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How To Get A Septic Tank Installed – My Septic Install: Costs, Advice, Details And More

How To Get A Septic Tank Installed – My Septic Install: Costs, Advice, Details And More

septic tank installationIf you’re anything like me, a home in the mountains or in the countryside has been a dream for a very long time. Having lived in the city where municipal sewer was available, I didn’t have to worry about such things. After I bought my land in the mountains of NC, I knew getting a septic system installed would be a necessity. Having just finished up getting my septic tank installed, I wanted to share my experience, the cost and other info for those who are doing the same thing

The land I bought is going to serve two purposes for me. The first being wanted a place I could move my tiny house in the future if I ever needed to. Having a piece of land with power, a well and a septic system for my tiny house would make it easy to roll up and connect. The second reason is, while I love my tiny house, it’s not my forever house. At some point I’m going to build a small home and this land is the perfect place.

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What Is A Septic Tank?

what is a septic tank

Let’s start with the basics. A septic tank is a sealed reservoir that’s buried and collects waste water. The solids will settle out, grease will rise and filtered liquids will flow out into a leach field. This allows you to safely collect, filter and distribute your black and grey water from your home. Over time, solids will collect in the tank and it will need to be cleaned.

Do I Need Permission For A Septic Tank? Permits?

do i need a permit for a septic tank

Yes, septic tanks in many countries are regulated to ensure public safety. In the United States, most permits for septics are issued through the state Department of Health.

spetic tankSetting aside the debate of smaller vs. larger government, the aim of this is to make sure that the septic field is installed properly and to make sure the ground water isn’t contaminated. This is something I can get behind, considering I’d like to know if my neighbors unmitigated sewage is seeping directly into my ground water.

Septic systems are simple systems, but the devil is in the details and getting them right is really important. I see a permit as money well spent in order to have a third party verify the important details are done properly. In my area, permits are pretty affordable.

Another important note is that if you build a septic without a permit, you might not be able to sell your home as easily in the future. Some banks require proper permitting before they issue a loan. At the very least, having your paperwork in order will be one less thing a buyer could negotiate against. If you don’t get it permitted, know the county could condemn your house and issue a fine.

Can You Install A Septic At All?

can you install a septic system

Realize that in some places because of the soil or municipality, you may not be allowed to have a septic. Some cities require you to be on their sewer system and won’t grant septic permits without extenuating circumstances granted by a variance. In general, if there is a sewer line on your street, you’ll be required to tap into it and will not be allowed a septic at all.

Choosing A Certified Septic Installer

choosing a certified septic system installer

Most places, if not all, require you to have a certified installer who has been through training. It’s important to remember that just because someone has gone through the classes doesn’t mean they’re good at what they do or run their business in a reputable manner. At the very least, they were informed of the proper way to do things, so one could hope some of it stuck.

choosing a certified septic system installerWhat is nice about this process is the county maintains a list of active certified installers. You can contact them directly to get an updated list (sometimes found on their website). Whatever you do, don’t assume or take someone’s word that they are certified with the county, always check directly with the health department.

I’d start with people listed close to your area, then work your way out from there. Call each person and trust your gut. It’s important to realize that the good installers are busy installers, so they may have to call you back or often they’ll answer their phone while running a track hoe. My installer asked a few questions then had me call his wife to schedule a time for a site visit.

With that said, look for people who are responsive, polite, organized, and time efficient. Schedule a time to meet each of them at the location and be wary of people who give quotes sight unseen. Shoot to have three quotes from three different people who you feel good about. That means you’ll want to have 5+ estimates from different people because you’ll naturally weed out some due to being late, not showing or something else that leaves you uneasy.

How Much Does A Septic Tank Installation Cost?

how much does a septic system install cost

When I started looking into septic system installations, cost was my number one question, but answers were not easy to find. There is a lot of variability in the cost of a septic install, so I’ll share the price and details of my system. I also wanted to outline some of the factors that impact the price and then share examples from others I surveyed to get a complete picture.

Factors That Impact Cost Of A Septic System

factors that impact the cost of a septic system

There are several things that impact how much your system is going to cost. It’s important to remember that while a portion of the price will be impacted by materials (largely commoditized and pretty similar costs across all your quotes), labor will be the biggest swing here. Labor costs are variable and can change based on how busy the installers are, how much of a pain they expect you or the job to be, etc. Permit costs in your area are what they are, so that will be the same across the board.

