Monday, 7 December 2015

Going Green - The Tiny Home Project - Minimum Requires For Going Off Grid


Well not without a plan and money.
Going to a Tiny Home and living off grid is a little more complex than going camping for a weekend or even camping for week.  It is basically "I'm going camping forever, but still want all the nice things we enjoy in our technological society"

So my plan is to build a initial, quick and inexpensive Tiny Home in early spring of 2016 or sooner if I can manage it.  To do this there are a several basic things I will need and I have broken them down into a four basic groups.
  1. Sanitation - Pooping, Shower, Washing, Water Supply and Hot Water
  2. Kitchen - Cooking and food storage
  3. Power, Heating and          Lighting - I need more power Scotty!!
  4. Construction - Building material and putting it all together.
UPDATE : Well I have had a little change in plans, I am just going to do the one Tiny Home.  This doesn't change the general plan here thought.  It just means the final finishing on this home will be more expensive and take longer.  It also means I will need to either make or purchase the correct custom trailer.

1) Basic Sanitation - Cause Everybody Poops

You need to take care of your basic sanitary needs, pooping, showering, washing (both dishes and yourself)  To achieve this, here is what you will need.
  1. A 55 Gallon Water Barrel.  Ignore all those stupid, fancy chic looking rainwater collection ones.  Those are for people who want their gardens to look nice.  Costco has the simple blue ones for $199.99.  This will give you 200 liters of usable water.  You maybe able to shop around on Kijiji and get a used for cheap.  Segway - My final water system will have a 500 to 1000 gallon cistern that will be used as the final storage point in my water collection system.  The 55 gallon blue barrel will end up being reused in the collection and filtration process.
  2. You will need an internal water pressure tank. I highly recommend getting a precharged Air Bladder Water Pressure Tank.  This type of tank delivers near constant pressure at your desired pressure requirement. Bur-Cam makes some nice ones in a variety of sizes.  I want small but still with enough capacity to run a shower. 
  3. You will also need a water pump.  For items two and three I have selected a Bur-Cam tank and pump combo.  The tank is 6 gallon (20 liter) air bladder tank and the pump is 1/2 HP shallow well pump. Cost $469.00.  DO NOT CUT CORNERS HERE!! This will be installed in the kitchen area above the fridge/freezer.  It is small enough to to fit into a 2' by 2' by 2'2" box with room to spare, this is basically the depth of a kitchen counter and the witch my fridge/freeze.
  4. A low-floe shower head, many option here and you can spend anywhere form $25.00 to several hundred.  I will budget $65.00
  5. You will also need a shower enclosure.  These can run you from couple of hundred dollars to over a thousand. If you go cheap you also need to do tile work and since this is a movable home, you really want to avoid things like tile work if you can.  Ok, I love my showers, and this is one place where I am willing to spend some cash. Aston does a very nice, fully enclosed shower enclosure that fits into a 36" by 36" space.  I have selected the rounded sliding door unit, at a cost of  $679.00 and we need to add a base to that at a cost of $219.00.  You can cut costs here by about $600.00 if you shop around and don't mind doing some extra construction work. So either more labor and less cost or more cost and less labor.
  6. DO NOT BUY A BATHROOM SINK!!!  For hand washing the kitchen area sink will do just fine.
  7. THE POOPER cause everybody poops.  There are two options here, a bio toilet or a low flow toilet.  If you go with low flow, you will need a holding tank and septic system and all the required connecting material, this is ultimately the best way to go, but we need to poop with as little fuss and cost as possible, so a dry/venting bio-toilet is the quickest easiest option to install, but they are pricey, about a $1000.00.  So I am going to cheap and smelly and I will initially buy a camping toilet.  With a Camping toilet you will need to get one that seals or one that you change the bag after every use.  This is not my ideal solution, but for the short term it will work. I will be going with something like a Dock Edge Visa F268101 Portable 24-Litre Toilet, cost about $150.00.  Clear off-grid pooping requires a lot more research.  Who knew pooping was so complex? This will be a temporary, I think the bio composting toilet will be the very best solution in the end since it requires no septic system.
  8. On Demand Hot Water Supply - These things are great, no space wasted on a hot water heater and they are extremely energy efficient.  You want to get one that can service a shower, this will also service the kitchen as well.  The smallest one that will meet our needs is the Stiebel Eltron DHC-E 8/10 9.6 KW Point of Use Tankless Electric Water Heater, and runs for around $347.00.  You only expend electricity when you use/need hot water, they are incredible small (5x8x15 inches).  This will be our single most energy intense use object when it is in use, but it will provide enough hot water for a shower and easily keep up with any kitchen use.  They are incredibly simple to install and you can preset the water temperature to meet your exact shower tastes.  If you don't mind cold showers, you can save money here, but screw that, I want hot showers, thank you very much!
  9. Everything, including the kitchen sink.  You need a place to wash up dishes and you hands and shave.  You will want a small single or small double sink with faucet, the basin will cost you anywhere from $185.00 and up.  Since I love to cook, I am going with an Ikea BOHOLMEN Double-bowl inset sink, stainless steel for about $199.00. For the faucet and Ikea - ELVERDAM - Single lever kitchen faucet, pull-out, stainless steel color for $199.00.  Again, you can cut costs here and go cheap and still have all the require functionality, maybe save about $150.00
Clearly the sanitation requires are the single most costly area in the build, you can cut corners and costs, but you may regret it in the future.  I think it is better to spend the little bit extra and have properly function bathroom with pressurized water system and hot water,  You should also set aside about an extra $200.00 to $300. bucks to cover piping, wiring and other little things like wall hooks, toilet paper roll holder and other miscellaneous expenses that will be encountered.

