Archive for the Tiny House Category

Heating a Tiny House: How To Heat Your Tiny House And Stay Cozy All Winter Long

Heating a Tiny House: How To Heat Your Tiny House And Stay Cozy All Winter Long


Heating a tiny house in the winter has it’s challenges. Now that we’ve moved to Vermont from the sunny South we’re doing research into heating appliances. We have been talking to folks in the area about what they use and we’re pondering between a few options.

Choosing Which Tiny House Heater Option Is Right For You:

There are a few things to consider when it comes to choosing a heater for your tiny house and it boils down to a few key things. First off will you be on the grid or off the grid. Off grid winter heating will narrow your options to a few, while if you are on the grid, you have many other options.

Once you’ve determined your grid status, you’ll need to consider the practicalities of your lifestyle. What do you want your life to be like day to day and what is and isn’t going to work for you. Many people idealize a wood stove, but they don’t think about waking up in the morning to a cold house before they can stoke a fire up again. For me I just wanted the simplicity of pressing a button, so I opted for a heat pump in my tiny house.

Sizing your heating system is critical to keeping your house nice and warm without getting too hot. I’ve been in my fair share of tiny houses where a heater either couldn’t keep up with how cold it was outside and I’ve also been in an equal number of tiny houses that were so hot we had to open windows in the dead of winter to prevent us from sweating. For me, I needed a tiny house heater that made about 3,000 BTUs for where I live in N.C. Use a BTU calculator to figure out what is right for you tiny house.

cost of heating fuel

 

Finally price, money is important. Some setups cost more on the front end and less over time, while some are cheaper to start with and require on going costs or the costs are higher over the long term. I’ll dig into each of these as we go through all the options.

Electric Heater Options For A Tiny House:

electric heat

Electric Heater Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Easy to find at any store
  • No installation, just plug in
  • Can find the right BTU size for you

Electric Heater Cons

  • Takes up floor space
  • They’re not particularly good looking
  • Expensive to run, draws a lot of electricity
  • Not practical for off the grid

Electric
Cost

  • $40-$100

Probably the easiest, cheapest option right now and fairly efficient in terms of heating a space our size. We could get through the rest of the Vermont winter comfortably with our current electric heater but it’s certainly not attractive and it takes up floor space. This option also requires you to be on the grid, most of these heaters start at 1,500 watts for a around 5,000 BTUs and go up from there. With electrical loads like that, you’d have to have a very expensive solar array to power that in the winter.

The great thing about electric heaters is that they’re super cheap, we picked our us for around $45 and you can find that at any major big box retailer. The do work well to heat a space and you have two main options: forced air and radiant heaters.

Forced Air is for when you want to heat up a space fast, the fan in them often is pretty loud, but you can heat the space quickly which is nice when we come home from work and want to turn up the heat. While they are noisy, this is a good option for us because we are out and about often, so we turn down the power while we are gone.

Radiant Heat is for when you can take the time to let a space to heat up. These are often oil filled radiators style heaters, which are near silent in their operation and gently heat the air around them. If you’re on the grid and going to be spending a lot of time in the house this is a good option because you can heat the house up and then let it coast.

Since this would only be a temporary situation right now, seeing as we will be hooking up our solar panels this summer and investing in a small wind generator later in the year. We’re also contemplating micro-hydro electric but that’s for another post!

Heating A Tiny House With A Wood Stove Or Pellet Stove:

wood stove and pellet stoves to heat your tiny house

Wood or Pellet Stove Pros

  • Cozy fire is nice
  • Less impact on environment
  • Can be used to cook, heat and more
  • Fuel generally cheap

Wood or Pellet Stove Cons

  • Medium to high initial cost
  • Needs large clearances
  • Hard to find one small enough
  • Takes work and can be messy

Wood or Pellet Stove Cost

  • $800-$2,000

We met a tiny house dweller on a farm nearby who uses a wood fired stove. She loves it because she enjoys the processing of the wood and the look of the wood stove in her tiny house. She’s also able to heat water on top for tea making or dish washing. When electricity has gone out during the winter she has had no problems keeping warm and heating food.

There is a homey feeling to a wood stove that you just can’t quite achieve with gas fueled units. However, a wood stove is messier, with ash falling through and wood chips and bark trailing in from the wood.