Municipality / Location – Like all things in real estate: location, location, location. The best way to understand this is to think about how your property prices compare to other areas. If you live in a high cost of living area or a town where home prices are expensive, your septic will cost more. When comparing your location to others, look at the average cost of homes, figure out the percent difference and apply that to septic costs for a rough idea.
Soil Types and Perking Tests – Soil is another major factor of cost because if you have well-draining soils, your system will have an easier time filtering the waste water. If your soil is poor, you’ll have to extend your drain lines more and more to make up the reduced capacity for the soil to filter. Basically, you make up for poor soil filtering by extending the area you filter into until it handles it properly. In some cases, soil isn’t viable or you don’t have enough room. A larger drain field equals more materials and more labor.
State Of The Economy – Simply put, when housing is booming, you’re going to pay more. If you’re in a recession, you’ll find prices to be more competitive.
How Busy They Are – The truth is installers charge more when they are busy. Much like the state of the economy, this is a supply and demand scenario. If there are enough jobs to fill their time for the next 30-90 days, they’re going to start asking for more. The trick is the good installers are often never short of work and the bad installers will pretend like they’re busy.

Try to ask around and see if there is a slow season or ask the installer if there is a time that you could wait on for a reduced price. Sometimes just being flexible and willing to wait will provide an opportunity to save some money. The installer may finish another job early, the inspector may be slow on another job or there could be a cancellation.

How Much Of A Pain You’ll Be – If you seem like you’re going to be a pain to work with, the price just went up. Be friendly and punctual, but also don’t be a push over. Sketchy contractors will try to take advantage of someone’s good nature. Realize and plan for the process taking longer than you expected it to take.
Access To Site And Terrain – It’s easiest to install a system in a flat, cleared space with a wide driveway that leads right to the land. My installer wanted to visit my site to evaluate the difficulty of the terrain and ensure it was accessible. If your lot needs cleared, is difficult to access or steep, expect prices to rise pretty quickly. That said, take the time to install a good driveway and clear the spot well. It will need accomplished anyway and it can save you money in the long run.
Permit Fees And EngineeringPermit fees are what they are. In my county they charged $350 for a septic permit and there is no way around it. Some places have much higher fees. Also, you’ll pay more if your lot requires some sort of special engineering.
Pumps And Cesspools – You ideally want your septic tank to be down hill of your house and the drain lines to be down hill of your tank. In some cases, your house might not be up hill of them. If this occurs, you’ll need to install a cesspool to collect the waste that will be pumped up to the field. These two things (cesspool and pump) are additional units to your septic tank and add extra expenses. I’d suggest avoiding lots that require this because it adds cost and complexity. It’s just one more thing to break and it has moving parts which are prone to failure.
Aerobic Vs. Anaerobic Septic Systems – In some cases, a municipality will require you to have an aerobic system. The basic difference between aerobic and anaerobic septic systems is the presence of oxygen. Traditional anaerobic septic systems operated in the relative absence of oxygen; the broken-down sewage must be able to live without oxygen. Aerobic septic tanks are also located underground, they use an aerator to add oxygen into the tank. Because of the added complexity and equipment, Aerobic systems are more expensive.
Conventional Vs. Mound Septic Systems – I don’t know too much about these other than what my realtor explained to me. Basically, in certain circumstances where the soil isn’t ideal, the water table is too high or there is a lot of rock involved, a mound system is required. This system is a pile of gravel, sand and other fillers to make an elevated septic system. They typically cost more and require extra engineering costs.

The Cost To Install My Septic

cost to install my system

My septic was a 1000-gallon cement tank with 300 feet of drain line in a well-draining soil. My permit was $350 and I spent $300 for a guy to come out with a backhoe and dig pits for my perk test. I made sure to have this done before the purchase of the land, my offer was contingent upon successfully getting a well and septic permit.

cost of a septic tank installI had the system designed for 4 bedrooms because I don’t know exactly what I want to do. Most likely I’m going to have a Master bedroom and a guest bedroom, then space to put two more bedrooms in the future (I’d finish them if I sell to increase resale value). My land is located in the mountains of NC which is pretty rural and low cost of living.

I chose this place because it had minimal building codes, no HOA or restrictions, and the county was pretty inexpensive tax wise. I say this for you to know that my scenario was the cheaper end of the spectrum. The one thing working against me was I had no contacts in the area at all, so I did my best to get multiple quotes.
In the end I think I ended up spending more than I had to, but I got very close to what others were paying at the time. I was on a time crunch as my permit expired at the end of the year, so I couldn’t delay things. After three quotes I settled on a contractor that I liked for $7,500 all in.

Cost To Install Other Systems

cost to install other systems

I took some time to get a better picture of costs by talking with several other people. Here is a breakdown of what their systems cost when they installed their septic system.