WORTH NOTING : With this setup, if you use the bio composting toilet, all the waste water from your Tiny Home is GRAY WATER.  This mean you can filter it and clean it somewhat and then store it.  You could even make it potable again, but that would require some chemical treatment.  At the very least you can use this gray clean for watering plants in your garden, washing the car and watering your lawn. If you go with a tradition toilet, you can have separate run offs, one for the toilet to the septic system and one from the sink(s) and shower.  This will help you conserve your rain water or pumped in water costs.

2) Kitchen - Cooking and food storage

We already have water supply and hot water covered.  We just need some basics
  1. Refrigeration - We want a small, but not too small refrigerator that is good on power.  Personally I like the Danby DAR440 a large mini fridge that can fit easily under the kitchen counter space.  It is all refrigerator, though you can get other Danby's in the same size that do have a small freezer section, I might switch it up.  The Danby Fridge/Freeze is the more costly of the two at $260.00, so we will budget for that.  You might be able to kind a cheap one on Kijiji. SEGWAY - This is not the final fridge for my build, it is temp for the short term.  This will get reused in tool shed and work shop, nothing is wasted.
  2. Cooking, the smallest possible microwave, this will serve as quick way to heat food. Cost, if you shop around you can get them for $100.00 to $200.00.  Go with the smallest foot print you can find. Kijiji is a good place to save some bucks here.
  3. Single Burner Camp Stove - $50.00 to $200.00 depending on where you shop, Kijiji is a good place to save some bucks here. SEGWAY - This is not the final cooking solution for my build, it is temp for the short term.  This will get reused in tool shed and work shop for heating coffee and tea. Nothing is wasted.
  4. Popcorn popper, do it old school, in a pot with oil.
That is the kitchen taken care of more or less. I plan on making a special cutting board that will fix over the sinks to allow me to reclaim counter space for food prep.  You may also want to look at some shelving and what not, but I am saving that for once things are all put together.  Initially the kitchen counters are just going to be plywood, I will work extensively on the counters and cabinetry over the course of the next winter.

