What is sustainability? How does it affect me? What does it have to do with tiny living?
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.
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.
If 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:
- Make sure zoning will allow you to live in your tiny house (if not, consider opting for a tiny or small house on a foundation). Rural towns will generally have less restrictive zoning laws than suburban or urban ones. Here’s an article on how to find out if your town will allow you to live in a tiny house on wheels as your permanent residence.
- Buying land that already has utilities (water and power) is generally less expensive than buying raw land and having utilities installed. Read this article on buying land for a tiny house for more information.
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.
- Most 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.
The planning & zoning board of the town of Great Barrington, MA is considering allowing tiny houses on wheels, or movable tiny houses, as Accessory Dwelling Units in the back yards of existing houses.
The tiny house amendment has gone through all the previous stages of approval: registered voters in Great Barrington will vote on whether to allow them at the annual town meeting on May 6.
Katie Jackson of B&B Tiny Houses was asked to do a presentation at a planning board meeting on what tiny houses are, how they work, and how other cities have written them into their zoning code. Katie is also the Northeast Regional Director of the American Tiny House Association, which is hosting the open house on May 5.
- Who buys tiny houses?
- Why do people want tiny houses?
- Why don’t more people have tiny houses?
Backyard tiny houses will add density without having to change the infrastructure of the town; it’s the quickest, easiest solution (and one of many) that will address the housing crisis.
Here’s Great Barrington’s proposed zoning language pertaining to tiny houses:
MTH: Movable Tiny House
THOW: Tiny House on Wheels
ADU: Accessory Dwelling Unit
There will be two tiny house events in Great Barrington:
-Tiny House Open House in the backyard of 65 Anderson Street, Great Barrington, MA 01230. Sunday, May 5, 10am-4pm.
Sunday’s tiny house open house is in advance of Monday’s Great Barrington Annual Meeting, where a proposed zoning amendment allowing Movable Tiny Houses as accessory dwelling units will be voted upon, among other topics. The open house is hosted by Amy Turnbull who is on the leadership team of the American Tiny House Association, with a movable tiny house built by Tony Indino of East Granby, Connecticut (this house is shown in the event flyer). This open house will give a glimpse into what backyard tiny houses might look like in Great Barrington if the Movable Tiny House Amendment passes.
-Great Barrington Annual Meeting & Vote at Monument Mountain High School Auditorium, 600 Stockbridge Rd, Great Barrington, MA 01230. Monday, May 6, 6:00pm.
Please attend the Annual Meeting on Monday in support of allowing movable tiny houses in Great Barrington backyards. The proposed amendment language is posted in the comments. All those who are registered to vote in Great Barrington may vote on the amendments.
What Do HRVs Do For The Air Quality In My Tiny House?
Do I need one in my tiny house?
The tiny houses built by B&B Tiny Houses are well insulated and sealed. This works great for keeping the inside warm in the winter and cool in the summer, but it means the air inside can get stale.
HRVs, or Heat Recovery Ventilators, control a home’s humidity, reduce indoor mold and mildew, and exhaust stale, polluted air. Unlike traditional vent fans, however, HRVs recover some of the warmth that’s being exhausted to the outside in the winter time, while removing the pollutants and moisture to ensure that the fresh air coming in is still warm. Maintaining the temperature of the air while exchanging stale air for fresh air cuts down on the cost of heating a home.
The HRVs we use in our tiny houses come in pairs, where units are placed on opposite walls and air flow is transferred back and forth. In a tiny house, only one pair is necessary, because it’s such a small space. Each unit is installed directly on an exterior wall, so no ductwork is needed. Even when the door to, say, the bathroom is closed, it’ll still work because we leave a 3/4″ space beneath the door in tiny houses with HRVs. They are turned on and off by a switch.
From the 475 Lunos e² HRV website:
#6 in the photo is the part you’ll see on the interior wall of your tiny house. #1 is what you’ll see on the outside of the tiny house.
Where should HRVs be used?
Heat Recovery Ventilators are for use in the USA’s northern states. Energy Recovery Ventilators (ERVs) are to be used in the southern states.
Does an HRV warm or cool the house?
No; it maintains the inside temperature, rather than sucking all the heat or cool out of house.
Is it loud?
The system contains a sound muffler. It produces 0.12 sones at its lowest setting while a quiet refrigerator in a quiet kitchen produces about 1.0 sones.
Do I really need an HRV in my tiny house?
There are a few factors to consider when deciding whether to spring for an HRV. The type of HRV we use costs around a few thousand dollars, so it’s worth spending the time to decide whether you really want one in your home.
Factors to consider include:
- How many people will live in the tiny house? The more people, the staler the air will be.
- How often is the tiny house used? Is this your primary residence or your vacation home? If it’s just used as a weekend cottage, an HRV system is probably not necessary because new air pollutants will not be introduced every day; a simple bathroom exhaust fan, while less energy-efficient, should do the trick.
- What is your sensitivity to mold? HRVs prevent the buildup of mold and mildew: those with an allergy or sensitivity to mold or mildew will benefit from an HRV system.
- Do you have breathing issues? Those with asthma, dust mite allergies, and other breathing issues may benefit from this air exchange.
- What is your cooking style? Scents from cooking may linger in a home, even with propane stoves come with a range hood. An HRV can help get rid of cooking odors.
- How energy efficient do you want your house to be? HRVs introduce new fresh air, warmed by the old stale air, into the house. Consider the cost of the HRV versus the cost of heat energy you’ll save by installing one. If you aren’t heating your tiny house full-time in the winter, the HRV will take longer to pay for itself.