Louisiana

$7,000

  • 1,000 Gallon Tank
  • 5 Bedrooms
  • 400 Feet
  • Installed in 2015

California

$30,000

  • 1,800-Gallon Tank
  • 4 Bedrooms
  • 350 Feet
  • Installed in 2020

Tennessee

$3,500

  • 1,000-Gallon Tank
  • 3 Bedrooms
  • 230 Feet
  • Installed in 2012

Ohio

$7,000

  • 2,000 Gallon Tank
  • 4 Bedrooms
  • 500 Feet
  • Installed in 2004

Texas

$5,000

  • 1,000-Gallon Tank
  • 4 Bedrooms
  • 300 Feet
  • Installed in 2013

Oklahoma

$3,600

  • 1,000-Gallon Tank
  • 3 Bedrooms
  • 400 Feet
  • Installed in 2007

Nevada

$7,500

  • 1,250 Gallon Tank
  • 3 Bedrooms
  • 500 Feet
  • Installed in 2005

California

$8,500

  • 1,500-Gallon Tank
  • 3 Bedrooms
  • 275 Feet
  • Installed in 2019

Washington

$5,000

  • 1,000-Gallon Tank
  • 2 Bedrooms
  • 300 Feet
  • Installed in 2018

Michigan

$8,000

  • 1,500 Gallon Tank
  • 4 Bedrooms
  • 3 900-Gallon Dry Wells
  • Installed in 2019

Your State

Your Cost

  • How Many Gallons?
  • How Many Bedrooms?
  • How Many Feet of Drain Line?
  • When Was It Installed?
Let us know in the comments if you’ve had a septic installed and the details.

How To Install A Septic Tank System + My Installation Process

how to install a septic system

Installing a septic tank is pretty straight forward, they’re fairly simple systems. However, there are a lot of little details to get right and it’s often not something someone wants to attempt on their own if they’ve never done it before. Assuming you’re hiring someone to install it for you, talk with your county first to understand their process and requirements.

Talk With Your Local Officials

talk with your local officials

The nice thing about building in the countryside is code officials are much easier to work with than in the city. I’d suggest calling them and asking for details about the process, what it entails, and the order in which to complete the steps. Usually it starts with a perk test to get a septic installation permit.

They’ll come out and perform a soil drainage test called a “perk test”. The results of the perk test will let you know what size and type of system you’ll need to install. They’ll include that info on the permit.

Get Your Permits

get your permits

You’ll need to get all your paperwork done and permit in hand before you even talk with contractors. They get a lot of calls so they often won’t work with someone until you have that permit. Getting a permit can take time: between wait times, scheduling a perk test and going rounds with officials, it took me about 60 days.

One word of caution I’d offer is don’t take anyone’s word that a permit has been issued, have the county provide you an official copy of the permit directly. I learned this the hard way, another story for another day.

Talk With Local Contractors

talk with local contractors

Follow my advice about choosing a certified septic installer (I talked about this above [hop link]). You want to get at least three quotes from people who seem like they’d be good to work with and have actually come to the location.

Get Clarity On The Process

get clarity on the process

Ask your installer these questions and then reach out to the health department and verify the process.

  • When do you plan to start work?
  • How long will the work take?
  • What things would cause a delay?
  • What things could you encounter that would increase the price? (rocks etc.)
  • When will the inspection happen?
  • How and who will trigger the county to schedule the inspection?
  • What happens if we fail the inspection?
  • What happens if we pass the inspection?
  • What do I need to get from the county after this is done?

Set Expectations Up Front With Contractor

set expectations up front with contractor

An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure, so getting crystal clear up front with your installer is important. Have a conversation about these items below so you know what will happen, when it will happen and what happens if it all goes wrong.

  • Can you provide copies of your profession licenses, copy of your insurance policy etc.?
  • Can you provide a basic contract/warranty info ahead of time?
  • What is the best way to communicate with you?
  • What’s a reasonable turnaround time to expect a call back?
  • How much notice will I get when you’ve finalized a date to start work?
  • Do you want to be present during the work or not? Make that clear
  • When and how will payments be made?
  • Who is paying for materials? Equipment Rentals?
TIP: Some counties have systems that you can search by contractor’s name or license number. Search theirs to see how many permits are in their name and look for any liens, fines or other red flags.

Septic System Layout

septic system layout

The day of the installation should go pretty smoothly. Most of these installers are busy and they have the process down pat. Usually they’ll start by laying out the runs with a laser level, it’s technically possible to do it without one, but any professional should be using a level like this.

laser level
marking drain field

The goal here is to run the lines along the contour line of the land, so that the lines are running 1/8th to 1/4th of an inch downward slope per foot. This is all going to be oriented and placed to where you want your future home to be, so make sure you are clear on that. You usually need to be 15 feet from the house, but it varies by local codes.