3) POWER, Heating and Lights

Ok, this is rather critical and the number of option available to us are very large and prices can vary just as much.  I am going to go with the minimal solution that will allow for future expansion and complete reuse of the systems we purchase, while keeping the costs to a minimum at the start.
  1. Batteries - There is no way around it, you will need batteries.  Ideally the best solution is the Tesla 7KW or 10KW Powerwall units, but you are looking at $3000.00 to $3500.00 USD for those and Telsa is already back order for a year on them and they will  not be available until late 2016.  So next best solution are 12 Volt, deep cycle Gel Batteries.  Again Kijiji is your best friend here.  I have found 12 Volt, 105 AH, deep cycle Gel Batteries, used, selling for $100.00 to $120.00 a unit.  I plan on getting two to start and expand to four.  I still need to do a little math on the power consumption profile my Tiny Home will generate, but four batteries will allow for lighting, cooking, on-demand hot water, charging cell phone and iPad, running the fridge and should (here is why I have to check) allow for recharging my Electro-Ped (electric bicycle, not an E-Bike). So set aside $500.00 for this.
  2. Battery charger control unit, power DC/AC Inverter.  You want something reliable here and that will meet the power profile of your Tiny Home, $350.00 should cover the initial build here, but you will need to upgrade once you start serious solar and wind power generation.
  3. Power Generation.  Ideally a portable 200 to 300, 12 Volt Solar power kit here would be best. Coleman make a nice 300 Watt kit for around $860.00.  The 200 Watt kit is $650.00.  Solar I will put on the wish list, if I have the cash available it would great to start out with from the get go. Again, in the short term it is possible to do without this, but it will cost you a little more in fuel costs in the long term, so weigh your choices here.  This is one area where you have time line flexibility and the Solar solution can be add last.  Also make sure your solution is portable or at least part of it is.
  4. BACKUP POWER GENERATION - no way around, you need this option, specially when you are in the construction phase.  You can pick up new 1 to 2 KW Gas Genny for $350.00 or you shop around on Kijiji and get them for $100.00 to $200.00.  Budget $350.00, any saving is bonus.
  5. Lighting - Easy-Peazy, so many solutions here.  The place is not big, you want an external light and few DC HP LED lights.  You could go with AC here, but since we have a DC power source, might as well run it directly off the batteries, this is more energy efficient.
  6. Heating, again so many options here, but I am going with a small wood burning heater/stove.  You can pick them used off of Kijiji for $50.00 to $200.00.  A very small wood stove will do, but get one that has cold air intake controls and is fuel efficient.  My ultimate solution is called the Salamander Hobbit, it serves as fireplace, heater and stove all in one, and is extremely small and efficient,... it is also rather pricey, about $1500.00 with shipping, but I think it is worth the extra money for my final Tiny Home build, but for my starter home, I will go with cheap and functional here.  Budget $150.00 and about $70.00 for a cord of hardwood firewood, YES HARDWOOD!!!  More on that later and why. SEGWAY - This is not the final heating solution for my build, it is temp for the short term.  I will be purchasing the Salamander Hobbit when I have the available cash.   This will get reused in tool shed and work shop, nothing is wasted, yes the tool shed will eventually get a cheap insulation job done to it and be turned into a mini man cave.
Ok, so that is power generation, power storage and controls and heating taken care of, lastly

4) Construction - Building material and putting it all together.