What if I don’t use an HRV?
It’s important to not let mold and mildew build up from the moisture created by your bathroom and kitchen. But if you don’t have an HRV in your tiny house, there are other ways to get fresh air into your home. Our tiny house bathrooms come with a vent fan that goes on whenever the bathroom light is switched on. Vent fans will let the heat out of your house in the winter, but they are included with the basic model tiny houses and are much less expensive to install. You can also just open your windows periodically to let the fresh air in. All of our houses with a propane stove/oven also come with a kitchen range hood.
How do HRVs work?
This video explains how a heat recovery ventilator works. The example shown in the video is for a much larger house; the ones used in tiny houses look like white squares, CD case shaped attached to the wall at opposite ends of the house.
Williamstown, MA had its planning board meeting last night, discussing whether to allow backyard cottages and second apartments to homes in certain zones of town. It was a full house, with others who couldn’t get seats standing in the hallway.
In the photo, Amy Jeschawitz, Chair of the Planning Board, sits under the town flag, depicting Williamstown’s beloved 1753 House. The 1753 House was originally called a “Regulation House” by the early European settlers, who, in order to be considered land owners, had to build a house that was at least 15’ x 18’ and 7’ tall. At 270 sq ft, this would certainly be considered a “tiny house” by today’s standards!
The size of the detached ADUs (backyard cottages) in the current proposed bylaw would be limited to between 900 and 1200 square feet, determined by the size of the existing home and its lot.
Also addressed was allowing a second unit to an existing single family home, either within or added on to the existing building. These two bylaws would mean that a single unit property within certain zones could ostensibly turn into a three-unit property.
The planning board voted 3-1 in favor of recommending the proposed bylaws, with the additional restriction of a five year wait between adding a second unit to a property and adding a third.
The bylaws will now be taken to Town Meeting.
Read more on the meeting from iBerkshires: https://www.iberkshires.com/story/59488/Williamstown-Planners-Recommend-Dwelling-Bylaw-Amendments.html
Last week’s public hearing in Great Barrington, MA addressed using tiny houses on wheels as backyard cottages. (If you haven’t already seen it or need a refresher, refer back to this blog post).
After the meeting, I spoke with Jonathan Hankin who is the president of the Planning Board. Here’s his recap:
- The meeting was 3 hours long and had lots of controversial items to cover! The proposed tiny house ADUs weren’t discussed, negatively or positively.
- Public comments remain open until next week’s meeting, which is on Thursday. However, since there hasn’t been any negative feedback, Jonathan seems confident it should pass without issue.
- Next week’s meeting is when all the proposed changes to Great Barrington’s Zoning Bylaws should be put on a warrant. Those changes will officially pass (or not) at the Town Meeting, which takes place the last week in May.
- All the changes that pass in Town Meeting will go to the Attorney General for review. Her report should come back in August or September. All changes that she approves will be retroactively in effect back to next week’s meeting (get your Delorean ready).
As a side note, the Massachusetts Attorney General, Maura Healey, visited the B&B Tiny Houses workshop last year and said, in front of many members of the press, that she feels tiny houses are a good affordable housing option. She has also signed the Nantucket, MA zoning bylaw allowing tiny houses, so we feel good about Atty. Gen. Healey signing Great Barrington’s as well.
Pictured from left: B&B Tiny Houses Owners Chris St. Cyr, Jason Koperniak, Mitch Bressett, and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey outside the Arcadia Tiny House. Photo from iBerkshires.com.
The town of Great Barrington, MA is considering adding Movable Tiny Houses, or Tiny Houses on Wheels, to their zoning regulations, allowable as Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs).
As proposed, movable tiny houses will only be allowed as an ADU which means there has to be a primary dwelling. A 2/3 majority at town meeting will allow them.
The Thursday meeting agenda includes a Citizen’s Speak Time, where those who live in Great Barrington can share their thoughts. Those who don’t live in Great Barrington but would like to show up in support of legal tiny houses may also attend the meeting.
This meeting will address movable tiny houses. Tiny houses that are on a foundation are already permitted as an ADU under the current bylaw and would need to meet the stretch code adopted by GB. The planning board is also seeking to increase the allowable number of ADUs to two.
This is the proposed added language to the Great Barrington Zoning Bylaws:
To Section 11.0 Definitions add:
Movable Tiny Houses (MTH)
A structure intended for the separate, independent living quarters of one household for year-round residence that meets all of the following:
(a) Is licensed and registered with the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles;
(b) Meets the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) 119.5 requirements, and certified by a qualified third party inspector for ANSI compliance;
(c) Cannot move under its own power;
(d) Has not less than 150 and no more than 430 square feet of habitable living space, excluding lofts;
(e) Is designed and built using conventional residential building materials for windows, roofing and exterior siding.
ACCESSORY DWELLING UNIT: a subordinate dwelling unit on the same lot as a primary single family or two-family residential use, with provisions for independent cooking, living, sanitation and sleeping. (Add) A Movable Tiny House (MTH) connected to electricity, water, and sewer or septic that has its chassis, wheels and hitch concealed shall be considered an accessory dwelling unit.
(This proposed language may have been updated by the time the meeting takes place).
GREAT BARRINGTON PLANNING BOARD MEETING
THURSDAY, MARCH 7, 2019 6:00 PM
Great Barrington Fire Station
37 State Road, Great Barrington, MA
Read the Meeting Agenda here.
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.
– 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.
– 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.
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.
– 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.
– 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.
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.
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.
Options for Water Sources in Your Tiny Home
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.
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).
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.