Stairway to tiny heaven

After climbing up and down my ladder for the past five months, I am gloriously happy to announce that my tiny house has STAIRS! And darn good looking ones too, I might add.

I would offer to give you a step-by-step explanation of how I did it, but that pun just seems far too obvious. Plus this guy does a better job of it – I stole most of his ideas. Probably all for the best, given I had no idea what I was doing.

I was pretty anxious about building these stairs, to be honest. I thought it was going to one of the harder parts of the project to tackle, and I was pleasantly surprised with how relatively straight forward they turned out to be. I used 19mm ply for the whole thing and overall they feel pretty stable!

Nailers

The secret key to this project for me are the nailers that attach the stairs to the wall. A nailer (no idea if this term is used in Australia, but it’s what my American online stair guru called them) is mounted onto the wall and helps support the tread of your stairs. More on these below.

Getting around the wheel well

As you can see here I was far too busy celebrating mild carpentry success to take any useful photos of the process as we went, sorry. But as I said, the technique is relatively straight forward. Firstly, we mounted a nailer to the wall of the house the same length as the stairs for the base level to sit on. This was done with lots of liquid nails and a few screws to secure the lot. I kinda wish I’d realised earlier that the 25mm screws I was using were only a few mms longer than my nailers were thick, meaning only a few mms would’ve penetrated into the wall. Oops. They seemed to hold well enough and there are plenty of other supports, but it’s something to make note of.

NOTE: Check the length of your nails/screws vs the thickness of whatever you’re screwing

 

To get around my wheel well we cut supports to the height of the first step and the depth of the stairs minus the wheel well. These supported the rest of the weight of the base level, covered the wheel well and gave me my first step. Winning! Boogey time.

To stabilise the supports I attached angle brackets to each piece and screwed them to the floor. We glued, then nailed the base down into each support, as well as the nailer running the horizontal length of the base. So far, so good! Not to mention super sweaty.

NOTE: Human weights do well to counteract any bow in your ply and ensure good connection with supports

Process

From there it was mostly more of the same! Nailers on the wall and on the back of the previous step to support the horizontal length of each tread, vertical supports underneath to take the rest of the weight. Obviously, be sure to check that your nailers are level with the vertical supports. And that your supports are level and the tops are level and that anything else you can think of to level is level too. No-one likes a wonky step.

NOTE: Buy lots of liquid nails. LOTS and lots. You’ll need it.
Well, at least 3 tubes of the stuff. You’ll also probably scrape lots of it off as it oozes out from the joins so then you’ll need even more and will end up with it stuck all over you in various places. Fair warning.

The idea was to make three big boxes on top of the base and add little steps in between that would double as drawers for extra storage.

Adaptation is key

Of course, this wouldn’t be a useful building blog if I didn’t accurately represent everything that went wrong, including having to change the height and length of my steps right off the bat. At least forty minutes of careful maths (supervised by Dad of course, thanks Dad) had gone into working out the measurements earlier that morning. Upon closer inspection, I realised that most of the maths was redundant given my power switches and transformers for the lights were right at my calculated step height. This also made attaching the nailers for the tallest box a bit tricky as the last thing I wanted was to put a nail through the wall and short circuit my functioning lights. Sooo, for now one nailer is attached only using liquid nails. I wonder how accurate that name really is? I’ll probably add an extra support in that biggest box for security, just in case. At the moment the ply it supports gives just a tiiiiiny bit underneath my weight and I tell ya, that tiny bit is more than enough for my liking.

NOTE: Don’t put nails through your wiring in the walls. This isn’t a stairs specific note, just good advice in general.

The end result of the changes wasn’t tragic. As you can see I have spectacular, functional stairs. They’re just slightly steeper and slightly one less step than I drawn on my plan.

Nevertheless, she persisted!

Storage steps

As it happens, the changes were meant to be. With the steeper steps, my Mum’s old vintage fruit and veggie boxes were the perfect height to act as my drawer-steps. They were of course totally unstable and unsuitable for using as anything other than decorations at a rustic fairy garden themed wedding. I had to get a bit DIY-makeovery on them and this time Google was not much help. Urgh. Seriously internet, get your act together. Turns out, my new-found stair building geniusness translated into gluing three bits of ply into a box quite nicely – taadaa!

Obviously there’s no drawers in there yet, but they already function as excellent hidey holes for bits and bobs. Drawer updates to come.

Overall, a total success!

