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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.

What are Heat Recovery Ventilators (HRVs) and do I need them in my Tiny House?

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.

Are Composting Toilets Allowed in Massachusetts?

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

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

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

Read all the details here:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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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Picking Out the Best AC and Heating System for Your Tiny Home

Types of HVAC Systems

You’ve got many different options when it comes to picking out which type of AC and heating system you would like. When deciding which system to choose, it’s important to note factors like the climate, specific use, location, ease of convenience, and cost. All tiny home owners should make sure a professional installs or checks their HVAC systems, so that you can ensure your tiny home is a healthy environment to live in.

 

In Wall Electric Heater and Air Conditioning

In wall electric heaters and air conditioners are a popular choice for your tiny home. They are relatively cheap and will get the job done. Some tiny owners may choose another option, however, due to the fact that they take up precious space that could otherwise be utilized in your tiny home. In addition an in wall system, because it takes up a significant amount of space, can affect the overall aesthetic of your tiny home.

in wall heater new england tiny home


mini split system

Mini-Split Heat and Air Conditioner

Mini-splits are the ideal choice for most tiny home owners. Mini-splits function like traditional homes’ HVAC systems in that the condenser is placed outside the home and the fan is placed inside the home. The obvious benefit to this is that it frees up space in your tiny home and becomes less of an eye sore when compared to a window or in wall heater. Mini-split units are also very energy efficient. Read more about finding the most efficient heating and AC units. Although these systems are more energy efficient, they require a higher cost upfront. 


Window Air Conditioners

Window air conditioning units are a cheaper option than in wall or mini-split heaters and can be easier to install. There are many energy efficient options on the market, which can help lower your monthly utilities bills. One drawback to this option is that it will be an even bigger eye sore than in wall systems because they will not blend in with your tiny home.


Traditional Fans and Electric Heaters

If you are only going to be living in your tiny home during a particular season or live in mild climates, you may be thinking about using fans or plug-in electric heaters in your tiny home. With this option as your only source of heating or cooling, you may run into problems with moisture and ventilation. If there is excessive moisture, then you can run into problems with mold. Click here for more about the health considerations about indoor air quality.

fan

Have additional questions?

Reach out to us with any additional questions by filling out the form below.

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  • We offer delivery of our tiny houses on wheels anywhere in the continental US. If you are planning to live in your tiny house on wheels full time, please check your local zoning bylaws to make sure living in an RV is allowed. Stick-built houses on foundations, the Lorraine and the Green River, can be built within an hour of our shop in Adams, MA. We will be offering modular homes to be affixed to foundations soon.
  • Our designs for tiny houses on wheels can be found under "Signature Models" at "Tiny Houses" in the main menu. Designs for houses built in place are under "Houses on Foundations": then choose "Stick-Built Homes".
  • The base price of our tiny houses on wheels and park model tiny houses ranges from $62,000 to $97,000: the price will change depending on your material choices. The pricing of permanently-affixed stick-built or modular homes depends on a number of factors, but generally starts around $185,000, including a foundation but not sitework.
  • After the design is approved and the contract is signed, our normal time frame to finish a tiny house is 10-14 weeks, depending on our build calendar. Builds are scheduled in the order in which deposits are received.  
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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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What kinds of toilets are used in tiny houses?

toilet tiny homes new england

Tiny House Toilet Options

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

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

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

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

Regular Flush Toilets

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


What is a Macerating Toilet and How Does It Work?

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

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

View a flushing demonstration at 4:54.


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

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

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

Dry Flush Toilet

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


How does a Compost Toilet Work?

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


How Do Incinerating Toilets Work?

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