of electricity if it detects a “ground fault” in as little as 1/40th of a second. The idea here is that in wet environments, more risk exists. Code prescribes where these are used, so make sure to follow it.

AFCI – Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters

Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters

This is one you might not be as familiar with, but similar to GFCI, it stops the flow of electricity when it senses an arc. Arcs can happen from improper wiring, a nail being driven through wires, insulation being compromised, or some other issue. These are now generally required in all bedrooms and have been shown to reduce the risk of house fires pretty significantly. Refer to your local codes for guidance.

Grounding A Tiny House

Grounding A Tiny House

Grounding is a backup pathway for electricity to flow from the source to the ground so it can dissipate. You can ground your tiny home by connecting the breaker box ground bar to the trailer and to a grounding rod.

A grounding rod is a 10-foot copper rod driven into the earth with a copper conductor tied to it. You want to make sure there is a direct flow from the ground connection at outlets to the ground bar in the breaker box, and from there to the ground rod.

As a safety measure, we also ground the house to the trailer as well, so that if you’re driving down the road, current can flow down into the trailer and either dissipate through the foot of the hitch or arc a smaller distance from the trailer to the ground.

12-Volt Wiring For A Tiny House

12-Volt Wiring For A Tiny House

Many people have asked me about 12-volt wiring for a tiny house — mainly those who want to be off the grid. A lot of this comes from things you read on the internet saying that 12-volt DC wiring is more efficient than AC power, mainly because of the need to convert power from DC to AC.

This is generally a bad idea. Most of the advice to do this comes from a time when inverters were not as efficient as they are today. Solar energy has come a long way very quickly, so often articles and forum posts you’ve read are out of date. Even something as new as 6 months ago is considered out of date because of the pace at which solar is improving.

batteries for a tiny houseThe other argument for DC wiring on a 12-volt setup is that DC is more efficient in general. This is true, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Consider that if you wire for 12 volt, all your appliances need to be 12 volt. That means the appliances you need to buy are around 3 to 5 times the price, and your options are very limited.

Any inefficiencies from the DC to AC conversion process can be overcome with the addition of an extra panel or two to your solar array. Switching to AC lets you have a huge range of options for a fraction of the cost of DC appliances. The costs savings alone, even after factoring in the price of an extra solar panel or two, will bust any myths about using DC.

So for this reason, I do not recommend anyone wiring their house for 12-volt DC power.

How Much Does It Cost To Wire A Tiny House?

How Much Does It Cost To Wire A Tiny House

The cost of wiring your tiny house will generally be around $500 in materials and around $1,000-$3,000 in labor if you hire an electrician. This does not include lighting fixtures and appliances, as they have a wide range of price points.

ITEM QUANTITY COST EACH
Romex-250 feet 1 $42.65
Outlets/Switches 15 $14.49
Outlet/Switch Covers 15 $0.49
Electrical Boxes 15 $0.68
Wire Staples – 225 pack 1 $4.83
Breaker Box 1 $43.67
Breakers 10 $4.18
GFCI  Breakers 2 $46.15
AFCI Breakers 1 $52.31
Led Puck Lights 3 $29.43
Bath Fan 1 $24.56
Total $625.31

Your Turn!

  • What’s your plan for wiring your tiny house?
  • Are you going to be on the grid or off the grid?

How To Build A Tiny House With Slide Outs

How To Build A Tiny House With Slide Outs

How To Build A Tiny House With Slide OutsMany people have asked me about tiny houses with slide outs as a way to extend the living space in a tiny house. So today I wanted to break down how to actually build a tiny home with slide outs, the costs, and the pros and cons of using them.

What Is A Tiny House Slide Out?

What Is A Tiny House Slide Out

A slide out in a tiny home is essentially a box with expanding walls for additional living space that collapses inside the tiny house for transport. This is common in RV’s for couches, beds and additional living space.

Pros Of Tiny House Slide Outs

Pros Of Tiny House Slide Outs

The biggest benefit of having a slide out, also known as a bump out, in your tiny home is, of course, the additional square footage. Here are a few things to think about when it comes to the benefits of slide outs.

Maximize Your Space

Tiny House with Slide Outs

In some cases, people want to have as much space as they can for their living space. The biggest tiny house you can have is about 400 square feet, but some may need or want more space. If you’re pushing the envelope that much, you might want to consider a tiny house built on a foundation.

Smaller Trailer

Others hope to build their tiny house on a smaller trailer for easier towing, but still have the benefits of a larger tiny home. If you need a certain square footage, one option is to use a smaller trailer with built in bump outs or pop outs to still achieve that targeted square footage for your needs. Having a smaller trailer makes towing your tiny house easier to turn and generally safer to drive.

Greater Interior Width

Beyond the additional square footage, I think one of the most compelling reasons to consider this is that you can create a much roomier feel inside your tiny house. One challenge with tiny houses is how narrow they can be, limited to only 8.5 feet wide in most cases. Just having the ability to open up the inside area to have ample space for furniture and a clear walking path is huge!

tiny house building checklist

Cons Of Tiny House Slide Outs

Cons Of Tiny House Slide Outs

There are a lot of downsides to having a slide out or bump out in your tiny home, too. Here are a few that come to mind:

Leaks

It can be very difficult for a slide to be installed in such a way that it stays completely sealed in both the open and closed positions, so most slides will develop leaks over time. Water damage is a huge issue with tiny house slide outs.

Moving Parts

If I’ve learned anything about construction it is that every moving part is just another point of failure. Everything that has to move will be a potential place for your tiny house to break and will be difficult to fix. The slide out mechanism for your tiny house will require regular maintenance and repairs.

how to build a tiny houseDrafts And Pests

Sliders are very difficult to make completely weatherproof, even professional installers have a difficult time with this. Air sealing is a major concern when building an efficient tiny house, so introducing potential weak points is a bad idea. It also means pests will have a much easier time entering your tiny house on wheels.