Tiny House Wood Stove Options

It’s not easy to find a small wood burning fireplace, most are just too big for a small space. Jotul is a popular wood and gas stove company here in Vermont and folks tell us they are the best. We’re not sure they make one small enough for our space so we’re going to check out their showroom this week. We’ve also been looking at Dickinson Marine wood stoves as well as Woodstock soapstone stoves made regionally over in New Hampshire. Kimberly Stoves are also an option, but are expensive.

Finally Hobbit Wood Stoves are a popular options because it’s one of the few best heating options for small homes due to it’s size. It’s designed for small spaces so it’s a serious contender for wood stoves for your tiny house.

get the most out of your tiny house

There are a few considerations you need to make when it comes to having a wood stove in your tiny house. First is getting a stove small enough for you tiny house, if you don’t size it right, it will generate too many BTUs and leave you roasting inside your tiny house. This happens to most people when they try to heat their small house with wood because it’s hard to find a wood stove that’s small enough.

Next is the space it takes up. Wood stoves require a lot of space just in their size, but also in clearances. You often need to give a good amount of space around the wood stove to make sure it’s safe and doesn’t catch nearby surfaces on fire.

Finally consider your lifestyle and how a wood stove will impact that. Wood stoves require frequent tending, wood needs to be chopped, stacked, then hauled in and finally the stove needs to be cleaned. It’s a lot of hard work and it can be a messy affair when soot gets out. Pellet wood stoves I’ve found to be a happy medium between ease of use, easy temperature maintenance and ease. You can’t really make your own pellets, but there is a strong case to be made for them.

Kerosene Heaters For Indoor Use:

kerosene heaters

Kerosene Heater Pros

  • Vented or un-vented
  • Thermostat Controlled
  • Burns very clean

Kerosene Heater Cons

  • Medium to high initial cost
  • Uses fossil fuels
  • Hard to find fuel sometimes

Kerosene
Cost

  • $80-$1,500

Several people have told us that kerosene is worth the set-up and cost of fuel. It burns really hot and it is 90% efficient according to a local gas supplier. In terms of BTU output kerosene beats out propane, but it’s not as clean burning and is more polluting to the environment although they make filters now that reduce emissions.

Kerosene is the cheaper option when compared to propane, but we have found it’s not as easy to find. I’m also most concerned about carbon monoxide so a vented heater would be essential in such a small space. The Toyotomi Laser kerosene heaters are an option, but I’ve read a lot of mixed reviews. Another option is a free standing kerosene heater like a Dyna-Glo heater, which is nice because you can remove it when not using it. The main downside is that it isn’t a direct vent heater, so you need to be careful about air quality and safety. Overall, kerosene seems like a good option for back-up to electric heating,m but after more online research we are considering this option less and less.

Tiny House Propane Heater Options:

propane heat sources: heaters

Propane Heater Pros

  • Vented or un-vented
  • Thermostat Controlled
  • Burns very clean

Propane Heater Cons

  • Medium-to-high initial cost
  • Uses fossil fuels
  • Hard to find fuel sometimes

Propane
Cost

  • $80-$1,500

Clean burning, efficient, relatively inexpensive and easy to find we’ve seriously considered the propane option. Our stove currently helps heat our house and it’s run off propane so hooking up a heating element wouldn’t be too difficult.

The Dickinson heater is an attractive and efficient option and was a contender to the wood stove option in our deliberations, but after talking with many other tiny housers, we heard a lot of bad things. Mainly that they look nice, but don’t put out enough heat. Even though the Dickinson heater says it puts out 4,000-5,500 BTUs, many people have called that into question. It also lacks a thermostat which was a deal breaker for us.

The other really good option if you’re considering this is a Mr. Heater propane heater. This was great in the south because we didn’t always need a big heater, so we could store it away when we needed to, but on those colder than normal nights we could break it out and heat our tiny house up fast. While it uses 1lb propane canisters, we felt it was very wasteful, so we got the 20lb propane tank connector hose (the size your grill runs off of).

What I like about propane is that it’s pretty cheap, I run my tiny house off of it and we spend about $100 per year heating the house, using it to cook and for my hot water heater for my tiny house. The other thing is you can get the tanks refilled almost anywhere and I prefer to use the 20lb tanks because even when they are full, I can carry them pretty easily.

Tiny House Heat Pumps:

heat pump and mini split for heating and cooling

Heat Pump Pros

  • Can heat and cool
  • Thermostat Controlled
  • Takes up no floor space
  • Very efficient

Heat Pump Cons

  • High initial cost
  • Requires some professional help to setup
  • Doesn’t work in very cold climates

Heat Pump Cost

  • $800-$3,500

This is a good option for people who live on grid, because heat pumps are getting more and more efficient. In really cold locations this should generally be avoided because the system functions by capturing any available heat from the air and concentrating it to heat the home. Once you get to around 30 degrees, most units have electric heating coils to boost the system, but that puts you back in the boat of standard electric heating.

