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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.
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.
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 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!
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.
Sleep up to two more people in your tiny house through a convertible futon sofa.
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.
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:
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.
Composting toilets are the best option for those wishing to live sustainability and off-grid. Composting toilets will cost more upfront and will require additional steps; however, they also save water, energy, and waste can be recycled as fertilizer.
Good quality composting toilets are relatively odorless. Most of the toilets will have a fan that works to suck out any odor that would emit from the toilet. The toilets usually work by separating liquid and solid waste. Solid waste will go into one chamber that will be mixed with peat moss in order to help break the waste down. If you are staying somewhere where composting is not allowed, you will bag the solid waste in a biodegradable plastic bag and throw it away–much like a baby’s diaper is thrown away. Otherwise, you will be able to use the solid waste as compost. The liquid waste will be stored in a tank that will need to be disposed when it’s full. You can dispose the liquid waste in toilets, RV dump stations, or the ground if you are in a remote place where that is allowed. You will have to dispose of waste every 3-7 days for liquid waste and every 2-4 weeks for solid waste.
- environmentally friendly (reduces water/electricity use and creates compost)
- suitable for off-grid living
- cheaper in the long run than installing a septic tank
- odorless (as long as it’s properly installed and well taken care of)
- maintenance: the two types of toilets below require little to no maintenance unlike composting toilets
- you must always have peat moss
- may not be legal in your municipality: check with your town hall
Other Types of Toilets
We have previously written about other types of toilets in one of our previous blog posts. Three other types of toilets in tiny houses are traditional, macerating, incinerating and dry-flush toilets.
Traditional toilets that are used in houses can be used in tiny houses; however, traditional toilets can’t be used with tanks. This means that your tiny house must be permanently in-place and hooked up to septic or sewer system in order to use a traditional toilet.
Dry flush toilets are 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 also powered by electricity. For more information on these and our other types of tiny house toilets, read our previous blog post.
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.