Quick interior update

Here is a quick video to give you an update on the interior.

We started to put some shiplap on the wall. It makes a huge difference. But with all the cabinets and and other finishing on the walls, we realize we bought way to much of this stuff. Good thing we can bring it back.

It was great to put in the The Tiny Wood Stove. We will do a more in-depth post about it later, but key reason we selected this was the tiny footprint, the ability to have wood storage on the bottom, air intake from outside, and most of all that it has an oven!!!

Another item we have not talked much about yet is the awesome TV lift from TVLiftCabinet.com. We are building some automation around it and the key feature here is its ability to rotate the screen 180 degrees so we can use it both downstairs and in the lounge.

More to come soon….

Going off-grid – part 2 – install and cutting the cord

After a lot of research on the solar equipment and parts, (see this link for part 1 of this post), it was time to order materials.  The list was quite lengthy and comprehensive.  Some of the off-grid solar resources, on the net, offered complete systems, but you do pay extra for their pre-assembled units.  Additionally, you still need a ton of wire, clamps, conduits, etc. when it comes to the actual install. The whole process of determining the required components and which brand was better than the next was quite daunting.  We reached out to Liam O’Brien.  We can’t begin to tell you how helpful Liam was in helping us through this process.  Not only did we save on cost, we also felt confident in Liam’s recommendations regarding the purchase of the best  equipment and parts.  We were so appreciative of Liam’s help that we decided to hire him to come help us with the actual install.

Over the next couple of weeks, a pallet of batteries, boxes of inverters, controllers, screws, bolts, and wires started to appear.  The panels themselves were shipped to the local trucking depot, so I took the old trusty Suburban and picked them up.

The install date arrived and in order to make it as efficient as possible, we had agreed to have Liam stay with us for a few days.  Weather forecast – rain off and on every day.

After his arrival, we took a tour of the Tiny, scoped out the space, took inventory of all the materials we received, and did a preliminary layout of how the panels would be placed on the roof.  We knew there would be three panels on each of the two side roof sections that had to be aligned to the standing seams on the roof.  It was important to maximize the positioning of the panels and be able to securely clamp them down so that they would not fly off the roof when driving down the road.  All the attachments had to be fastened with special clamps so that the roof would not be compromised.  No screws, nails, or bolts were allowed to penetrate the roof.  We also discussed how the cabling would be run, where we would put the combiner box, and how the power lines would run down to the system.

Next was a run to Home Depot. Based on our assessment, we made a list of the additional components required, such as conduits, brackets, breakers, the power panel, etc.   It was starting to get really exciting.  Since it was raining, we spent the rest of the day assembling the inverter and charge controller. We also built the skeleton for the combiner box and realized that a platform needed to be built so that we could mount it on the roof.  What is a combiner box?  It simply takes the feed from one array of solar panels (we have two strings of three panels), combines it with all other strings, and outputs that into one feed that goes down to the charge controller.

We caught some sun the next morning so we decided to do the solar panel installation.  It went smooth and we were really pleased with how it aligned.  As you can see from the pictures, we do have some available space left, but not enough to have a balanced set of extra panels on each side.  We also could not go wide because there are width restrictions and we could not be too close to the ends since that would raise our roof height.  Our design of the house approaches the limits of both height and width (13.5′ [4.1m] and 8.5′ [2.6m] respectively) so we could not go beyond the already set dimensions.

The space for all the electrical, our utility closet, is like everything else, tiny. We have tried to use every available nook and cranny, so all the electrical components, the solar system including batteries, and our home automation unit, all must fit under the stairs to the gooseneck.   We started to place some of the boxes, aligning them with the wires for lights, switches, and outlets, in the utility closet.  A little planning and patience proved to go a long way; we came up with a really neat installation plan.  Liam is also very particular, organized, and resourceful, which came in very handy.

It was amazing to think that we could actually fill up an entire power panel with breakers. There were no short-cuts.  We did everything by the book. We learned a lot from Liam on the do’s and don’ts of wiring.  We wired the house (see our post of the rough-in) using a ton of electrical wiring.  For example, using the right gauge for the size breaker the load required (14 gauge for 15amp, 12 gauge for 20amp, etc.); regular 110v outlets require 3 wires – hot, neutral, ground; 220v has four – 2 hot, neutral, and ground.  In some instances, because we had some extra wires, we just used the four wire for some of the regular outlets, thinking we would just not use the extra hot.  Not so fast.  We learned that once this comes into the power panel, it now requires a double pole breaker and we would actually have two 110v circuits in this one wire.   It actually worked out fine, allowing us to split the circuit over several outlets. The downside, however, is that it takes up more room in the panel box.