Extra Weight

Slide outs add a lot of weight to your tiny house. You should plan on a single slide adding as much as 1,500 lbs. to the total weight of your tiny house. This means less carrying capacity and can easily make an otherwise easily tow-able tiny house on wheels difficult to haul.

Uneven Weight Distribution

Perhaps the most dangerous issue a slide out can present is uneven weight distribution. A pop out will make a tiny home heavier on one side than the other, which can be very dangerous.

Tiny House With Slide Outs Floor Plans

Tiny House With Slide Outs Floor Plans

Slide out tiny house designs are kind of hard to come by these days, so I wanted to suggest a few possible floorplans that you could use when designing your own tiny house on wheels with pop outs.

Tiny House With Slide Out Floor Plan

 


Floor Plan for Tiny House With Slide Out


Tiny House floorplan


Tiny House Slide Out Floorplan


tiny house plans

How To Build A Tiny House With Slide Outs

How To Build A Tiny House With Slide Outs

The first thing you need to understand is that weight balance in a tiny house is critical to get right. In general, I don’t recommend a DIYer attempting to build slide outs on their own, but we’ll go over the general process for reference. The below instructions are loosely based off the Norco Accu-Slide Slide-Out System.

Build Your Tiny House Trailer Frame

If you’re going to have a tiny house with bump outs, you’re going to need to build a custom tiny house trailer frame. This will need to have the ability to extend footings to stabilize the trailer before the bump outs are extended, plus support the extended room’s weight.

You’ll want to have a solid metal frame made out of 2 to 3-inch square tubing that will serve as the opening for your slide out. Keep in mind that in some systems, you need to actually embed seals, rollers and bezels into the frame, so account for those if your system requires it.

Build Your Tiny House Trailer Frame

Attach Your Slide Out Rollers

The key to this system is a set of rollers that are mounted on the metal frame at the bottom of the opening, which the room is set into and rolls on. These rollers are typically located on the bottom part of the slide out, while the top part is generally pretty loose, but has rubber stripping to try to seal any gaps.

Attach Your Slide Out Rollers

Attach Slide Out Cable System To Your Frame

Attached to the rough frame of your tiny house where the slide out will sit is your cable system frame. This holds the motor and routes the cables to be tensioned properly for the slide out mechanism. Set this portion of the system according to the manufacturing guidelines.

Attach Slide Out Cable System To Your Frame

Drop In Your Steel Framed Slide Out

Your pop out should be framed with a 2 to 3-inch square tubing welded together. This is important because you need this box to be very strong and rigid. The frame should be totally square and plumb, but some systems allow for a slight outward taper to let water run off.

Drop In Your Steel Framed Slide Out

Attach Your Cables To The Slide Out

The cables here don’t actually support the slide out too much, but more balance it. When fully extended, the cables will prevent the top from tipping out, but the bulk of the weight should be on the trailer frame and the top lip of the framed wall (metal tubing).

Attach Your Cables To The Slide Out

Attach Bezels, Stripping, And Seals

Each system will have a unique approach to sealing up your slide out, so follow the manufacturer directions carefully. Keep in mind that some of these need to be inset or other considerations made so that the entire thing will sit flush when closed and seal up tightly when extended.

Attach Bezels to tiny house slide out

Have Support Legs For Long Term Use

While it may not be required, I suggest figuring out some method to independently support the slide out if you’re going to be using it for extended periods of time. Anything longer than a few weeks a year will really need proper support.

Have Support Legs on slide out For Long Term Use

Add A Topper Awning

A topper awning is a rolled-up awning that extends from the inside of the wall cavity out just beyond the outside edge of the bump out. This adds extra protection from the rain and gives a steeper angle to drain water away. Remember that leaks in slide outs are very common, so make sure you do this detail correctly.

Add A Topper Awning to tiny house slide out

Tiny House With Slide Outs Diagram

Diagram of Tiny House With Slide Out


Tiny House With Slide Out Price

Tiny House With Slide Out Price

A tiny house typically costs anywhere from $35,000 to $95,000 when built by a professional builder. Adding slide outs to a tiny house will cost about $4,000 in materials and about $5,000 for labor per slide out.

Many builders no longer accept jobs where a design includes slide outs because even when built properly, they often end up leaking after a few years, leading to call backs. Simply put, for many builders, slide outs are more trouble than they are worth.

Tiny Houses With Slide Out Photos

Tiny Houses With Slide Out Photos

Here is a sampling of tiny houses with slide outs that can be used to inspire your design should you want pop outs in your tiny home.

Tiny House Slide Out Interior Photos

Tiny House Slide Out Interior Photos

Interior of Tiny House Slide Out
Tiny House Slide out interior
tiny house slide out living room
Slide out in tiny house
kitchen slide out in tiny house
tiny house slide out living space
tiny house slide out interior
slide out inside tiny house
tiny house kitchen slide out
side out bedroom in tiny house

 

Tiny House With Slide Outs Exterior Photos

Tiny House With Slide Outs Exterior Photos

tiny house slide out exterior
tiny house slide out design
contemporary tiny house slide out
simple tiny house slide out
tiny house slide out modern design
tiny house with slide out
multiple slide outs on tiny house
tiny house slide out
minimallist tiny house slide out
modern tiny house slide out
slide out designs for tiny house
tiny house bump outs
single bump out on tiny house
tiny house slide out extra space

Gooseneck Tiny House With Slide Outs Photos

Gooseneck Tiny House With Slide Outs Photos

Gooseneck Tiny House
Gooseneck Tiny House With Slide Out
Tiny House Slide Out on Gooseneck Trailer
Slide Out on Gooseneck Tiny House

Your Turn!