I realise by this stage that most of you are fearing for my mortal life, based on my flippant confidence and carefree attitude towards building a relatively important structural component of my house. Fret not, dear friends, one doesn’t get to this stage in a tiny house build without a certain amount of know-how.

Obviously, I made my nephew test them first.

 

 

As always, a massive shout out to my number one Tiny House buddy, Brodie Rob. Couldn’t have done it with you and my wonderful friend Siang, thank you both so much! Many hands make level stairs.

Dumpster diving

I saw Just Eat It at the Melbourne International Film Festival a few years ago, a documentary about two Canadians who take on dumpster diving and rescuing otherwise ‘wasted’ food as their primary means of feeding themselves. The epic scale of food waste exposed in the movie is staggering and sadly not uncommon. Since then, I’ve been busting to try dumpster diving for myself.

I finally got the chance when I met someone who has been diving on a regular basis and agreed to take me along. We tried three different dumpsters – two supermarket dumpsters and one from a shopping centre. The supermarket bins were sadly empty when we got there – but had apparently been full of good quality foodstuff just days before when my friend last checked. The last one we stopped at was packed to the brim. Partly with rubbish, but mostly with items that were either perfectly fine, or had tiny faults that meant they’d been returned by customers and turfed straight in the bin.

The stash was varied and surprising, including: an inflatable pool toy, child’s dress up costume, a set of lanterns, a set of fairy lights, an electric toothbrush, women’s bathers, women’s shorts, two romance novels, a coffee machine and a puzzle.

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What a haul! Turns out it’s not just food going to waste (although, no surprise there).

Diving is such a grey area when it comes to legality and it’s hard to find a straight answer to the most common question: ‘What if you get caught?’ Well, maybe that’s the second most common question. (The first one being, ‘You mean, you get stuff out of a bin?? Not food, surely…’)

It seems that diving itself isn’t illegal, much like tiny houses it falls somewhere between laws. It’s illegal to trespass on private property and it’s illegal to steal property that doesn’t belong to you. But what about goods that have been discarded by their owners in publicly accessible places? There are some interesting articles around that discuss the different perspectives on this, please don’t take my word for it. I certainly am not qualified to give legal advice!

The other question is, does the risk of a fine or reprimand from authority put you off doing something that is right for ethical and environmental reasons? At what point does the law exist contrary to common sense, only to mitigate potential risk? Well, in lots of cases probably. But that’s a whole different can of worms there.

I’m so keen to try more diving, to explore more ways to reduce waste and to alter the way we consume. It does make me a bit nervous though!

Even when things make sense and feel right, breaking rules can take some unlearning and discomfort. I’m finding plenty of good reasons to keep practising.

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Solar Power

Knowing where to start with the solar stuff can be a bit overwhelming. As I mentioned in my last post, the first thing I would recommend without hesitation is speaking to a solar expert – I happened to luck out and find a total gem, if he’s in your area don’t hesitate to call Geoff at Sustainable Impact. He’s a wealth of knowledge and I even got to be solar apprentice on installation day!

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The other place to start is by doing some research and a bit of energy use mapping. There are some pretty simple templates out there and the internet has all sorts of magical information on it these days, including calculators that can tell you how much energy certain appliances use. At this point in the tiny house planning I’ve got a pretty clear idea of what appliances I intend to use and how much power I’ll need. I don’t have any laundry facilities and thanks to my beautiful Nectre Baker’s Oven I also knew I wouldn’t need any kind of electric oven or cooktop. I haven’t factored in many conveniences – no microwave, TV, dishwasher or washing machine. I don’t know how much of this going old school slow living will drive me crazy in the long run, but as an upside, this made planning the electrics a bit easier.

 

I went with second hand batteries and two solar panels, hopefully enough to run all appliances in my house and last a few days without full sun. It’s a bit of an experiment at this stage, to figure out how much I’ll use and how quickly the panels will recharge my batteries.

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But there’s definitely power coming in and as a bonus, they look fantastic!

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There’s a control panel that mounts all the electrics for the system, including a power point tracker, inverter and the safety isolators. The electrics needed to be close to the batteries, out of the weather and accessible for power readings, so we put them inside on the front wall. Some people have suggested the board isn’t pretty enough to be featured on the wall the way it is, but I kinda love that it represents an important characteristic of the whole house. It might end up being covered later on, but for now I’m still trying to figure out what all the readings mean and how it works. Next step will be getting the electrician back to set up my power points and lights. So close to full power now! Very exciting.

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All fired up

The last couple of posts have been more life related than build related. I have a bit to catch up on now, so here goes!

