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Understanding Tiny House Systems: Toilets, Tanks, Power, and Water

How Do Utilities Work in Tiny Houses on Wheels?

You’ve seen beautiful tiny houses on wheels on TV, in magazines, and on the internet.  You could see yourself buying a tiny house one day.  You could use it for vacations, put it in your backyard to use as a studio or guest house, or you could live in your tiny house full-time.

Hoosic Tiny House Exterior

In this photo: The Hoosic Tiny House

But you may have asked yourself: if it’s on wheels, how does it really work?  How do you get power to a tiny house?  How do you get fresh water in and waste water out?  How are tiny houses climate controlled?  What expenses are you forgetting to include in your overall budget?  

There’s a lot more to buying a tiny house than just buying the tiny house.  You’ll need to have a good understanding of how it all works, and how you’ll deal with fresh water, waste water, power, and parking.  There are many options for different types of tiny house setups.  Before building, your builder will need to know how you plan to use your house so he or she can help you choose the best appliances and systems for your specific situation.  Read about tiny house design sessions.

Setting Up Your Tiny House

Because they’re on wheels, tiny houses can travel.  However, life on the road isn’t for everyone: most tiny house dwellers live in one place with permanent utility connections.

new tiny house constructionIf you’re traveling with your tiny house:

  • Buy a truck powerful enough to pull your tiny house.  Here’s an article on truck capacity for different tiny houses.
  • Make sure to let your builder know they’ll need to insulate for all climates.  When traditional houses are built, they are insulated according to what zone they’re in.  Houses in colder climates need a lot more insulation.  But when a movable house is built, it needs to withstand all kinds of weather.
  • Tiny houses that travel go through a lot of wear and tear.  The amount of wind and vibration a tiny house experiences when driving on the highway is the same as if the house were sitting still in a hurricane.  Secure your items well inside your tiny house, and prepare to perform more maintenance on your tiny house since it will be traveling often.
  • Make sure you know where you’ll be traveling to (RV parks? Friends’ houses?) and where you’ll store your tiny house when you’re not staying in it. It’s not always easy finding places to put your tiny house, so it pays to be prepared!
  • In the same vein, research the cost of renting space, what utility hookups are required, and include your transportation costs, like fuel and road food, in your budget.  Check out this article on the all-in cost of living in a tiny house.
  • If you plan to sell your tiny house when you’re done traveling, make your resale easier by buying a tiny house with a layout that’s as universally appealing as possible.

If your tiny house will stay in one place:

Most people place their tiny house on a gravel or concrete pad.  This keeps utility lines in place and systems working properly (for example, some mini splits can leak if they’re not level).

Anchors are a great idea: they’ll keep your house from shaking even in the worst weather.

Skirting, while not necessary, also reduces shaking in high winds, and, if insulated, helps keep your pipes from freezing.  Skirting creates a more permanent look to your tiny house.

If you don’t have a location for your tiny house yet, here are some things to consider when looking:

If you’ll be placing your tiny house in a backyard, here are some tips:

  • Tiny houses on wheels are generally legally considered RVs, so if you can park an RV in your yard, you can park a tiny house in your yard.  Whether it can legally be lived in full time is a different question.  You’ll have to find out from your town’s zoning board.  Here’s how.
  • Choose a spot in your yard for your tiny house wisely.  In addition to the space the tiny house will take up, you’ll need to ensure the delivery truck will have enough space to maneuver the house into place and then drive away.

Photos in this section: The Arcadia Tiny House and the Spectacle Tiny House (a custom-built park model that’s not in our catalogue).


Tiny House Water Systems

When people envision life on the road, they picture a life of freedom.  But if you’re a human, you’ll still need water for life’s basics: drinking, cooking, and bathing.

RV Hookups for Water

For water, RV hookups come standard on B&B Tiny Houses.  RV hookups have an inlet for a fresh water hose and an outlet for waste water.  You can connect the hoses to a hookup pedestal at an RV park or, if your tiny house is in a backyard, to the main house.

