Posts Tagged 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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

 

Your Turn!

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

The Search For New Land – Part 2

A few weeks ago I posted about how I suddenly had to find new land to put my tiny house, the land that I was going to be on was suddenly sold by the owners I was leasing from, you can read it all in this post.

I wanted to follow up with the next stage and share how things are coming along, plus I got some new photos and spring has sprung here!  I recently met with the local power company and determined where I could get power run to.  At first I had wanted to be much deeper into the lot, but it would have cost thousands of dollars to get the power lines run there.  So I settled for a nice spot where I could have to power run for free.  The company would install up to 200 feet of underground line to my power box for free if I stayed a customer for 1 year and paid their minimum, which was $15 a month.

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The next thing that I went to check on was water connections.  I was afraid that the water line would be at the other end of the property and would have left me having to choose water or power, otherwise I’d have to pay thousands to get one of the extended to where I needed it.   Well I think I might have lucked out because the closest water line is 300 feet from where my house will be, so while I’ll be spending several hours hard labor digging a trench (even with a trencher) I’ll take it over spending thousands any day!

Step one was clearing a path for the power company to dig the trench and then the area I’m going to park my house.  So I had someone with a chain saw come through and cut a path that didn’t have to take out any large trees, but maximized the 200 foot extension deep into the woods.

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Next up is having a temporary power pole service put in.  It will be a 200 amp service (the smallest they’ll put it).  The panel will be mounted on two posts, with a ½” piece of plywood between them.  From there the box and the meter will be installed and then a 20 amp plug has to be installed (I don’t know why, but it’s required to pass code).  Additionally two copper grounding rods will need to be driven into the ground.

The trick here is that this will need to be inspected by the city, but my house isn’t there yet (on purpose), It will be pretty tricky because they might start asking questions.  I’m just going to have to come up with a story of why I need power at that site, then cross my fingers.

Right now I am getting quotes to get the 200 amp service panel put in, if you know anyone around Charlotte, NC that would be good or may be willing to do a barter of some sort (me building them a website/free advertisements/etc), let me know!

 

Read part three of this series by clicking here

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Read part three of this series by clicking here

 

 

The Elusive Land Search

After reading Ryan’s post I thought I’d share some of the ways we’ve been able to acquire parcels to live on as well as advice from other tiny houser dwellers. Just recently, another friend who owns a tiny house started her search to find a new place to set her home and, as Ryan mentioned, it’s an incredibly stressful process and there are no guarantees.

DSCN27131. Friends & Neighbors: Look to your immediate community as much as possible. We talked to everyone about the tiny house, invited them to work parties and even put the house in the Christmas parade! By the time we started seriously considering a place to put the house, about a year and a half after we started building, we had 3 offers. Word of mouth played a huge role in this. I was talking to a college acquaintance in a cafe one morning and telling her about the project. Low and behold she told her husband who came to see the house, loved it and offered us a place to stay in the heart of downtown Charleston.  City living is hard because you’re most definitely at higher risk of butting heads with town officials, which is stressful in and of itself, but ultimately just chatting with an acquaintance provided us an opportunity we couldn’t refuse.

2. Seasonal Work: There are campgrounds at state as well as national parks that need hosts during the busy months. Sometimes seasonal work can turn in to year-round gigs if the timing is right. Cedric and I have considered this option but no situation has come up that seemed quite right. It can be tricky but if you find the right place, it could be an option.

3. Government Auctions: There is a lot of land out there and the governmentDSCN3518 holds auctions where you can buy it for dirt cheap. Some of this land is seized for tax reasons while some is surplus land and 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 incredibley cheap way to acquire property. Govsales.gov

4. Exchange: We lived in Charleston for several months free on some friends’ property in exchange for being a presence.  They were remodeling a house and it was helpful to have people next door who could be present in case of any issues. It was a win-win for both parties and there are folks out there who will pay you or set your tiny house for free to watch their properties and/or manage their rental properties. We’ve met other tiny housers who offered to help neighbors with their animals, exchange home repair, computer repair, landscaping and many other skills in order to use land.

DSCN34805. Start a cooperative housing project: I list this as a long term goal. It is a lot of work, in a city or rural setting, but ultimately the work can pay off. This is definitely a goal that Cedric and I hope to accomplish. We want to help create a space that allows folks to live how they want. Whether it be a tiny house, a yurt, a cob house or a vardo. We are slowly learning the rules and regulations of creating such spaces. It’s different in every state but it’s worth it to us to try and find a home where our future and choices aren’t dictated by a landowner and where we can offer other tiny housers an opportunity to co-own their own space.