  • What do you think about tiny houses with slide outs?

How Much Does A Tiny House Weigh? How To Calculate The Weight Of Your Tiny Home

How Much Does A Tiny House Weigh? How To Calculate The Weight Of Your Tiny Home

how much does a tiny house weigh

tiny house tipped over on highwayUnderstanding how much a tiny house weighs is a critical step that, if done wrong, can easily lead to disaster, sometimes with deadly results.You don’t want to end up in a situation like with this tiny house where a lot of people were hurt.

The weight of tiny houses is a very important thing to get right. You don’t want to exceed weight limits of your trailer or tow vehicle, and you need to understand weight distribution to ensure you can tow it safely.

How Much Does A Tiny House Weigh? 8,500 lbs., On Average

average tiny house weighs 8500 pounds

A tiny house’s weight really depends on the size of the house itself. The size of a tiny house has a large impact on the weight, obviously.

Below is the average weight for tiny houses of various sizes.

tiny house dimensions

Various Tiny House Weight Measurements

tiny house weight measurements

There are a few numbers you’re going to want to consider when crunching the numbers on your tiny house. These are important to understand for different things like trailer load capacity, towing, and safety.

tiny house trailer weight ratings

Tiny House Dry Weight

The dry weight of a tiny house is how much the house and trailer weighs without any people, water or moveable furniture. This is useful for transporting because you shouldn’t have people or loose furniture in the house while towing. Include built-in furniture and storage into the dry weight.

Gross Vehicle Weight Rating – GVWR

The GVWR is the total weight that the trailer can safely hold. Not to be confused GCWR with includes the weight of the trailer, the weight of the house, and the weight of everything you might put inside.

Gross Combined Weight Rating – GCWR

This is the weight of the tow vehicle, the trailers, the tiny house and the people/contents all combined. This is important because the Department of Transportation has certain rules about the maximum weights of GCWR for operating on roads and highways.

Gross Axle Weight Rating – GAWR

The major factor of a trailer’s capacity is the axles it is built upon. GAWR is what your individual axles are rated at by the manufacturer. Keep in mind this is per axle, so if you have two, three, or four axles, you multiply the rating of one axle by the number of axles to determine the approximate trailer capacity.

I want to caution you that if you upgrade your axles to a higher spec, it won’t mean towing more weight is safe. This is a very common line of thought with DIY tiny house builders and can be dangerous because your trailer frame also needs to be upgraded to handle the additional weight.

Gross Trailer Weight – GTW

This is simply the weight of the materials that the trailer is built from.

Payload Weight Rating

This is what your tiny house trailer can carry after you take into consideration the weight of the trailer itself. So if you have a trailer with a GVWR of 8,000 lbs., but the trailer itself weighs 2,000 lbs., your payload weight cannot exceed 6,000 lbs.

Tongue Weight

Since a trailer is balanced (unevenly, by design) to transfer some of the weight onto the tow vehicle itself, you want to make sure you’re not putting too much weight on the tongue.

In some cases, if you have too much weight on the tongue, but are still under the weight rating of the trailer and tow vehicle, it might just be a matter of shifting the weight distribution around. You should make sure you design your house with the proper weight balance in mind.

how to build a tiny house

How To Calculate The Weight Of A Tiny House

How To Calculate The Weight Of A Tiny House

A tiny house’s weight is made up of the trailer that the house sits on, the materials you build your house with, and the contents of your tiny home.

Tiny House Trailer Weights

Tiny House Trailer Weights

The trailer itself needs to be calculated in when considering the weight of your tiny home. Trailer weights can be found on the manufacturer’s website or spec sheet. This is one of the main reasons that I like buying tiny house trailers new, because then you know exactly what you’re getting.

Here are some typical trailer weights:

Trailer Length Trailer Weight
16 ft. 2,300 lbs.
18 ft. 2,500 lbs.
20 ft. 2,700 lbs.
22 ft. 3,000 lbs.
24 ft. 3,300 lbs.
26 ft. 3,500 lbs.
28 ft. 3,700 lbs.
Trailer Length Trailer Weight
30 ft. 3,900 lbs.
32 ft. 4,100 lbs.
34 ft. 4,400 lbs.
36 ft. 4,700 lbs.
38 ft. 5,000 lbs.
40 ft. 5,300 lbs.
42 ft. 5,700 lbs.

The upper limit of your tiny house weight is determined by your trailer’s weight rating, but just because you trailer is rated for a certain weight doesn’t mean you can or should go all the way up to that limit.

tiny house building checklist

Weight Of Tiny House Building Materials

Weight Of Tiny House Building Materials

It can be complicated to figure out exactly how much a tiny house will weigh when you’re designing your tiny home. Here are the weights of some common building materials (listed in lbs.):

Framing Lumber and Sheathing:

2×4 @ 16” o.c = 1.1 plf
2×6 @ 16” o.c. = 1.7 plf
2×8 @ 16” o.c. = 2.2 plf
2×10 @ 16” o.c. = 2.9 plf
2×12 @ 16” o.c. = 3.5 plf
5/8″ plywood = 1.8 psf
3/4″ plywood = 2.3 psf
1 1/8″ plywood = 3.4 psf

Siding:

Wood board = 1.5psf
Board & Batten = 2.9 psf
Vinyl Siding = 0.52 psf
Counter tops:
Granite = 20 psf
Marble = 19 psf
Laminate = 4 psf
Butcher block = 7 psf

Flooring:

2″ (nom.) decking = 4.3 psf
1″ (nom.) hardwood floor = 4.0 psf
Linoleum = 1.5 psf
3/4″ ceramic tile or quarry tile = 10.0 psf

Roofing:

