So where do I start… There’s a whole lot of information I need to sort through, and it’s a lot like falling down the rabbit hole in “Alice in Wonderland” once I get into it. Believe me, I’m going to get into it.
Consider this my landing page where I’m going to put down all the things I need to know, and do in order to get this done. I’m sure I’ll have to come back here as time goes by and add things that I don’t yet even know that I need to know. (For now, it’s just going to be simple steps, so I guess I’ll republish as needed) I’ll link to any future posts back here once I get into it, but so far, here’s a good start.
Seal the exterior – replace and reseal all vents, A/C, windows and doors
Remove interior fittings and skins
Dispose of existing subfloor and insulation, and black water tank
Wash everything and seal again from inside
Assess the frame for damage, remove any rust and repaint
Replace electrical with updated wiring
Replace plumbing with PEX and new pump and hot water tank
Install new gas lines
Install new furnace/woodstove/heater
Install new battery, inverter and possibly solar
Replace interior skins and refinish
Install flooring (these last two may change order)
Refinish cabinetry and install, or build new
Refinish dinette and install or build new
Refinish and install bathroom, or use new
Refinish and retrofit appliances or go with new
Add furnishings, curtains/blinds, cushions
Install rock guard
I’m sure there’s going to be a lot more I need to add to here as I get further into the hole. I’ll just pop back in and add it when I find it. I’ll also welcome any comments that will tell me what I may not already know that I need to!
Dry flush? 15-18 uses per cartridge, at 20 bucks a pop, that means your poops are going to cost you a buck and a quarter each! In my house, I think I’d be refilling it every 4-5 days. That’s maybe 70-95 times a year I’d need to dump it. That’s got a very high environmental footprint, it would be better to put your poop in our drinking water and let it get cleaned with the rest of the city’s, then offset that pollution with all the money savings you have some way. But the toilet itself is at least pretty, would be an expensive alternative to a loveable loo, if you wanted to put a bucket in it and still look like a toilet.
The EcoJohn… that’s a new one for me, and at the price… (1800$) it’s easy to balk at it. Basically, it appears to dehydrate your poop at a high enough temp to kill bacteria before you compost it. So… it says that helps eliminate smells, but I would REALLY want some reviews from people about cooking their poop because we’ve all heard the horror stories from people who have the incinerating toilets! Other than that… the bacteria in my own poop, I really don’t worry about. I don’t have any diseases that could be dangerous to anyone, and I don’t have any worms, and would be composting in a pile hot enough to kill this off anyway. So adding in what might be a smell producing issue, at such a high cost, I’m a little meh on it without seeing reviews about it. But again, looks like a nice enough toilet that you could sub it for the lovable loo if you want a toilet looking toilet. Also has good instructions on how to deal with the pee hose.
Lovable loo… well, that’s the ugliest one they could find huh? I’ve seen these dressed up to look great, but still waiting for some kind of porcelain sleeve to be produced that fits a regular bucket, but makes it look more like a regular toilet. Other than that, price is right!
Nature’s Head… This is such an ugly toilet, but it is a lot smaller than some of the other competing toilets, that I’d consider it. I’d prefer a hose that you don’t see for the pee, that can drain into the ground directly, or at least into a larger holding tank, outside the home, just for those times that you MIGHT not catch that it’s full. Also… not to get too graphic, but I imagine that to NOT be a very pretty toilet after use, skid marks are highly likely, and when you’re on your period… you’ll fill that bucket just rinsing the damn thing to keep it clean. What they see as a benefit to the flapper, I see as a daily chore to wash. I also don’t like all the nooks and crannies that are just going to make it harder to clean, and stirring my poop?? why?? I’m sorry, but that’s just weird, and unneccessary, though if you do want this version. (and oddly enough, it’s a decent enough version, its’ still on my list as a possibility even with its drawbacks, though the ecojohn may outclass it for me now that I’ve seen it) then go to the Gone With the Wynn’s site for information on getting it with the discount their fans get.
SunMar… This is just big, and expensive. It’s great that you don’t have to empty it as often, and that it looks like a toilet, but I’m not sure I really want something that large. Try looking at it with a person beside it, it’s a lot bigger than it looks in that pic. What’s nice though, is that it really is one of the better toilets for how the composting is done. If you live somewhere that you need an approved toilet, this one should pass before a lot of the others will, especially if you get the kind with the unit you install below the house. Still not a fan of churning my poop though.
