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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.

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

You’ve been dreaming about your very own tiny house for years.  Are you ready to take the leap?

Here are all the steps you’ll take in the tiny house buying process.


Choose a tiny house site.

For some this is easy: a backyard, a piece of property in a town that allows RVs, or an RV park.  For those who don’t yet know where to put their tiny house, finding a location to put their tiny house is a crucial step.  We’ll build your tiny house differently depending on whether you plan to travel often with your house or it’ll stay in one place.  There are many different customization options available for your tiny house, which often depend on what kind of utilities are available at your tiny house site.

You’ll need to make sure your site has an access road and enough room for a truck to deliver the tiny house.  If you send us the layout of your property we’ll help you determine the best spot to place your tiny house during your design session.

Here’s a blog post on where to put your tiny house, and what to know if you’re thinking of buying land for your tiny house.

One way to find a location is through networking.  Here’s a list of tiny house networking sites: most of these groups are through Facebook or Meetup.

If you’re finding it difficult to find a town that already allows tiny houses, you’re not alone.  In fact, most towns’ Planning/Zoning Boards haven’t even considered whether to allow tiny houses on wheels: all it’ll take to start the wheels turning (pun intended, sorry) is for someone to ask.  The American Tiny House Association (Website, Facebook) is a great resource for those who would like to ask for permission to live in their tiny houses.


Choose a tiny house model.

Know where you’ll put your tiny house?  Great!  Browse our tiny house catalogue online and decide which model is the best for you.  Each of our models is customizable: customizations like materials and paint colors are free, while having our designer change the blueprints is an extra fee.

Some of our tiny houses are the road-legal limit of 8 1/2′ wide.  If you’re looking for a tiny house you can tow with you, check out our Lightweight Models for Towing.  We also offer Park Model Tiny Houses at 10′ wide, the Taconic and the Kinderhook.  Park Models are great when you want a little extra elbow room and don’t plan to move your tiny house after it’s put in place.

Don’t want to climb up a ladder to go to bed?  Click here to see our models with a first-floor bed.


Get your finances ready.

B&B’s Tiny Houses on wheels are inspected by the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association, or the RVIA. Your tiny house will come with an individual seal showing it’s been certified.  Because they’re certified to RVIA standards, our tiny houses are legally considered RVs, and can get RV financing, insurance, and access to RV parks.  Having this certification also helps when explaining to your town’s Planning and Zoning Board exactly what a tiny house is and how it’s certified.

If you’ll use financing, down payments differ based on the financial institution, but they’re generally between 20 and 25%.  If you’ll pay cash, we generally charge 60% up front and 40% when the house is complete.  You’ll need to have this amount saved before you buy a tiny house.

To find out about how much the tiny house you want would cost, try our Instant Estimate Generator.  This will give you a ballpark estimate so you’ll know how much to save.  If you’re not comfortable with your first estimate, you can go back through the Estimator as many times as you’d like, choosing different options.  Here are some suggested financial institutions for getting RV financing for your tiny house.

Keep in mind that the cost of the tiny house itself isn’t the only expense you may have when placing a tiny house.  Depending on your site and what your municipality requires, you may need to have utilities connected, a gravel or concrete pad poured, and anchors installed.  If you’re not towing your tiny house yourself, you’ll need to pay  about $2 per mile for delivery (we’ll connect you with our trusted delivery company).  It’s important to factor in the all-in cost of buying a tiny house before paying a deposit.


Schedule a tiny house design session.

Whether you’d like to make changes to the blueprints of the tiny house or not, a design session is the next step. If the only design changes are your selections for colors, materials and fixtures, these choices are free to make; the cost of the materials you choose will be reflected in your final quote.  If you’ll make changes to the blueprints, we charge a Design Alteration fee before our design session (scroll down past the customization options to see the fee).

Contact us to set up a time for a design session, whether via Skype, phone, or in-person.  If your session is in person, we’ll walk you through any tiny house that we may have at our shop so you can get a feel for the space.  During our design session, we’ll go through, in detail, which options you’d like, and the pros and cons of each depending on your location and how you’ll be using your tiny house.  You’ll have a chance to get your tiny house questions answered as well as learn more about which options are realistic for your living situation.


We’ll create a quote for you and send you a contract.

After your design session, our team will create a quote for your tiny house.  If you need changes to the existing plans, we’ll create a new drawing: this can take a few weeks depending on our design pipeline.

We’ll review your quote and final customization plan (your choices for colors, materials, fixtures, etc.) with you.

When you’re ready to finalize your choices and move forward, we’ll send you a build contract.

When we receive your signed contract and first payment (if you’re paying with cash, 60%; if you’re financing, we’ll need the payment from your financial institution) we’ll start ordering materials for your tiny house.


We’ll build your tiny house.

shou sugi banOur build schedule varies throughout the year: sometimes we can start building a tiny house right away, and other times there will be other projects in the pipeline.  We’ll be sure to keep you updated on our build schedule.

Trailers take about five weeks to build; your tiny house, depending on its size and level of complexity, should take 6-12 weeks after that depending on our build schedule.  We’ll keep in touch with you during the build process.


Get your site ready.

