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Making Things Livable
Towelhead
gungy
So, now that I've got land for my tiny house, I kinda need to make it livable. That means getting some systems in place, namely an energy system, a water system, and a waste disposal system. I've made a bit of progress on two of those fronts.





So, of course, the first thing on the priority list is getting the electricity under control. Any survival expert will tell you that you can survive a month without food, about a week without water, and exposure can kill you faster than both. However, for my generation lacking Internet access is a fate worse than death. So, I focused my efforts on getting more solar panels.



The panels on the left are my old Harbor Freight panels. Each one produces 15 watts for a total of 45 watts. The new Kyocera panel on the right, though, produces 3 times as much as the other three combined. That's a 135 watt panel sitting there, and I've got 2 more on the way. That'll give me 450 watts of power generation total, which means I should be able to give my batteries at least 900 kwhs a day in the dead of winter (more in summer.) When I was checking my usage at my Uncle's place, I was using anywhere from 800 to 1,500 kwhs a day, depending upon what I did. I've since purchased a much more efficient ceiling fan, and am going to be running on more efficient DC power, so I'm hoping I should be all set.

I also decided to create a battery box.





Some of you had noticed that I was keeping the batteries inside the house. Some of you also commented on this, and I tried to downplay it. Now, though, I'll come right out and say it: I was STUPID. Those batteries give off toxic gases when they charge, and are hazardous to your health. They should never been kept indoors without proper ventilation. I am now keeping my batteries outside where they belong. As you can see in the second picture, I've also got some insulation in there on the bottom. I need to insulate the top and the sides yet, and hopefully that'll help keep the batteries from freezing through most of the winter. I doubt it'll be enough on the coldest of days, but I'm hoping to cross that barrier when I come to it. You can also see that I've got space in there for additional batteries - I need to get a couple more to make my system complete. I want to wait for the solar panels first, though.





Now that the batteries are out of the house, I've opened up a lot of space up top! I've also had to move my charge controller outside, so I can no longer monitor my usage using the handy-dandy built in LED meter. (Actually, I had to get a new one that could handle the capacity of the new panel, and the old one burnt out, anyway.) For now, I'm just plugging my multimeter into the DC outlet for my heater's fan. It'll do for now.



Speaking of heating, I've started building a skirting around my tiny house with straw bales. I figure this will help keep it warmer in the winter, given the insulative nature of straw bales. It's also likely to create a nice little haven for mice, bugs, and other less-than-savory critters. The underside of my trailer is mostly metal, with metal flashing and pressure-treated lumber being the only accessible parts, so I'm hoping that'll be enough to keep anything from trying to crawl in. I may be treating this a tad too optimistically, though. If I start posting pictures of Barney with mice hanging out of his mouth, you'll know this was a bad idea. Speaking of Barney...





Barney interlude! Seriously, this is all the closer the little guy will let me get to him with a camera. He's shy. Anyway, back to content...





My parents were wonderful enough to pick me up some old pallets while I was working in Mexico City for a couple of weeks. I've turned them into a compost pile! Granted, it's likely that, after a year, the sides of the pallets themselves will begin to compost, but I still consider this to be somewhat of an experiment, so I don't want to spent a lot to build a fancier structure until I'm sure this will work. This, of course, is the missing component to my composting toilet. From here on out, whenever the toilet is full, I can empty it into this bin, cover it with leaves, straw, or other organic material, wash out the bucket and be ready to go again. Of course, it takes a year to build a good pile and another year to let it age, so I really won't know if this experiment "works" for another 2 years, but hey... gotta start sometime, right?



And we end with a picture of my hammock. Not gonna be many days left in the year where I'll be able to use that sucker!

Well, that's it for now. I've got 2 more solar panels coming as well as an antenna for my Internet connection, so I'll probably be posting more pictures in a few days. Oh, and my parents have planted a couple bushes, some hostas, and an apple tree, too, so I'll hopefully be posting pictures of those as well. For now, though, I need to log off - until the other panels and batteries come, I don't want to use the laptop too much and drain my batteries too low!

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nice solar panels. we hope to get to that point someday. right now we're running an extension cord from an outside outlet. as far as your compost bins go, pallets are actually great for that because they're made of oak. we've had one set up for a couple years and it's still going strong. it's out of commission right now, but it's not rotted yet.

Really? Oak? You know, in all the years that I've been working with pallets, I've never actually thought about what wood they were made out of. Oak! Who knew! Thanks - I feel enlightened!

I dont know the type of wood they are, but we use free pallets for our compost bin too. (we throw all food scraps and landscaping leftovers in there!) I think we've only had to replace it once in the 10 years we've had it.

