Monday, July 28, 2014

94b. Tiny House FAQ

Since we put up the photographs of our tiny house, we've been getting a lot of folks interested in the particular whosie-whatsits of how everything works. Instead of replying to everyone, I thought I would put most/all of it in one place!

Without further ado, the FAQ!

How do you get water?

We have six, three-gallon blue jugs that we refill once or twice a week depending on how much water we've used. The jugs are the same kind that are often used in water coolers around which disgruntled office workers have been known to loiter. The typical blue jug is five gallons, but we got three gallon ones, because the five gallon ones would have become a nuisance pretty quickly. Three gallons of water already weighs 25 pounds, and when I put the jugs away, I have to lift them above my head to scoot them into the storage loft. I would love to tell you that I have sinewy athletic arms, but I don't. My arms are like pool noodles and there's nothing you or I can do about it. In order to lower the odds of death by water jug crushing, we went with the smaller, more manageable jugs.

We fill up the jugs at the alternative education high school that Dumptruck works at, teaching photography (it's about a mile away from where we are living). The principal from the school loves the tiny house, and has said that we are more than welcome to use the school's outdoor hose to fill up our water as often as we need to. Even though this is all completely innocent, something about standing in an empty parking lot at midnight, filling up a bunch of water jugs, makes me feel like I'm some kind of shifty dealer, but I deal only in water.

We got a ceramic water cooler from Target, and spent many, many hours in Home Depot trying to figure out how best to have the water get from the tank to the sink. My dad found a small length of hose with a brass screw-on end, and we found an on/off toggle meant to be used for a washer/dryer unit. It works splendidly.

The water drains into a "grey water" bucket underneath, which we empty every night into our grey water disposal system on the property.

Please do not put your baby in the grey water bucket.

Jugs up in the storage loft.

How do you take a shower?

First, we have a 2-gallon weed sprayer. Yes, this contraption is designed to be filled with chemicals and sprayed on unwanted plants. We bought a brand new one, and has only ever had clean shower water in it. It works based on pressure. You pump the black handle on the weed sprayer about 10 times, and it builds up perfect pressure. We macgyuvered about 4 different sized brass screw-on pieces to build up the end of the hose to be able to screw into a shower head! When the red trigger is pressed, all that awesome pressure comes out. I do have to hold the shower head over my head, in order to hold down the red trigger, but it's not heavy at all.

We have found the perfect ratio of water for an excellent hot shower is:
1.5 gallons room temperature water
0.5 gallons boiling water

I take what is commonly known as a "ship shower," in which I only run the water enough to wet my whole body and hair, then turn the water off. I soap up, then rinse off! I have long hair, and I use both shampoo and conditioner. I have found that 2 gallons is way more than enough water for both hair products, soaping my whole body and shaving my legs (if you're so inclined). I've only been using this system for a month, and I'm so efficient now that I usually have at least three quarters of  gallon left after I'm done. At that point I just unscrew the pump handle and dump the rest all over my head. For funsies.

The water drains out through a PVC pipe (installing this shower stall and the PVC pipe almost killed us, both physically and emotionally), and into a grey water bucket under the house. The bucket only holds about 4 gallons, so we have to empty it after every shower.

You've never really known fear until you put on fancy work clothing and then have to carry a precarious bucket of your own dirty shower water across the lawn to pour out into a tank.

How do you cook things?

We have an "Origo 3000" ship stove top, which is meant for little ships! It is fueled with denatured alcohol, which a lot of hikers on the A.T. will use to fuel their alcohol-based camping stoves. The Origo works great. It takes about 10 minutes to boil a full teapot. It works by adding the "Heet" to the reservoir under the burner, closing the burner top, then lighting the alcohol with a long-neck butane lighter. The reason we chose this one over a propane stove is that it's safe to use inside (well, as safe as any open fire or heat is inside of an all-wood structure).

How do you use the toilet?

The toilet is not for the faint of heart, and so if you are easily rattled, then I would recommend you skip this section. First of all, we have been using this toilet for a month now and doesn't smell like ANYTHING. It's probably the greatest, most miraculous invention I've ever seen in my life. Other than those weird metal pronged things that people use to massage scalps. Those things are insane. I love this toilet. It's a composting toilet, which means it uses absolutely no water, which potentially weirds people out. Feel free to skip this section if you just like to think of your waste as going "away" and you'd rather not think about it beyond that. I respect that.

The toilet is made by an excellent company called Air Head, which is based out of Maine. The toilet works by automatically separating liquids and solids. The liquids (piddle, waz, wawaweewa, whatever you want to call it) drain into the front tank of the toilet. This needs to be emptied once a week or so. Everything is all air-tight and sealed, and it's really easy to remove the tank to dump it. I will say that you do need to be on top of dumping it at least once a week, because, well, you can use your imagination about what would happen if it got overfilled.