So back to the solar system.  The feed that comes down from the panels gets routed to the charge controller which optimizes and controls the charging of the batteries.  This power and all the power in the batteries is DC current.  The typical current used in homes is AC power.  The purpose of the inverter is to convert DC power to AC power.  Our inverter is a 48v, which is capable of providing a full 30 amp 220v into the panel.  When there is a load (a light is turned on, the freezer is plugged in, and so forth) the inverter reaches out to the battery, converts that DC power into AC and feeds the panel.

A few words about the battery install.  This was definitely the highlight and the “cool” factor of this system.  It was also the part that was not standard off the shelf.  We had to manufacture the terminal connectors from copper bars and then the mounting brackets from wood that we tied into the floor.  We actually have room to add two or four more modules if we needed to.

It took the entire next day to make all the final connections, test them, and mount all the components.  Using a small light bulb directly connected to the panel, we eagerly awaited the light to go on.  It worked!!  We had our own power station!!!!!  To monitor the solar activity, Liam set up a Raspberry Pi computer.  This system connects directly to the inverter and charge controller giving us web access to see what is going on.  Having a Raspberry Pi, with monitoring software, also opens up a whole new opportunity for our home automation plans (more on that in the coming weeks).

The system was working and we said good bye to Liam after several very long and hard days of work.  Perhaps the most exciting event for us was that the system generated 2kWh of energy, despite the fact that it rained the entire day.  Yes, on a day of rain!!!  We didn’t even see a ray of sun.  Now, that is awesome!

We officially cut the cord.

A few days later we had our welder in to make some adjustments to the floating stairs.  It was another rainy day. His grinder and other power tools were connected and used our solar power system, all day .  As he continued in the evening, we had our large shop light running as well.  Before he took off, we checked the status screen on the charge controller; it showed the battery at 95%.  Enough said – this darn thing works!

Going off-grid – part 1 – what do we need?

If you have been following us, you know that our desire has always been to go off-grid with our Tiny.  Having the ability to park our Tiny anywhere and not be dependent on a power cord, would be a great achievement.  That would entail some solar panels, an inverter, a charge controller, and some batteries.  How difficult could this be?  Lots of people seemed to have done it before.  Well, once again, our situation was a bit unique so it required a fair amount of research and custom set up. There was lots to be learned.

There is some information on the internet about being off-grid with solar, but we highly recommend this comprehensive, yet fairly easy to understand resource – https://www.diyhomesteadprojects.com/product/off-grid-solar-basics/.  Well worth every penny.  Written and featuring Liam O’Brien, “the genius”, who you will hear more about during part two of this post.

First of all, when considering an off-grid system, one has to look at the power requirements; the loads one is putting on the system.   Most tiny home off-grid systems are 110v.   With our kitchen set-up, we really wanted to have an oven (actually a steam-oven), so we need a 220v system.  We also learned that the heat pump/ac system works most efficiently on 220v.   Using some template spreadsheets, we then added all the other components and their expected draw so we could arrive at an appropriate system size requirement.

Our roof design, with a deck and access window, limited us to six solar panels. Good news is that we could divide them into two strings of three.  It’s important to keep the system in balance.  Given the panels are about 300 watts each, that would give us a 1.8kW capable system.

On the battery side, most people get regular 12v lead-acid batteries.  These are similar to the ones in your car.   However, we had two concerns with this approach.  Lead-acid batteries are not what they call deep-cycle.  This means, unlike your cell phone battery, you can’t run them down close to zero before you charge them again.  Ideally, they should be 50-60% most of the time.  So with a 10kWh battery capacity, you would really only have 4kWh of use.  Second, lead acid batteries are HEAVY and take up space.  Weight and space, not friends of the Tiny.