I'll be interested to read about your first winter out there, and all the things you learn! :)

Thanks, I'm definitely feeling better about my compost bin now. I'll be happy if it lasts the winter - if it makes it 10 years, that'd be fantastic. And don't worry, I plan on posting all winter long!

Love your wee house - just though that if you're intending to plant you could chuck the toilet contents into a good deep hole and plant above it each time you empty it - it'll break down faster in the earth with all the micro-organisms etc going straight to work so when your tree roots have grown enough to reach it there is a good source of food there all ready to go.plus you wont have a steaming pile of shit in the yard!:-}

I WISH my pile was steaming - that would mean that it was killing off all pathogens and would be well on its way to being usable! I hadn't considered just digging a hole and dumping it, although three things come to mind. The first is a concern about leachage into ground water without an organic layer to absorb it.

The second is specific to my soil, in that it appears that I don't HAVE soil - I have clay. Ridiculously hard clay, and it takes forever to dig through it. Of course, in a couple of months, it'll be darn near impossible, seeing as the ground will be totally frozen up here for winter. I've tried digging holes in winter - it doesn't work. That's the third issue right there.

Jonathon, before I built the compost toilet and compost pile system for my Tiny House, I read Humanure. It's an excellent "all you ever needed to know about composting poo" resource.

It totally is, and it was what initially prompted me to consider using a sawdust toilet in the first place. I have a copy of the book that I keep in the bathroom, too.

Thanks for the pics, love what you are doing there. :)

Thanks! I'm just glad that it's all slowly starting to come together.

Nice Job!

(Anonymous)
Sweet! I just found your blog. I appreciate your sharing all the experiences as I'm hoping to put a tiny house up in the next couple of years. Thanks.

Thank you! One of my goals was to kind of serve as a reference, or at least as inspiration to others wanting to do the same thing. I'm glad people can use it as such!

I'm excited for you.

I've put myself in your shoes and tried to anticipate the what ifs.
But your doing it.
Good for you on the battery box. And good for you in your concern about them freezing. You might consider storing the box under the house WITH say a tube vented to the outside (make sure the box is thoroughly sealed when closed).
As for composting. I've heard there is an easier way. I'm planning my compost toilet (another thing I need to build, sigh), but I've already go bags and a 55 gallon container filled with shredded leaves. Anyway, and please verify before doing this, use a 55 gallon pail as your container. Each time put a scoop of leaves (or other suitable material in), use it, cover the debri with more leaves, also, use a urine diverter device. As long as the debri is covered, there is no smell. when the bucket is almost full, put on the cover and date the pail. Put the bucket in a non-freezing location for 6 months (or a year). When you come back it will be nice rich and sanitary garden dirt to add to your garden.

Anyway, keep up the good work. Wish I were as far along. ;-)

Re: I'm excited for you.

Wow. You know, I had thought about putting them under the house before, but I didn't want them venting gasses up into the house from below. I dismissed the thought so quickly that it never occurred to me to then vent the box out a tube! Thanks for that one - that may be my answer!

As for the 55 gallon drum idea, you'll have to let me know how it works. It sounds like it'll work faster than the year retention compost pile, at any rate. Smell isn't an issue for me since the "deposits" are always covered with leaves and whatnot, but that turnaround time is worth considering... as is the mobility of the drum, now that I think about it. Hmm... I think I WILL look into that!

Right now I'm just going by-the-book, as in "The Humanure Handbook." The author's done a lot of research, it seems, and has put my fears to rest, so I feel pretty comfortable using his system.

Re: I'm excited for you.

go to ecovita.net for the urine diverting toilet seat.
You tube video "Urban composting toilet"

I put down "55" in my last post and the second time it should have said 5 gallon, as in 5 gallon pail for the compost toilet. There are several videos on You-tube on building an inexpensive compost toilet and they often use 5 gallon plastic pails. Use the diverting toilet seat in conjunction.
I bought a leaf blower/vac and used that to shred leaves in anticipation of using them for the compost toilet. Having adequate cover material is essential to making a waterless toilet work. So at this point I have a 55 gallon container and several smaller containers, filled with shredded leaves. Now all I need is to build the toilet itself.

As for the time, one year is the minimum to let containers sit, without adding new stuff, before the material can be considered sanitary for use in the garden. It also shrinks considerably.

What are you going to do without a well?
I guess there are new techniques for putting in wells without incurring a lot of cost. Being in clay though, eww. That might be more difficult. I was going to install a well on my parents property this last spring using an electric fence post pounder and some 2" well pipe. I was going through sand. You may not have all clay. It may only be a few feet deep and then ... who knows. Check your geology surveys. If you have a pond near by, water shouldn't be too deep.

