Going off-grid is most people's ideal when they make the shift to tiny living. It merely means you don't need to rely on mains for power or water, and can significantly lower your cost of living after the initial outlay. Equipping your house for alternative power also increases its value, should you eventually wish to sell it, and makes it easier to take your home on the road and park wherever the fancy takes you.
The Power You're Supplying, It's Electrifying!
Most people opt to manage their electricity through solar power, either installing solar panels on the roof or using a solar trailer.
Although tiny homes usually use less electricity than regular houses, your consumption will depend on your lifestyle: how big is your home? How many people live in the house? How many appliances do you use? There are plenty of websites out there that calculate your yearly consumption based on the appliances you own and how often you use them.
If you want to generate all, or the majority, of your electricity via solar power, you might need to make conscious changes to some aspects of your lifestyle. Investing in low-consumption devices, propane heat, passive cooling and wood stoves can drastically reduce your electricity usage.
When it comes to solar power, there are a few options available to you. From traditional solar panels with racking to lightweight and adhesive thin-film panels, or solar trailers placed in a sunny spot on your land, choose the set-up that best suits your situation. You'll need to think about how much weight your roofing can take, where you can place or store a solar trailer, how to position your panels for maximum efficiency...
If only a few solar panels are concerned, it can be economically advantageous (and more adventurous and fun!) to do a DIY installation. However, for anything over three kilowatts, it's probably safer to work with with a professional installer.
When you're connected to the grid, the excess power you produce will go back into the grid in exchange for credits, so you can actually gain from generating your own electricity. If you're off-grid, you'll need to pair your solar system with a battery and charge controller.
Wind power is also an option but is more costly to install, and less mobile than solar energy.
Giving yourself multiple power options is always a good idea. If you can be plugged into the grid, but also to off-grid power sources like generators or solar systems, you'll be much more flexible. For more information on wiring your tiny home, have a look here.
There's Something in the Water
When it comes to water, most counties require a recognised source, such as city water connection, a professionally drilled well, or a cistern tank with a delivery system. Drilling can be expensive, but shallow wells and rainwater catchments don't generally meet county codes.
If you do opt to use rainwater, it's safe for washing clothes or flushing the toilet, but needs to be filtered and treated for human consumption. If you have a large tank and an effective treatment system, it's actually possible to rely quite heavily on rainwater for the majority of your needs! However, living on land that has a spring or stream is really your best bet.
As with electricity, it's handy to be versatile in the way you manage your water. Installing a conventional RV hook-up enables you to connect to water and sewer systems while adding a tank and pump means you can store, pressurise and circulate your own water.
Tanks do take up a lot of space, but there are many ingenious design solutions to keep them from becoming an eyesore. Of course, the bigger the tank, the less frequently you'll need to fill it, but the more space it will occupy. Another thing to consider is whether your tank can be loaded via a water hook-up or manually. One is much easier than the other! If you can connect your tank to your rainwater catchment and treatment system, you're laughing.
When it comes to removing wastewater, this is easiest when connected to the grid via a conventional hook-up system. This will take care of your greywater waste (sink, etc.) and your blackwater waste (toilet). If you're off the grid, you can collect and dump your waste at designated stations. However, this is a rather unpleasant option, and it's impractical due to weight restrictions on trailers or mobile homes.
Alternatively, you can drain your grey water into the ground around your home. Simply redirect it to some plants, which can filter it and use it as fertiliser. Regulations concerning greywater tend to differ from area to area, so contact your local authorities for further information on any safety regulations associated with it.
One critical practical design element found in many tiny houses is the composting toilet. This odourless and environmentally friendly solution drastically reduces your water usage and brings you one step closer to being a self-contained build. It also means you won't have to deal with the issue of blackwater waste!
Hang in there for a discussion on whether to DIY or buy your new home!