Putting is together, just two basic things here, three if you want to get fancy.
  1. The trailer, you can shop around on Auto-Trader and Kijiji and pickup a used trailer for around $500.00 to $750 that will suit our needs.  Basically you want to get it as low as possible and as wide as legally allowed under the HTA.  The maximum width of your build that will require no special tag permits is 8.5 feet and that is from outer side wall to outer side wall.  You also want a minimum length of 8 feet (that is the bare freaking minimum)  Ideally if you can a 10 to 12 foot length trailer, it will do nicely.  If you can 16 foot, you are going to love it!  Make sure any trailer you buy has OWNERSHIP paper work, and is already register with the MTO and conforms to the HTA. 
    PLAN MODIFICATION - I after much thought last night, I am only doing the one Tiny Home so I will not be settle with just any old trailer, I will either be buying it new or making it myself.  If I can make it myself for less, then that is the way I will go.  I will get exactly what I need for this highly specialize purpose and hopefully at a reduced cost.  More on this later, the trailer is a critical element in any design and it is worth of at least one full article.
  2. Building materials. this will run you about $1000.00 to $1500.00, depending on the insulation you use, the type of wood you use, flooring, siding, roofing and windows.  Again, kijiji is your friend here, I have seen some great deals on stuff people have left over and want to get rid of.  One place I recommend not to cut corners is the insulation if you plan to living in this in the early spring, late fall and winter time.  I plan to use 2 by 4 walls with "Isofoil" R15.5 Vapour-Barrier Insulant. The floors and Ceiling will be 2 by 6 with "Isofoil" R15.5 Vapour-Barrier Insulant (3 inches in thickness) and with "Isofoil" R11 Vapour-Barrier Insulant (2 inches in thickness).  The finished walls will have an R value of 20 and the floors and ceiling and R value 29.  This is as good or better than most older homes.  My Final Tiny Home build will have wall R values of 35 and Floor and Ceiling R values of 50, which is superior to even modern homes being built today.
    PLAN MODIFICATION - With my modification to my plan, I will be looking at redesigning the walls to try to get a R28 out of them, this will cause the walls in increase in thickness and I will loose a few highly valuable inches to the internal width of the living space, but the added R value will be worth it.  The floors and ceiling I will be able to get up to R40 without any problems in the new design.  It is also worth noting that design will require a fresh air exchange to the outside, basically this Tiny Home is as close to air tight as you can get and this is required by building code for home.  While Tiny Homes on trailers don't need to follow the building code, you don't want to DIE!
  3. This is optional, and if I have the cash at the start I will do it.  Build yourself a 8 by 12 work shed.  Not finished, not insulted, not heated.  This is a place to store tools, construction supplies, your genny and other miscellaneous crap.  You can get away with an 8 by 8 as well.  Cost $500.00 too $750.00.  You can later improve the crap out of this with cheap insulation, a cheap wood fire heater/stove, paint or siding,...  But at the beginning you just want to place to store stuff.  This type of shack can be built in 4 to 6 hours if you are handy with tools.
    PLAN MODIFICATION - Ya, definitely building this right from the start, at least the 8 by 12 unit. 
There we go, the general and rough material and cost plan.  This plan and be put into action for about $9500.00.  If you cut some corners maybe as low as $6000.00.  Plan to have at least 60% of your budget ready to spend, that is $3500.00 to $6000.00 in the bank ready to go, I can alter my plan and shave $2000 of the total cost when starting and thus allowing me to start $4500.00 in the bank.  I have estimated the construction time line to be about two to three weeks, allowing for work and availability of workable daylight hours.  If you want to go out and have some fun, well add another week or more.  I plan to work as hard and as much as possible on this once I have started.  Given the minimum cost requirement and my current income the earliest I can start this is the end of March with allowances of finding the ideal plot of land, which means money will be the slowing factor and it will take me until the end of April to complete and the middle of May to finish off all the details.  That would work just nicely, cause then I could start my greenhouse and build my vegetable garden boxes and have them ready for planting at the end of May.
PLAN MODIFICATION - If I can build the trailer, then the plan is still good to go at the end of March, If I have to buy the trailer, end of April.

Next Installment - The Floor and Construction Design.  How to put it all together and not violate an of the laws (ya that is kind of important).  Anyways if you have any questions feel free to leave them in the comment section and I will do the best I can to answer them.