20 gage metal deck roofing = 2.5 psf
18 gage metal deck roofing = 3 psf
0.05” thick polyvinyl chloride polymer membrane = 0.35 psf

Insulation:

1” fiberglass batt insulation = 0.04 psf
1” loose fiberglass insulation = 0.14 psf
1” rigid insulation = 1.5 psf
Blowing wool insulation R-38 (16” deep) = 0.62 psf
1″ Glass wool = 0.3 psf

Windows:

Skylight: metal frame w/ 3/8” wire glass = 8 psf
Windows: glass, frame and sash = 8 psf

Other Materials:

3/4″ gypcrete = 6.5 psf
1/2″ gypsum board = 2.2 psf
5/8″ gypsum board = 2.8 psf
Plaster (1″ thick) = 8.0 psf
Acoustical tile = 1.0 psf
1″ Cement plaster = 12.0 psf
1″ Rigid fiberglass = 1.5 psf

plf = per linear foot       •       psf = per square foot

Weight Of Tiny House Contents

Weight Of Tiny House Contents

The final piece that will make up your tiny house weight is the things that go inside your tiny house, including furniture, clothing, and even water. People often forget to consider this, but it can really add up.

Weight Of Furniture

Furniture is something that can add a lot of poundage to your tiny home. Consider too that you might decide to change your furniture in the future, so give yourself some breathing room in case any new furniture is heavier.

For example, when I first built my house, I started with a single sectional piece that was about 75 lbs., but later upgraded to a much nicer recliner that was around 230 lbs. So make sure you have some wiggle room built into your calculations

Item Weight (lbs)
Flat Screen TV (small) 35
Flat Screen TV (medium) 56
Flat Screen TV (large) 140
Entertainment Center (small) 210
Entertainment Center (large) 420
TV Stand 175
Three seat sofa 287
Four seat sofa 350
Sectional sofa (4-piece) 1050
Sectional sofa (5-piece) 1295
Loveseat 224
Armchair 105
Recliner 105
Rocker 84
Item Weight (lbs)
Futon 210
Coffee table (small) 70
Coffee table (large) 105
End table 105
Ottoman 35
Cabinet (small) 70
Cabinet (medium) 140
Cabinet (large) 245
Cabinet (curio) 70
Glass cabinet 140
Desk (small) 154
Desk (large) 245
Bookcase (per section) 140
Bookshelf (small) 70
Item Weight (lbs)
Stereo 28
Speakers (standard) 35
Speakers (large) 70
Blinds/Shades 21
Curtains/Rods 28
Area rug (small) 35
Area rug (large) 70
Clock 35
Grandfather clock 140
Floor lamp 21
Table lamp 14
Mirror (small) 21
Mirror (large) 49
Window A/C unit 40

Weight Of Clothes:

You might be a tiny houser that loves shoes or has a large wardrobe, so you’ll want to account for that weight too. I personally keep a very simple wardrobe, which really consists of a uniform.

weight of clothing

Weight Of Water Tanks And Hot Water Heaters

Water is heavy, 8.33 lbs. per gallon to be exact, which can add up when you really think about how much water you use in a day. Many people want to have a water storage tank so they can go off the grid. Others are trying to decide which water heater is right for them. For either of these options, weight can be a big deciding factor.

  • Water in pipes: 2.7 lbs. per foot of water line
  • Water in tanks: 8.33 lbs. times the volume of your tank
  • Water in tanked hot water heater: 8.33 lbs. times the volume of your hot water tank
  • Water in tankless hot water heater: 5 lbs.

why you should consider a tankless hot water heater

Tiny House Weight Examples

Tiny House Weight Examples

To put these weights into perspective, here are some popular tiny houses that you might have seen around and their weights.

You’ll see that some of these houses are heavier even though they are on shorter trailers than others. Wall height, cladding materials, windows and other features all impact the weight of a tiny home.

10-Foot Tiny House 3200 lbs

10-Foot Tiny House – 3,200 lbs.

16-Foot Tiny House 5400 lbs

16-Foot Tiny House – 5,400 lbs.

18-Foot Tiny House 8000 lbs

18-Foot Tiny House – 8,000 lbs.

20-Foot Tiny House 8800 lbs

20-Foot Tiny House – 8,800 lbs.

24-Foot Tiny House 10500 lbs

24-Foot Tiny House – 10,500 lbs.

20-Foot Tiny House 9800 lbs

20-Foot Tiny House – 9,800 lbs.

35-Foot Tiny House 13500 lbs

35-Foot Tiny House – 13,500 lbs.

26-Foot Tiny House 11500 lbs

26-Foot Tiny House – 11,500 lbs.

34-Foot Tiny House 14000 lbs

34-Foot Tiny House – 14,000 lbs.

how to build a tiny house

Tiny House Trailer Weight Distribution

Tiny House Trailer Weight Distribution

The weight of your tiny house is only part of the picture — how you distribute that weight is also a really big deal.Balancing your weight side to side and front to back is critical. Having the right amount of weight on the tongue is important too, as too much or too little can be dangerous.

Here is a great video demonstrating this:

This is a place where you’re going to want to loop in a professional engineer to calculate the load balances for you. You yourself are taking on the liability and responsibility of building a tiny house, (you get the idea, I’m not responsible) so do your homework.

Typically, you’re shooting to have the tongue weight be 10-15% of your tiny house’s Gross Trailer Weight. No more, no less. You’ll commonly see people suggest that you want 60% towards the front of the trailer, and while this is a good rule of thumb, sometimes having 60% of the weight forward will result in a tongue weight higher than the 10-15%, which is dangerous.

Your Turn!

  • What trailer weight rating are you shooting for?