Digging The Septic Tank Pit

digging septic tank pit

Next, they’re going to start digging the hole to drop your tank into, this should be above the leach field unless you have a pump or more complicated system. This hole will depend on the size of your tank, but usually about 8-10 feet deep. You want to watch the installers to make sure they check that the pit bottom is level once they’ve removed the material. The goal here is to have a reasonably level tank when they drop in the concrete or plastic tank. I think if I could do it all again, I’d ask them to have some sand or gravel to put as a base at the bottom, but that might be overkill.

digging hole for septic tank
hole for septic tank

Digging The Leach Field Trenches

digging the leech field trenches

Depending on several factors, they will either drop the tank in right then or start digging the trenches. During my installation, the tank delivery truck wasn’t coming for a few more hours so they kept digging.

digging trernches for leech field
septic tank leech field trench

This is where my contractors really showed their skill. The little backhoe they ran was a decent sized machine and the guy running it was able to get that slope of ¼ inch per foot with impressive accuracy. The other guy used the laser level and a grade rod to check the trench the entire way.

He also picked out larger rocks to prevent damage to the drain lines and used a hand shovel to smooth the bottom of the trench to be a consistent down slope.

Repeat For Each Of Your Lines

repeat for each of your lines

Next, they created additional trenches to get the required length, all the while picking out rocks, smoothing the trench floor and checking for the slope all along the length.

Install The Septic Tank

install a septic tank

At that point the delivery truck showed up with the tank and the drain lines. The truck had a built-in trestle arm that extended off the back of the truck to lower the tank into place.

delivery truck
trestle arm

They lowered the septic tank into the ground and checked the level of each corner with the laser level again.

septic tank in hole
laser level check

Installing The Drain Lines

installing the drain lines

The drain lines were an EZ-Flow or EZ-Drain style line. Basically, a corrugated drain line with perforations in it, surrounded by packing peanuts and held tight with a netting cover. After talking with a lot of people, this style has a pretty good track record and makes for quick installation. I’ve heard some bad reviews of the EZ-Flow style lines, but they were pretty few and far between, often with some other mitigating circumstances.

ez flow lines
ez flow drain line

EZFLOW drain lines – Note: remove white cover before installing

It’s important to make sure your installers put the lines in the correct way. The little sausages have a filter fabric cover the top half of the line, you want that on top so it screens dirt from getting into the lines and clogging it. The bottom half is not covered to allow for better drainage. Make sure that filter fabric is on top!

The lines come in a bundle as a set of three: a center drain line and two buffers on either side of it. This helps keep the dirt from getting in too close, allowing for increased drainage once buried.

drain lines in place
drain line coupler

This process went really fast. The sections were very light and they connected easily with the drain line couplers. Only the middle line needs to be connected because the two outside tubes are just spacers.

One final note is the importance of not driving any heavy equipment over these lines. A smaller truck or a smaller bobcat is fine, but nothing bigger or you’ll crush the lines. Make sure you know where they are and have the area fenced off during construction.

Connecting The Tank And Drain Lines

Connecting The Tank And Drain Lines

Once everything was laid out, they moved on to connecting it all up. It was a mix of semi flexible lines and PVC pipes. They again ensured the lines had the right slope to make sure the liquids flowed correctly.

connecting drain line to tank
drain line connections for a septic tank

It’s important to note that at this point everything should be totally open because the inspection requires an open pit. The inspector showed up at this point for me, so some of the photos are after the inspection and partially buried.

septic line connections
septic tank drain lines

Install The Septic Filter

install the septic filter

Inside the tank there is a hard-plastic filter that screens out solids of a certain size from entering the drain lines. You’re aiming to only have liquids flow out of the system into the lines. This should be pulled out and cleaned off each time you have your tank cleaned, roughly every 3 years.

installing a septic filter
septic tank filter

Get Inspected

get install inspected

This process was pretty painless. The inspector showed up and used the laser level to check the slope, looked at the connections, reviewed the permit and plot map, then signed off on everything. My installer informed me that the inspector doesn’t rake them over the coals as much as he used to when they first started. Your inspection might be more involved, my inspector told me he never had any issues with the systems these guys installed, even years later.