Tiny houses on wheels have four potential spaces where water is used: kitchen sink, bathroom sink, shower or bath, and toilet.  Depending on whether you’ll be traveling or staying put, and what systems are available at your location, we’ll help you decide on the best type of toilet for your lifestyle.

If you’re traveling, here’s how to hook up your tiny house at a campground:

Some tiny houses have water tanks and some don’t. If you’ll always be hooked up to a water system when you’re using water, you won’t need water tanks.

If your tiny house has water tanks, the tanks can store fresh and waste water until your house gets to a pumping station.

If you have water tanks, here’s a video on how to empty waste water (black water) tanks at a dumping station.

Permanent Tiny House Hookups

If your tiny house is staying in one place, you’ll want a more maintenance-free water system.  Tiny houses on wheels can be hooked up permanently to the same systems traditional houses use: a well or city water for fresh water, and septic or sewer for waste water.

If your tiny house is in the back yard of a traditional house, you can hook your tiny house up to the existing water system, as long as it has the capacity to add another “bedroom”, which is code for “the water usage equivalent of one or two people being added to a house”. Generally, when houses are built, the water system permits the house to add at least one extra bathroom, in case the house gets an addition in the future.

  • If the main house is on city water, you’ll need to check town records to see if the house is permitted to add another hookup to the water system.  Check with town records to see if this is true in your situation.  Most often (but not always) when houses are on city water, waste water will go to a city sewer.
  • If the main house is on a well, check to see if the well will need to expand its capacity to provide enough water for the tiny house.  Most often (but not always) when houses are on a well, waste water will go to a septic system.

Generally, we advise our customers not to DIY sewer connections, as there’s too much that can go wrong.  However, we want you to have an understanding of how it’s done, so please watch the following video of how one DIYer connected his RV to the sewer.

  • Contrary to what this DIYer did, we advise having a trench dug by site work professionals to bury your water lines.  This is for aesthetic reasons as well as to prevent freezing.  If your water lines are above ground and you’re using your tiny house year-round in a climate that freezes, wrap your hoses in heat tape from an RV supply store.

Tiny House Power Sources

Power is the second most important utility your tiny house will require.  If it’s good weather outside, you can survive without using power, as if you’re going camping.  But if you want to take a hot shower, operate lights and other electronics, and generally live like a modern human, you’ll need a constant source of power going to your tiny house.

  • Tiny House RV Hookups- Power and WaterMost tiny houses on wheels come with RV hookups where you plug an extension cord with an adapter into the side of your house.
    • These connections work best for those who plan to use electric appliances like ovens or washer/dryers in their tiny house.
    • If you’ll permanently anchor your tiny house, however, you can have your builder put a permanent power receptacle in.  It’ll go either underneath your house so the wires can be buried, or near the roof of your house so you can run overhead wires.
  • Solar power systems are another option.  Installing solar systems is much more expensive up front, but they can pay for themselves after 10 or so years.
    • If you want an off-grid solar system that powers your whole house, you’ll need to set aside outdoor space for solar panels and indoor space like a closet for batteries and the control center.  You’ll need to choose your appliances to work well with solar energy (for example, choose a gas fireplace instead of an electric heater) and use energy conservatively.
    • Most people use grid-tied solar, which supplements power from the power lines and sells energy back to the grid when you’re not using it all (your meter will run backwards!)  Another advantage to grid-tied solar is you won’t run out of energy on a cloudy day, because when your batteries are depleted your system will automatically switch to grid power.

Talk To Us About Designing The Best Power & Water System For Your Lifestyle

We hope this explanation of the many ways to set up your tiny house was helpful.  In your design session, we’ll ask you to describe what your living situation will be and we’ll go over the best options for your specific situation.

Here’s an article that walks you through the 8 steps of buying a tiny house.  When you’re ready to buy your tiny house, contact us to get started!


Thank you to YouTubersSean and Kristie Michael of Long Long Honeymoon, Mark Rowles, and BuckWSR for their instructional videos.

