Tiny Houses and Living Sustainably

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Zansi'Vara
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Tiny Houses and Living Sustainably

Postby Zansi'Vara » Mon Feb 27, 2017 7:44 am

So, in the interest of wanting to live off the grid and sustainably, I've been looking into the concept of Tiny Houses lately. In the town my parents live in, a few miles from where I'm at, you don't require a permit to build so long as it's on a platform that moves, because then it's not considered a permanent structure. With that in mind, I've been trying to figure out a good design using a single-axle trailer as a foundation. As I looked further into it, I realized that essentially what I was envisioning was a modern gypsy caravan-style house on a trailer, similar in design to these:

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(Source)



I just installed SketchUp and I'm going to try my hand at sizing out and laying out the interior to see if it will work how I'm imagining it. I'm aiming to try and use as much reclaimed material as possible in building it, but I'm not sure yet where to look for such things. There's always plenty to find once you've got your eyes peeled, though.

What do you guys think, could you live in such a small space? I think I'd love it, I've always felt good in smaller, cozy spaces, and I don't tend to take up much room as it is.
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Zansi'Vara
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Re: Tiny Houses and Living Sustainably

Postby Zansi'Vara » Tue Feb 28, 2017 4:34 am

This is what I have so far in mind for a 12x8 caravan. The only entrance/exit is at the bottom in the middle, which will likely be preceded by 3 steps. I'm planning to have it 8' tall at the apex, so there will also be many cabinets, cupboards, and bookshelves galore around the walls and in every nook and cranny that I can fit them. I also plan to have a wooden board that I can place over the sink for extra counter space. The circles and such behind the sink are meant to represent food, spices, tea, and what-have-you. The wood burning stove will hopefully have an oven section and at least 2 heating plates for pans on top, that would be ideal. Beneath it will be a slab of marble or some such material to protect the floor. To its side, embedded into the wall between it and the shower is a bookshelf. One of many, including one in the restroom.

The white rectangles on the outside of the walls represent possible places for windows, and in the restroom area, I'm imagining the back window as a colored glass mosaic. I plan for the couch to double as a bed, either by being a futon (hopefully not) or by using a Double/Full-sized bed and having the mattress curl downwards and into a section in the wall, or just using a smaller Single/Twin-sized bed. The two monitors will be suspended on pivoting wall mounts so they can be moved out of the way or rotated to be seen at a different angle.

I'm hoping to set up a system which can recycle the hot steam from taking a shower through some sort of system to heat the rest of the caravan. I feel like some sort of tubing should work, but I'm not sure what. Copper tubing might do well to store the heat, but I'd think it would oxidize rather quickly with all that moisture around. Either way, I want to set up both a fresh water tank and a gray water tank, so that I can hook up a hose to the gray water tank and use it for gardening.

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Zansi'Vara
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Re: Tiny Houses and Living Sustainably

Postby Zansi'Vara » Tue Feb 28, 2017 5:16 am

And here, with a few more details and transparency added to glass surfaces and the shower. The UPS and battery represent where the solar power system and batteries will be set up, and the HW is where I would include a small hot water heater.

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Re: Tiny Houses and Living Sustainably

Postby NaranjaRa » Tue Feb 28, 2017 6:09 am

i can dig! there are also TONS of blogs and articles on maximizing tiny spaces, often for people who live in tiny studio apartments but the ideas are easily transferable. the thought is that every piece of furniture and item should serve at least 2 functions whenever possible.
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Zansi'Vara
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Re: Tiny Houses and Living Sustainably

Postby Zansi'Vara » Tue Feb 28, 2017 6:41 am

Exactly! And that every space should have a purpose. Leave no crevasse unfilled! I'm considering adding an attachment point to the vent fan for the shower so I can attach a hose leading to a greenhouse, to supply it with some extra warmth when needed. Also, I have just discovered the wonderful concept of propane instant water heaters. I think I'm going to use one of those with a low-flow shower head and sink faucet. I'm planning to use a composting toilet, so that doesn't have to use water, just the sink and shower.
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Re: Tiny Houses and Living Sustainably

Postby Brewtality » Wed Mar 01, 2017 5:10 am

Great work!

My new house is completely off-grid and that's something I'm pretty passionate about (which is handy as I am about to become a director of a solar energy company). Electricity all comes from solar panels and our water comes straight from the local mountain and is stored in a tank at the top of a tower. I love how you're approaching this project but that house would be WAY too small for me! You might be better off buying an old Airstream or something and refurbishing it. HUGE props for setting out to design your own place though. If that's definitely the route you want to go then I've got a couple of suggestions, if that's okay?

Water


I think you're taking up unnecessary space and energy by installing a water heater in the end of the house. A great solution is to use a roof-mounted solar water heater which is very low maintenance and takes no power from your batteries. Something like this:

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They work brilliantly and will save you a tonne of money and the frustration of draining your batteries because you wanted a hot shower.

Toilet

Composting toilets are great but in a such a confined space as your house, there could definitely be issues with the smell. Indoor composting toilets are usually accompanied by decent ventilation systems and at least a fan at the back of the composter to take the smells outside. That is something you would have to consider when working out your power needs as the fan would need to be on 24/7 to stop your house from smelling like.... well, a composting toilet. They also take up more space than conventional flushing toilets so that's something else you should take into consideration.