We quickly realized that lithium-ion batteries is what we wanted and needed.  There are a few options available for home systems, but they are most often dependent on being connected to the grid and quite expensive.   A Tesla PowerWall appeared to be a great choice but this was not that straight forward.  They had the greatest capacity, but did not offer an off-grid option.  Even after we became part of their “off-grid” beta test program, they quickly shut us off once we told them it was for a tiny house on wheels, e.g. movable.

We were not going to give up.  Additional research uncovered that there was a whole business out there of people tearing down Tesla cars and reselling the battery packs.  So now we had to figure out how to connect these to a solar power system.   Not trivial.   But it all started to make sense.  We were going to build our own PowerWall.  Each of the Tesla packs (there are 16 of these in a Model S) are 24v, about 5kWh, providing about 235Ah.  They weigh about 55 lbs (25 kg).  We figured we could use 4 of them.  Connecting two in series would give us 48v and then we would connect two in parallel to give us a total of 24kWh capacity.  Above is a sketch of what the that would look like. 

After contacting various solar integrators on the internet, we narrowed down our configurations of components to a MPPT Charge Controller from Midnite Solar and a 48v inverter from Magnum.  The MPPT is the most efficient way to convert solar panel output to battery charge and a 48v inverter takes the DC current from the batteries and converts it to AC power which goes into our electrical panel.   Two tasks remained.  We had to figure out how to put all the components together and get all this at the best price.  However, we were mostly concerned about hooking up the Tesla batteries since we chose the nonconventional route.

We continued to search the all mighty U of I (University of the Internet) to find articles, examples, or perhaps some youtube videos.  Luckily, we came across one from DIY Homestead.  They had essentially done what we wanted to do.  We downloaded the course linked at the top of this post, contacted them for some more details,  and found the one and only, Liam O’Brien.  He is a wealth of information, practical, great work ethic, and a super, awesome guy.  In short, he is the subject matter expert in off-grid solar.  Simply put “the genius”.  He not only helped us source the right gear at a lower cost, he also offered to come down and help us install.  Turns out he only lives a few hours away.  Part two – the install – will be posted in a few days.

Adding the metal roof

If you followed us along thus far, you come to know that even though this is a tiny house, there is so much detail, so many choices, and so many decisions to be made. The roof is no exception.

From the research we did, almost everyone goes for a metal roof. Especially for those houses that will frequently be on the move. It does make a lot of sense as metal roofs are fairly light weight, virtually maintenance free, and hold up extremely well under windy conditions. Going down the road at 70 mph (120 km/h) is equivalent to being in a hurricane, so better be ready.

Once the material selection was made, we now had to make a decision on the style. Again, research told us that a standing seam was the best choice as we were going to have solar panels mounted. It turns out that there are specific mounting brackets that fit right on the seam, allowing us to mount them close to the surface and without penetrating the actual roof.

Next was the color. At first we thought a dark color, even black, would go best with our overall design and color choices for the siding. However, it turns out that a dark surface may not be the best option underneath solar panels. As black attracts heat, it would make our roof top deck unbearably hot on those days when we would enjoy being up there. So given that, we selected a light gray color, which turned out great.

We had done some roofing projects in the past, building a couple of small sheds using regular shingles. We also found several DYI Tiny home builders that installed their own. Nevertheless, when considering the tools needed to properly install it (especially to bend metal sheets around corners) and the implications of not properly flashing seams, we decided to outsource this and hire a professional.

Global Home Improvement sent over a great crew of four who spent two full days on site. Can’t imagine how long it would have taken Julia and I to do this.

It really was a custom job, starting with the fabrication of the actual panels. In this video here, you can see how they extruded complete panels from a roll of metal, right in our driveway. Fascinating!

We had to mount our furring strips and trim board as guides, so that the drip edge could be properly installed. We also had to make the holes and prepare for the kitchen exhaust vent, wood burning stove vent pipe, and the roof top access window. These three items, especially the window, made this project quite complex. The rest was really just three rectangles with a very low slope.

For our kitchen (and we have a lot more exciting news to share about that soon), we decided to go with a Wolf external blower for the fan. This way we could both have powerful fan to exhaust any fumes, but it would also limit the noise it made. To say it is a substantial unit, especially for a tiny, is an understatement. But it fit like a glove and the crew made sure it was mounted and sealed properly.