The Coolest Tiny Home Add-Ons

At B&B, all of our tiny houses are customizable to your preferences. That means that you get to pick all of the finishes in your tiny house. Check out some of our customers’ favorite features and add-ons below.

Solar Panels

Solar panels can be fully installed on your tiny house for as little as $10,000. Grid-tied solar energy offers a great way to live sustainably and you even have the option of selling back excess electricity–a win-win!

Read our blog post on the two most common types of solar panels: off-grid and grid-tied. 

Shiplap

Who doesn’t love shiplap? At B&B, we offer shiplap bare, painted, or stained. You also have the option of having the shiplap on the ceiling.

Shou Sugi Ban

Shou sugi ban is as practical as it is functional. Originating from Japan, shou sugi ban weatherproofs the exterior of a house through charring the panelling of a house. The result is a beautiful, contemporary house. Shou sugi ban can come in a range of colors from lightly charred to completely black.

Futon sofa

Sleep up to two more people in your tiny house through a convertible futon sofa.

Expanded Porch

If you know that you will be keeping your tiny house in a single location, then an expanded porch is a great way to even better enjoy your surroundings. Also, they are great for entertaining!

Apartment Sized Fridge

Living tiny doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice a full-sized refrigerator.

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What’s the Best Size Tiny House for Travel?

Tiny Houses on Wheels are sized for the road.

An 8 1/2 foot width is standard in tiny houses because that’s the maximum width that can safely travel down roads without an oversize permit.  We also build some tiny houses on wheels 10+ feet wide as Park Model RVs and procure oversize permits in every state they’ll travel through to get to their destination.  10+ foot wide houses, of course, aren’t recommended as houses that will travel more than once.

While the length of tiny houses is variable (we’ve built everything from 16 feet to 32 feet) the height is also restricted by the road.  13 1/2 feet tall is the maximum, which means the ceiling can be just over 10 feet from the floor inside the tiny house.  That’s why we can’t build a sleeping loft you can stand up in– unless you’re only two feet tall.

What size vehicle do you need to own to tow your tiny house?

You should have a vehicle with a towing capacity that exceeds the weight of your tiny house.  This article will help you determine what towing capacity you’ll need based on the estimated weight of your tiny house.

It can be helpful to take lessons first.

If you don’t have experience towing, see if there are classes offered in your area before you set out on the road with your tiny house in tow.  If you don’t want to take an entire course, have someone you know who’s experienced in towing give you a few pointers.  Having someone watch what you’re doing in-person is more helpful than YouTube videos, because they can tell you what you’re doing wrong and right.

Shorter tiny houses are lighter.

We recommend a house up to 24 feet long for towing.  Anything larger (or heavier) gets unwieldy for travel.  (We can still build a bigger house if you’re not planning on traveling with it!)

If you don’t want to tow your house, hire a professional.

There are companies that do this all day, every day so you don’t have to.  If you’re only moving your house once, it may be best to leave the towing to the pros.  If you’re on the east coast, email us at info@bbtinyhouses.com for a towing company recommendation.

 

Are Composting Toilets Allowed in Massachusetts?

Composting toilets and greywater systems can be a great solution for how to deal with waste water.  But are you allowed to use them on your own land in MA?

Spoiler alert: Like pretty much every code, there’s not a single easy answer that applies everywhere.

According to mass.gov, for residential homes: “Title 5 (310 CMR 15.000) allows composting toilets for Remedial Use and also certifies them for General Use in new residential construction where a system in full compliance with Title 5 could otherwise be installed. The local approving authority (typically the Board of Health) must also approve installation of a composting toilet through a Disposal System Construction Permit and Certificate of Compliance. Check with your local Board of Health for its approval procedures.”

Read all the details here:

Source: https://www.mass.gov/files/documents/2016/08/qm/comptoi.pdf

Note that this doesn’t apply to tiny houses on wheels– only homes that are permanently affixed.

