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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.

Tiny House Appendix Q Adopted in New York State, Considered in New Hampshire and Connecticut

Great news for Tiny Houses in the Northeast!

  • Appendix Q, also known as the Tiny House Appendix, has been adopted in New York State and will become law in early 2020.  
  • New Hampshire and Connecticut are both considering adopting the Appendix into their state building codes.  
  • Maine and Massachusetts have already adopted Appendix Q into their building codes, as well as at least five other states not in the northeast. 

How can you support the adoption of the Tiny House Appendix in New Hampshire and Connecticut?

If you live in New Hampshire, please email the chair of the Tiny House Study Committee, State Rep Dave Testerman at dave@sanbornhall.net to express your support for the adoption of Appendix Q for tiny houses on foundations.

The public comment period for Connecticut residents is not open yet.  When it opens up, this post will be updated with the contact info.

The following information on Appendix Q is adapted from our previous blog post, written when Massachusetts adopted the Tiny House Appendix.

What is Appendix Q: Tiny Houses?

Appendix Q: Tiny Houses provides building safety standards for houses on foundations that are 400 sq. ft. and under.  The other building codes in existence for all other size dwellings still apply.  Appendix Q is was created to define safety standards for smaller spaces that wouldn’t necessarily fit into a tiny house, such as a full-size staircase.

The Appendix pertains to the following aspects of designing a small or tiny house:

  • Ceiling Height
  • Loft Minimum Area, Height and Dimensions
  • Loft Access:
    • Stairway width, headroom, treads and risers, landing platforms, handrails and guards
    • Ladder size, capacity, and incline
    • Alternating tread devices
    • Ship’s ladders
    • Loft guards
  • Emergency Escape and Rescue Openings

Read the entire text of Appendix Q: Tiny Houses here.

Does The Adoption of Appendix Q Mean I Can Build A Tiny House Wherever I Want In My State?

Not quite!  Every zone of every municipality in the state still has its own zoning bylaws.  Therefore, you’ll need to contact your municipality to see if they’ll allow your tiny-house-on-a-foundation project.  Here’s how.

Here’s what the Tiny House Appendix does mean for residents of states that have adopted Appendix Q: wherever a house that’s 400 sq. ft. or under is allowed, there are now rules in place for how to build it safely and effectively.  Before, small and tiny houses on foundations would have had to adhere to certain building codes that work well for large buildings but would have been impractical or impossible to follow in small spaces.

What’s the difference between zoning code and building code?

Building code provides a set of safety standards that new buildings must adhere to by law.  These standards ensure the safety of the people using the building.  There are separate building codes for residential buildings (like houses and apartment buildings) and all other buildings (like shops, factories, schools, and workplaces).  The Tiny House Appendix is set to become part of the state building code in NH and CT, which is based on the International Residential Code (IRC).  Most, but not all, states in the USA use the IRC as the basis for their state-wide building codes, and adapt each section as necessary.

Zoning code pertains to what types of buildings municipalities (cities and towns) allow, and where.  Often a city or town has several different zones, and each zone has different rules.  Zoning bylaws are decided by the zoning board of a city or town, and can be amended to better fit the needs of each city or town.  Zoning boards generally have regular meetings that are open to the public, where the public can share their concerns, get clarification on what is allowed to be built, and request a change to the zoning bylaws to improve their municipality.

How can the Tiny House Appendix influence local zoning officials? Appendix Q as part of a state’s building code serves to legitimize tiny and small dwelling spaces in the eyes of local building inspectors and zoning boards.  Municipalities that see there are ICC-approved codes to build tiny and small houses may be more inclined to adopt those types of homes into their zoning.

Green River Small House   kinderhook tiny house in snow park model

 

 

 

 

 

Left: Appendix Q applies to tiny houses on foundations that are 400 sq. ft. or under.

Right: Appendix Q does not apply to tiny houses on wheels. 

How Does The Tiny House Appendix Relate To Tiny Houses On Wheels?

Currently, the Tiny House Appendix, or Appendix Q, only regulates houses that are permanently-affixed.  It does not relate to tiny houses on wheels.  However, there is a movement to create a new version of Appendix Q for tiny houses on wheels as well.  Martin Hammer, Andrew Morrison, and Gabriella Morrison were instrumental in introducing Appendix Q to the International Building Code and then again to individual states.  See their website for more info on future plans for a tiny house on wheels appendix.

B&B Micro Manufacturing would like to give a shout-out to the Tiny Home Industry Association for its tireless research on tiny house laws across the nation and the American Tiny House Association for its influence on state policy! 

How To Find Tiny House Land: Resources and Knowledge You’ll Need

For many tiny housers, finding land is the toughest part of the journey.  Here’s how to start your tiny house land search.

Before having your tiny house built, you should already have a spot to put it lined up. You don’t want to end up with a tiny house and nowhere to put it!

Because tiny houses are a relatively new phenomenon, most municipalities have never had anyone approach them to ask whether they can live in a tiny house.  Therefore, most municipalities don’t have any bylaws saying you can or can’t live specifically in a tiny house.  Use this guide to learn what you’ll need to know to get the perfect parking spot for your tiny house.

Start Here:

Learn about the tiny house buying process.

The 8 Steps To Buying A Tiny House: Everything You’ll Need To Do To Go Tiny

This post covers your entire tiny house buying process, and the first and most important step is finding a place to put it.  Whether you’ll be buying or renting land, familiarize yourself with the tiny house buying process and how long it’ll take, before starting to your land search.