Santerra X… really, even on their hotlink, they don’t give enough info about how the toilet works to really have anything to say about it other than, WOW 3000$???? Think I’ll pass unless it renames itself to Irona and also cleans my house.
I really like the idea of being able to pick up and drive away, and not leave anything behind. Like a turtle with your house on your back, the wanderlust in me makes tiny houses on wheels a very attractive prospect. It was natural for me to look at building one to live in. (what? Never have to ever sell my home, just take it with me? Yes please!)
So I joined the Tiny House People group on Facebook, when it was still under a thousand members, and asked a lot of questions, pretty much all about moving the houses, where people went with theirs, and more questions about these homes on wheels. I was met with more answers telling me the homes weren’t really great for towing around, but more for just staying put, but that you could move them if you wanted to, just that most people don’t.
So what was the deal then with the wheels? And didn’t I see a tiny house by Outdoor Research that had almost 10k miles on it? (I did, it was built by Zack Giffin of Tiny House Nation fame and featured in the film Livin’ Tiny: Quest for Powder.) Oh but even they blew out their truck towing it and needed a new one? Okay, so what kind of truck can tow a tiny, and are they really only for staying put?
Enter Tiny House Giant Journey who at the time of my writing this, have traveled more than 22, 000 miles with their tiny house on their tour of 27 states and provinces around North America, and I say hey, those wheels are there and you can USE them!
So wait, that’s a pretty big truck they have there, how much do these homes weigh anyway? Well, the one in the pic above weighs over 10 thousand pounds. That’s a ton of weight! Okay, actually, that’s 5 tonnes of weight! So I’m gonna need a pretty big truck, right? They’re using a Ford F250 with a towing capacity around 12000 pounds. I hope that 10k+ weight they list is loaded, and not empty!
Okay, so you’re looking at a really big truck, and a fairly small tiny house (that one is only 20 feet long, and there’s plenty of people wanting to build larger) and being really really careful with watching what you build out of! And that truck’s going to get you around 8-10 mpg even in a diesel that’s gonna cost if you’re pulling a big house behind you wherever you go!
Hmmm, okay, then I better budget in a truck to pull it, but also probably not pull it all that often, why did I want wheels again? Before I get off on a tangent about the wheels, and costing out everything, I did take some time to learn things about trucks, and towing that would probably be great to share with you here.
First of all, you need to have an idea of what these homes weigh. People throw out estimates in the Tiny House People group all the time. I see people suggesting guesstimates of 500lbs per linear foot, (which is in keeping with the weights of Jenna and Guillaume’s home). I see people weigh individual components and then track the weight on a spreadsheet, and I see them go to weigh stations and get an actual weight! I highly recommend the latter, but the former must be used during the planning stages, in order to know if you’ve planned to tow an elephant behind you or not. So that I don’t duplicate what I think is a handy resource, know that you can google weights of building materials and appliances online, but Macy Miller has a handy resource on her Planning Tiny site that will help you know some approximate build weights on materials. You can download it from here.
Okay, so you can reasonably assume that your 20 foot home will be around 10,000 pounds. (I’m going with this figure for ease of illustration, though I know this will vary greatly for many reasons) That means you need to either build it a lot lighter so that you can pull it with a lighter truck, and pay a lot of attention to using really light weight materials, like using metal framing, less cupboards, lighter plumbing, etc, and also not filling the home with a lot of really heavy things. (it all adds up!)
So then you need a truck that can pull 10,000 pounds, and a Ford F250 has a towing capacity of 12,000 pounds, sounds pretty simple! Can a smaller truck pull that much? I see some vehicles with a GVWR of 10,000 pounds, if I’m really great at building lighter, can I use that to pull?
Well, first of all, GVWR and towing capacity are not the same thing. GVWR, stands for Gross Vehicle Weight Rating, and it includes the weight of the tow vehicle, and everything in it, and the tongue weight of the trailer. A 7000lb truck, with a 10,000lb GVWR can safely hold another 3000lbs including passengers, stuff in the bed of the truck, and the tongue weight of the towing vehicle.
Okay, so the truck with a towing capacity of 12,000 lbs, it has a GVWR of 10,000 lbs, so I can then fill the bed of the truck and the truck itself to a total adding up to 10,000lbs plus pull an extra 12,000lbs? Sounds easy peasy to me… but wait, no? That’s not how it works? Oh, there’s a thing called GCWR, or Gross Combined Weight Rating, and that takes into account the weight of the tow vehicle, the payload in the tow vehicle, the tongue weight, and the trailer weight and all of the payload in the trailer too. That’s the number I need to pay the most attention to.