Mark The Tank Inlet

mark the septic tank location

I hadn’t thought about this, but when I build my house, I’ll need to actually connect the tank. My installer used a board to cover the opening of the tank to block dirt from getting in and also to make it really easy to find the opening when it came time to connect. This simple thing saves a lot of digging in the future.

septic tank
marking septic tank install

Fill in the Holes

fill in the holes

Next was putting all the dirt back in, but only after your inspection is complete! This part is pretty simple, but as you do it, make sure you don’t have any large rocks sitting on the lines. My installer followed the bucket and picked out rocks as they went. I was glad to see their attention to these details.

filling in holes
backfilling septic line trenches

Smooth Out And Final Grading

final grading

You most likely will have some left-over dirt, so I had them just spread it out over the space. Figuring that the soil will settle a little bit over time, I figured adding a little on top would be just about right.

grading out area
smoothing leech field dirt

Get Your Documentation From The County

documentation

The last step is to make sure you get everything you need for the septic for future use. This usually takes a few days to a few weeks, but it’s really important to get the documents.

Septic System FAQs

septic system faqs

Concrete Vs. Plastic Septic Tanks

Plastic tanks may be used in some areas and are sometimes preferred because they’re lighter. This makes them easier to install. The downside is they can be more easily damaged during installation and have been known to sometimes “float” up. Concrete tanks are heavy and stay in place. The delivery truck used for mine came with an arm to lower the tank in, so installing my concrete tank wasn’t too difficult.

How Long Will A Septic Last?

Typically, septic tanks will last 40+ years if installed correctly and properly maintained. Your mileage may vary depending on a lot of circumstances.

How Much Is A Septic Permit?

Permits typically start at $300 and can go into the thousands. Areas with high cost of living, more environmental review and tricky soils will cost more.

Will A Septic Tank Work Without Power?

In general, yes unless you have a pump as part of the system. Most systems rely on gravity, so the draining is a passive process.

Can You Use Bleach In Your Septic Tank?

In moderation, it’s possible to use bleach, but not highly recommended. A Septic tank operates on live bacteria cultures breaking things down. Bleach can kill those cultures. A small amount of bleach diluted among thousands of gallons will not be a big deal, but it should be used sparingly. Try to space out the use of bleach and use alternatives, like baking soda mixed with bleach.

How Often Should I Get my Septic Tank Pumped/Cleaned?

In general, you should get your septic tank cleaned every 2-3 years based on use and assuming proper design. If your septic tank is under sized then you should consider doing this more frequently.

How Much Does It Cost To Clean A Septic Tank?

Typically, you can expect to pay between $300 and $500 to have your tank cleaned.

Can You Install Your Own Septic Tank – DIY Options

Yes! In some cases, municipalities allow for owners to install their own, but realize you’re still subject to inspections etc. Some places will not allow it unless you’re licensed/certified. Installing your own system shouldn’t be taken lightly and speaking frankly, unless you have done them before or do similar work, I wouldn’t suggest it. Running the equipment to dig, getting the slopes just right, connecting things up and using the right materials are all important.

Your Turn!

  • How much was your system? Include size, run length, location, bedrooms, and year installed.
  • What tips do you have for getting a septic system installed?

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

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

how to buy land for a tiny house

NAVIGATION


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

challenges of buying land for a tiny house

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

tips for buying land for a tiny house

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

consider zoning 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. Other 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

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

measuring wheelThis 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.

parking checklist


Tiny House Experts Weigh In On Finding and Buying Land

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.

Setting Up Your Land For A Tiny House

One thing I’ve realized through my entire journey is that not only do you have to build a house, but there is quite a bit that goes into setting up the land itself. These things include access, infrastructure, security and utilities. Each of these categories can be tricky and expensive in their own right, but very necessary for living.

RyansPlace-wKey

General Considerations

You’ll notice that I have a field at the edge of the property where I have two entrances/exits to my gravel pad. This allows me to bring in the house, unhitch it and then have a place to exit with the truck. It also allows me to gain access to my storage trailer if I want to move it or take it off the property. It’s important to consider before you bring your house to the property:

  • How will you enter the property?
  • How will you exit the property once the house is placed?
  • How will you exit with the house if you need to move?
  • Are the curves too tight to make with such a large trailer/house?
  • What direction do you want your front door (back of trailer) to face?

Another thing to consider is parking for your car and visitor’s cars. I also like to be able to pull right up near the door for move-in day or for bringing in groceries.

I would also suggest placing your tiny house in a place with deciduous trees so your house is shaded in the summer and open to the sun in the winter. Before moving the house to my location, I made sure to go around and inspect all the surrounding trees to see if any needed to be removed because they posed a danger because of rot. I discovered one tree that was ready to fall any day, so I cut it down before the house was ever there.

parking checklist

Tools For Planning

There a few go to tools I have for when I’m laying out driveways, locations of water lines, trees that need to be cut, and other planning activities.  It’s important to get good measurements so you can plan how much material you’ll need for things like gravel driveways, concrete for pads you’re going to pour and distances for water lines.

Measuring Wheel

measuring wheelThis let’s you measure distances easily to plan where things will go. You want a larger wheel because it can bridge rough terrain while still getting a good read 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.