You may notice the black handle on the side of the toilet. That controls the round "trap door" in the middle of the toilet. When one has to go #2, one places a biodegradable coffee filter over the trap door, relieves oneself, then opens the trap door to allow the package to drop into the Sarlacc Pit beneath. The trap door is then immediately closed. Inside the tank is either peat (a type of soil) or sawdust. There is a metal crank arm on the side of the toilet that is used to "turn over" the compost inside the tank several times a day. The solid tank needs only be emptied every 2 months or so.

There is a small screen on the side of the toilet to intake air, which powers a small fan, which pulls air over the solid tank and takes it outside via a tube to vent. This dries out the solid tank and eliminates any "waste" smell. If you are wondering if it just makes outside smell bad, I can tell you that it does not. I was worried that it might, but it doesn't at all.

There is an unused underground septic tank on the property we're living on, and we empty our tanks into the septic tank (there's just a very heavy concrete "plug" lid on the underground septic tank). We have a deal with the local septic guy to come out and pump it out once or twice a year.

Where are all of your clothes?!

Our regular clothing is on the storage shelf in the back, on the wall between the bathroom wall and the ladder that goes up to the bedroom loft. Our winter clothing is in one storage bench, and the other storage bench has tools and various other doodads. Like a hammock! The wall of the closet is a muslin sheet, to let light through.

Our clothing hamper is also in there, under the clothes.

How much electricity do you use?

We have an electric hook-up to our landlord's building, on the property we are currently on. The entire house uses 200 watts of electricity, if everything is turned on all at once. We are planning on eventually moving entirely to solar, but the overhead was too much for us right now.

I think that's all the questions I've gotten recently. Feel free to hit me up with more in the comments, if there's anything else you want to know about!

Clever Girl

Dumptruck is out of town, so these photographs were just taken with my iPod. Le sigh.


  1. Very interesting stuff C.G. Did you make those bench cushions yourself ?

    1. I sure did! I'd never made cushions before. I made them by folding a $15 mattress topper in half, cutting it up, and sewing fabric around it that I got in a one dollar bin at an arts and crafts store. DIY - dirty hiker style!

  2. Really great information, and I laughed out loud which is always fun. Thanks for the read, you crazy kids.

  3. The whole tiny house setup an incredibly resourceful/impressive project. Pretty snazzy cushions too. If you ever decide you want a more firm cushion for the benches just let me know. I work adjacent to a foam warehouse and could hook ya'll up for free. Shoot, for that matter I have access to a ton of uph. fabric remnants too. Just ask away, no strings. Bern

  4. CG- Thank you so much for sharing this. I really dig the layout of your tiny house and would love to know your exterior dimensions!
    After using your shower for the past few months, are you still happy with it? I'd love to replicate it.

    Thanks again for sharing this, your blog is truly inspiring (in many ways)
    (Sorry if this double posts, Blogger didn't let me know if it went through the first time)

    1. Hey Kyle!

      I love the shower. It works really great! The only thing that is a slight concern is the level of humidity in the house, just because it's sealed so well, and when the shower goes, it does create some steam. It's great to have a nice, hot shower, but it does trap some humidity in the house over time.

      We are going to be putting a small air exchange system in the house, and when we do, I'll update the FAQ!

      I hope you replicate the shower! It's super awesome. It's also like a built-in snooze button for the morning. My alarm goes off, I put on a teapot to boil water, then lay back down for 10 minutes until the teapot whistles! Then I'm up and have a perfect hot shower.

      Thanks for asking, and thanks for following!

  5. Greetings from NC (25 miles East of the Pisgah National Forest). Great blog, I've enjoyed reading it.

    Just thought I would share a money saving tip with you if there are Dollar Tree stores in your area, since I saw your stockpile of HEET in your cabinet. Dollar Tree sells "SMB (brand) GAS LINE ANTIFREEZE AND WATER REMOVER" in a white bottle with a black lid and mostly red label. It is the same stuff as HEET, but only $1 for 12 oz. Heet is usually $2 or more around here. It is in the huge automotive department, you know, right next to the terrible smelling air fresheners and thin rolls of duct tape.

    If you are using a lot of this stuff, you could save quite a bit of money in a year's time. I get the same total burn times per ounce and the same boil times using this stuff compared to HEET in my homemade alcohol backpacking stove.

    There is a website listed on the bottle, maybe that will help, but I haven't looked myself.

    Thanks again! - Brooks

  6. Good Morning!!

    We are ABC 7 and FOX 22 news in Bangor, Maine. We want to cover this little home and your story! If you could email me at then we can talk further! I would love hear all about it and come film!! I look forward to hearing from you!!