In summary, Title 5 allows for conforming composting toilets and a greywater system in new residential construction where there could otherwise be a septic system.  However, this doesn’t mean it’s allowed in every town.  The local Board of Health will also have to approve it. 

Here’s how to get in touch with your local Board of Health in Massachusetts.

But wait: a composting toilet isn’t the only option for your tiny house!

B&B offers five different toilets for tiny houses on wheels: the best solution for you depends on where you’re parking your tiny house, whether it’ll move, what utilities are available and how often you’ll use your tiny house.  Check out this blog post on the 5 Types Of Tiny House Toilets.

 

 

 

Grid-Tied vs. Off-Grid Solar Power in Tiny Homes

Picking the Best Solar Power Option

Many tiny home owners chose to adopt the minimalist lifestyle in order to live more sustainably. Solar panels offer a great form of renewable energy, but there are many considerations that you will need to keep in mind before you decide if solar power is the right option for you. In this post, we will talk about the differences between grid-tied and off-grid solar power.

Grid-Tied Solar Systems

As the name suggests, grid-tied solar systems connect to a utility power grid.
Pros
– Net metering: Net metering is when excess energy created by your solar panels is sent to the utility power grid for others to use. This allows solar panel owners to be paid for the excess electricity that their panels create.
On-grid Connectivity: If the solar panels do not create enough power for your tiny home, then the electrical grid will give electricity to your home as needed. This can allow a tiny home owner to buy solar panels in phases and increase the amount of panels their home relies on whenever the owner pleases.
– Affordability: Grid-tied solar power is the cheapest option for solar energy.
Cons
Lack of Transportability: Many tiny home owners like to frequently move around with their tiny house. Because of this, a grid-tied system would not be the ideal choice because they might not have access to an electrical meter while on the move.

grid-tied solar system tiny home

Off-grid Solar Systems

Off-grid systems are able to move with tiny home owners as they travel. Off-grid systems work by converting sunlight to power during the day and then storing this power in batteries for future use.
Pros
Transportability: With this option, you are able to travel with your tiny home and have a source of power.
On-grid connect-ability: There are off-grid options that can also connect to the grid, which enables tiny home owners to not have to worry about not having electricity and allows owners to sell back surplus electricity.
Cons
 Price: Compared to grid-tied systems, off-grid systems cost more money. In order to prevent a lack of power, most off-grid systems are oversized to make sure that there are no outages; this usually takes into consideration 1-2 days without solar panel generation.

Lack of Electricity: Solar panels may not produce enough electricity due to weather or because your tiny home is using more power than predicted. As discussed above, this is why most off-grid systems are oversized. Tiny home owners do have the option of charging the batteries via a generator if there is not enough solar power produced.

off-grid solar system tiny home

Depending on how you are wanting to use your tiny home and budget will probably be most tiny home owners’ biggest considerations when deciding which solar system to opt for.

 

4 Ways to Get Water Into Your Tiny Home

Figuring out which water system will fit your tiny home best may seem like a stressful task, but it’s actually more straightforward than you’d expect. Deciding on the best system for you depends on things like the location you’re planning to live, budget, and even level of sustainability that you wish to achieve.

water faucet source tiny home new england

Options for Water Sources in Your Tiny Home

water tank waste tiny home new englandNo Water Source

Having no plumbing may seem like the simplest option, but it can make everyday living cumbersome. If there is no plumbing, then the only way to get water into the house is by bringing it in. This would mean that you would have to transport water bottles, bubblers, or jugs often.

Showering can also be a difficult task. In addition, storing water may become a hassle. If there is no space inside your tiny home, then you will have to keep the water outside your home; however, a problem may arise during frigid winters if the water freezes.

Not having plumbing is a great solution if your house is used for camping or as a backyard studio or guest house, but for those living in tiny houses full-time, it’s not recommended.  One benefit from this option, though, is that it will keep the cost of your tiny home down.