UPDATE - December 8th, 2015 - I know I said I was going to do the floor plan next, but to do the floor plan correctly I need to know the exact dimensions of the trailer. So the next article will be on Trailer Design and Selection

Related Articles

1) December 3rd, 2015 - Going Green - The Tiny Home Project
2) December 5th, 2015 - Going Green - The Tiny Home Project - The General Plan

*1-1 - (55 gal) Barrel Water Storage System
*1-2&1-3 - 1/2 HP Shallow Well Jet Pump with 6 gal. Tank
*1-5 - 36 Inch x 36 Inch Round Bypass Shower Enclosure in Chrome
*1-7 - Dock Edge Visa F268101 Portable 24-Litre Toilet, Grey
*1-9 - Ikea BOHOLMEN Double-bowl inset sink, stainless steel
*1-9 - Ikea - ELVERDAM - Single lever kitchen faucet, pull-out, stainless steel color for $199.00
*3-3 - Coleman 300 Watt Solar Panel Kit with Charge Controller and Inverter
*3-6 - The Salamander Hobbit


  1. Don't want to make you too grumpy , but I have some thoughts based on my adventures in the alternate energy world.

    Pressure pumps are hard to start. Mine would shut off a 200 watt inverter on overload. A 3000 watt inverter is marginal. Starting involves both the electric motor and pushing against the pressure in the system. My pump shows 19 amp momentarily then down to about 600. The momentary 19 is enough to blow a fuse or trip the inverter overload. Since you are planning a parallel 110? 12 volt system, I would look at 12 volt RV pressure pumps on ebay.

    My solar system is 5 225 watt panels and 2 banks of 8 batteries each. South facing 42 degrees. The most I have seen is 7 1/2 kwh on a summer day when I use my ride on conversion mower for 2 1/2 hours. Yearly average is 2-3 kwh a day. Balancing load, production and storage is difficult.

    My batteries came from a Nova Scotia Recycling Depot for $40 for a 195 AH gel cell from communication networks. By CRTC rules they have to recycle. The trick s to be there when the batteries come in. In the real world, a battery stores about .75 KWH.

    I use an on demand water heater from Ebay. Search K's 94 . Works well but it may not supply the super shower you like. I have one I bought that is surplus. Free to you but I'd like shipping. Google XFJ210-FDCH. I couldn't use it, 2 separate circuits at 0 amps. Its a monster - I only have a 100 amp system.

    My fridge is a Hair 18 cubic ft that uses 800 watts a day ; less than 300 a year.

    Sealed up with an exchanger is necessary fi you use a woodstove and cook with propane . This, of course uses more electricity.

    An inverter generator, thou more expensive, uses less gas . Generators use a lot of fuel even when demand is low.

    Worthwhile, but not easy. Best of British luck.

    1. Thanks for the input Rumley, no you did not make me grumpy, I actually appreciate the input.

      I think I need to clarify something, what I have list here is just my starter kit, it will be providing just enough power to mange my personal need while on site. I kind of figured I would beed to run the genny when taking a shower and running the pump, also when I am running power tools. I plan to great expand my solar kit and storage system, the invert I am initially getting is just temp and comes with my portable start kit. am going to getting a Tesla Powerwall 10kWH unit.

      I still have to have to sit down and do a complete power analysis to ensure I generation, load and storage balanced. If I am luck and gert property down close to Lake Erie, then I can wind generation as well. Wind here in the winter can be substantial and they are consistent if you are close to the Lake.

      Anyways, The first initial three solar panels I am getting will also be my portable supply when I take my Tiny Home for a walk about.

      Anyways, would truly love to hear more about your setup and your off grid experiences, where abouts are you locate?

      And once again, thanks for the input.

  2. nice post Foshan Dabbl Sanitary Ware is offering top class products for shower enclosures, neo angle shower doors, frameless sliding glass doors, sliding glass shower doors, custom glass shower doors, shower cubicles, shower door, corner shower enclosures, quadrant shower enclosures , Shower Cabins, Shower Stalls, Walk in Shower Enclosures, shower cubicles kindly visit to the website quadrant shower enclosures, custom, frameless sliding glass shower doors , shower cubicles call us +86-18928507693 email now