Posts Tagged Electrical

How Do Tiny Houses Get Power? Connecting Your Tiny Home To The Electrical Grid

How Do Tiny Houses Get Power? Connecting Your Tiny Home To The Electrical Grid

how do otiny houses get powerTiny houses take a page from RVs when it comes to getting power. You have three main options: be fully connected to the electrical power grid, go fully off the grid, or to use a hybrid approach.

Whatever way you get power into your tiny house, it will take some planning and jumping through hoops when it comes to codes. With all of these recommendations, I’d strongly encourage hiring a licensed electrician.

Also check out the more detailed posts on tiny house electrical.

*Disclaimer: Keep in mind that if you wire your own tiny house, you’re assuming all risks. It is suggested that you hire an electrician and consult local, state, and federal officials for all safety measures and code compliance. See our full legal page for further information here: https://thetinylife.com/about-us/legal/

Connecting Your Tiny House To Power – Standard Method

connecting your tiny house to power grid

The easiest method to connect your tiny home to power is similar to how RVs get power, which is through an extension cord. You’ll want to use a drop power cord sized for a 50-amp circuit. While you could go smaller, it’s suggested that you plan to have a full 50-amp circuit for some buffer and future expansion.

Power Grid To Electrical Meter

power grid to electrical meter

The power from the power company will be fed from the grid through your electrical meter to your main box. This is the most difficult part because it is the focal point of the permitting process. For stand-alone power, you may be able to get a temporary power pole for a while, but at some point, you’ll need to convert to a permanent connection.

The easiest way to do this is to have another house on the property that’s already connected to the grid. Barring that, figure out a way to have “an excuse” to have power on the property before you have your tiny house there. Things that I know have worked for people in the past are having a power connection for a powered gate, a security light on a pole, or a little shed that you need power in that they can connect up.

tiny house electrical

Tiny House Power Connection

Tiny House Power Connection

tiny house power connectionOnce you have power on site, you’re going to want to connect your tiny house to that power source. To do this practically, use an RV-style plug connector like the one below. These are very affordable and allow you to make a custom length drop cord for your tiny home.

Another great thing about these is that they’re seen as a “temporary” power connection by building codes, which makes navigating building codes and electrical codes much easier.

Connecting Your Tiny House To Power – Off-Grid Method

connecting your tiny house to off grid power

This option is most realistic if you’re not moving a lot. To power your entire tiny house, you’ll need a lot of solar panels. As someone who has lived off the grid for close to a decade, believe me when I say it’s not without its downsides. I get into all the details in the below posts:

tiny house solar power setup
how to run ac on solar power

Connecting A Tiny House To Solar Power

Connecting A Tiny House To Solar Power

This is going to be identical to the standard method above with the only difference being that instead of the power coming from the power grid, you are your own power grid. It’s important to note that your solar panel array will produce power in DC (direct current) and will need to be converted by an inverter to AC (alternative current). From there, it will output the energy into a single line which will connect to your tiny house via the RV extension cord.

TINY HOUSE SOLAR SETUP

tiny house solar setup

Connecting Your Tiny House To Power – Hybrid Method

This method is essentially the best of both worlds, but does require some extra work and thus extra expense. In general, I’d say this method isn’t for the DIYer and that you should loop in a licensed electrician because it gets pretty complex quickly.
To do this, you’ll have to have your traditional power grid source and your solar power source set up. Both of those will feed into a net meter power meter, and from there the power will output from the meter into your tiny house.

Your Turn!

  • How do you plan to get power in your tiny house?

Off-Grid Internet: How I Get Wi-Fi In My Tiny House

Off-Grid Internet: How I Get Wi-Fi In My Tiny House

off grid internet for a tiny house or homestead

NAVIGATION

In a world that does so much online these days, having an off grid internet option for my tiny house was a must. My entire job is remote and online, so having off grid Wi-Fi in my tiny house that’s off the grid was a non-negotiable for me. I know many people are wanting to work from home in a tiny house or on a homestead in a rural location, so here’s how I got internet in my tiny house while off the grid.

Estimating Your Data And Speed Requirements

Estimating Your Data And Speed Requirements

A good place to start is to understand what you actually need out of your internet connection. This comes down to a few key numbers:

  • Connection type
  • Download speed
  • Upload Speed
  • Latency
  • Data usage

Connection Type

internet connection type

One the largest determining factors on how fast a connection is, how it performs, and its reliability is what type of connection it is. The list below is in order of how well it will perform, from best to worst.

types of internet connections

FIBER INTERNET: Fastest connection type, uses light through fiber optic.

CABLE INTERNET: Uses cable TV, tops out at 100-300 mbps

DSL INTERNET: Faster than dial up, slower than cable.