Guide To Building A Gooseneck Tiny House And Fifth Wheel Tiny Homes

Guide To Building A Gooseneck Tiny House And Fifth Wheel Tiny Homes

Guide To Building A Gooseneck Tiny House
Many people are interested in building a gooseneck tiny house, also known as a fifth wheel tiny house. These houses are built on a special style of trailer, often referred to as a gooseneck, that attaches to your tow vehicle with a fifth wheel towing connector.

While I built my tiny house on a normal trailer, I’ve had the chance to step foot in quite a few gooseneck tiny houses. It’s easy to see the appeal because there is a lot going for this approach.

What Is A Gooseneck Tiny House?

What Is A Gooseneck Tiny House

At its core, a gooseneck tiny house is simply a tiny house built on a gooseneck trailer, which has major benefits of having a more room inside and being easier to tow. The other aspect which draws people to this style of tiny house is that you can have a full height bedroom without needing a ladder.

Gooseneck Tiny House Floorplans

Gooseneck Tiny House Floorplans

One of the key features of a gooseneck tiny home is that you can build over the neck of the trailer. Since you can build over the hitch, you can have a larger living space as compared to a normal bumper bulled trailer. Most people opt to put their bedroom over the hitch with a few steps leading up to it.

To get an idea of gooseneck tiny house designs, here are some different floorplans for a gooseneck tiny house.

32-Foot Gooseneck Tiny House Floorplans

32-Foot Gooseneck Tiny House Floorplans

A tiny house built on a 32-foot gooseneck trailer will give you about 331 square feet of living space in your tiny house. Here are some tiny house floorplans that are built on a 32-foot gooseneck trailer.

Gooseneck Tiny House Floorplans for 32-Foot trailer
 Floorplans for 32-Foot Gooseneck trailer
Floorplans for 32-Foot trailer
Tiny House Floorplans for 32-Foot trailer

34-Foot Gooseneck Tiny House Floorplans

34-Foot Gooseneck Tiny House Floorplans

A tiny house built on a 34-foot trailer will give you approximately 350 square feet of living space. Here are a few floorplans for a 34-foot fifth wheel tiny house.

Gooseneck Tiny House Floorplans for 34-Foot trailer
Floorplans for 34-Foot tiny house
Tiny House Floorplans for 34-Foot gooseneck trailer
Gooseneck Floorplans for 34-Foot trailer

38 Foot-Gooseneck Tiny House Floorplan

38 Foot-Gooseneck Tiny House Floorplan

A tiny house built on a 38-foot gooseneck trailer will have about 380 square feet of living space. At this size, you’re going to have to consider what type of tow vehicle you’re going to need, because these can be very heavy. Here are a few floorplans for a tiny house built on a 38-foot gooseneck trailer.

38 Foot Gooseneck Tiny House
38 Foot Floorplan for a Gooseneck Tiny House
38 Foot Tiny House Gooseneck Trailer
38 Foot Tiny House

40 Foot Gooseneck Tiny House Floorplan

40 Foot Gooseneck Tiny House Floorplan

A tiny house built on a 40-foot gooseneck trailer will have about 400 square feet of living space, which is a decent sized tiny house. [Link to tiny house dimensions post] It’s at this point that you’ll have to start watching out for weight ratings and axle limits for a CDL license when you tow your tiny house.

Floorplan for a 40 Foot Gooseneck Tiny House
40 Foot Tiny House Floorplan
40 Foot Tiny House Floorplan For a Gooseneck trailer
40 Foot Floorplan for Tiny House gooseneck

tiny house resources

tiny house dimensions

Tiny House Dimensions


Gooseneck Tiny House Plans

Gooseneck Tiny House Plans

Right now, there is only one set of plans for sale that I know of for a gooseneck trailer tiny home. These are designed by my friend Macy Miller, who built this house herself. I’ve spent time reviewing a lot of tiny house plans and these in particular are one of the best out there.

minimotives house
minimotives floorplan
minimotives tiny house
minimoties tiny house layout plans
minimotives tiny house interior
minimotives floorplan layout

The first thing you notice about the plans are the gorgeous 3D graphics! They help make the building plans easier to read and are visually appealing. There are so many zoomed-in details, cutaways, and isometrics, and they’re all beautiful. The 3D diagrams are rendered in color and labeled clearly so a builder can easily discern all the details. The plans are also very thorough at 32 pages. Pages measure 17”x11”. They could be printed or viewed digitally. There’s no tool list, but the materials list is very detailed.

The plumbing illustrations are rendered in 3D from different angles and very clearly labeled. There’s also a page dedicated just to the electrical diagrams separate from other floor plans and layouts for easy reading. Color coding helps the builder see the circuits more clearly. For the beginner, there are some great side diagrams explaining basic wiring.

How To Build A Gooseneck Tiny House

How To Build A Gooseneck Tiny House

If you want to build a tiny house on a gooseneck or fifth wheel trailer, the process is pretty similar to that of a standard tiny house, with the exception of building over the fifth wheel neck. The best way to think about this is just building two sections of house, one mounted on the main trailer and the other mounted on the neck.

