And there's more. But I can't think about it any longer. Time to get out and work on this:
It's been months since we walked through the shell of our house and decided where we wanted outlets and lights, ceiling fans and refrigerator. But we put off getting started on the wiring because we didn't know where the power was going to come from.
We would love to be able to say we were going 100% solar— but that's not in the budget. A solar panel/battery system large enough to power our entire house would run well over $10,000. Some tiny housers opt for propane for things like cooking, heating and cooling. But we'd like to stay away from fossils fuels and all things fracking-related. We have the less-expensive option of being grid-tied to our friend's house, but one of our goals for the house is to move toward sustainability, so tying into a power system that derives much of its power from coal plants doesn't seem quite ideal, either.
Our stalemate has finally been broken. We've decided to buy what solar we can afford now: a modest system capable of powering all our outlets (largely for charging devices), LED lighting and ceiling fans. For now, we'll tie our energy "hogs" (water pump and water heater, for example) to the grid. Our goal will be to move all our energy to sustainable sources down the road, once we've finished with the expense of our initial build.
So, we started stringing wire! The miles (or so it seems) of yellow wire will lead to two breaker boxes: one will draw power from our battery bank, the other from the grid. The GFI outlet in the bathroom has a dedicated wire. The ceiling fans have their wire. The kitchen lighting another wire. Before we string any more lines (for kitchen outlets, bedroom plugs, etc.) we'll tape labels on the existing wires to keep everything straight.
Bill's done a bit of wiring on houses past. What he doesn't know he looks up in building codes and watches YouTube demos. I have everything to learn. Luckily, I have a patient teacher. Though we're not at the point of putting in plugs yet, Bill tutored me step-by-step through the process so I would have a better understanding of the entire wiring job. Time to get back down there and power things up....
As we get ready to get back to building (will Spring ever arrive??), we were finalizing our thoughts about wiring: Where will the ceiling fans go? The kitchen pendant lighting? The switches? The outlets? In the process, we realized my earlier measurements of the kitchen area weren't exactly accurate. So, we re-measured and did a little reconfiguring.
Among other things, we realized I had the stove/oven next to the dining table. With a simple flip, we moved the under-the-counter refrigerator next to the table, freeing up a wider swath of countertop and keeping flames away from unsuspecting diners.
Figuring out the light placement proved tricky because the lights weren't planned when the windows were sketched into an earlier floor plan. It seems important to keep them evenly spaced, so they might not end up precisely where they would be ideally (directly over the stove and the dining table, for example), but I think we have a "good enough" plan. As a starting point, we used the center of the window that's directly over the sink.
Other changes from the original drawing involved creating storage space between the bathroom and living room that gives us a modest pantry, bathroom shelves and a place to host the water heater and pump. We're also looking for a circular platform for the wood stove. Looking for something two feet high and 14-16 inches across. A small wood barrel? A metal half-barrel? Send all ideas and leads our way!
The kitchen! On the left above the counter is space for our Berkey water filter (with a pan hanging over it!) To the left of the sink is our Origo alcohol stove/oven. To the right of the sink is the under-the-counter refrigerator (picked out, but not purchased yet!) On the far right, is the table we just finished, which will blend right into the countertop—we hope! The four dangling objects are inexpensive pendant lights we recently picked up at IKEA. The two spaces with an "x" are the windows.
We haven't posted anything about building lately...because, well, we haven't been working outdoors much these sub-freezing days. (And there was that wedding in Mexico to blissfully distract us.) But we've still made progress, spending time reading and calculating and dreaming—and shopping. We've made a boatload of decisions: from lighting and heating to our wall paint and our composting toilet.
Some of our picks:
The Kimberly Wood Stove. This sleek, stainless "gasifier" wood stove burns efficiently and cleanly, with less than half the emissions allowed by the EPA. It could heat a space six times the size of our tiny house, and one load of wood can burn up to 8 hours. So, as long as it works as advertised, we should be toasty all winter next year. Not to mention, we can do a little cooking atop it and, if we opt to buy a thermoelectric generator, we can produce a little power to boot.
Origo 6000 Oven/Stove. Electric stoves are energy hogs; using one would tax our solar/battery system (still in the planning stage). While some "tiny housers" opt for propane cooking, we're trying to steer clear of fossil fuels associated with fracking. The Origo runs on clean-burning, non-pressurized, denatured alcohol. We were lucky enough to see a couple in use at the Tiny House Conference we attended last April. Our two-burner stove and oven is designed for boats—but it's also a great choice for off-the-grid tiny houses. It may take us an extra minute to boil a pot of water, but we think it will be a well-spent minute.
BioLite Basecamp. No more propane grills for us. This wood-burning grill makes good use of the sticks that fall to the ground all around our tiny house. A built-in thermoelectric generator charges the internal fan that improves combustion and enables a cleaner burn. Plus, it generates enough extra energy to power its built-in light and charge a phone.