So I’d need a truck with a GCWR of more than 10,000lbs. How is the GCWR calculated? It’s based not only on the towing capacity, and the GVWR, but also the axle rating, the frame and spring ratings, in combo with the engine rating, the brakes, the tow assembly, cooling… oh my this is getting complicated, it’s not something a layperson can calculate on a home built tiny. To guesstimate from a regular trailer, you can add the GVWR of the trailer and the tow vehicle together and come up with a number, but it can still overpower your vehicle. Best to get the numbers from the manufacturers, but here’s a great source if you want to learn about the numbers, and their pages on the different vehicles linked in the tab at the top of the page, are fantastic to compare the different manufacturers and models.
Looking at that site, links me through to look at that Ford F250 again, and it shows me that with a towing capacity of 12,000lbs, it has a GCWR of 19,000-22,000lbs depending on the axle ratio. (the diesel has even more). So that truck, or a similar model, weighing about 7,000lbs (what google tells me) loaded with maybe a thousand pounds, and can pull around 12,000. Math is adding up, right?
So is it really that simple? After all that confusion? Well, you also need to know what tongue weight you need, and what axles you need on the trailer itself. A 10,000lb trailer requires a tongue weight between 1000-1500lbs. How did I figure that? (tongue weights should be between 10-15% of the total trailer weight according to etrailer.com and gmc.com but between 7-8% and not exceeding 10% on onlinetowingguide.com) I’d use my judgement and determine that a too low tongue weight can make the trailer sway, and a too high one can interfere with the tow vehicle’s steering, but a just right one, will keep both the vehicle, and the trailer level when hitched. Also helps that more sites agreed with the 10-15% guidelines.
You can take the trailer to have the tongue weight calculated just like you do to weigh the entire thing. You can even purchase a weigh safe ball mount that tells you before you ever drive away. The etrailer.com guide I linked above has other methods of determining tongue weight listed too, it’s a great guide! If it’s too heavy or too light, then your load isn’t balanced. So how exactly do you balance the load?
Here’s where it gets a little tricky, because balancing a load is as simple as balancing two kids on a teeter-totter. Except that you can just move the kids a lot easier than you can move your kitchen. The axle of the trailer acts as a fulcrum on a lever, so if one side is too heavy, move items closer to the axle, or add heavier items on the other side of the axle. So where you put things in the tiny house, may very well be determined by their weight. I found an absolutely amazing spreadsheet and informational page about trailer balancing, that will help you figure out exactly how to do this safely on your own trailer, (and I intend to use this in my own build). I’d also recommend paying attention to balancing side to side as well.
Other than that, it’s just a matter of what weight rating axle you need on your trailer (or if more axles are better), and if you’re going custom and have already decided where everything goes, you can determine where to place that axle in order to balance the trailer! You can get information on weight ratios based on axle size from this page. I know most people get the trailer then design the house, but I wonder just how many tiny houses are actually balanced.
As to single or tandem axle trailers, there are advantages and disadvantages to both. Single axles are lighter, and more maneuverable, but tandem axles are more stable and safer. Single axles don’t require brakes, but having brakes makes any trailer safer. Tandem axles are heavier and more expensive, and require twice the maintenance (4 wheels instead of 2) but single axles cause more wear per tire. Single axles are great if you have a very light trailer and need to be able to maneuver it into a tight space, but for a 10,000lb tiny house, I’d play it safe and go with two.
Now you know how to determine the weight of the house, what size towing vehicle you need, how to balance it and determine tongue weight, how many axles you need, what next?
Make towing it safe. Follow the state guidelines on adding running lights, brakes and consider additional safety measures to make sway less of an issue. Use safety glass in the windows, and protect any that are facing the wind during travel. Secure anything loose in the trailer while in tow, and never tow with living creatures inside. (that’s illegal in any case, apart from livestock trailers) Make sure the trailer is hitched up to the towing vehicle with a hitch that’s rated to pull that much weight (generally okay when purchasing vehicles with towing packages, but be certain) Use sway bars, chains, trailer signals, consider anti-sway control and other safety measures like wider side view mirrors (some states require these). Plan your route and know if your trailer can safely navigate without getting caught under a bridge, too heavy to cross one, clearances on rutted roads. Check your tire pressure, on both the trailer and the tow vehicle, at the beginning of every trip, and every few hundred miles through the trip. (if tires need their wheel bearings replaced, get that done too)
Okay, I think I have it figured out now, and while the weights don’t seem all that complicated anymore, there is a lot of calculations to make. On top of that, I need to look at the cost of the vehicle, and insurance on both it and the trailer, what fuel will cost, maintenance, and then even what it would cost to park it various places as I travel.