 

6. Connect with other Tiny House owners: I feel like this goes without saying but I highly encourage tiny house builders to approach other tiny house folks with questions. When we moved to Vermont, we were looking at a site on a local farm to put our house and lo and behold! A tiny house was already parked there! We went to the door and knocked and the woman who lived there was kind enough to invite us in and describe her experience living on the site. She was incredibly helpful and we were happy to know that other tiny house folks lived nearby. We did not end up choosing that particular location but we did make a new friend who continues to help us connect to our new community.

7. Tinyhouselistings.com: This is a site I’m sure many visitors to The Tiny Life have seen but just in case you haven’t I wanted to include it. There are some tiny houses being offered with land on this site, although most listings are just for houses. There is a parking section but it’s mostly folks seeking parking but once in awhile land offered is available. It’s worth keeping an eye on.

I hope this information is helpful to someone out there struggling with thisP1000291 aspect of tiny house living. We know all too well the stress of finding land for a tiny house. When we moved to Vermont, we knew no one but through an incredible website called Front Porch Forum (kind of like craigslist but with more emphasis on community building) we found a site in under a week. We posted a note saying we needed a place to park our house and we received 8 replies in 24 hours. Front Porch Forum is a Vermont based site but could easily be created in any city/neighborhood. We would never have found out about it without first asking around town and explaining our situation. A face to face connection has been the first and most successful step for us in our searches for land. It’s a struggle but we’ve been lucky and for that we are grateful.

Your Turn!

  • What have your experiences been finding land to park your tiny house?
  • Any tips I may have missed when it comes to finding land?
  • What resources do you know of for cheap land purchase and/or rent?

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.

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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

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See part two of this series here

 

Taking Tiny Houses To The Next Level

There has been some discussion on our site about Tiny Houses whether or not Tiny House have “arrived”.  I personally think we are there or close enough, but certainly we will keep on growing.  It got me thinking, if there were a few things that I’d like to see in the coming years, what would they be?  Here are the top five things I think would take Tiny Houses to the next level.

1. Tiny House Lending

I think this is pretty self-explanatory; Tiny Houses face many barriers to getting capital to build their Tiny House.  While I am generally against having debt, Tiny Houses often are about the cost of rent for 3 years if you build it yourself, but most don’t have the money all at once.  I’d love to see a 3 and 5 year mortgage option for Tiny Houses.  I wrote more on this here

2. Tiny House insurance Co-Op

I firmly believe that there is a need for a nonprofit insurance company, that doesn’t have shareholders.  The idea that profits should be generated above paying staff and direct costs to the provider is something I take issue with.  So let’s have a nonprofit cooperative insurance group that specifically ties into the tiny house community.  I think much of the success of this will hinge on getting enough people involved and the establishment of plain language building code.  More here

3. Accessible Tiny House Building Code

What if building codes were written in plain English?  What if building codes made special provisions for Tiny Houses?  I have struggled with this one; do we want to bring in a formal building code?  It is a tough call.  I think in order to establish safety standards and open a dialogue with municipalities this is something that will inevitably come, so it might be better if we write the code instead of someone else calling the shots for us.

4. Tiny House Land & Communities

I would that getting land might be one of the largest barriers to Tiny Houses, to put it simply, land is really expensive unless you want to live in rural areas.  I’d love to see some land open up that is near a city and is opened up to Tiny House folks for a small yearly fee.  I have kicked around the idea of purchasing land and opening it to those who want to bring their Tiny House.  I’d charge a reasonable fee; I just need to figure out how to arrange it legally so I can protect myself from liability and squatters.

5. Tiny House Convergence

I would love to see a mass gathering of Tiny Houses and Tiny House people.  I often refer to our community of Tiny Houses people and I think an event like this would bring our close knit community even closer, generate a lot of discussion and make strides in progressing the Tiny House cause.  I would love to see it held where we could make a big splash media wise; just imagine a swarm of Tiny Houses converging on the National Mall in Washington DC one weekend!  The trouble is that we are spread out over a good distance so everyone would have to travel a good distance.

Your Turn!

What things do think need to happen next for Tiny Houses?