Flags For Marking

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

You can get these marking flag for cheap here.

Waterproof Notepad To Take Notes

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.  Inevitably you will have forgotten to check something so having dimensions written out will allow 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.

Access

The first step to getting the land to the point where you can live on it is simply being able to access it. This comes in the form of roads, driveways, turnarounds and parking pads. Before you even think about laying down the road, you must first clear the way, remove trees, level the dirt and make your path to your new home. You have a couple of options: gravel, cement, and asphalt. Gravel is the most economical. I wouldn’t suggest just dirt, because you are bringing in a very heavy house, it’s likely to get stuck, and it gets muddy in the rain.

Here is a video of the installation of my road, turnaround and parking pad. Note I had a much easier time because there used to be an old dirt road in this location, so it was simply a matter of cleaning it up and leveling it out. The whole process took about 6 hours of hard work.

Infrastructure

Laying the lines, pipes and other key connections is a pretty tricky part because it often requires either backbreaking work or heavy equipment. When you’re running pipes and lines over any distance you run into issues of drop in voltage and pressure; so you need to take care to size things appropriately and it will dictate where you can actually place your home. When I first looked at the land, I had wanted to place my house about 300 feet away from its current location. That meant I’d have to run a #3 wire to compensate for the voltage drop as I ran the line to the closest solar exposure, which would have cost an additional $700 in just wire!

For water I am connected to the city water. The meter and installation cost me $2,200 (city sets price), but that is only from the water main to the closest edge of your property. You then need to connect it from there to your house, which will cost me an additional $800: $500 for materials, $300 for ditch witch rental, me doing all the labor.

water

For showers I have a 32″x32″ shower stall in my house, but also will be building a larger outdoor shower which I plan to use most of the year, except in the cold months. Both will feed into the grey water system, but I love outdoor showers and it affords a bit more room in the shower. My indoor shower is workable, but a little cramped. I have designed my plumbing system so that I have a hot water line that feeds out to my outdoor shower, but it has a ball valve on the inside of the house so I can turn it off to prevent freezing during the winter.

Another aspect of infrastructure is how you are going to handle your waste streams. For me this breaks down into five categories:

  1. Trash
  2. Recyclables
  3. Compostables
  4. Grey water
  5. Composting toilet waste

For trash and recyclables I have barrels from the city which are picked up at the end of my driveway once a week.  For compostable materials such as food scraps (no meats, fats, or citrus) I handle those with a red wriggler worm bin which I keep in an outdoor bin. I prefer vermicomposting over regular composting because it’s much more of an active process, it’s super easy and if I forget about it, it will continue on without me. It also breaks things down much faster. In the warmer months it can handle a few pounds a week, going from scraps to dirt in about 4-6 weeks without me turning.

photoFor grey water I am going to build a small reed bed that takes the already pretty clean water, removes any solids, and cleans it up, then feeds into some irrigation pipes that snake through the trees. It’s important to note that I’ve spent about 6 months finding biodegradable alternatives to all my detergents (shampoo, hand soap, dish detergent, etc.) so the water coming out of this system is pretty good to begin with.

My composting toilet waste is the most difficult to handle because my city doesn’t allow for humanure composting systems. I am also leasing land so I don’t think its right to do a humanure composting system on the land itself. If I was, I’d follow the procedure laid out in the Humanure Handbook. So what I’m doing to meet local code and respect the land owner is bagging the waste every few weeks into a biodegradable “plastic” bag and then sending it along with the city trash; at that point its essentially like a diaper, but the plastic will break down in a landfill quickly. There are other options out there for this too and I considered them, but for me this method works.

Security

I get this question a lot from people and it seems very odd to me, but in terms of security I have a few lines of defense. First off, you need to realize that most criminals are those of opportunity. They don’t want to work hard or spend a lot of time stealing a tiny house. The other thing is I do live in a large city, but the land I live on is tucked away deep in back roads and at the back of 26 wooded acres. The likelihood of someone finding it is pretty small unless they knew to look there. With that in mind my tiny house weighs 6,500 lbs, which means that only a limited number of trucks out there can actually tow the house; even with a good truck it isn’t easy.

jackswheelsNext I removed the wheels from the trailer because you need to get them off the ground (tire shock) and if I just jacked them up, the house would be really high off the ground. So by removing them, I could lower my house about 1.5 feet lower than with the tires. This makes it a lot easier to get in and out of my house. The tires are chained up out of sight. Next I have a agriculture style fence gate at the entrance to my driveway, which I will later put on a automatic opener arm with a lock; right now its just chain locked when I’m not there.  photo-5

There are a few other things I do to keep things safe, but at some point you have to realize that you can’t prevent everything bad that COULD happen and you need to go on with your life.