A Gooseneck Tiny House

As you can see, there are two section of this tiny house. The main body and the upper loft of the gooseneck. You’re going to want to make sure that your roof height doesn’t exceed the maximum height allowed by law. [LINK to tiny house dimensions post]

Step 1: Design Your Tiny House

Step 1: Design Your Tiny House

Start by having a rough idea of your layout to make sure the square footage will work for you, then get your trailer. I’d suggest getting your trailer before you commit to a final design. This will help you when it comes to actual dimensions and visualizing what it really will be like.

tiny house resources

planning your tiny house

Planning Your Tiny House


Step 2: Anchor Your Tiny House To Your Gooseneck Trailer

Anchor Your Tiny House To Your Gooseneck Trailer

Anchoring your tiny house is a very important step, especially with a gooseneck tiny home. A gooseneck trailer is much heavier than a regular trailer, but that also allows you to put more weight on it. The result is that your tiny home will be a load that, if not anchored properly, can be disastrous or even deadly.

tiny house resources

Anchor A Tiny House To A Gooseneck Trailer

Anchoring Your Tiny House


Step 3: Build The Subfloor

Build The Subfloor for a tiny house

The first system you’re going to build is your subflooring. This is the base that will sit on top of your trailer deck and later is what you’ll add your finish flooring on. A very important point here is to make sure the anchoring extends from the trailer through your subflooring and up into the wall studs to secure all three together.

tiny house resources

tiny house subfloor

Framing The Floor


Step 4: Framing The Walls Of Your Gooseneck Tiny Home

Framing The Walls Of Your Gooseneck Tiny Home

On top of your subflooring, you’re going to build your wall framing system. You want to make sure that your anchoring comes through your bottom plate and ties into your vertical studs with the proper metal brackets. I’d suggest 16 inch on center framing, but you might consider 24 inch framing if you need to lighten up on weight.

tiny house resources

framing a tiny house

Framing My Tiny House


Step 5: Framing Your Roof

Framing Your Tiny House Roof

Your roof tops off your walls and should be covered in roof decking and tied in with hurricane brackets at each stud. Your roof trusses should land exactly on top of your wall studs, which will allow the weight of the roof to be carried down from the rafters, through the studs and onto your trailer.

how to build a tiny house book

Step 6: Add Sheathing

Add Sheathing to a tiny house

On the outside of your tiny house, you’re going want to use sheathing to tie it all together. I suggest using a glue and screw approach for extra strength.

tiny house resources

Tiny House Sheathing


Step 7: Add Doors And Windows To Your Tiny House

Add Doors And Windows To Your Tiny House

Dropping in your windows and doors won’t take long, but you want to make sure you get your flashing details right.

Step 8: Adding Siding And Trim To Your Tiny House

Adding Siding And Trim To Your Tiny House

Adding siding to your tiny house is a pretty straight forward process once you get the trim done around your windows and doors. You have a few options for siding: board & batten, fiber cement, and wood siding. I wouldn’t suggest going with vinyl siding as it’s very easily blown off while driving down the road.

tiny house resources

tiny house building checklist

Tiny House Building Checklist


Step 9: Installing Utilities: Electrical And Plumbing

Installing Utilities Electrical And Plumbing

For this step, you might want to consider looping in an electrician and a plumber. But for those of you who want to do it on your own, it can be done. I’d suggest using PEX in your tiny house to plumb it and keeping your electrical system pretty simple.

tiny house resources

simple electric for tiny houses

Simple Electrical For Tiny Houses


tiny house plumbing

Tiny House Plumbing


Step 10: Finish Your Gooseneck Tiny House Interior

Finish Your Gooseneck Tiny House Interio

Obviously this is a pretty involved step, but the final process of building your gooseneck tiny house is to finish the inside. You’re going to want to apply your interior wall finishes, build out your kitchen and bathroom, add your built ins, and lay down your flooring.

Here are some posts that can help you with all this:

tiny house resources

designing your tiny house bathroom

Designing Your Dream Bathroom


tiny house kitchen ideas

Tiny House Kitchen Ideas


how to set up a tiny house loft

Tiny House Loft Solutions


tiny house closet

Building My Closet


Gooseneck Tiny House Video Tours

Gooseneck Tiny House Video Tours

Here are some video tours of gooseneck tiny house interiors to get some design inspiration for building your own tiny house on a fifth wheel trailer.


how to build a tiny house

Your Turn!

  • Why do you want to build your tiny house on a gooseneck trailer?

Which Tiny House Water Heater Should I Buy? Advice From A Full Time Tiny Houser

Which Tiny House Water Heater Should I Buy? Advice From A Full Time Tiny Houser

tiny house hot water heatersIf there is one thing I love about my tiny house, it’s the tiny house hot water heater I currently have. After living in my tiny house for over 7 years, I’ve actually gone through a few tiny house water heaters, but there has been one that stood out from the rest. I’ll get to that soon.

My Top 5 Tiny House Hot Water Heaters:

Rinnai
V53DeP
Precision Temp RV-550 Eco Temp
L5
Eco Temp
L10
Rheem
RTEX-11
Rinnai V53DeP Precision Temp RV-550 Eco Temp L5 Eco Temp L10 Rheem RTEX-11
My Ranking
Flow Rate 5.3 GPM 1.5 GPM 1.5 GPM 2.9 GPM 2.68 GPM
Energy Type Propane/Natural Gas Propane Propane Propane Propane
Why Consider Best performance and build quality Good option for 12-volt systems Great for outdoor showers Budget friendly with good functionality Super compact
Who Is It Best For General and off-grid water heating RVs Weekend cabins and seasonal outdoor showers Budget-minded tiny house folks Those on the grid
Price $550 $1,195 $129 $349 $275
BUY NOW BUY NOW BUY NOW BUY NOW BUY NOW

tiny house hot water heater comparison

how to build a tiny house

Rinnai V53DeP

Rinnai V53DeP hot water heater

Rinnai V53DeP
Rinnai V53DeP
My Ranking
Flow Rate 5.3 GPM
Energy Type Propane or Natural Gas
Why Consider Best power and build quality
Who Is It Best For General and off-grid water heating
Price $550
BUY NOW

I mentioned that of all the tiny house hot water heaters I’ve had over the years, there was one that stood out, and this was it. Rinnai has been in the tankless hot water scene for a very long time. Way before most of us even heard of this company, they were building hot water heaters.