Tiny House RV Hookups- Power and WaterThe needs of tiny house sites vary greatly.  If you’ll be traveling with your tiny house and parking it at RV Parks, there’s not much you’ll need to do other than reserve your spot.  If you’ll be keeping your tiny house in one place, you’ll need to make sure you can get water and power to your tiny house and waste water away from it.  Depending on the permanency of your tiny house, you may want to have a gravel or concrete pad poured, and lay water and electric lines.  If you’re going solar, you’ll need to contract with a solar company to have your panels installed on your site.


Pick up your tiny house at our shop or have it delivered to your site.

If you’ll be towing your tiny house, here’s a primer on what size vehicle you’ll need.

Those who do not plan to tow their own tiny house may have it professionally delivered to their site.  Contact us for a delivery estimate.  We’ll schedule a time with you to ensure you’re on-site when your house is delivered, and we’ll answer any questions you might have about setting it in place.


Ready to choose a tiny house model?  Check out our Tiny House Designs and then get an Instant Estimate.

Have Questions?  Contact us.

What’s the Best Size Tiny House for Travel?

Tiny Houses on Wheels are sized for the road.

An 8 1/2 foot width is standard in tiny houses because that’s the maximum width that can safely travel down roads without an oversize permit.  We also build some tiny houses on wheels 10+ feet wide as Park Model RVs and procure oversize permits in every state they’ll travel through to get to their destination.  10+ foot wide houses, of course, aren’t recommended as houses that will travel more than once.

While the length of tiny houses is variable (we’ve built everything from 16 feet to 32 feet) the height is also restricted by the road.  13 1/2 feet tall is the maximum, which means the ceiling can be just over 10 feet from the floor inside the tiny house.  That’s why we can’t build a sleeping loft you can stand up in– unless you’re only two feet tall.

What size vehicle do you need to own to tow your tiny house?

You should have a vehicle with a towing capacity that exceeds the weight of your tiny house.  This article will help you determine what towing capacity you’ll need based on the estimated weight of your tiny house.

It can be helpful to take lessons first.

If you don’t have experience towing, see if there are classes offered in your area before you set out on the road with your tiny house in tow.  If you don’t want to take an entire course, have someone you know who’s experienced in towing give you a few pointers.  Having someone watch what you’re doing in-person is more helpful than YouTube videos, because they can tell you what you’re doing wrong and right.

Shorter tiny houses are lighter.

We recommend a house up to 24 feet long for towing.  Anything larger (or heavier) gets unwieldy for travel.  (We can still build a bigger house if you’re not planning on traveling with it!)

If you don’t want to tow your house, hire a professional.

There are companies that do this all day, every day so you don’t have to.  If you’re only moving your house once, it may be best to leave the towing to the pros.  If you’re on the east coast, email us at info@bbtinyhouses.com for a towing company recommendation.

 

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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How Do I Get Power & Water To My Tiny House? All About Tiny House Hookups

Hooking up a tiny house to power, fresh water, and waste water is easy– just plug and play!

Tiny House RV Hookups- Power and WaterFrom left: the tiny house power source, an extension cord with an adapter to fit into any three-pronged outlet; the water hose inlet; and covered outdoor outlets for all your chili-pepper-string-light needs.  Not pictured: grey and black water outlets, under the house. 

Fresh Water

First, you’ll need a source for fresh water in your tiny house.  You can source water from a town water line, a well, or any other potable water source.

Tiny houses that stay in one location can hook up to water through an RV hookup, which includes an underground water source with a pedestal that feeds water into the sinks and other faucets as they are used.

If there are water tanks in your tiny house, they can be filled with potable water via a hose, whether the hose is permanently attached to a stationary house (in freezing temperatures, wrap heat tape along the hose), or, if you’re traveling with your house, intermittently.  You can also have a water truck come and fill up your water tank, although that’s a more expensive solution.

Waste Water

How will you get rid of your waste water?

Depending on what your town allows, you may separate your grey water from your black water if you can use your grey water, or you may put all waste water into black water.  Grey water may be used in irrigating gardens (again, as long as your town allows it) and you use eco-friendly soap products.  More on greywater use is here.

Either way, your waste water will need to go somewhere!  B&B Micro Manufacturing can build in grey and black water tanks to your tiny house, or you can permanently tie-in your tiny house to a septic or sewer system.

Power

The simplest, cheapest power source for your tiny house is running an extension cord a building that already has power.  Many people who live in their tiny houses full-time park their houses beside or behind the house of a friend, relative or landlord.  Others may lease or purchase a property that already has a power source.  If you need to have new power lines run to your property, check in with your town. Learn more about connecting undeveloped land to power and water sources here.

Solar powering tiny houses is another option, albeit the most expensive one.  Off-grid solar power systems for tiny houses, including solar panels and batteries, cost anywhere between $3,500 and $10,000, depending on your power needs.  If you’re choosing solar power for your tiny house, we will help you choose the most energy-efficient appliances for your power system.  You can read more about your solar options and our tiny house solar energy partner, AltEStore, here.

The TL;DR* for tiny house water and power is that tiny houses work just like RVs, and they can be quite simple and easy to plug in.

Have questions about your tiny house power and water?  Ready to buy your tiny house?  Contact us!

  • Where will your tiny house be located? Will it be used for travel or set in one location?
  • Will your tiny house be used as a year-round residence or as a vacation home? How many people will use it? Anything else we should know?
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*For all you newcomers to the internet (where have you been?), TL;DR means “Too Long; Didn’t Read”, or “In Summary” if you’re being polite.