Ecovita Privy Kit. We're building our own composting toilet. Not the most glamorous of subjects—but quite essential. The short story is that keeping Number One separate from Number Two makes things easier and neater. This privy kit will work in combo with a plastic gas can, plastic bucket, coco fiber and a wood base we're working on. Enough said...
We didn't think about building a deck when we were designing our house. Then one day we looked out at the forest stretching out behind our tiny house site, and knew that view deserved a deck. We erased a window on our graph-paper design and drew in a door instead. A door to that one-day deck. "One day" became "this day" when we realized how much easier the deck would make finishing the eaves and siding on the last Tyvek-ed surface of our home; the side that drops off steeply into the forest. And, so, we've started the deck, and we work on it whenever the temps get high enough to thaw the ground.
Bill's design for the deck makes it a stand-alone structure, not connected to the tiny house. Eventually we hope to use the underside for storage. A second section of decking will eventually wrap around the side of the house, covering the trailer hitch. And then, perhaps, a deck between the screen house and the tiny house, where we could put the large wooden shipping box we found in the woods. And, of course, decking on the fourth side of the house would be nice outside our patio door. It's winter time, and we dream of decks—many decks—and the lovely weather when we'll use them.
We can't really blame our slow progress on the one snow we've had. Let's just call it what it is: hibernation. With the temps dipping below freezing, we've been huddling by a space heater most days, "planning" our next move.
On the few days when blue skies brightened things up and the thermometer registered high enough to stain more wood, we dressed up another two sides of the tiny house with a mix of corrugated metal and pine boards. The idea is have the adjacent screen house and main house look complementary—but different. One example: The metal ribs run horizontally on the screen house; they run vertically on the main house.
So, three facades finished; one to go.
After the siding...we'll move attention inside, where we're already mapping out (with blue painter's tape) the wiring and plumbing—which have to appear before we can insulate the space, put up walls and install the amazing wood stove we've already ordered (more on that later).
When I wrote about tiny-house decision making, I forgot to include something critical to the process: time. And time wasn't on our side (or siding!) for this phase.
We had hoped to find reclaimed barn wood to side the house with. For months, we posted "wood wanted" ads on Craigslist, we talked to neighbors, we checked out prices at a local mill that specializes in restoring old wood...and each day we looked around for affordable old wood the weather got colder, and the house continued to double as a TYVEK advertisement.
Finally, we decided we needed to buy siding to get things moving. We found a good deal on 7-inch, unfinished pine boards we could special order through Home Depot. Things got a little crazy, though, once they arrived at the store. Short version: they couldn't find the boards at first; then they couldn't find anyone who knew how to drive the mini-truck to move them; consequently, they dropped the boards, damaging some of them; they drove the boards to a door they couldn't open; once they got the door open, they drove the boards right up to a mountain of stacked mulch before realizing the stack was there; and to top things off, they sold us the wrong color stain, which we used on some of the boards before realizing the mistake....
But they did graciously refund money for the broken and mis-stained boards, and eventually we spent a happy day affixing correctly stained boards to one side of the tiny house. One solid-wood side down...the other three sides will be finished with a combination of boards and corrugated metal. We hope to be able to show you progress on this as soon as the current sub-arctic weather lets up.
In the past week, we've continued to finish up the roof (the last of the metal panels, flashing, trim...), started the ceiling insulation (a layer of rigid foam insulation against the roof sheathing), cleared more of the invasives and fallen wood from around the house site, stacked more rocks on the retaining wall and....more work I can't think of now. (Maybe due to yesterday's lengthy R&R at the vineyard?)
Next up: We finally decided on siding—and we've picked it up! The rough pine boards need staining, but that will have to wait until the temperature goes up a few degrees.
In between happily hosting Tiny House visitors, we've been working on a few less-than-glam projects. While I stained trim boards and oozed spray foam insulation all around the doors and windows this week, Bill spent some time trimming up the roof (still a work-in-progress).
We're thinking about using pallet wood as the trim/siding around the slim row of clerestory windows, so I've also been sanding and staining boards we ripped out of a few more pallets. Big decision looming: what to do for the rest of the siding. What we like and what we can afford...always something to wrestle with. Yesterday we drove to a local sawmill to take a look at their rough, "green" board-and-batten used on many of the barns around here.
Our tiny house sits on a terraced site. (Some of the terracing was in place before us; some is the result of a few back-breaking days of moving dirt around and building retaining walls.) One door didn't seem enough. We wanted to walk down the path we blazed and enter the house on the highest terrace: door number one. But we also wanted a door that leads to the screen house we've already built: door number two. Then we decided we needed a deck overlooking the forest: door number three. Finally, we stopped drawing more doors onto the graph-paper sketch of the house.
And now...we've installed all three doors. Friends and family have already arrived through those doors, with many more to come, we hope. The door is always open. (OK, it may technically be closed, but you don't have to knock.)