Utilities

For power I plan to use solar, which I’ll be installing a 1.67 Kw system this fall/winter. The panels and equipment will be mounted on skids on the ground because I’m only leasing the land, I can’t have anything permanent. For a system this size you can’t fit it on the roof, plus I want to be able to access the panels to easily clean them. The inverter will be a 4,000 watt unit, with a large battery bank. The system will cost about $15,000 if I install it all myself.

In my house my stove and tankless hot water heater will be powered by propane. The fridge, my 15 LED puck lights, laptop, cell phone, and large computer screen (to serve also as a TV) are all electricity powered. The air conditioner/heater will be a mini-split heat-pump unit that can handle both, will run on electricity.

For Internet I will be hooked up to standard high speed cable Internet. I will also have my cell phone which has Internet. I considered getting a wireless mobile hotspot, but they all have a data cap of about 5-10 gigs, which if you watch 2-3 movies on Netflix you’ll blow through that limit in about 4 hours and be screwed the rest of the month. It’s worth noting that the wireless cards that claim “unlimited” are not really unlimited. If you read the fine print they all have a data cap. For Verizon, “unlimited” is 10 gigs.

I will not have a traditional TV or cable. I get all my TV shows and movies from online and in general I don’t watch a lot anyway. For laundry I have a laundromat a few minutes down the road, but for me I hate doing laundry. So my splurge item is that I use a service that comes to my home and picks it up, does the laundry and brings it back.

Bulk Storage

Before I get into this section, I know some of you are thinking, “extra storage! That’s not tiny living!” That’s fine if you think that, but it isn’t practical for me and I’m designing this for me. The point of this journey isn’t to be tiny, it’s to design a life that lets you achieve your own goals. That’s what I’m doing and I think it’s a disservice to yourself if you artificially constrain yourself by any preconceived notions.

As I pared down my possessions I realized that there were some things that could fit in my tiny house, but I didn’t want to. Things like tools, camping gear, bikes, large packs of consumables (toilet paper, paper towels, etc). It quickly became clear to me that even though I could fit everything in my tiny house, I shouldn’t. This left me trying to figure out what I should do. I knew that whatever I chose had to have a one time upfront cost, because I didn’t want to do a rental storage unit or the like. I also wanted it to be relatively protected from water and bugs.

photo-4

Some people suggested storage under the tiny house or little plastic sheds/cabinets. Since I am leasing, I couldn’t build something permanent, so I needed to find a storage solution that I could move and take with me. Initially I thought about one of those sheds you see in your big box hardware store parking lots, but they were either too cheaply made or too expensive. I instead decided on an enclosed trailer which was about the same cost as one of those sheds. This give me the flexibility of being able to move it, but also being a great storage space.

Outdoor Spaces

Part of tiny house living is making the decision to not stay locked up in your little house. It instead forces you to get out more. Part of this is having great outdoor spaces. For me that means a fire pit with some comfy Adirondack chairs, places to walk around, a grill, and a garden.

Depending on your climate, outdoor living might look different, but about half the year here is very comfortable to be outside. Outdoor spaces are key to having parties, guests and just leisure time. Don’t just design the perfect indoor space, design the perfect outdoor space for you too!

Visibility

In general I think it’s important to have your tiny house placed where no one can easily see it from the road. Legal or not, it’s not prudent to attract a lot of attention. Make sure the house can’t be seen during all seasons. If you move in during the spring, then during fall you might be able to see the house from the road because the leaves are gone.

Solar Exposure

I talked about this in an earlier section, but thought it deserved its own section too. In terms of solar you want to consider how your house is positioned for solar gain during the seasons. You also want to consider how close you are to a great solar exposure opening if you want to do solar panels. Anything beyond 50 feet between your house and your solar panel placement is going to result in a big enough voltage drop that it will need to be addressed.

Proximity To Things

This section is more about how close the land is to other things. Your land needs to be in a location that is close enough for you to get on with living and all the things that come with that. This includes a reasonable distance to commute to work, to go out to dinner or lunch, to go to the gym, library, and other similar services. I would also consider where your friends and family are. How close do you want to be to them?

For me I am 30 minutes from family, 15 to friends, the city center, as well as the “hot spots” that I like to hang out and dine. I work from home or wherever I have my laptop and an Internet connection. I often plan out my week to what I’m doing and then choose coffee shops near where I’m already going. I also have access to a co-working space, which I can hold meetings at and work from if I just want to get out of the house.

parking checklist

Your Turn!

  • What other consideration should you make?
  • How do your plans differ?