Tank

You may choose to install a tank into your tiny home. In this system, you will fill the tank in your home manually, via a hose or other mechanism, and then the pump will circulate the water throughout your home. You will need an electric source in order to circulate the water. This is a great option for those that want their tiny home to be able to live off the grid. With an alternative energy source like solar panels, you would not need to connect to a traditional power source, which makes this option a highly sustainable choice. Read more about living off the grid.

Like having no plumbing, this option still requires you to seek out a water source and then store the water. Tanks can be hidden in tiny homes relatively well, but it will still take up valuable space, either under the floor in part of the house, requiring steps up into part of the house, or in a utility closet. In addition, the smaller the tank is then the more often you will have to refill the tank. Having a limited supply of water will force you to be cognizant of the amount of water that you’re using and you will most likely consume less water than the traditional household (the average American household consumes up to 100 gallons of water per day).

RV Hookup

If you know that your tiny home will be staying in one location, then you may choose to directly connect to a water source. This is done the same way as a RV hookup with a simple garden hose connected to a potable (drinkable) water source. This method is the least hassle.  Those who plan to move around frequently should plan ahead to travel to places with potable water sources.

In climates where it can get cold, use heat tape to prevent your hose from freezing.  You can also bury the hose if you live in a climate that doesn’t deep freeze.

Tank + Hookup

You may choose to get the best of both worlds by installing a tank and using the RV hookup method. In doing so, you will most likely use a smaller tank than you normally would, which would allow for more space in your tiny home. The great perk about this option is that it does not close any doors. You can live off grid when you need and also on the grid whenever you please. This combination is usually ideal for most tiny home owners.

How to Pick the Best Water Source for You

Now that you know all of your options, you probably have a better idea of which option will best fit your needs. When deciding the best option for you, it is best to keep in mind how often you’re wanting to travel, if you are going to be on or off the grid, budget, level of sustainability, and you’re willingness to spend extra time to get water into your tiny home.

 

 

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How Do I Get Power & Water To My Tiny House? All About Tiny House Hookups

Hooking up a tiny house to power, fresh water, and waste water is easy– just plug and play!

Tiny House RV Hookups- Power and WaterFrom left: the tiny house power source, an extension cord with an adapter to fit into any three-pronged outlet; the water hose inlet; and covered outdoor outlets for all your chili-pepper-string-light needs.  Not pictured: grey and black water outlets, under the house. 

Fresh Water

First, you’ll need a source for fresh water in your tiny house.  You can source water from a town water line, a well, or any other potable water source.

Tiny houses that stay in one location can hook up to water through an RV hookup, which includes an underground water source with a pedestal that feeds water into the sinks and other faucets as they are used.

If there are water tanks in your tiny house, they can be filled with potable water via a hose, whether the hose is permanently attached to a stationary house (in freezing temperatures, wrap heat tape along the hose), or, if you’re traveling with your house, intermittently.  You can also have a water truck come and fill up your water tank, although that’s a more expensive solution.

Waste Water

How will you get rid of your waste water?

Depending on what your town allows, you may separate your grey water from your black water if you can use your grey water, or you may put all waste water into black water.  Grey water may be used in irrigating gardens (again, as long as your town allows it) and you use eco-friendly soap products.  More on greywater use is here.

Either way, your waste water will need to go somewhere!  B&B Micro Manufacturing can build in grey and black water tanks to your tiny house, or you can permanently tie-in your tiny house to a septic or sewer system.

Power

The simplest, cheapest power source for your tiny house is running an extension cord a building that already has power.  Many people who live in their tiny houses full-time park their houses beside or behind the house of a friend, relative or landlord.  Others may lease or purchase a property that already has a power source.  If you need to have new power lines run to your property, check in with your town. Learn more about connecting undeveloped land to power and water sources here.

Solar powering tiny houses is another option, albeit the most expensive one.  Off-grid solar power systems for tiny houses, including solar panels and batteries, cost anywhere between $3,500 and $10,000, depending on your power needs.  If you’re choosing solar power for your tiny house, we will help you choose the most energy-efficient appliances for your power system.  You can read more about your solar options and our tiny house solar energy partner, AltEStore, here.

