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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.

Here’s How To Find Out If Your City or Town Allows Tiny Houses in 3 Steps

Here’s how to find out if your city or town allows tiny houses.

1. Look up zoning codes.

Zoning codes for many municipalities can be found on your town’s website or on ecode360.com.

Here are some helpful search terms:

If you’re hoping to put a tiny house ON WHEELS either on its own property or on a property with other buildings:

  • Tiny House
  • RV, Recreational Vehicle, or Recreation Vehicle
  • Park Model (if your tiny house is greater than 8.5′ in width)

If you’re hoping to build a backyard cottage ON A FOUNDATION:

  • ADU or Accessory Dwelling Unit
  • Detached ADU
  • Accessory Apartment

If you’re hoping to build a small house ON A FOUNDATION on its own piece of land:

  • Minimum Square Footage, Minimum SF, Minimum Sq Ft, or Minimum Sq. Ft.
  • Frontage (some towns don’t have a minimum square footage but they have rules on how big the road-facing portion of the house is based on the percentage of road frontage the property has)

Appendix Q for tiny houses on foundations:

If you’re hoping for a tiny or small house ON A FOUNDATION, look into whether your state has adopted Appendix Q for tiny houses into its building code.  Appendix Q is a set of safety standards for houses on foundations that are 400 sq. ft. and under, basically providing standards for how lofts and ladders are built.  More info on Appendix Q for Tiny Houses here.  If your state hasn’t adopted Appendix Q, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t build small: it just means you’ll have to follow your state’s existing building code for lofts and ladders, and the other details in the Tiny House Appendix.

On January 1, 2020, Massachusetts and California simultaneously will join Maine, Idaho, Oregon and Georgia as the first six states to adopt the Tiny House Appendix into their building code.  Many other states are in the process of adopting the Tiny House Appendix.  The Tiny Home Industry Association has updates on Appendix Q across the United States.

Please note: there may be more lenient rules depending on whether your tiny house will be used seasonally, as a “guest house”, “camper”, or “cabin” rather than as a full-time, permanent residence.  If you’ll only be using your tiny house sometimes, residential zoning laws and building codes may not apply.  Check in with your municipality if this is the case.

Photo: Arcadia Tiny House on Wheels.  This tiny house can travel, and it’s certified as an RV.  It’s currently being used as a guest house at Woodlife Ranch; it isn’t someone’s permanent home.

2. In the (likely) event there are no tiny-house-specific zoning codes, shoot your town zoning board an email.

If you can’t find any info on tiny houses in the town’s zoning but would like to know whether a tiny house on wheels or on a foundation would be legal to live in full-time, send a quick email to your town’s building inspector or zoning board (you can find their contact info on your town’s website).

Be sure to include the following information:

  • What kind of tiny house you’re inquiring about (on a foundation or on wheels?)
  • What code the house would be built to (if it’s on a foundation, does it comply with Massachusetts residential building code? If it’s a tiny house on wheels, is it certified by the RVIA or another third-party inspector?)
  • A description of where you’d like to put it (in a backyard, on its own lot, or in a community) and the address so your zone can be confirmed.  If you don’t have an address in the town but would like to move there, let them know that as well.

They’ll be able to tell you whether tiny houses are legal.

Photo: Green River Small House.  This house was built on-site, piece by piece, and it is compliant with local zoning bylaws and state building code.  It’s being used as a permanent, year-round home.

3.  If there aren’t any tiny house zoning bylaws yet, you can request your town changes their standards (and you don’t have to be an expert to ask!)

If tiny houses are not currently included in the zoning bylaws, your zoning board will be able to advise you whether it’s worth pursuing a change to the zoning bylaws.  Generally this process takes a while, and the zoning board will guide you through it.  You don’t have to be an expert to request a zoning change, just an interested citizen!  Be prepared with knowledge of how having tiny houses would help your town or city. Here are some examples, which you can tailor to the specific needs of your municipality:

  • If your town center has historic buildings but downtown housing prices are excluding a large chunk of the population from living there, adding tiny houses (either on wheels or on foundations) to backyards as ADUs (Accessory Dwelling Units) can densify and diversify neighborhoods without destroying their architectural character.  Don’t tear down those beautiful old buildings to add more households: add backyard cottages instead!
  • Tiny houses on wheels can provide flexible temporary living spaces for those who may need a live-in caregiver for a few years.  This setup is great for those who are aging in place and need a caregiver close by, a disabled adult living in the ADU in the backyard of their family, or an ill person who cannot live on their own but needs the privacy of their own living space.  If necessary, tiny houses can be built wheelchair-friendly (check out the Wheel Pad).
  • Tiny houses on wheels are also great for people in traveling professions, like military personnel, travel nurses, or agricultural workers.  However, these people need places to stay.  Allowing landowners to rent out a space for travelers helps them earn extra income while adding spaces for traveling workers to live that cause a low impact on the environment.
  • A pocket community of tiny houses on wheels or small homes on foundations can add much-needed housing stock (let’s be honest, there’s a housing shortage almost everywhere in the US) that is more affordable than the large homes that most developers are building now.