SATELLITE INTERNET: Uses a satellite dish. Like DSL but feels slower due to latency.

DAIL-UP INTERNET: Slowest connection. This is basically obsolete.

Off Grid Internet Download Speeds

Off Grid Internet Download Speeds

How fast you can download files is most of what we do when we’re using the internet. In general, you’re going to want at least 2 megabytes per second (mbps) at the very minimum. It’s important to note that many internet companies will sell plans of estimated speed or “up to” speeds, but the daily reality is often much less.

For instance, a cable ISP will sell a plan for a 50 mbps speeds, but you’ll typically see between 5 and 10 mbps at any given time, with the ability to spike higher if you are pulling down larger files.

In general, you’ll want speeds in these ranges for different types of internet usage:

0-5 MBPS 5-40 MBPS 40-100 MBPS 100-500 MBPS 500-1000+ MBPS
Checking Email Streaming video Streaming HD Streaming UHD All Uses
Streaming music Video calling Online gaming Fast Downloads
Web Surfing Simple Gaming Large Downloads Best For Gaming

Off Grid Internet Upload Speeds

Off Grid Internet Upload Speeds

Uploading speeds are often an overlooked metric and if you’re a professional that needs to move large files up into the cloud, push something to a server, or other work with large files, you’re going to want to pay attention to this.

If you’re a casual user that will do some web surfing and sending emails, an upload speed of 2-4 mbps for attaching small files to the internet and other upload tasks is sufficient. If you’re going to do any online gaming, you’ll want 5+ mbps (with a very low latency). Finally, if you’re a creative professional that needs to move large files, 5+ mbps is good, but you want as much as you can get.

Latency With Off Grid Internet Solutions

Latency With Off Grid Internet Solutions

This gets a bit into the technical side that most don’t concern themselves with, but latency is a measure of how much time it takes for your computer to send signals to a server and then receive a response back. You ideally want this to be as low as possible, but it can never be zero.

Anything under 100 milliseconds (ms) is considered “acceptable,” but you generally want to have it be somewhere between 20 and 40 ms, particularly for gaming or video calls.

Data Usage While Living Off The Grid

Data Usage While Living Off The Grid

Data usage is just how much data you use, often measured in megabytes (mb) or gigabytes (gb). When I do my daily work, I’m most often surfing the web, writing emails, or using web-based apps. Very little of my day-to-day work involves video—I either use phone calls or voice-only Zoom or Skype calls.

For that kind of work, 2-3 gigs per month is more than enough for my use. When I get into streaming videos, like watching YouTube or Netflix, my data usage balloons to a lot more.

Netflix Hulu Disney+ Amazon Youtube
Low 0.3 .65 0.7 0.8 0.3
SD 0.7 1.3 1.3 1.4 0.5
HD 3.0 2.7 2.0 2.0 1.5
UHD 7.0 7.2 7.7 6.0 3.0

All numbers are Gigabytes per hour.

Off Grid Internet Options

Off Grid Internet Options

In a world that does so much online these days, having an off grid internet option for my tiny house was a must.

When I moved off grid for the first time close to a decade ago, the land I was on was pretty close to the city. But because of the size of the land, local internet service providers wouldn’t run cable internet out to me. I’ve since moved out to the country and getting internet on rural land is even more difficult.

Rural Internet Service Providers

Rural Internet Service Providers

The good news is that there are quite a few initiatives connecting rural communities to internet because it can open up so much economic opportunity for working remotely, online education, and much more. In a weird twist of fate, it looks like my town in the mountains will get fiber internet before I could get it in the big city, because if a municipality is going to install internet infrastructure, it’s almost the same cost to put in fiber vs cable or DSL.

I wanted to start here because I think it’s important to bring some attention to the fact that the US Government makes funds available to rural communities for internet infrastructure build outs. In many cases, a town can apply to start their own internet service as a utility. These programs have seen a lot of success for towns that decide to pursue it. If your local government hasn’t already pursued this, take some time to discuss it with your elected officials.

Projects like this can take years to come to fruition, but you can start the process and shape the future of your town while relying on some of the below options for off grid Wi-Fi.

Starlink – Elon Musk’s Satellite Internet

Starlink satellite internet

150+ MBPS download 25+ MBPS upload 20-40 ms latency $99 per month

We are about to enter a golden age of off grid internet connectivity, and with recent COVID concerns, we are finding more and more employers are allowing people to work remotely. Elon Musk’s Starlink Satellite Internet is a major step forward to that end.

