Good question. The last several weeks have been such a blur, I barely know myself anymore. I’ve been scrambling to get everything ready at work to be able to take 5 weeks off for my first build stint, and every moment not at work has been spent on wrapping up my designs, ordering windows, and all the myriad other things that need to get done.
Yesterday I had to have some last minute surgery so today I’m laid up and following the Yestermorrow Tiny House Fair via the Yestermorrow blog, and the Smalltopia and RowdyKittens Facebook pages – it’s kind of like the tiny house olympics! Can’t wait to see the videos of the presentations – what a great resource for everyone. Check out this awesome Mushroom Tiny House blog using mushrooms for insulation and structural stability!
Tomorrow I pack and Monday I drive 12 hours to Oregon to start prepping and building to be ready for the PAD work party on July 6th! It’s all a little surreal.
Current systems thinking
After I wrote my post on my decision to go without plumbing, I was asked what I’m doing for my other systems (here you go, Paula!). Don’t hold me to these since they may well change, but this is where I am at the moment:
In general, I’m trying to see how simple I can go without feeling deprived. It’s been a good exercise to look at how I live now and how much change I could be comfortable with. I also have tried to design my systems so that I can easily live both on and off the grid. It’s a little challenging having to plan for future parking situations when you have no idea where you will be! So, the more options and the more self-sufficiency, the better. Would love to hear what others are considering along these lines.
Electrical – I still have a lot to learn about setting up a solar system. Due to the expense, I may hold off on installing one until I know where I will end up and whether I will have access to grid power or not. In terms of wiring my house, fortunately if you use 10/2 gauge wire you can keep options open for either system. I’m planning on building a tool shed on the tongue to house the batteries and other electrical equipment. I’m not going to have high electrical demands so will just need to have enough juice to power a few lights and charge my laptop and cell phone, and perhaps a couple other things. I’m also curious to look into wind power to see if that is feasible where I might end up.
Heating – Home is where the hearth is. For me, one of my biggest desires in my tiny house is to have some type of fireplace, for warmth but also for ambiance. Some of my happiest moments have been curled up in front of a fire. While I haven’t entirely ruled out a small wood stove, some areas have severe restrictions on wood-burning stoves due to air quality issues. Also, having depended on one in the past, I am leery of dealing again with all the debris and insects that inevitably come in along with the wood, not to mention the effort of building and keeping a fire going. Much easier to flip a switch – ha! So I will most likely get a propane heater, despite the environmental tradeoffs. I was drawn to the Dickinson Marine Heaters you see in so many tiny houses, but have heard too many reports of them being noisy and finicky. I was very happy to learn about the Woodstock Soapstone Mini-Franklin gas stove being used by the Gold Thread Tiny House and A Tiny House on the Prairies. These tiny housers live in cold climes and at last reports have been happy with how the Mini-Franklin has performed. Plus it’s cute – don’t you just want to curl up in front of one?!
If I decide to have an electric heater as a backup or supplement, two that run on just 400-450 watts and have gotten good reviews by tiny housers are the Envi and NewAir heaters.
Cooking – I’m going pretty minimal on cooking arrangements. I cook a lot at home but tend toward making simple stove top dishes like homemade soups, stir frys, etc., and almost never bake. Although I have four burners now, I’ve been watching and I never use more than two at a time, so I was planning on getting a 2-burner propane stove top since I will have propane for the heater anyway (otherwise I might consider the alcohol stove recommended by Logan Smith at Smalltopia). However, since I’m not going to have much counter space, I’ve been wondering if I could get by with just a single burner. Mostly when I need two is when I’m boiling water for tea while making oatmeal, or water for pasta while making a sauce.
As I was wondering how hard it would be just to stagger these sequentially, I also was noticing just how much steam comes off of boiling water. I will definitely be installing an RV range hood with a fan/vent (see this Green Building Advisor article on the importance of proper stove venting) both for air quality and moisture control in the tiny house, but I began to think about sticking an outdoor cooking area on the front porch to complement my indoor kitchen. Inside I would have the one-burner stove top, the sink and counter space. Outside I could have a small hutch that would have a single electric burner for boiling water right outside the front door, as well as a grill. I mean, it can’t be that hard to open the door to boil your tea water, right? We’ll see. Worst comes to worse, I’ll have to – sigh – make my tea after my oatmeal.
Refrigeration has been another interesting contemplation. I am learning just how little food needs refrigeration. Dee’s gotten by for nine years with just a cooler. RowdyKittens has several posts on living without a fridge, including a link to this My Plastic Free Life post on how to make produce last longer, which also talks about what foods can be stored without refrigeration.
One of my favorite discoveries is the work that designer Jihyun Ryou is doing. First read this article for an overview, then watch the video:
Like with my burner use, I’ve been watching my food buying and cooking habits and think I could greatly reduce my need of a fridge. Besides just the desire for simplicity, it’s a question of space, electrical or propane consumption, and the real reason – I can’t stand refrigerator whine! So I’m going to try the cooler route for essentials and hopefully will be near a store to buy fresh produce easily. Again, we’ll see. I will probably plan for a small fridge in my cabinet design, either in the indoor or outdoor kitchen, as a fallback option. It would be nice to have access to a small freezer somewhere to avoid buying bags of ice and to store batches of soup (and of course to have ice cream).
One more thought on baking – while I don’t use an oven per se, I do love my toaster oven for melting and heating up things (I’ve never owned a microwave nor want to), and the occasional small baking effort. This would probably be a hard thing to have off grid. I’d have to either modify my cooking habits or look at other options. It looks like there are various propane camp ovens that might work in this case that could go in the outdoor kitchen.
Where I’ll be…
So come Monday, I’ll be up in Oregon for the next five weeks. I’ll spend the first week or so meeting with Dee and doing final touches on designs, gathering tools, buying materials and setting up my work area. Then the fun begins! I will try to keep blogging all the while for those of you following along. The goal is to get most of the shell up, at least the framing and sheathing. If I’m lucky I’ll get through the house wrapping and window installation, but I imagine siding and roofing will have to wait until my next trip up at the end of the summer. The nice thing is that I don’t have a pressing deadline, so what will be, will be.
So happy you’re about to start building, Kate! GOOD LUCK and have fun! All your well-thought-out prep is going to pay off big-time. Looking forward to following your progress.
Thanks, A! There’s been a bit of a hiccup in that I’ve had a fever all day, but hoping I can leave on Tuesday. Still lots of planning to do but hopefully all will come together.
I’ve said these exact words: I’m trying to see how simple I can go without feeling deprived.
Living happily in tiny house for 2 years, I had many thoughts and decisions similar to yours. I can share thoughts and photos of my tiny house if you would like by email.