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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.

Comparing the True Cost of a Tiny House Versus a Traditional House

Tiny Houses at first glance are much cheaper than traditional houses.  However, let’s take a closer look at the costs involved in tiny house living versus traditional house living.

The cost to build a tiny house is more per square foot, but less overall.

Why? Tiny houses are smaller.  The cheapest square footage in any home, whether tiny or not, is empty space.  The most expensive space per square foot in a home is the kitchen and bathroom, which have appliances installed that need electricity and plumbing.  A tiny house on wheels still has all the appliances and fixtures: a toilet, shower, and sink in the bathroom, and a fridge, sink, and cooking device in the kitchen, just like a “big house”; what we’re eliminating when building tiny is the cheapest space: empty floor space.  That’s why the cost per square foot is higher in a tiny house.

However, in a tiny house, the overall material cost is less than in a traditional house, simply because there’s less space, which means less material, labor, and time to build.

The cost of a tiny house doesn’t include land or hookups for water and electric.

With a tiny house on wheels, whether you’re planning to buy land, lease a spot in an RV park or stay in the backyard of someone you’re renting a space from, you’ll need to factor this cost into your overall budget.  Tiny houses can be connected to RV hookups in an RV park or permanently hooked into water, septic and sewer.  If you’re buying raw land (with no water and power) you’ll need to have a well dug and power connected.

Generally when buying a traditional home it’s already hooked up to utilities and is being sold with a plot of land.  Therefore, be sure to factor in not just the cost of the tiny house itself, but the land and hookups when comparing the cost of a tiny house to a traditional home.

Tiny house financing is often for fewer years than traditional mortgages.

B&B’s tiny houses on wheels are certified by the RVIA and therefore financed like RVs.  RV financing can be through your own bank or through a national lending institution.  As an example, as of 12/21/18 Lightstream’s website lists their RV loans up to 84 months, or 7 years.  Traditional mortgages are often 15 or 30 years.  Tiny houses, because of their smaller price point and smaller finance time, are usually paid off before a traditional mortgage.

Remember, though, that RV loans are just for the tiny house itself, not the land the house is on.  If you’ll be buying a piece of land to put your tiny house on, that would be either paid for all at once or financed separately.

Tiny houses’ utility bills are less.

Tiny houses are smaller than traditional houses, which means less space to heat or cool.  Because they’re on wheels, we never know where they’ll end up, so we build our tiny houses to withstand any climate in the continental United States.  Our shop is in a rather extreme climate zone so we understand the need to be warm in the winter and cool in the summer.  The tiny houses on wheels we have built have been toasty warm in New Hampshire in negative temperatures as well as nice and cool in the Texas heat.  Double-glazed windows, high R-value insulation in the floor, ceiling and walls, and efficient heating and cooling systems used in B&B Tiny Houses make for some pretty tiny utility bills.

If your tiny house design gets big enough, in some cases it can make more sense to just buy a regular house.

B&B Tiny Houses’ longest tiny house is 32′ long (on a 30′ trailer with a small overhang) and our widest tiny houses are 10′ wide (the Kinderhook and the Taconic Park Models).  If you’re not planning on moving your tiny house, “large” tiny houses can be a great way to get some extra elbow room.  When you start going bigger than 10′ x 30′ though, depending on all the other factors mentioned above it may make more financial sense to just have a traditional permanently-affixed home, park home, or modular home built.

To recap, be sure to consider all of the costs involved with living tiny versus living “large”: not just the cost of the houses themselves.

Why Do Tiny Houses Cost More Per Square Foot?

Tiny Houses Are Smaller, But Cost More Per Square Foot.  Why?

Glad you asked! In larger houses, the lower cost per square foot is because large homes have a lot of empty space, which brings the average cost per square foot down.  The most expensive areas of a home are the bathroom and kitchen: the rooms with appliances and special fixtures.  Just like big houses, tiny houses still have at least one toilet, one shower or tub, one fridge, one stove or cooktop, and one kitchen sink, so you still have to pay for those appliances.   (If your tiny house is 1/3 the size of a big house, the cost may not be 1/3 because you’re not paying for 1/3 of a toilet– you still need a whole toilet!)  In tiny houses, everything is efficiently packed into a smaller footprint, eliminating the empty floor space– the cheapest part of a big house.

In addition, tiny house designers and builders have very special skills, and there is much less room for error in constructing a tiny house than in constructing a big house.  Because there is less tolerance for error in tiny houses, due to their small size as well as strict  building standards ensuring they are safe to travel on the road, more care has to be put into their design and construction.

B&B Micro Manufacturing’s move-in ready tiny houses on wheels are built to the high standards of Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), who inspect every step of our build process in surprise visits.  Each turnkey tiny house we build is RVIA-certified.  (Tiny house shells cannot be RVIA certified because DIY builders aren’t inspected by the RVIA).

What do tiny houses have that larger houses don’t have?

Many tiny houses have built-in furniture which is not included in the cost of an empty larger house.  Additionally, some tiny houses use specialty appliances that were designed for boats or RVs, like small stoves, which, although they are smaller cost more than regular-size appliances because they are not sold in the mass quantities regular-size ones are.  

What’s the cost of having a custom designed tiny house built versus a pre-designed tiny house?

Due to economies of scale, any tiny house that is custom-designed will, of course, cost more than a tiny house that is made in a production line with the same model of other tiny houses.  B&B has quite a few floor plans to choose from for every lifestyle, and each floor plan is customizable for the individual’s needs.

Does it cost more or less overall to build a tiny house versus a big house?

Still, the total cost of building a new-construction tiny houses is, of course, much lower than the cost of having a new big house built.

Likewise, it costs much less over time to pay bills for a tiny house.  Heating and cooling a tiny house is more energy-efficient by nature of the space being small.  In addition, B&B manufactures all their houses to be extremely energy efficient, whether on- or off-grid, reducing the overall cost of bills over time.

Still have questions about our tiny houses?  We’d love to help!  Contact us at info@bbtinyhouses.com.