Would building on a foundation be a smarter move? Would traveling and staying in hotel rooms be less expensive or easier? Is an RV a better choice if I am constantly moving? Would parking the tiny and just traveling light work better? I can see why people say that most tinys stay put. I’ll go further into some of this in another post, leaving this one strictly on topic.
I often post my thoughts in our facebook group at Tiny House People, and it gets difficult to keep track of them for people. Today, I saw that someone suggest a member search a post that I made probably 6 months or more ago, and realised that perhaps I should put my thoughts down somewhere easier to find.
So that’s what I’m going to do. The next bunch of posts are going to be so random, but contain some of the things I’ve researched over the last year and a half about tiny houses, that they’re worth at least putting down in text somewhere. I can’t promise that I’m going to post regularly, but I will post.
Once I get all the stuff that’s in my head out, then I’ll probably start using this blog more for what I’m planning. If you do follow me at all, you’ll note that my ideas have changed greatly from when I first started. I imagine I’ll need to change the name of it at some point, but I can tell you my timeline has drastically changed, and my plan has increased in complexity greatly.
Our original plan, had been to use the retirement fund that hubby can access this spring, to start a build. I fully expected to be knee deep in planning, have my fave plan outlined by now, and start prepping for the build. I fully expected to start in June. I do actually know which plan I would use if we were still going to be building on wheels. I also have the tools needed to build it. (which I’ll put to use some other way) What I don’t have any longer, is a desire to build a tiny on wheels, and pay the high rental rates in the area I live, in order to make it feasible.
So yes, I have a new plan. Stick around and you’ll find out what it is, I promise. And before you tell yourself, well then, if they’re not building a tiny house, I have no reason to follow this page, know that I’m still going to spit out all the things I’ve learned about going tiny here, (and yes, I am still going tiny, just a little differently than originally thought, and I’ll walk through all the things that led to my decision first before I explain that) and they may interest you in your own build, or at least save you the trouble of finding them out on your own.
So, rambling post aside, stay tuned for my first discussion, I’ll be popping in more often.
What I’ve Learned from the Leave No Trace Movement
If you’ve been backpacking or hiking for any length of time, hopefully you’ve come across the Leave No Trace movement at some point, and use its principles for your own hikes. Certainly, leaving nothing in the wild that betrays that we were there, that impacts on wildlife, or causes a well loved place to become less than what drew you to it in the first place, is something that we all aspire to, and not just in the wild.
A few words on what the movement is before I tell you what it has changed in my life, and how it has changed me. Leave No Trace, is the decision that you won’t impact negatively upon the environment. Specifically with backpacking, you keep to the trails and don’t cut new ones, you camp far away from water and use established sites, or create a site to camp on with as minimally invasive a means as you can. You don’t feed wildlife, you don’t leave litter behind, you do your best to leave only footprints, and take only pictures.
So, if I find a muddy trail, rather than walk beside it and erode the land to create a new path, I just walk right on through the muddy part. Sure, my feet get dirty, but I actively choose to dirty my feet rather than leave an impact that could cause others behind me to also do the same, and make that impact worse. Sometimes the path you must walk upon doesn’t look like the easy one, but it’s still the right one, and setting the example for those behind can have a much better outcome when pooled together. Small choices can have big consequences when united with others also making small choices.
I leash my dogs when I hike, not because I think they’d take off and I’d never see them again, but because we are visitors, and I want to be a good guest. If they poop, I can quickly move their poop off the trail, and bury it, like I do my own, 6 inches down in a cat hole, so that it doesn’t impact on people coming down the trail after me. I also don’t want my dogs impacting on wildlife, and being a nuisance to other hikers. So I get to have my friends with me, but they too must follow the rules of Leave No Trace. Being a good steward is for everyone.