At the time of writing this, there are 485,000 concurrent users of Starlink and the initial real-world tests are very impressive considering there are only 1,000 satellites of the 12,000 satellites planned to be placed in orbit. People are consistently getting over 100 megabytes per second while downloading and at least 25 megabytes per second in upload speeds. Those numbers are not company reported, but what actual end users are seeing during their daily use.

pro tipStarlink’s dish uses a small heater to keep snow and ice off the face. The heater and dish can use about 150 watts maximum, with an average power of 100 watts continuous when it’s cold out. If you’re living on solar with battery backup, you’ll want an extra 366 amp / hour in your batteries to cover this.

Starlink’s dish uses a small heater to keep snow and ice off the face. The heater and dish can use about 150 watts maximum, with an average power of 100 watts continuous when it’s cold out. If you’re living on solar with battery backup, you’ll want an extra 366 amp / hour in your batteries to cover this.

This is all possible because Musk owns not only the satellites, but the rockets to deploy them en masse as well. And because of his reusable boosters, he can deliver those satellites for 10% of the cost of other competitors.

From talking with people about their Starlink experience, I’ve only heard resounding praise from people. They note that it was pretty easy to setup, connection was done via their phone, and their internet is very fast. The service charges a $499 setup fee which includes all your hardware, then $99 a month from there.

At this time, there isn’t any data cap, which will be something I’d watch closely for in the future. While fast speeds are key, having data limits would be a major blow to what might otherwise be the perfect solution.

Project Kuiper – Amazon’s Satellite Internet

Amazon Satellite Internet

150+ MBPS download 25+ MBPS upload 20-40 ms latency TBD per month

I wanted to include this so people are aware of this option in the future and I’ll update it as more info becomes available. While details are very sparce now, we expect that Jeff Bezos’ satellite internet provider will be pretty similar in performance and specs to Starlink with one major exception.

Right now, they are aiming for around 3,336 satellites, which is about 65% less that what Starlink will have. At this point I’m speculating, but I’d assume that they’re going to first focus on the US regions and China, and then later Europe and South America. They may back off of China given that their government is already making statements against these options as it would allow citizens to have internet access outside the Chinese government’s control.

At some point, it becomes a math problem of too many people per satellite, but what it will do is bring competition to the satellite internet space. That usually is a good thing for us as the consumer.

Cell Phone Hot Spots – Verizon, AT&T, T Mobile, Sprint

Cell Phone Hot Spots

15+ MBPS download 2+ MBPS upload 50-70 ms latency $40-$60 for 5 GB per month

The next most practical manner I’ve found is hot spotting using my cell phone. Right now, I have a 15-gig limit on my cell phone hot spot through Verizon. When combined with my unlimited internet on my phone plus calls and texts, it costs me $85 per month.

The one major downside that I find is that the signal disconnects from my computer every so often, so I have to reset it. This isn’t a huge deal, but it’s not like the “always on” connection that we’re used to with other traditional sources. I find that if I stop using my computer and it goes into sleep mode or isn’t active for a while, I have to reset it.

The biggest downside to this frequent disconnection is that I can’t use it with security cameras, on an Amazon Alexa or Google Home, or to monitor my solar power with my array data tracking interface. All of these applications will work at first, but at some point, something will trigger it to disconnect and unless you’re there in person to re-initialize it, you’re stuck.

This was a major road block when I wanted to set up some remote cameras on my land to monitor things while I wasn’t there. The internet connection would inevitably reset and I’d lose my video feed without being physically present to fix it.

pro tipWhen searching for rural land, bring along pre-paid sim cards for the different cell phone carriers. When you’re actually on the land you’re considering, take the time to test each carrier on that specific parcel where you think your house will be located.

By in large, I’ve found that Verizon is most expensive, but is often the most reliable and widely accessible. There have been a few times when another network could connect better, but I’ve found from practical experience that Verizon is the best in most circumstances.

Accessing internet through your cell phone has a few major downsides. In most cases, the speeds are adequate, except for video conference calls. I’ve found that when watching Netflix on Verizon, I can watch about 20 hours per month on my hot spot with the 15 gig per month plan. Keep in mind that general surfing and email uses very little data, and if I was just doing that, 2 gigs per month would be all I’d need.

One thing I’ve been doing lately is occasionally going to a coffee shop to work for the day as a change of scenery, and while I’m there, I’ll take advantage of the download feature that Netflix and other services offer This lets me download a few episodes or a movie or two to my device, then later watch them without using any bandwidth. I’ve found this to be a really great way to keep data usage low while still watching the shows I love.

fastest mobile networks in 2020

Other Hot Spots – Karma, Skyroam, etc.

internet hot spots

15+ MBPS download 2+ MBPS upload 50-75 ms latency $50-$70 for 5 GB per month

There is a whole host of third-party companies that make hot spots that either can be used with a major cell phone carrier or on their own network. In general, I have found these to be pretty lack luster. I’ve personally used the Karma hot spot and it was just okay.