The upside to heat pumps is that the provide heating and cooling for your tiny house, which is what I ultimately decided for my system. While it is difficult, you can run a mini split off solar with a large enough system and an efficient enough system.

The main brands you want to look for is Mitsubishi and Fujitsu, both make good units that are a high SEER rating which is a measure of how efficient they are. You’ll want to find a unity that is at least a SEER 20 for on grid use, if you’re off grid you want to be as high of a SEER rating as possible. At the time of writing this, Carrier just launched a new mini split that is a SEER 42 which is astounding.

What’s great about mini splits is you can mount the air handler on the wall so it doesn’t take up any floor space. It is also programmable, so the thermostat can turn on and off when you want and some even allow you to control via your phone so you can turn it on remotely to come home to a toasty house.

Best Heating Options For A Tiny House:

The best heating options for a tiny house

Now that we’ve broken down some of the major types of heaters for a tiny house, I want to share what I think are the best options when it comes to heating a tiny home.

1. Carrier Infinity Heat Pump – $2,500

Heat pump by carrierIt’s hard to beat these heat pump mini splits because that can heat and cool all in one unit. Their high efficiency inverter heat pump with a SEER of 42 is insane, I have yet to setup one, but I’m guessing it can heat at around 500 watts which is unheard of.

2. Heat Storm Deluxe Indoor Infrared Wall Heater – $80

convection electric heaterThis is the best alternative I’ve found to the popular Envi Flat Panel Heater which is no longer made. What’s great about this heater is it plugs right into an outlet, its very low profile so it doesn’t take up much space because it mounts right on the wall. The kicker is that since it’s just a plug in heater, you can remove it easily and store during the warmer months. At $80 and a 10 minute install it’s hard to beat it if you’re on the grid.

3. The Hobbit Small Wood Stove – $1,100

hobbit small wood stove for a tiny houseFor those who want to go off grid with your heating you’ll need a very small wood stove and the Hobbit Wood Stove is one of the smallest ones out there. While you could go with the Kimberly Stove, its very expensive. At 18 inches x 12 inches you can’t get much smaller and still feed it wood, so this is a great option for those who want to heat and cook with wood.

4. Mr. Heater – MH9BX Propane Heater – $69

Mr. Heater propane portable heaterThis is a great heater and super practical. It runs off of propane which you get almost anywhere, it’s easily portable and it puts off a lot of heat when you need it. I think everyone should have a Mr. Heater regardless of what heating option you go with as a back up heating source. It can be fuels by 1lb tanks or you can get the hose for grill size tanks.

5. Oil Filled Radiator Heater – $72

oil fille radiator heaterThis is another good option and make the cut for my list because they’re good at heating spaces, you can wheel it in when you need heat, but still store it when it’s warmer weather. The oil filled radiator means you have a nice even heat that doesn’t make much noise. The down side to these is that use up a lot of energy, so if you’re off grid it’s not an option and if you are on grid, power bills can be high.

Considerations When Heating Your Tiny House:

What considerations you need to make when choosing a heater

The last few points here to consider are safety, indoor air quality, and insulation. Obviously safety is paramount and many of these flame based heaters can lead to fires if you’re not careful. If you have smaller children, a heater on the floor presents a hazard to kids touching it. Indoor air quality is something to consider too. When in such a small space, as you burn fuels you’re using up your oxygen and putting out gasses like carbon monoxide which is serious business. Venting is always preferable, but it’s a trade off because venting takes up a lot of space and need to be done correctly.

Finally if you’re build your own tiny house, it’s important to make sure your house is well sealed and spending more money on insulation upfront will result in a lot less money being spent later on. Don’t skimp on your insulation and choose the highest quality windows that you can afford.

Ultimately our main criteria for heating units include efficiency, safety, cost and environmental impact. We are deliberate in every choice we make with the house and want to make the best choice for our space, the environment and our wallets. It’s not an easy choice but a very necessary one now that we live in a state with actual winter. It’s definitely going to be easier to heat the tiny house than it was to cool it in the hot, humid Southern summers!

which fuel option is the best for a tiny house guide

Your Turn!

  • What do you recommend for heating a tiny space?
  • What options have you considered?