Electricity

Space can be an issue here as well but it's important to plan out exactly what sort of power requirements you will have. Will you be running a refrigerator/freezer? If so, it's a good idea to have a dedicated system running that so you don't have to worry about letting your food rot because you watched an extra hour of TV one day. You can also have a good think about where you would put the system(s). Could you fit a bank of batteries and the inverter under your bed/couch? Could they go underneath the floor? Will you just be planning on having solar panels on the roof? If so, you will need to think hard about the positioning of your home and the angle of the panels. Simply having a bit of dirt on your panels can seriously reduce efficiency so you have to make sure you have easy access and you are going to park your house somewhere without any shade and where the sunlight will be caught throughout the day. Look at things like the angle of your panels compared to the position of the sun throughout the day because that has a huge impact on the amount of sunlight which hits the panel and therefore the amount of energy you can generate. If you are staying static then it could be a good idea to set up a separate solar farm in a good location nearby the house.

Storage/Space


I didn't see any space or you to hang up your clothes or anything in this house. Is that not an issue? It doesn't look like there'd be enough space to iron clothes or anything but perhaps that's not really an issue for you. Relying too heavily on overhead storage will make the place feel cramped so you should take some time to work out how much volume your shit takes up so you can make a decent estimate of your needs. It might also be an idea to swap some of your things around. If you move the water heater to the roof/back and the solar batteries to somewhere out of the way then you can use that extra space at the end as a bedroom rather than a bathroom. You'd have room for a bed and maybe a fold-down desk or something if you just move the toilet and shower to where your cough is now. If you're going for space-efficiency then is there really any need to have a separate toilet and shower area? You can save a tonne of space simply by having the shower above the toilet and with good drainage it won't cause any issues at all. You then have that shower space for a wardrobe/kitchen storage/refrigerator etc.

I think what you are doing is great and my suggestions are just that. They're definitely not criticisms. There's a lot to thin about in a project like this and it always pays to have other people check over your plans and ideas before you get halfway through construction and realise there's something you could have done better.

Have you thought about using a shipping container as a base? They are a great size for single-occupancy living, easy to modify, sturdy, relatively cheap and are (obviously) easy to transport. It's definitely work having a look at what some other people have done with them. There are some really incredible homes out there.

Anyway, hope this wasn't a ramble. Good luck with the build!
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Zansi'Vara
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Re: Tiny Houses and Living Sustainably

Postby Zansi'Vara » Thu Mar 02, 2017 2:31 am

Brew, I am with you 100% in all aspects. What I've set up here is just a floor-level setup so far. I've been trying to learn how to use Sketchup in order to create a better 3D representation of what I'm planning to create, but I plan to use wall space and under-surface space for most storage. I plan to have solar panels on a lift system on the roof, so they lay flat for transit, but rise up maybe a foot so they can tilt on a pivoting mount and follow the sun. I figure, if I hook up a BeagleBone I can program it to rotate the panels to follow the sun pretty easily with a 12V DC motor, a threaded rod, and a worm gear.

I love the idea of a solar water heater, and I've seen some amazing implementations of them, my only concern is that I live in Washington and solar power as it is will be a challenge to design around. I planned to have a secondary system (represented by the crude image they have in the program I was using) using a tankless propane instant water heater and some water-saving faucets to conserve the propane as much as possible.

I have been looking through various styles of toilet design and trying to figure out something I can use without creating too much waste material that I have to lug around until I can find a place to dump it. Using water in a toilet seems kind of wasteful in such a conservation-minded build, and I'm not sure I'd have the space for a septic tank in the first place. I've seen some nice composting toilet designs which are odorless, which is what I was planning around, but this is still very early stages so I am still very open to change on all aspects of this project.

I absolutely appreciate your input, and I would love more help on designing the actual solar system, because at the moment that seems like the most daunting task. xD
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Zansi'Vara
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Re: Tiny Houses and Living Sustainably

Postby Zansi'Vara » Fri Mar 03, 2017 2:44 am

Here's what I've worked up for the interior using a pre-made model of a gypsy caravan that I found on SketchUp's workshop. The model is actually about a foot narrower than I plan to have mine, but it gives a good starting place to figure out how much I can fit in in terms of storage.

This is the top-down view. Biggest shift is that the shower and toilet have changed positions out of space necessity:
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This shows the shower, bed, wardrobe, and bookshelves. The bookshelves are not actually of the style I would want, I would want more enclosed style so I can lock them down for transport. Also, there's space above the wardrobe which can fit more storage.
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This shows the kitchen sink, counter, stove, cabinets, and toilet. Underneath the sink, I plan to have drawers and at least 1 cabinet.
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And this just shows the sliding door mechanism inside the bathroom:
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Zansi'Vara
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Re: Tiny Houses and Living Sustainably

Postby Zansi'Vara » Sun Mar 05, 2017 1:22 am

And here's the latest images after some more tidy work and some matching of textures.
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A shot of the shower, new bookshelves, wardrobe, and new cabinet above it to fill the space
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The sink, cabinets, extra cabinets below, and the beginnings of an idea I had to place a chest-style refrigerator/freezer into the counter, so the countertop lifts to open it. Past that is the new oven I found to replace the more crude, old one I was using.
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Here's a shot inside the bathroom, showing the large rear window, shower, and toilet
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Here's that same rear window from the outside, showing the storage space beneath it where many things could go. At the moment I'm thinking that water tanks, both fresh and gray, could fit inside, as well as a charge controller, a tankless instant hot-water heater, an inverter, and at least one large battery.
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And finally the front porch with fence and gate. I will probably use a wooden fence rather than metal, but it was a good design that got the point across. The stairs will fold up behind the gate and lock down for travel.
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