After the lining was finished, I could get the plumber and electrician back in, ready for fit out. First up was installing the flue for my Baker’s oven. Another pricey part of the build – over $500 for the flue alone! Youch. Having the elbow bends added in didn’t help with the price, but they look phenomenal (and are hard to photograph in a small space). And better yet, it all works!

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I lit the fire a few times before it was inside my house and the smoke was suffocating the whole fire box. I would’ve thought having no flue meant plenty of access to air but I was wrooong. The drawing thing that flues seem to do worked like magic and my fire was lit in seconds and burnt for ages and was beyond exciting and whoop! What a treat.

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Noel dug out some old cast iron pans he had in the shed and donated them to the cause, not to mention a Weber BBQ to boot! We had a tiny house slow cooked dinner to celebrate, it was all just terribly romantic.

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Once I’ve got my kitchen bench set up I’ll also source a little two gas burner cooktop that can run on an LPG gas bottle for the warmer weather. The evening I lit this baby up it it was cool enough to have a small fire going for an hour with the door open, letting a fresh breeze in. I ducked under my cold camp shower and dressed in front of the oven, enjoying the thrill of my very own fire – the little wins are big wins when you can indulge in them properly. Overall I was pretty chuffed. What a perfect way to moderate the temperature of the house slightly and also be able to cook on the top! Excellent decision making, Sarah.

It wasn’t till I climbed up to the loft that I felt the full force of my designed-to-heat-90m2-and-currently-heating-18m2 oven. Fair to say that the little loft nest will be a toasty warm retreat on the coolest of winter days when the oven is lit. And by toasty warm I mean there’s a fair chance I could charge sauna rates for visiting guests if I got the set up right.

Anyone got spare towels?

A lesson in asking

Occasionally throughout this project, when people have asked me where I’m living, I’ve joked that ‘I’m homeless’. That’s really just not true, in fact the opposite is. I’ve been in abundance of homes for a while now, and I certainly don’t take that for granted.

Tonight, walking into my local supermarket, I saw a woman sitting out the front asking for change. Maybe homelessness was on my mind after chatting with co-workers about the change in local Melbourne laws that are making sleeping rough an offence. Maybe it’s just always a little bit on my mind, knowing that family violence is one of the top reasons people end up on the street.

Usually, I would give a few coins in passing and tell myself that I do enough, I give to charities regularly and work for a service that tries to improve the system overall. Stopping to talk to someone can sometimes feel daunting, and although I admire those people you see chatting with people on the street, I’m a bit ashamed to say I’ve never been one of them. At least, not until tonight. After I’d walked into the supermarket with only a quick smile for this woman, I turned around and walked back out.

‘Hey’, I said. ‘Is there anything in there I could get for you?’

The woman’s response surprised me. She looked down into the bag by her side.
‘Thanks, but I’ve got heaps of food. Hey! Do you want these bananas?’ She took some ripe bananas out of her bag and handed them to me. I accepted them gratefully (do you know how hard it is to find ripe bananas in a supermarket these days?) before realising I still had to go in and do my shopping. I told her I’d come and stop on my way back out.

When I finished my shopping I had some cash for her. She had sorted through her bag and managed to fill a whole plastic bag with food she wanted to give me.
‘Do you want any of this?’ She asked me. ‘I just hate waste and I’m not going to be able to eat it all.’ I commented on how much she had put in the bag to give me – fruit, biscuits, bread. ‘Yeah’, she said. ‘It’ll just go bad if I can’t use it. Someone came out earlier and offered me bananas. When I told her I already had some she got offended and stormed off in a rush. I thought, well it was a nice offer but there’s no reason to get upset! There’s only so many bananas you can eat in a day.’

We ended up chatting. She asked to use my phone to check the weather and the radar and then wished me a nice evening. In the end, I walked away with more than I’d given her. And it was a surprising reminder of something so obvious that we often forget it:
Sometimes we like to think we’re helping and that we know how best to do that. Don’t assume you’re helping just because it feels good to you. You might be able to help someone or even give them a way to help themselves, but ask them what that looks like and if they even want it. Choice is a powerful tool that many people have taken away from them, especially in times of hardship. Respecting someone’s ability to choose for themselves is important and empowering, even if it doesn’t sit as nicely as our usual go-to options.

I gave her the money and let go of any judgements around the ‘right things to spend it on’. Cos if I was ever sleeping rough or experiencing homelessness, you can better my bottom dollar I’d like to be choosing what gets me by.

And I’m just not sure it’d be bananas.