 

Design Inspirations For The Perfect Tiny House On Wheels

Design Inspirations For The Perfect Tiny House On Wheels

Looking forward to building your own tiny house on wheels? Before you ever start build your tiny house, the first step is to figure out the perfect design for you!  Here are inspirations for your future tiny house design.

Tiny House Models You’ll Love

The outside of your tiny house is almost as important the inside.  One of the reasons tiny houses have been so successful is that they pay attention to details.  The outside of a tiny house if often a modern aesthetic or a more traditional look, coming from the roof lines, window selections, color pallet and other important architectural features.

Click Here For Our How To Build A Tiny House Book!

 

Tiny House Storage Ideas

Storage is a big deal in a tiny house because you don’t have a lot of space.  It’s important to capitalize on every nook.  For storage in your tiny house make sure that you design the storage around what you need to store.  This begins with downsizing your possessions now so you know what to store later.

  • Use vertical space to maximize storage: extending the storage area up adds up
  • Have a home for everything:  Everything has a place and everything in its place
  • Capitalize on any empty spaces: under stairs is a great place to add storage
  • Use multi-function items to maximize the impact of an item in your tiny house
  • Ask yourself do you even need the item?  Less you have, the less you store

 

Click Here for our free tiny house plans including materials list and budget sheet!

 

Amazing Tiny House Kitchens

The kitchen is the hub of the house.  Nothing brings family and friends together like a good meal.  For your tiny house kitchen consider how much you like to cook, if you’re a master chef wannabe then it makes sense to build out a bigger kitchen.  If you manage to burn toast, then a kitchenette might be right for you.

  • Consider your favorite dishes and how they impact your kitchen setup
  • Even if you like to get fancy, keep a minimalist kitchen
  • Consider your stove heat source: gas, electric or induction burner
  • Choose your kitchen equipment and build your storage around that
  • Don’t forget to have a place for trash that’s out of the way
  • When it doubt, have a pantry that’s bigger than you think you’ll need

Click here to learn more about how to wire a tiny house the easy way!

Great Video Tours Of Tiny Houses

 

Here’s more from The Tiny Life

Tiny House PlansThe complete tiny house plan reviews, find the right one for you!

solar oven review guideEver wanted to find the best solar oven?  Here is our complete guide and reviews!

building codes and zoning for tiny houses

Click here to learn all about tiny house building codes!

Tiny House Building Codes: Top 5 Myths BUSTED

Tiny House Building Codes: Top 5 Myths BUSTED

It’s been a while since I did a post about how owners of tiny houses deal with building codes, but coding questions come up often. There’s more regulation on tiny houses and dwellings than you may think. In fact, understanding building codes, zoning, and regulation is one of the areas that really trip up new tiny homeowners when they first start out. So today I wanted to go over several of the questions and myths that arise with tiny house code compliance.

It seems there are a lot of tiny house building code misconceptions out there. Knowing how to navigate through the tiny house regulations and codes will help you avoid headaches later. So here are the top 5 myths about building codes, zoning, and tiny houses.

Busting Building Code Myths(1)

Tiny House Building Code Myth 1:

I don’t need a building permit if my tiny house is under ___ sq/ft.

This myth is true, but with caveats. Typically, if you’re building a structure under a certain square footage you don’t need to acquire a building permit. So do you need a permit to build a tiny house if it falls under that square footage? There’s a catch: the exception to the building permit rule is in the term “house.” When you want to dwell or live in the home it shifts from a tiny structure to a tiny house, and you run into building permit issues.

The second you place any personal property in your structure, your small house is classified as “dwelling.” Building regulations dictate it doesn’t matter if a dwelling is 10,000 square feet or 10 square feet, you need a permit to build a livable space. Tiny house laws by state vary, as do tiny house size requirements and limits…BUT if you plan to live in your house, you’re going to need a building permit.

Tiny House Building Code Myth 2:

My tiny home is an RV, mobile home or camper—No tiny dwelling code compliance is required!

Again, this tiny house myth is somewhat true… IF your tiny home is being built by a certified RV or mobile home manufacturer. It’s possible to live in a homemade trailer house, but to get around the building code compliance, you’ll need to become a certified manufacturer. To become a certified tiny home manufacturer, the certification will cost you several thousand dollars, require you get an LLC and go through a rigorous inspection process to ensure you meet all 500+ requirements.