Our Tiny Wood Stove came with a roof vent kit. We have not installed the actual stove yet, but needed to get the pipe measured, aligned, and integrated into the roof. The double wall piping requires a 2″ space to combustibles, so we had created a square box in the ceiling prior to the insulation going in. Now we just had to cut the hole, mount the bracket that came with the kit, and make sure it was all the right height. The roofing crew once again got it all incorporated into the roof design and made sure it was properly sealed.

Lastly was the Velux Roof top access window. This was integral to our design as it was the way to the roof top deck. If you recall, our floating stairway was the entrance ramp. As with all the other regular windows, we had Volstrukt frame this opening as well. Because of the low profile of our roof and our desire to increase the angle of the window, the crew had to customize the flashing. Again, so grateful we had these professionals on site as it would have been a difficult task, to say the least.

We are super happy with the results. The light color, along with the insulation, kept the tiny house nice and cool, even during a few days of close to 90 degree F (30+ Celsius) weather. Now we are ready for the solar system which we are installing next week.

Our design process – Part 3 – how to make the tiny house HUGE

One of our key design requirements was to make a gourmet kitchen. Another was to bring the outside in.  Today we want to share what has become the center of our design, the feature around which the rest evolved, and perhaps one of the most distinctive elements of our Tiny Home.  Yes, it is the 12′ wide open window door combination. It allowed us to take this Tiny Home kitchen and open it up to the HUGE outdoors.

We had seen folding glass windows as well as folding glass doors.  There were even some very innovative uses of a glass paneled garage door to open the tiny interior to the vast outdoors.   But it was this unique combination of windows and doors working seamlessly together that truly inspired us.

The pictures here show it opened and closed. It is an approximately 12ft (3.66m) wide unit split in half doors (to the right) and windows (to the left). A key feature is that there is no center post when it is opened, leaving a completely unobstructed view.

This was not without its challenges.  First we had to find the right supplier. After some research we identified several top notch companies that engineered some very impressive bifold units. We progressed with one at a time for several weeks until for some reason or another (legal Dept worried about liability of units in moving unit, design not capable of handling potential bumps in the road, won’t be able to handle this new design in 2018, etc.) they backed out. We went through this for a couple of months and then decided to design our own. A simple two door two window design with two way hinges should do the trick. We even found a custom door designer that was willing to create a door from our idea, but their legal department also said no warranty. For what they wanted to charge, sorry, no go.

So there we were, add custom door and window manufacturing to the to do list.

One evening, before we ventured into this new endeavor, we did one more desperate search. Julia found this fairly obscure, but promising provider out of Florida. A call the next morning revealed that they were the US arm of a German manufacturer, Sunflex and they said they were up for the challenge. They made sure to incorporate steel bearings and heavy duty parts at any stress points. They even offered triple pane glass for extra strength and insulation.

That this was a well engineered product was evident. It was shipped by boat from Europe and when it arrived even the packaging was impressive.

Secondly, making sure the structure could accommodate this wide span with a deck on top was not trivial.  This is where our selection of Volstrukt and their agile steel framing paid major dividends again.   They were able to design all the right supports and reinforcements necessary to make this a perfect fit.  Tiny Home Builders, provider of our trailer, also came up huge by working with us to get the necessary steel beam to allow for that large opening.

We love how it all turned out and this picture taken from the inside really shows it off well. We are doing our best in making this tiny home HUGE. It is Tiny Living Living Large.

Next up is the metal roof, incorporating the various vents and our roof top window.

Cheers for now.

Insulation – What a difference a day makes

Sidebyside of tiny with or without insulation

Finally

The weather got warm enough so we could do our install of insulation.  Without it, we could not progress much further with the interior.  Over the last month or so, we have been watching the weather, prepping the inside, installing LOTS of wire and in-wall plumbing.

Preparation

There are quite a few items that require us to put wires, tubes, etc. through the walls.   This includes our bathroom fans, our outdoor shower unit, the Lunos  heat recovery ventilation (HRV) system, the kitchen vent, wood stove vent, and several electrical plugs.   We are coordinating the kitchen and wood stove vents with the roof installer.  This is to ensure the flashing is done just right.  The outdoor electrical outlets are just a simple wire, so we can do that at a later date.  But the rest all had to be in place.   After some back and forth, we also decided to draw speaker wires for the outdoors and the lounge.  Yes, we could go wireless, but sound is important and we wanted the option to go direct.