I think it’s very telling that every time a plumber has come to my house (not to fix the water heater), they always say something to the effect of “that’s a great choice” or “Rinnai is the best for tankless”. After using my V53 for close to 5 years, I have to emphatically agree.

You can order these units in a propane version (denoted by the P at the end of the model number) or in a natural gas version (N model). This is a direct vent style that is made to mount outside your tiny house, which is very important. Venting is a huge pain in a tiny house because you need to use such large ducting. It’s much easier to just mount it on the outside.

These units have freeze protection and you can buy an optional dump valve if the power goes out. This is the best option for an off-the-grid hot water heater that I’ve found. Running on propane is easy. I just have normal 20 lb. propane tanks hooked up to it and can heat my water and cook on my stove (also propane) for about 2-3 months per tank.

At 5.3 gallons per minute (GPM) this will give you endless hot water even if you have a shower going and two sinks. These units come in at around $550 and it’s money well spent. These units are built to a very high standard, in my experience.

Precision Temp RV-550

Precision Temp RV-550 hot water heater

Precision Temp RV-550
Precision Temp RV-550
My Ranking
Flow Rate 1.5 GPM
Energy Type Propane
Why Consider Good option for 12 volt systems
Who Is It Best For RVs
Price $1,195
BUY NOW

I put this one next because I know it’s a very popular water heat for tiny houses. However, I’ve had three of these now and each one of them was plagued with issues. At a price of $1,195, there is no excuse for it to not work well when it’s already twice the price of the next most expensive competitor.

I’ve detailed why I don’t recommend this company for tiny house hot water heaters in this post. The biggest issue I had was when I received my first unit, I noticed an odd rattle inside it. I decided to open it up, only to find the internal vent loose, so all the carbon monoxide created by the unit would have blown right into my house instead of venting outside. That could have killed me.

Now there are some reasons that people like these units. First off, it’s designed for RVs and campers, so it can handle lower flow rates than some of the competitors. At 1.5 GPM this will be able to run a low flow shower head or a sink, but not really both at once.

Another thing to know is that this unit doesn’t have the same BTUs as the other units. My Rinnai has a max BTU output of 120,000 BTUs, while the RV-550 only has 55,000 BTUs. What that means in practical terms is that in my mild winters in North Carolina, the best the RV-550 could do was make my water warm, but not hot.

To be fair, Precision Temp is very transparent about this, but I didn’t understand what 55k BTUs really meant practically even after reviewing their site and literature.

So to sum up, it’s twice the price, half the BTUs and, in my experience, workmanship on these units is not acceptable.

Eco Temp L5

Eco Temp L5 hot water heater

Eco Temp L5
Eco Temp L5
My Ranking
Flow Rate 1.5 GPM
Energy Type Propane
Why Consider Great for outdoor showers
Who Is It Best For Weekend cabins and seasonal outdoor showers
Price $129
BUY NOW

This is another very popular tankless hot water heater that many people consider when thinking about building a tiny house. I actually recommend this to a lot of people… In very specific circumstances. I think if you use this hot water heater in the right case, you’ll love it. But if you try to do something it’s not really meant for, you’ll be disappointed.

This hot water heater is designed for those who need hot water in more remote or austere conditions: your weekend rustic cabin, going camping, setting up a temporary shower or if you need hot water in some remote part of your property.

This unit is designed to be used seasonally with less-than-permeant usage.

What that means is if you have this as your main tiny house hot water heater, you’re going to be disappointed. It’s an attractive option at $129, but for everyday use, you’ll want something more robust.

What I use this for is my outdoor shower. I’ve used the L5 for years now as an outdoor shower and it’s amazing for that. I have a simple platform I stand on and I mount this unit on a single screw on a vertical post. I connect my garden hose and a 20 lb. propane tank and in literally 2 minutes I am taking a nice, hot shower.

For the price, this unit is a great buy. One downside I’ve found is that if there is any real wind, the unit’s flame will go out. You can do some shielding around it, but because this unit is a direct vent unit, you need to keep it outside — never bring it inside!

Eco Temp L10

Eco Temp L10 hot water heater

Eco Temp L10
Eco Temp L10
My Ranking
Flow Rate 2.9 GPM
Energy Type Propane
Why Consider Budget friendly with good features
Who Is It Best For Budget minded tiny house folks
Price $349
BUY NOW

If you’ve considered the other Eco Temp model but want something that’s going to be more reliable for your house in everyday use, this is a great option. The L10 is designed to be used on a house for everyday use at 2.9 GPM, where the L5 is more for camping applications.
At $349, this strikes a very good balance of cost vs. value. I’ll be upfront and say that this company is a lower-tier manufacturer from China relative to Rinnai, but I’ve found they do a good job for the price. While you can see the products are no frills, they do a decent job with the important things.

The biggest difference between this one and the Rinnai is that the heat exchanger on this unit is made of less copper. You can see that this heat exchanger is silver in color from the different (cheaper) alloys used to make up the most important part of the unit. The Rinnai uses high-quality copper in it, which makes for a better product, but copper is much more expensive.

This one is also an outdoor mounted version, so venting is a breeze and it also runs on propane, which I find to be the easiest fuel source.

Rheem RTEX-11

Rheem RTEX-11 hot water heater

Rheem RTEX-11
Rheem RTEX-11
My Ranking
Flow Rate 2.68 GPM
Energy Type Propane
Why Consider Super compact
Who Is It Best For For those living on the grid
Price $275
BUY NOW

The last option here is the Rheem RTEX-11, and this is one that I looked at seriously for my tiny house. The biggest benefit of this unit is that it’s so compact — only 8 inches wide x 13 inches tall x 4 inches thick. That’s about a tenth the size of all the others on this list.