Re: I'm excited for you.

Thanks for the link - I'll have to check it out.

For water I hope to try some rainwater harvesting. Right now I'm hauling 10 to 15 gallons of water in per week. Given the size of my roof, though, I can (theoretically) harvest just over 100 gallons of water from an inch of rainfall. Michigan's not the wettest of states, but we always get at least an inch of precipitation each month (and this time of year, usually 4 inches.) Even if I only collect half of it, it would still satisfy my water needs as long as I have a big enough cistern.

That's going to be the next big project. A well may be easier, and I probably should drill one as a backup, but I've wanted to do rainwater harvesting for years now, and I figured this would be an excellent time for it.

Just saw your site and I'm going to be watching closely. I doubt I can afford even a tiny house, but I'm really thinking about it for the future. So I'm watching and digesting at the moment. :-)

Great work so far! I'm really impressed.

Thanks! And yeah, it's definitely not cheap. I mean, yeah, it's cheaper than building a conventional home of much larger proportions, but there's still a LOT of work that goes into it. I blew through several years' worth of savings to build mine. It definitely requires a long "digestion" period if the budget is tight!

soil amendment

(Anonymous)
We also have clay hard soil and to change that every fall when sand becomes cheap we either go to the local garden center and get a scoop of sand or get bags of sand to add to the soil. not only does it make for better drainage and digging it also allows for better soil to plant a garden. My inlaws are from michigan also and they said to add leaves to the soil if you are going to dig because it makes it easier each to dig each year after.

Re: soil amendment

Yeah, when it comes time to plant, say, a garden, I am DEFINITELY going to have to add some stuff to this clay. Ideally I'd be using my compost, but it's gonna be a minimum of 2 years before I can dig into that. Leaves will probably be a pretty good idea - this clay definitely needs some love!

Hi - I have a question about your roof that doesn't necessarily pertain to this post. If you already have a post that explains this, feel free to point me in that direction. Anyhow.. I noticed that you went with a standing seam roof instead of the aluminum roof that the Fencl calls for. Was it difficult to use standing seam instead of aluminum?

Thanks! Ethan

Re: Standing Seam Roof

...maybe?
I dunno, perhaps the Fencl plans have been updated since I got them, but mine had no details on what material to use on the roof. Or maybe I just didn't see it. Either way, I just went to my local Menards and said I needed a metal roof, and this is what they pointed me toward. That's all the more I know, dude. It wasn't a conscious decision.

It honestly wasn't that hard, though. Went pretty quickly, actually, even when I was working on my own.

Power generation

(Anonymous)
Looking very nice! By the way, 450 watts worth of panels will only generate 900 kWh with 2000 hours of insolation. There are only 24 hours in a day, and not all of them will have the sun shining. 900 Wh is more realistic from two hours of ideal insolation. :) Knowing your realistic electricity consumption is vital for sizing the system and it's good that you've measured it. 800 to 1,500 kWh a day is a tad high though - what do you you have that consumes a megawatt hour of eletrical energy in a day? ;)

Be prepared for cloudy days and times when everything the panels produce that day going towards normal consumption, with no topping up of the batteries occurring. You might end up with flat batteries come next morning, and if the sun is still hiding... well, no gaming that day. :)

You made some good points there. I did a search on the topic and found most people will agree with your blog.


I’ve recently started a blog, the information you provide on this site has helped me tremendously. Thank you for all of your time & work.


Poor Barney...

(Anonymous)
Poor Barney...

What do you use for a camera?


Back to content though, do you have a backup plan for the winter? Like mabye running a generator for a couple hours to top off the batteries?

Just wondered!

Mike...




Re: Poor Barney...

Heh. Actually, if my camera DID look like that, Barney would probably want to eat it!

As for the winter, well... we'll see when we get there, I guess. Last winter I didn't need a generator for the batteries - well, "battery," really, since I only had one at the time. I'm running more off of it now, but I also have much more storage and much greater capacity for generating power.

If we have some really dark days for a while, I may have to break down and get a generator, but I'm going to see how far I can go for now. I'd be willing to back off on playing video games for a day or so, but I'm NOT willing to sacrifice comfort or convenience. If I feel I'm not generating enough electricity to satisfy those needs, I'll definitely get a small one.

High PR Backlink Pyramid

(Anonymous)
You actually make it seem so easy together with your presentation but I to find this topic to be actually something that I believe I might never understand. It seems too complex and extremely large for me. I'm taking a look ahead for your next post, I’ll try to get the dangle of it!

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(Anonymous)
Your home is valueble for me. Thanks!…

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