We figured the insulation company would cover up windows, floors, and anything we did not want sprayed.  However, having read about a few horror stories, we thought we would do our own prep too.   We thought it best to ensure all the electrical boxes, fans, hanging wire, and any plumbing lines, were all covered.

The crew arrives and insulation work begins

The day finally arrived and the Truck and Trailer of the installer smoothly backed into the driveway and started up the machinery.    There was a crew of three.  The master sprayer (he had 15 years of experience and was a bit of an artist with the spray gun) and two others who did the prep and cleanup.  Plastic sheathing went on all the windows, floors, and even the stairway and loft support pole were covered.  Nice job.

Closed Cell foam insulation is made of two separate chemicals that are heated and fed into two separate hoses.  They are mixed and combined with air pressure when sprayed onto the surface.   It expands very quickly and seeks every nook and cranny, turning solid hard within minutes.  The result – an airtight and very rigid structure.

As you can see in this picture here, proper protection is required during the application process.  However, all gasses dissipate within minutes and the resulting foam is actually biodegradable.

 

After the interior was done (and it took probably 4 hours), the underside of the gooseneck and a couple of spots under the trailer were also sprayed.

The wrapup

The cleanup crew now went at it, removing any overspray, cleaning the studs, and taking care of any areas where the insulation found a gap and expanded to the outside.

We had been awaiting for this day for a long time and were also very nervous, hoping  that everything would go smoothly.  Given the perfect weather we are so glad we waited rather than push for an earlier date.   Here is a summary video, including a side by side compare.

So much electrical wiring in such a tiny home

Planning

As we are leading up to the day of our insulation install (Closed Cell Foam), we had to ensure that all the electrical and any in wall plumbing was completed.  We honestly did not think that it was going to be that big of a deal.  A few lights here and there, some plugs, the appliances….   well, 500+ feet of regular wire and 500 feet of low voltage wire later, and we have one wired house.  And actually, this is just the rough in.

We started off to make a plan of where we wanted electrical plugs and switches. We then checked all the appliances and other electronic components to understand their draw and circuit requirement.  Lastly,  we drew a plan for all the lights and what we wanted controlled by our automation system.  You can see these sketches here.

The way the automation system works is that all the switches are on regular 110v and all the lights are on low voltage.  When you turn on a switch, the signal goes back to the main controller.  The controller then sends a signal to that light (or group of lights) using low voltage.   This means that every single light or group of lights you want to turn off or on, needs to have a direct feed.   It also turns out that most of the appliances suggested a dedicated electrical circuit, which meant they needed a separate wire going back to the panel.   We may have overdone it, but better safe than sorry, so we erred on the conservative side when faced with an option.

Beyond the obvious

Our water pump needs 12volt as does the fan for the compost toilet.  We are hoping to install a Orbital Shower of the Future in the fall, so it needed to be wired as well.

Because tiny houses are so well insulated with little to no air escaping, we also have to handle the natural condensation that happens.  So we installed a Lunos ductless, simple, and highly efficient heat recovery ventilation (HRV) system.  It required thermostat wiring between the main switch and each unit (one in each end of the house).   Here are a couple of pictures.

Lastly were a few speakers for the exterior which were easily wired.  We will then simply mount and connect them once we park at each destination.

Plumbing

Now for the plumbing, it was significantly simpler.  We used PEX because it is very easy and fairly fool proof to install.  (you see some of it in the main picture above) It uses red and blue tubing and a simple ring that you clamp around the connectors using a special tool.  We only had the bathroom sink, washer, pot filler, and outdoor shower to connect.  The rest is all accessible after the insulation goes in.  I will do another post on the actual plumbing with the tanks, pumps, filters, etc.  That is a whole science in itself.

 

 

 

So there you have it – electrical and plumbing all ready for the insulation to go in….  (postponed again for a week due to colder weather)

A few more pictures for you

Floating Stairway to heaven

Okay, after a break in our posts, it is time to get back into the swing of things.  We have a lot of news to share.  After spending some time in the skeleton of the house, using markers on the floor to show cabinet and walls, as well as walking through our 3-D Model, we made some drastic changes (more to come in other posts).  One of the more visual ones was the removal of our smaller loft which we called the reading loft.  It also had the boxed stairway going up to the roof top.   (here is the before and after – grey box on top right in first picture are the stairs).