It’s best to do this before you have your tiny house built.  This way, you can be flexible in your design, making sure it conforms with the standards the town creates.

kinderhook tiny house in snow park model

Photo: Kinderhook Park Model Tiny House.  It’s a park model because it’s on wheels, but at 10′ wide, it’s too wide to go on the roads without an oversize load permit.  For this reason, these houses usually stay put after delivery. 
Bonus for MA residents:
We’re creating a list of each town in Massachusetts and whether it allows tiny houses.  If you’ve done this in Massachusetts, please let us know so we can add it to the list!

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

 

Where In Massachusetts Are Tiny Houses Legal?

Where Can You Put A Tiny House in Massachusetts?

With your help, we’re compiling a list of every city and town in Massachusetts and its attitude toward tiny houses on wheels and on foundations.  This is part of a larger initiative by the American Tiny House Association to gather tiny house information for every state in the US.  (Katie at B&B Tiny Houses is also ATHA’s northeast regional director.)

As you’ll see in the chart, most cities and towns don’t already have a policy on tiny houses, whether on foundations or on wheels, so their stance on tiny houses is currently unknown.  Municipalities probably won’t consider whether to allow tiny houses unless someone brings it up with them!  As we’ve seen in Nantucket and Auburn, all it takes is one person to ask.

What Does Tiny House Appendix Q Mean For Tiny Houses On Foundations?

Tiny House Appendix Q has been adopted in Massachusetts, effective January 1, 2020. Appendix Q: Tiny Houses provides building safety standards for houses on foundations that are 400 sq. ft. and under.  However, the appendix doesn’t mean you can build a tiny house on a foundation wherever you want in Massachusetts: you’ll still have to adhere to your municipality’s zoning code.  Here’s more info on the Tiny House Appendix.

Please add to the list:

If you have spoken with your municipality’s government (zoning board, building inspector, or someone else) about tiny houses on wheels or on foundations, we would love to add your info to the list.  There’s even a column for rumors, if you’ve heard a town might be amenable to tiny house living but haven’t spoken with them directly yourself. 

How to find out if your city or town allows tiny houses:

Zoning codes for many municipalities can be found on your town’s website or on ecode360.com. 

If you haven’t spoken with anyone in your city or town government yet but would like to know whether a tiny house on wheels or on a foundation would be legal, send a quick email to your town’s zoning board (you can find their contact info on your town’s website).  

Be sure to include the following information:

  • What kind of tiny house you’re inquiring about (on a foundation or on wheels?)
  • What code the house would be built to (if it’s on a foundation, does it comply with Massachusetts residential building code? If it’s a tiny house on wheels, is it certified by the RVIA or another third-party inspector?)
  • A description of where you’d like to put it (in a backyard, on its own lot, or in a community) and the address so your zone can be confirmed.  If you don’t have an address in the town but would like to move there, let them know that as well.

Someone on the zoning board be able to tell you right away whether tiny houses are already approved.  If tiny houses are not currently mentioned in the zoning bylaws, they’ll be able to advise you whether it’s worth pursuing a change.  

If you have info on a specific municipality, please email info@bbtinyhouses.com and we’ll get your info added to the list.

Here are some tips to use the spreadsheet effectively:

  • The spreadsheet retains its formatting if you’re on a computer rather than on a mobile . If you’re on a mobile you won’t be able to sort columns.
  • To sort a column, right-click the letter at the top of the column and select “Sort A-Z”. For example, if you want to see all the towns in Hampden County, right-click “B” at the top of the second column (or click the small triangle next to “B”) and select “Sort A-Z”. Then scroll down to where the Hampden County section starts. If you only want to see towns with information added about tiny houses on foundations, you may select that column, which is “D”, and sort. Scroll to where the info starts.
  • To see all the information in a cell, click the cell.  The full text will show up in the bar above the sheet.

 

How Dominique Kerins of Auburn, MA Convinced Her Town’s Zoning & Building Inspector To Approve Tiny Houses

Dominique Kerins and her husband wanted to put an accessible tiny house in the yard of their regular-sized home in Auburn, MA for her aging grandmother, so she inquired whether that would be possible at her Town Hall.

Fast forward a couple months, and Auburn’s Annual Town Meeting was last night.  Tiny Houses were the last item on the warrant to discussed, and it passed!

So how did she do it?  Dominique was gracious enough to get a sitter for her kids in order to grant us an interview.

Auburn’s Town Meeting Warrant can be read here.  The tiny house articles are #33 and #34; you’ll read more about the distinction between the two articles in the interview.  The approval process isn’t over yet: next, it’ll be sent to the Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey (who visited the B&B Tiny Houses workshop last year) to be signed into law for the town of Auburn.

We are so grateful to Dominique for pitching the idea of tiny houses to her town, and in doing so, paving the way for others to do the same in their own municipalities.


First, what’s the background story?  What originally led you to ask your town for permission to put a tiny house in your yard?