The TL;DR* for tiny house water and power is that tiny houses work just like RVs, and they can be quite simple and easy to plug in.

Have questions about your tiny house power and water?  Ready to buy your tiny house?  Contact us!

  • Where will your tiny house be located? Will it be used for travel or set in one location?
  • Will your tiny house be used as a year-round residence or as a vacation home? How many people will use it? Anything else we should know?
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

*For all you newcomers to the internet (where have you been?), TL;DR means “Too Long; Didn’t Read”, or “In Summary” if you’re being polite.

What kinds of toilets are used in tiny houses?

toilet tiny homes new england

Tiny House Toilet Options

B&B Micro Manufacturing’s tiny houses have multiple options for their toilets.  Depending on whether you’ll be traveling with your tiny house and where your tiny house will be located, we’ll help you decide on the best option for your tiny house toilet.

All of our tiny houses have RV hookups, so waste can be pumped out by a truck or go directly into a sewer or septic system.  If you’ll be travelling with your tiny house and won’t always be hooked up to a sewer or septic, we can put in a blackwater (wastewater) tank to hold on to the waste until the tank can be drained.

Here’s a chart to help you get started deciding which tiny house toilet is right for your situation:

Toilet Type Suggested Brand Utilities Used Hookups Required How It Works
Regular Flush Toilet Any Water Only Permanent hookup to fresh water & septic or sewer Uses water to flush waste into sewer or septic system
Macerating Toilet Saniflo Water & Power Fresh & black water tanks and/or RV hookups Grinds waste into liquid emulsion to be pumped out
Dry Flush or Casette Toilet Laveo Power Only Power & Regular Trash Pickup Like a Diaper Genie, it packages the waste with each “flush” to be thrown out in the trash.
Composting Toilet Separett Power for Fan Power & Humanure Compost System on your property Remove the waste from the toilet and deposit into a compost system on your property.
Incinerating Toilet Incinolet Power Only Uses a lot of power- not recommended for Solar Uses power to burn waste. Remove ash once a month and dump outside or throw away.
Read on for videos of how each toilet system works, explained in detail by people with delightful accents.

Regular Flush Toilets

These are the type of toilets you see in pretty much every traditional, permanently-affixed house.  If you’re not planning to move your tiny house once it’s in place, and you’ll be tying your tiny house directly into a sewer or septic system, this is your best bet.


What is a Macerating Toilet and How Does It Work?

The first option is a “macerating toilet”, which breaks up waste and toilet paper into a fine slurry that is then stored in a black water tank and finally expelled into the sewer or septic tank.  The flush mechanism is powered by electricity.  The user experience is the most similar to a regular flush toilet: press the button, water comes into the chamber and flushes the waste away.

Our Stony Ledge Tiny House, for sale now, has a macerating toilet.

View a flushing demonstration at 4:54.


What is a Dry-Flush Toilet and How Does It Work?

Another toilet option is the Dry-Flush Toilet.  The bowl is lined with foil which, when “flushed”, wraps around the waste in a sealed packet, similar to a diaper genie.  The packaged waste can then be thrown out in any trash can just like diapers.  The flushing mechanism is powered by electricity.

Our Brodie Mobile Office, for sale now, has a dry-flush toilet because the office is designed to move around without always needing to be hooked up to a septic or sewer system.

Dry Flush Toilet

Watch the video below for a demonstration of the Laveo Dry-Flush Toilet:


How does a Compost Toilet Work?

Cold Spring Tiny HouseFor those who are prepared to have Humanure human waste composting system on their property (check in with your town hall to make sure this is allowed), we offer composting toilets, and for the truly primitive campers, we can build in a toilet seat only, to use for the Bucket System.


How Do Incinerating Toilets Work?

Incinerating toilets are great for off-grid tiny houses with power but no access to sewer or septic, whose owners aren’t ready to start a Humanure compost system.  It incinerates the waste and turns it into ash, which can then be thrown away.

 

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