The Search For New Land – Part 1

So a while back I had posted about some land that I was planning on living on in my tiny house.  I am sad to report that spot isn’t going to work out well because the owners have since decided to sell the property.

Rock+Hard+Place1305039584

So this meant I have to finish up building and then move on, which left me in a tough spot.  I had quite a few sleepless nights over the whole thing while I searched frantically for land to get my house on.  I pursued some properties to purchase, but they didn’t work out for various reasons.  I looked for farm land to rent, but people aren’t keen on this.  I tried for trailer parks to setup up shop in, but they wouldn’t let me in even if I got designated as a park model, RV or mobile home.   My search lead me father and farther out of the city to the point where I was considering the next state over!

This is the story of tiny houses that isn’t told.  It’s not a glamorous one, it frustrating, its stressful and it will keep you up at night.

The fact is that getting tiny houses to work in a big city like Charlotte is tough, while I could easily move to the country, I’d leave behind friends, family and good paying jobs.   So I decided to tough it out here in Charlotte for many reasons.  Luckily I have found some land to live on, but now I need to get all the utilities setup without raising any eyebrows.

On my to do list is the following

  • Electricity
  • Water
  • Cable internet
  • Trash service

So in the next few weeks I am going to be chronicling my journey in getting these things setup.  So stay tuned!

So now some photos of the property that my house will be on, it is quite big for being in the city and I can’t wait for the spring because there isn’t much green after the winter!

See part two of this series here

photo 1

photo 2

photo 3

photo 4

photo 5

photo 4

See part two of this series here

 

Top 5 Biggest Barriers To The Tiny House Movement

I was driving into work today when the idea came to me for this article.  Why does it have to be so difficult to achieve the life so many of us would love to live?  There are no simple answers to our reasons, but we need to face them head on.  Since I don’t like to focus on the negatives too much, my next post will be on some of the possible solutions and approaches to overcome these barriers.

UPDATE:   Here are the solutions to these:   Part 1  and Part 2

 

Getting Land for sale

Land

One of the largest hurdles for people wanting to live in a Tiny House is access to land.  Land is expensive, in growing short supply and people want a balance of having land and being close to city or town centers where they can access services, entertainment and employment.  These things are often in conflict with each other.  The closer to the city center, the smaller and more expensive the lots.  To have a Tiny House, you don’t need much land for the actual house, but you do need enough to be able to obscure the house from prying eyes in order to fly under the radar of code enforcement and curmudgeons.

Problem Getting Land

Loans

At this point, banks don’t feel that Tiny Houses are a viable option because they don’t have a good resale value.  This means their loan isn’t secured with collateral.  It is this dynamic that means for us to get access to loans, we need to get creative.  Some borrow from a family member, some save up years to pay with cash, others use credit cards and carry a balance.  There isn’t a good answer in this area yet, it’s a tough problem to crack.

Tiny Home Violations

Laws

Despite the approach of putting a tiny house on trailer, this isn’t the magic bullet that it is often claimed to be.  The issue comes when you look at your municipality’s minimum habitable structure definition.  These definitions almost always exclude Tiny Houses from being a dwelling and give code enforcement a strong leg to stand on when it comes to condemning your Tiny Home and/or levying fines.  This code does serve a good purpose; it prevents abuse on the part of slum lords and gives a mechanism for the courts to hold slum lords accountable.

Laws and zoning

Social Pressures

In our society today, bigger is better, more is better, we are conditioned to want more and more stuff.  These cultural norms are a very strong current in maintaining the status quo.  Tiny Houses fly in the face of such things, questioning much of what people hold dear.  People can react in a very visceral way when we suggest there is a problem with the way things are.  People work their whole lives to get as much stuff as they can, to suggest that is wrong, in a way, is to suggest their life’s work is wrong.  People can get very defensive and social pressures can make the shift to living a simple life in a Tiny House very difficult with some people.  We need to be sure not to come off as judgmental or preachy, we want to present it simply as an alternative.

Don't be afraid to fail

Fear

This ties into a few of the above points, but is none the less a real barrier.  When faced with the prospect of bucking the system, initiating a radical lifestyle change, and spending a good chunk of money to do it, it can be scary.  I know from personal experience when you are close to the moment where you must make the decision, where you have to take the leap, a whole series of self-doubts come to the surface.  You are left trying to decide if these doubts are simply normal big decision jitters or if they are valid concerns your unconscious is trying to make you aware of.  The sorting of these thoughts and processing of them is taxing, a little emotional, and of course scary.  Even those of us who deal with change well will struggle with this significantly, fear is a powerful emotion and we must face it to achieve our goal.

What are some ways we can over come these?

Let us know in the comments!


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