The reason for that isthat Rheem units use electric to heat your water. This unit comes in 8, 11, and 13 kilowatt versions. The 8 KW version might be a little too small for your needs, while the 11 KW version would be perfect for tiny houses at a flow rate of 2.68 GPM. One benefit to electric models is that you don’t have to vent, so this unit can be tucked under your counters, back in a corner of your cabinets.

If I was able to be on the grid, this would be the unit I’d have gone with. A lot of the plumbers I talked with said Rinnai was their personal favorite, but Rheem was a close second. Being that I live off the grid, I have to heat my water with propane.

It is also hard to beat the price at $275. With this high quality of a unit in such a small housing, this is a great hot water heater option for your tiny house.

tiny house plumbing

Tiny House Water Heater Buying Guide

Tiny House Water Heater Buying Guide

Choosing a hot water heater for your tiny house is an important decision because it will impact your designs, utility connections and if you can go on or off grid. Hot water is also one of those hallmarks of civilization if you ask me, nothing is better than taking a long hot shower.

Here are some things to think about when choosing a tiny house water heater:

Tankless Vs. Traditional

Tankless Vs. Traditional hot water heaters

Let me make this simple: you want tankless. Traditional hot water heaters have large tanks that hold water and heat it constantly. Not only is this pretty inefficient because you’re heating water when you aren’t using it (which is most of the time), but these are also very heavy.
Water is about 8.2 lbs. per gallon and in a tiny house, every ounce matters. Having a traditional water heater means you need a much bigger trailer, and that adds up fast. Along with weight, traditional water heaters are also much larger, which isn’t ideal in such a small space. Tankless hot water heaters typically take up a lot less space, making it easy to mount in a corner under a cabinet or on the outside of your house entirely.

Tankless hot water hearts are also a huge step up over tanked hot water heaters because you can never run out of hot water. The price of traditional models isn’t that much cheaper either, so the cost versus benefit of tankless is a clear winner.

If you want to be off the grid, tankless running off of propane or natural gas is really the only practical method unless you use a wood stove, which is a real pain.

Indoor Vs. Outdoor Installations

hot water heater Indoor Vs. Outdoor Installations

This is another simple decision: outdoor installation is ideal. Indoor mounted hot water heaters require you to vent them with vent tubes. These tubes are pretty hefty and mean you have to cut a large hole in your wall to vent properly.

Compared this to an outdoor installation that you can vent right outside with no extra work involved. Mine mounted in about 5 minutes and the vent was already built into my unit, so I couldn’t screw it up if I tried.

Indoor units can be tricky to vent, requiring certain offsets and maximum vent lengths that are shorted by each elbow you put in the vent tube. The only time I’d opt for an indoor mounted unit is if I lived in a place that was prone to super cold temperatures.

Between the ease of installation and the fact that you aren’t taking up any indoor space, I’d suggest an outdoor mounted tankless hot water heater.

Energy Source: Propane Vs. Natural Gas Vs. Electric

Propane Vs. Natural Gas Vs. Electric

This really comes down to if you want to be off the grid or not. If you’re going to be off the grid or might be some day, propane or natural gas is the way to go.

If you’re going to be in one spot and have a gas delivery truck fill up a larger tank, natural gas is most likely the way to go. If you’re on the go or just getting your own gas, I’d suggest propane because it’s more readily available.

If you’re on the grid, the electric models from Rheem are really nice and super compact, plus there are no gas lines to mess with — a bonus in my book since running gas lines can be dangerous and always makes me nervous.

Off-Grid Hot Water Heating

Off-Grid Hot Water Heating

Much to my point above, if you’re going to be off the grid, a gas option is really your best bet. I crunched the numbers on what it would cost to add additional solar panels to my system to offset the need for propane and it was going to cost me an additional $15,000 just to have an electric hot water heater.

I like to keep in mind that my house is totally off the grid, running on solar power, so I’m already treading very lightly on the earth. If I use 80lbs of propane per year, I’m still much better than most out there.

Many people ask about heating their tiny house and their water with a wood stove, but my advice is to avoid this unless you already live with a wood stove that is your primary source of heat. Wood stoves are often romanticized by people when designing their tiny house. The reality is that you’ll be waking up to a pretty cold house each morning, hot water won’t be ready for at least an hour, and it doesn’t heat much water to begin with.

Go with a gas option for heating water off the grid — you’ll thank me later.

solar power for tiny houses

Hot Water Heater Venting

Hot Water Heater Venting

If you have a hot water heater that is installed inside your tiny house, you’ll need to vent it if it uses any form of combustion. Venting isn’t something to take lightly because there are so many ways to do it wrong and mistakes can lead to deadly results.

Vents are usually metal ducting that captures fumes and exhaust from your hot water heater and directs them outside. They may also have an air inlet to bring in fresh air for combustion.

Venting usually has a lot of technical parameters from the manufacturer around how far the vent tube can stretch, the type of ducting you use, offsets or clearances from combustibles materials, and other technical bits to make sure you do it right.

I prefer to have outdoor mounted hot water heaters because it avoids all the headaches and potential dangers. If you do decide to use a unit that requires venting, follow the manufacturers directions carefully.

Preventing Freezing

Preventing a hot water heater from freezing

Another area that you can go wrong with hot water heaters in a tiny house is having pipes freeze. Most units today have some sort of frost prevention mechanisms, usually a heating coil for outdoor mounted units. Indoor mounted units don’t really have to worry about this.

If you live in a very cold climate, indoor mounted options might make a lot of sense, even if it’s an indoor mount in an unheated enclosure that’s been insulated well. The best advice I’d say is to follow local wisdom on how to prevent freezing.

You want to try to minimize the PEX lines outside your heated space and, where possible, insulate and apply heating strip tape to them for frost prevention.

Your Turn!

  • What are your plans for your tiny house hot water heater?