So you can’t build a tiny homemade trailer house on wheels and say, “Look—I built an RV or mobile home.”  To top it off once your dwelling has passed inspection to classify as a certified RV or mobile home, you can often only park and reside in specifically zoned areas, which are fast disappearing. There is an exception: if your state has a “home-built RV” classification, but these are few and far between and more and more campgrounds and trailer parks refuse entry for home-built RVs. As you see, the answer is more complex than simply saying RVs and mobile homes “don’t count” when it comes to tiny home building codes.

Tiny House Building Code Myth 3:

I will say I’m “camping” if any issues come up.

This tiny house coding myth is once again, somewhat true. You could, in theory, get around any regulatory issues by saying you were camping (which is allowed in dwellings regardless of coding compliance—like lean-tos, tents and pop up shelters).

Where the camping excuse runs into problems, is when you realize most municipalities have very specific limits on how long you can camp. The limit is often between 2-30 days in one spot or parcel of land, if camping is allowed at all. Typically, it’s limited to designated campsites. For example, in the city I live in, you aren’t legally allowed to camp at all unless FEMA has declared a state of emergency. In certain cases, you may get around the camp restriction if you move your tiny home every few days, depending on the camping laws. Then again, the city could also say, “You’re not camping, you’re dwelling in your tiny house,” and you’d face a big problem.

Tiny House Building Code Myth 4:

“They can’t stop me from building my tiny house!  I’ll do what I want.”

In certain cities and states, you’re partially right. The question isn’t if they can or can’t stop you (they can). Your city inspectors won’t stop you unless your tiny house becomes a big public issue. If you don’t create too much buzz, or cause any complaints, they may turn a blind eye even if you don’t comply with building codes.

It’s important to note here that a city inspector holds all the power, if they decide they don’t want you in your tiny house, they can choose an array of legal justifications to enforce it.  The saying is you can’t fight town hall, because they’re the final say on all things.

But not complying is certainly a risk. The truth of the matter is, in most places they can stop you. The city inspectors will come through and condemn your tiny house. What condemnation means, is if you enter your house, you could legally get arrested for being in your own home!  The city regulators may also fine you for not complying with building codes. They may deny you utilities like they did to me (read about it here). In the worst cases, they may even run a bulldozer through your house to destroy it and tear it down. All of these actions they can legally do and have done.  Worst of all you have no recourse for these actions, especially if your tiny house isn’t up to code. If you decide to risk it, it’s still important to learn and understand coding and zoning laws for your specific area. Then, if someone does complain or issues arise, you’ll be familiar with your rights.

Tiny House Building Code Myth 5:

My tiny house is on wheels, so codes and zoning regulations don’t apply.

The idea that wheels mean your tiny house is exempt from codes and zoning regulations is a big myth perpetrated by those who want to earn a quick buck off selling pre-made homes and plans to tiny house people.

It’s true, wheels will help your tiny house comply with loopholes and certain regulations, generally because it confuses the bureaucrats. There’s little official regulation out there specific to tiny home zoning. Plus, wheels mean your tiny home is easier to move, so there’s always the possibility of working around the regulations. But the hard truth is, the second you dwell in a structure it becomes a home, and when it comes to homes, all bets are off and the city will do what they want.

So what’s a tiny homeowner (or potential owner) to do?!?

It’s frustrating when you realize there are few ways (if any) to legally live in a tiny home. Even if your tiny home passes inspection, chances are high it’s technically still not legal in the full language of the law.

So, what’s your best approach to live in a tiny house? Well, there are two approaches:  1) Beat the city at their own game and know how to leverage the codes, 2) Roll the dice and try to fly under the radar.

Each of these approaches to living the tiny life, have their pros and cons.  To get a better understanding of all aspects of building codes and tiny homes, I’ve created an eBook. This book will help you understand how to work within the system to gain legal status with your tiny house as much as possible. In the book, Cracking the Code: A Guide to Building Codes and Zoning for Tiny Houses, I’ll show you the key barriers faced by tiny house folks. I’ll offer possible solutions to overcome these common tiny house coding conundrums and issues.

In the book, I’ll also share with you a few strategies to help you beat the system. I’ll explain what you need to do if you choose to fly under the radar and how to live in your tiny house safely, without getting caught.

Whichever approach you choose to deal with the tiny house building code issues and regulations, both are covered in Cracking the Code: A Guide to Building Codes and Zoning for Tiny Houses. If you’re wondering how to understand codes and enjoy life in your tiny home hassle-free, you need this book!

Cracking the Code by Ryan Mitchell

 

 

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:

 

 

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.