In my experience, it’s better to go straight to the sourcewith a major cell phone provider, because third party device makers have to use their signals anyway. There aren’t any features of these third parties that make them stand out from the major carrier’s devices.

Fixed Point To Point Internet

Fixed Point To Point Internet

5+ MBPS download 2+ MBPS upload 20-45 MS latency $75+ per month

There are some cases where an internet provider offers fixed point to point internet service where they have a tower with an antenna on it. If you have a line of sight to their tower, you can usually get internet. I’ve done this with a business I used to run as our backup internet and it worked phenomenally.

pro tipTalk with your local point to point internet provider, as they usually are a smaller mom-and-pop operation that can let you know if you’d be able to connect to their service before you buy any land. You may have to mount the antenna on a tower.

Your speeds will depend on your plan, but in general if you have line of sight, you’ll have a decent connection. If you do a lot of video calls or gaming, this can be a tad slow in terms of latency, but overall this is a great option.

These services tend to have an upfront cost to get connected and for equipment (and possibly the cost of a small tower on your land), and the service will be about $10-$50 more a month than your standard cable provider, but all in all, this is a decent option.

DSL Internet

DSL Internet

1+ MBPS download 500+ KBS upload 20-45 MS latency $50 per month

One possibility in some areas that have a phone connection is DSL, which runs on a wire that looks like a phone cord, but is technically different. This option isn’t great, but it is definitely better than nothing and has the advantage of being more stable than a hot spot connection.

The downside is that it’s much slower than any of the other wired connections. However, if you want to have a remote camera or monitoring for your solar while you’re away (some monitors are also all cloud based), DSL can provide the stability you need. This type of connection is usually pretty affordable and fast enough for basic surfing and emailing.

Hughesnet Satellite Internet

Hughesnet Satellite Internet

2+ MBPS download 200+ KBS upload 100+ MS latency $60 for 10GB per month

Let me make this simple. Don’t use this. I’ve talked to so many people personally who’ve used this and, across the board, said it was one of the worst experiences of their lives. Slow to no connection speeds, spotty, difficult to use, and frustrating customer service.

The data caps seem pretty generous on the surface, but their measurement methodology skews it in their favor and you’ll burn through that very quickly without doing much online. In general, anything with video or gaming is out of the question using Hughesnet Satellite internet. Between the data caps and high latency, this is a non-starter for everyone.

The service also comes with a multi-year contract that they hold people to as a way to lock them in. They know how bad their service is and if it weren’t for the contracts, people would leave.

For more information, read this reddit thread from a former Hughesnet employee, it is very eye opening.

Cell Phone Extenders And Repeaters

Cell Phone Extenders And Repeaters

Many off grid people look to cell phone extenders to get a better signal in their house. It can be the case that outside your home you’ll get okay cell reception, but the second you step inside, your cell phone signal is awful.

People who live in metal-clad houses or barndominiums will frequently have this issue because the metal sheeting on the outside blocks the signal. If you do live in one of these houses and have a good internet connection, a lot of modern cell phones can use Wi-Fi to make the calls instead of a cell phone signal.

That said, I’ve personally tried one cell repeater and it was a very frustrating experience, especially considering that I’m a very tech savvy guy. Talking with others, I have yet to hear of anyone using any of the available options that could get one to work well. In most cases, people couldn’t get the extender at all, and those who did found it to perform so poorly it wasn’t worth it.

Making Sure Your Location Can Get Internet

Making Sure Your Location Can Get Internet

The last point I want to make is a big one: a word of caution. Getting internet is so critical to today’s world that it can be hard to imagine that you might not have a connection. I am all about living a simple life, disconnecting from social media, and living life on your own terms, but I also need to square that with the reality of needing a connection.

I love living simply and I want to make sure that technology is working for me and not the other way around. If you’re looking at living somewhere, buying some remote property, or just setting up on some land without an existing internet connection, proceed with caution.

If you call your local ISP, they may very well say that you’re in their service area, but then later on when you go to set up service tell you they can’t do it. It’s a story I’ve heard many times. If I were to do it all again, I would purchase land and have in the offer letter a contingency that the sale is canceled if internet can’t be established.

In my due diligence stage of buying land, I’d actually have them run the internet connection and power lines out to the site and plug in on the land itself and do a speed test. This may seem extreme and is most certainly unorthodox, but in a world that revolves around internet connectivity, it’s so crucial.

Having access to a high-quality internet connection while living off the grid or in a tiny house enables you to get a big city job that pays well while giving you the low cost and slow pace of the country life. It’s a major tool to you earning a good living and staying connected.

Your Turn!

  • How do you connect to the internet while off grid or in a tiny house?

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.

NAVIGATION

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?

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?