Learn how to look up zoning laws and how to ask your zoning board to live in your tiny house.

Things to Know Before Buying or Renting Land For Your Tiny House (Or, Where Can You Put A Tiny House?)

Here, you’ll learn how to find and read your town or city’s zoning laws to find out whether there are already rules for tiny houses, whether on foundations or on wheels.  If your town doesn’t have laws pertaining to tiny houses, you’ll learn how to approach your town to ask.  Importantly, you’ll also learn what to look for in the land, including hookups for fresh water, waste water, and power.

Rent or buy land for your tiny house.

Where Can I Put My Tiny House? A Near-Comprehensive List Of Tiny House Parking Resources

Now that you know how to look for zoning laws and get permission to live in your tiny house, you’ll need to do some networking to find a spot for it!  Facebook and Meetup are both great networking sites for tiny house enthusiasts, and this list links to Facebook and Meetup groups about tiny houses in almost every state.  In addition to networking on tiny house specific sites and groups, advertise on local forums on Facebook, Craigslist, and community bulletin boards asking for those willing to rent out or sell land for a tiny house.  The sooner you find land the sooner you can get started with the build.  Good luck, and let us know how your land search goes!

tiny house woodburned siding tiny home arcadia b&b micro manufacturing

Arcadia Tiny House at Woodlife Ranch. Photo by Kyle Finn Dempsey

 

All About Composting Toilets

Composting toilet

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.

composting toilet

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.

Pros

  • 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)

Cons

  • 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.

Macerating toilets break up waste and toilet paper into a fine slurry that is then 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.

toilet tiny home

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. 

Dry Flush Toilet

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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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Things to Know Before Buying Land For Your Tiny House (Or, Where Can You Put A Tiny House?)

So you’re ready to buy some land to put your tiny house on!  What are some financial and legal factors to consider when searching for tiny house property?


You’ve found beautiful land, but can you put a tiny house on it?

Although many people dream of a completely off-grid tiny house in the middle of nowhere, you’ll still need to find a way to get water and power to your house.  The less distance from the road, the less expensive it’ll be to have power and water lines installed.

For electricity, the cheapest and easiest option is to plug into an existing power source.  Others choose to power their homes with solar power.  Click here to learn more about solar power for tiny houses.

For fresh water and waste water, city water and sewer are one option; pieces of property in less dense locations that don’t have city water and sewer will need to use a well and septic systems.

If the land already has electricity and water hookups, you won’t need to worry about having those put in.  Generally, although not always, it’s less expensive in the end to buy land that already has utilities than buying land without and then paying to have them installed.  Be sure to factor in these costs when looking for land.

Become familiar with the town’s laws for the type of tiny house you want.

Every zone of every town has different laws regarding where you can put different types of tiny houses, so unfortunately there aren’t any exhaustive lists of “where to legally put a tiny house”.

The first place you should look for answers is in the town’s zoning bylaws and building codes.  If the town’s website doesn’t have them, you may have some luck with searching for your town on ecode360.com.  Otherwise, call your town hall to ask about your tiny house project.  Note that there may be different rules in different zones of each town, so find out what zone your property is in (there will often be a zoning map alongside the zoning code on your town’s website) before moving forward.

For permanently-affixed houses, meaning houses on foundations, find out if there is a minimum square footage for residences.

Even if there’s not a minimum square footage,  other factors may affect the size of your house, like the road frontage on the property.  In the zoning and building codes, use the search terms “minimum”, “frontage”, and “square feet” or “sq ft”.  Water and electricity would be connected permanently to a tiny house on a foundation, just like a regular-sized house.

Interested in a tiny house on wheels?

Not all tiny houses are certified, but the turnkey tiny houses on wheels B&B builds are certified by the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association, or the RVIA, meaning they are built to high safety standards that the government can understand, they can be financed as RVs, and they can be parked anywhere RVs can go, using RV hookups to get water and electricity to the house and wastewater from the house (Click here to read more about RV hookups on tiny houses).  Use the search terms “RV”, “Recreation Vehicle”, “Recreational Vehicle” in your town’s zoning code to see if RVs are allowed in your property’s zone.  Building codes won’t apply to RVs since they are legally considered vehicles rather than buildings.

Here’s more info on how to find out if your town allows tiny houses.


Arcadia Tiny House at Night with pond

After you’ve looked over the zoning and, if applicable, building codes for your specific zone of your town, you may need to ask the town permission to have a tiny house on your property.

Although people have been traditionally living in very small living spaces since the beginning of humanity, in more recent history, tiny houses are a relatively new phenomenon in our modern western world.  Therefore, most towns don’t already have tiny houses written into their zoning or building codes.  If this is the case, don’t be discouraged: it doesn’t mean you can’t do it, it just means you’ll have to introduce the concept to the zoning board.  In this blogger’s experience, zoning boards are made up of passionate people who want to find housing solutions for their towns.  With tiny house TV shows and news stories all but taking over television networks, no doubt at least a couple of the folks on your town’s zoning board will already have an idea of what tiny houses are.  They’ll let you know whether you need a special permit to have a tiny house on your property, and if so, guide you through the process.

Pictured: The Arcadia Tiny House, photographed in its permanent home at Woodlife Ranch by Kyle Finn Dempsey