Speaking of poop, I pack out my toilet paper. It too carries an impact, and while it could biodegrade, it tends to take much longer than is appropriate. I’d rather not leave it there to be dug up by animals and blow in the wind, and when it does come to my pooping, I bury it deep and stir it in, far from the trail or water sources, and certainly don’t just try to make it look like I’m hiding it with just putting it under a rock. Nope, I do it right, so that it’s not left there for someone to find at a later date. Even when it’s hard, it’s better to still follow your heart and do the right thing.
I think wildlife is pretty cute, and would love to have a magical Snow White moment with the birds, the squirrels, the deer etc, coming and eating out of my hand, but I know that interaction with humans and dependency on easy food sources actually can be very detrimental to their health, especially because my food isn’t good for them, and if they seek out more human food, they could end up dead. Better that they avoid human contact and stay away from us for their own sake, nothing is so sad as hearing that a bear has had to be killed for seeking out human food. So I’m content to view them from a great distance, and try my best to not let them even know I’m there. I pack my food away in containers that they can’t get into, and that’s not to protect my food so much as it is to protect them. Animals and their welfare are important to me.
I don’t use much soap in the wild, and when I do, I use one with as little impact as possible, and still keep it away from water sources, because I don’t want to leave an impact on the organisms living in it. I also don’t want to leave an ugly mess in the water for the people behind me to see. I can deal with a little more grime for a few days, on myself, my clothes and my cookware, so long as what I’m using to clean isn’t harmful I’ll use it, but I won’t risk using anything questionable. I can be okay with being uncomfortable if it means not hurting the planet.
I also never litter. I don’t even leave apple cores or orange peels behind, because they don’t belong there. Sure, some things are biodegradable, but it still creates a visual impact that is best packed out. On that note, some of the foods that hikers eat come heavily packaged, so I make my own meals, and put them into packaging that I can reuse, so it comes home with me. I’m also a minimalist backpacker, carrying very little with me, because I know that there will be litter left behind by someone who was ahead of me, and I can’t rightly leave it sit. I will create less of a negative impact myself to try to make up for those who create more.
So think these are great lessons for the outdoors? I do, but what’s more, they’re great lessons for every day, even at home in the city. Since following Leave No Trace principles in the great outdoors, I’ve found myself being far more thoughtful in the choices I make in day to day life.
First, by knowing that I’m happy living out of nothing more than a backpack, tent and sleeping bag, with little possessions, clothing and food, I have learned that a lot of the things we surround ourselves with in life, are not all that necessary for my happiness. I may need a few more pieces of clothing for the work I do than what I’d need trekking in the woods, but I look at it too as if it’s gear, and choose it for its adaptability, and longevity. I can get as much use if not more, out of a few classic pieces that can mix and match and of a quality to last for years, with making repairs to them, than out of a giant wardrobe full of choices. So I’ve gained a lighter footprint with regards to my clothing.
This lighter footprint has spilled out towards not needing a lot of other things too, a big house, expensive furniture, the latest gadget, none of that is necessary, so I have stopped being a consumer who buys everything, but who instead only chooses that which is necessary and that I love. I don’t mind spending money on it, because, like with my gear, I know that if I love it, I’ll take good care of it and it can last me for ages. Not needing a big house also lightens my energy footprint, so the more minimalist I become, the less my being here impacts the planet.
What’s more, looking at how harmful certain things can be from a variety of perspectives, be it visually, chemically, or just plain old physically, makes you mindful in your everyday life of the things you use, if they are hurting anything. You buy less food that has lots of packaging, and make more of your own because you don’t want to contribute to landfill. You use products that are less chemically harmful to the environment. You start composting because if your apple core doesn’t belong out in the wild, where does it belong? And that’s not in a landfill, so you start thinking about all the ways you impact on the world.
Then you realise that even in following the Leave No Trace principles, that every action, every thing you do, does leave a trace, it does leave an impact, even if a small one, so you look at the supply chains of things that you believe that even with being minimal, you still need. You learn that choosing well, can leave a positive trace. You can leave a trace on the life of someone making your garments by choosing to purchase ethically sourced clothing. You can leave a trace on the life of animals everywhere by choosing to purchase ethically raised meats. You can leave a trace on the corporations that don’t align with your new found philosophy of what traces you wish to leave and which you wish to eliminate by not purchasing products from them, asking them to change and supporting the ones that do. And then you leave a trace on others who come behind you and see what you’ve done.
So the most important thing I’ve learned from the Leave No Trace Movement, is to choose the trace you wish to leave.