Friday, November 30, 2012

Beefing Up Our Knowledge, Paring Down Our Plans

My first round from the library!
Winter is upon us, and every instinct tells one to bulk up and store up for the cold days ahead. I'm no different than the spastic squirrels darting about and packing away morsels- only I'm gathering nuts of knowledge and seeds of wisdom. Every day I start out by checking my email for daily news from TinyHouseTalk. It's a great newsletter, showcasing tiny homes all over the world and the stories of those who inhabit them, not to mention many other resources and tips. I have stumbled upon many great sites and articles all stemming from those newsletters. Thank you, Alex!
What amazes me most is the never-ending variety of styles, quirks, motivations, and tricks that went into each and every tiny house. Every time I read a new article and expose myself to a new way of thinking or a new approach to some of the more challenging aspects of tiny house living, I re-examine our plans. While our bag of knowledge continues to bulk up, our design pares down. Recently, I have read several articles in which the tiny home dwellers opted not to include plumbing. Now, even a month ago I would have said, “Woah, woah, let's not get too crazy!” But now, as I have read about people making the choice, living the life, and explaining what they have to do in exchange, it really doesn't seem that bad. To me, the crown jewel of plumbing is a toilet. Since we are going to have a composting toilet, that leaves just a sink and a shower. When we decided to use a very simple camp shower set up, that left just the sink. Over the last week I have been reading exhaustively about simple plumbing set ups, the type of tankless water heater we planned to use, calculating gravity fed water pressure, etc. The more I read, the more I learned, and the more complicated it became.

Is that a magic hose?
As I researched several tankless water heaters, it was aggravating to constantly read, “Portable! Great for remote areas! Great for off-grid living!.....Just hook it up to a garden hose and....” ---Um...excuse me, but did you say 'garden hose'? THAT IS NOT OFF GRID. Garden hoses, last time I checked, don't just sprout from the ground in the middle of the woods. Nice play on words, ya jerks. I wanted to find something somewhere that would work as part of a fully contained system. I have yet to find such a thing.
Since a tankless water heater is triggered by the movement of water through the pipes, that water has to be a certain pressure which is referred to as PSI. Gallons per minute, GPM, is another term you will hear floating around, but that's the rate of water coming out the tap. Most of the smaller tankless water heaters purported to be for off-grid living or camping situations, still require a garden hose hook up to provide that 20-80 PSI operating range. Since we plan to use a gravity fed system, I needed to learn how to calculate pressure for that type of set up. The general rule is this: measure the height (transverse distance doesn't matter) from the bottom of your water storage container to the point of entry into the water heater. For every foot, you gain 0.5 PSI.
         Gravity Fed PSI = height (ft) X 0.5 PSI
No wonder water towers are so damn high!
I sort of laughed/cried when I learned this. Our whole house will stand a mere 13.5 feet tall, so the distance between the bottom of our storage tank to the water heater would be at max, about 3 feet. That would give us a whopping 1.5 PSI, which is not even close to what we would need. So then I started researching water pumps, and learning about filters and pulsation rates, and dry sensors, and blah, blah, blah. I could barely keep my head above water! (See what I did there)
Whenever things get to be a little too overwhelming, I force myself to take a breather and take a step back. Thanks to the internet, you can drown yourself in knowledge if you want to. I want enough to be prepared, but not enough to be scared. During my moment of breathing and stepping back, I realized that ALLLL this work would be for....a single sink.
Suddenly I thought, “What the hell am I doing!? Why spend the money on the water heating unit and all the gadgets that are necessary to make it work, not to mention the headache of designing and installing the system, when it's just for a sink?! SCREW IT! Just heat the damn water up on the stove as needed!” Voila, problem solved.
As I tell people about this and many other decisions we have made with the tiny house, I see shock, disbelief, and “she's a nut-bag” in their faces. At this point, I am used to it, but for those willing to hear me out, there are a lot of benefits to us. Here are just a few...
  1. Cost- no longer need to purchase the heater and all other accessories/installation supplies.
  2. Difficulty- our plumbing system has now been bumped down from “Moderate Difficulty” to “Absolute Novice”. We now have one less gas line to worry about too. We like that. We want easy.
  3. Time- due to simplicity, this system will take substantially less effort and time to actually install when we get to working on the interior.
  4. Awareness- we want to live deliberately. That means being cognisant of all that we do, and more importantly all the we use. Without hot water on demand, we will need to heat our water per use on the stove. Not only will this control how much hot water we use in one setting, it will make us be more efficient/strategic with our hot water use.
Another aspect of the tiny house that I have been reading up on is the solar power set up. This seems to be the last intimidating piece left for us. I came across a few articles and videos that mentioned the same concept- the more daily power you require, the more your solar system will cost. For us, the biggest piece of equipment that requires power is the fridge. I read an alarming statistic:

In order to power a standard household fridge and very few other things, you would need a very large system costing around $12,000!

WHAT?! Now, I'm not sure of the validity of this information, but I'm taking it very seriously and have started exploring options for passive refrigeration. Right now, these methods seem a bit extreme to me, but hey, so did giving up the hot water heater just a few weeks ago. ;)

More on passive refrigeration methods next time...

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