Now with a wide open view to the upstairs, it really opens up the space.   In addition, it allowed us to design something we always talked about, but did not think we could do – a floating stairway.   As it leads to the roof-top, it made sense to call it “stairway to heaven.”

We researched the web to find a stair manufacturer, but no one had a set of stairs six feet high.  A shop in nearby Pennsylvania (next state over) looked promising and could do a custom design.  Unfortunately, after a few interactions, we were not quite convinced that they could accommodate our requirements and the price was very unreasonable.   Back to the drawing board.

Julia and I are absolutely in synch on this project and agree that there is nothing we cannot do ourselves.  So we resolved to tackle this on our own,   but we needed steel to build the brace and just as important,  an excellent welder.  To our surprise, a young kid (Neiko), running his own shop (Bulletproof Welding) said he would love to build the whole thing.  He came out to visit and we instantly liked him.  We agreed on a design and price and he said it would probably take a few weeks.  That was last week.

It was a great surprise when he sent us a video a few days later. 
He had the core laid out and wanted to show us a couple of options on how to handle the braces for the treads.  We chatted on the phone and also agreed on a modified tread design.  Two days later I got a text message asking if he could come to install the structure the next day.  Wow.

The install went smoothly, as he fabricated a bottom plate on site, welding it in place as well as created a custom clamping system that he bolted at the top to ensure it would not interfere with the Skylight installation.  Here is a video of Neiko doing the cutting.

http://tinylivinglivinglarge.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/img_3460.mov

The treads are wood, routed on the bottom to allow the bracket to be inset into the step.  Here you can see Neiko placing the treads on top of the metal brackets.

http://tinylivinglivinglarge.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/img_3467.mov

We agreed that I would do some additional routing on the edges.  We will add another piece of wood underneath and stain the treads at a later date.  To say we are thrilled with the look of our “stairway to heaven” is an understatement.

What do you think?

The not so big but important stuff

While every task and activity around building a house, even a tiny one, is a big deal, it is not every week that we see huge changes.  So this past week we sweated the small stuff – worked a lot on paperwork and research,  ran our utilities, and built the framing around the wheelwell.

There are still many decisions to be made and products to select.  Lucky for us there have been so many before us and many like us, who post their choices and reasons why.  A major next item for us is the automation system, so let us know any insights you may have.  We are also having to select our standing seam metal roof vendor.  Any recommendations or suggestions are welcomed.

We have started to receive some of our other items so we will post our thoughts and selections as we install them.  One small set back this week was our roof access window. We were all excited about installing it and found it cracked when we opened the box.  A replacement should arrive in the next couple of weeks.

As we have mentioned on our earlier posts, we will primarily be on the road with our tiny home.  However, when we are home, it will be our guest house.  We knew we needed water and electricity brought out to the tiny house (it is not always sunny enough in NJ for us to rely on solar power 100% of the time), so we had laid some piping under our parking spot.  With the deep freeze, at least temporarily over, we took the opportunity to dig the rest of the way and draw the power cable and water line.   For the water, we decide to get heated drinking water hoses and run them through 2″ (5 cm) piping.  Because we have about 80′ (24.3 m) of ground to cover, we had to get two 50′ (15.24 m) hoses, each with their electrical connection at the end.

Thinking ahead,  we may want the ability to rent the space and have other tiny homes be able to park on the property.  That being the case, we went with a 50Amp 220/240v electrical line with an electric meter.  We had some help with the digging, but it still took us all day.  We are pretty happy with the results, though.

 

 

Going back inside the tiny house, we focused on the wheel-wells.  The framing sits on top of them, but they protrude further in and is just a thin layer of steel.We heard from several tiny home owners that this area is often the source of drafts and cold.  Since we are having blown in closed cell foam insulation installed, we decided to build a thin frame which would allow for 2″ (5 cm) of insulation.  Yes the walls are thicker than that, but we needed to 

minimize the depth as we have appliances that will back up right to them.  We built both frames but installed one of them thus far.

 

till next time….

Let there be (sun)light!

What a difference it makes to put in some windows.  Great progress over the last few days.  See the video below.

http://tinylivinglivinglarge.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/large.mov