  • My husband and I were looking to make changes to the Auburn zoning bylaws so that our family could build a Tiny Home on our property for our aging Grandmother, who currently pays 9K/month for senior housing in Medfield. Our intention was to keep down costs for her, and for us, and to prioritize multigenerational living. We opted for a THOW [Tiny House On Wheels] in our side yard, not only because they’re awesome but because they offer many strengths in creating a solution specific to our unique situation. THOWs offer strengths like affordability, accessibility and adaptability. All other alternatives considered or tried (like senior housing, and building on to our current single-family home) are unaffordable, and are not ideal for the long-term!) THOWs on the other hand can be easily re-purposed, sold or simply relocated. It happens to be a BONUS that THOWs promote healthier living and green initiatives.

Did you originally intend to get permission solely for tiny houses meant for caregiving, or was that restriction suggested by the planning board or another entity?

  • We certainly wanted to keep as many options open to the public as humanly possible, maintaining that people should be able to do what they see fit on their own parcels of land. Unfortunately, after a lot of planning board meetings and emails, we were forced to accept the negotiated terms if we were to gain any traction with the town. Nevertheless, we came to realize that the narrowed (senior and disabled) audience had most to gain, especially given that Auburn has the HIGHEST population of elders in their 60’s and 70’s across the state. All other audiences (college students, for instance), or persons looking to save money, may have a bit more time than the elders for the bylaws to be altered and tweaked down the road!

What was the process?  How long has this process taken so far?  What are the next steps for Article 33 to come to fruition?

  • We went to the Town Hall, in February of this year, thinking that the Zoning Enforcement (Building Inspector) would have most insight on the feasibility of building tiny in Auburn. He did provide insight, and some healthy skepticism that led us to be more prepared for questions presented by the Planning Board, roughly 1 month later.
  • The Building Inspector directed us to speak with the Town Planner, who had more information about the collaborative efforts of the Planning Board and the creators of the town’s Master Plan (which I read prior, and understood to give priority to the seniors in Auburn).
  • The Town Planner encouraged us to do 2 things:
    • Create a citizen’s petition, requiring signatures from the town’s (voting-age) residents in support of our idea.
    • Solicit recommendation and support from the town’s Planning Board and Selectmen in order to compose more detailed language to present to the Town Hall.
  • The first item was easy. The second required attending many Planning Board meetings, and a bit of bickering and emailing.
  • Realizing that the Town backed their own detailed bylaw (and not our original language), we felt it best to work with them; I made phone calls to voters in our precinct to ask for their support, and mailed a letter to all voters to do the same, instructing them to support Article #33 at Town Hall.
  • At Town Hall, we sat as members of the audience, quietly, biting our fingernails, as we watched the Town Planner present the Bylaw proposal. After time (and confusion at the Town Meeting), the Bylaw was approved by a 2/3 vote.
  • Next, the bylaw gets sent to Atty. General for approval! In the meantime, I have written Representative Frost (who is an Auburn resident) to ask for his support in expediting the approval process.

I understand you and your husband are builders and plan to build your own tiny house.  Did the town of Auburn ask you to build it (or prove that it has been built) to a particular set of standards or code?

  • …We have done a lot of building in the past. My husband is a concrete mason and is gifted as a handy man.  We have completed a lot of renovation projects, mainly in basements, (in our particular home, the renovated basement wouldn’t suffice for our elderly grandmother, for obvious reasons). The town… asked that we ensure that it is built to the town’s standards as well as those specified by the state and the federal government (and HUD). IRC – the international residential building code, will inform the building standards. Thankfully, my husband is well versed in the language of building codes!
  • I should also shout out to the awesome Design & Build school, Yestermorrow, in Vermont, for having providing so much valuable insight on the ins and outs of Tiny Home construction!!!! The class was invaluable to preparing us for the questions presented by the Town.

Before now, have you ever been involved in a political or government process?  Did you reach out to others for help or guidance along the way?  Are there any other Auburn residents you know of who are interested in having their own tiny houses?

  • Besides my exposure to college-level or professional procedural hearings, I had not been involved in politics. Reaching out to neighbors was very helpful, as was the opportunity to read Katie Jackson’s updates [Ed. Note: hey, thanks for the shoutout!] and other bloggers on tiny living. Just knowing that others are going through similar situations has been extremely insightful and comforting.

What advice would you have for others looking to ask for permission to have a tiny house in their own municipality?

  • Look at the town’s bylaws. Pay attention to the wording, formalities and procedural recommendations.
  • Network – not only at Town Hall (knowing your Selectmen, Town Planner, Zoning enforcement officials, Planning Board and Clerks) but also the Fire Chief, Police, and regular folk too!
  • Have details READY (blueprints, preexisting example images, placement plans, building plans etc.) The town asks A LOT OF QUESTIONS!!!
  • Consider taking a class (as above mentioned, Yestermorrow was really helpful for DIY building advice!)
  • Be prepared for lots of questioning, answering and follow-up, and try your best to stay positive

Finally, do you have images you’d like to share?  

  • This is our own mock-up, that I’ve created using a program, Home Designer Pro. The wheel wells are “hidden” by a “skirt” in the picture. SketchUp was also helpful in rendering templates with trailers. They have a 30 day free trial, which is nice.

Dominique’s Self-Designed Tiny House For Her Grandmother


Rendering: Dominique’s Self-Designed Tiny House Next To Her Home

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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