 

On a related note, this is a very interesting read for anyone looking to learn a little about economics and human behaviour without having to study it or read textbooks. Think, Freakonomics meets global poverty.
It will make more sense why this note is related if you read the book.

Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty (2011)
Abhijit V. Banerjee & Esther Duflo

Tiny Christmas

I always loved Christmas growing up, and still do. I love time with my family, I love relaxing and having nothing better to do all day than kick back and share great food in the summer heat. It’s just that now as an adult, sometimes I find it hard to look past the excess in what I feel should instead be more of a celebration of what we already have. Tiny Christmas was an attempt to get back to basics and focus on what I love most about this holiday – connection, friendship and gratitude.

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For Tiny Christmas, I posted out invites and with each invite went a packet of seeds out to grow. Anyone who has had the joy of nurturing something from seed and reaping the rewards at the end can appreciate the deep satisfaction of growing your own food. The connection with the earth, with the simple and yet incredibly complex processes that take place along the way, the appreciation that comes for something you’ve invested your time and attention in. These elements in all things form the basics of what tiny living is about for me.

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Although, sadly, none of the seeds had quite enough time to produce enough food to eat, everyone got creative and brought gifts to share. The meals that were created were not just filled with connection and thought but were delicious and down right beautiful in some cases – Tessa’s tiny house pie was a work of art, filled with home grown treasures. The generosity and engagement that has come from all angles in this project has constantly staggered me. Sometimes all we need is to create a space and some time for our actions to catch up with our values and our beliefs. I think this tiny does just that – not just for me but for so many people who have been involved up until this point.

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Earlier in the year, I heard a talk about new year’s resolutions and the benefits of instead practising gratitude for all the things you’ve achieved and experienced in the year gone by. I collected jars from the op shop to make ‘joy jars’ for Christmas – a way to collect memories and moments of joy throughout the year. The jars can then be opened at the end of the year to relive those moments and reflect on all the little things we often forget to savour as the days, then weeks, then months disappear each year. Slow living is so much about enjoying those little moments of bliss and contentedness, the juicy splashes of satisfaction that come from getting back to basics and earning your wins, from having time to connect with nature, friends and family, yourself.

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I must admit, in the lead up there were moments where the days had gotten away from me and I came close to panicking a little. Two days before, I still hadn’t organised anything at all for Tiny Christmas since sending the invites out. Originally, I had grand plans for growing my own contribution or at least finding another waste free way to share ethical food – dumpster diving perhaps? Unfortunately, the plans didn’t quite materialise this year. I did end up shopping for some food and came close to falling in a flap and buying a whole bunch of everything we might need, just to make sure everything was right and everyone happy and the fridge and pantry stocked for the apocalypse ready for when everyone arrived! Cos, well that’s how Christmas works, right?

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With some helpful grounding from the very people I invited to Tiny Christmas, I thankfully managed to avoid the flap. The day before, I literally had nothing suitable for a lunch with fifteen people. The two on-loan camp chairs and my two old camping mugs I’ve been managing with for the past couple of months weren’t quite going to cut the chaff this time around.

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BUT, as I have been lucky enough to discover time and time again, there is always enough stuff in the world and more than enough people willing to share. My parents lent me a table and chairs (and wine glasses and salad bowls and let’s be honest, the list goes on), Sean and Brodie helped dust them off and decorate them with flowers from Mum’s garden. Duncan brought his entire cutlery drawer, Tessa and Jim brought plates and a drinks dispenser, Noel whipped out a garden umbrella when we all started to fry in the sun and everyone brought food and drinks and joy to spare. It was all an incredible, and amazingly stress free, Tiny Christmas Miracle.

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We sat, we chatted, we ate, made new friends and reconnected with old ones. It was just time spent together and it’s all that matters in the end.

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I know sometimes this gratitude and intention stuff sounds corny, but it’s hard to care about sounding cliche when it’s so true for me. There have been many days that I just can’t wipe the smile off my face lately and this was definitely one of them. So, happy Tiny Christmas and new year to you all! Thank you so much to everyone who helped make it happen, I can’t wait to share it with you all again next year.

For now at least though, I hope you fill your joy jars with love and satisfaction, and all the tiny miracles that surround you. You’re all in my jar. xx

Life in between

Another incredible year of adventures, tiny house related and otherwise, done and dusted. It’s amazing to look back and see what snuck in between the building weekends, the research and the progress on the house. Wonderful times with so many wonderful people, here’s to plenty more in 2017!

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Freycinet National Park, Jan 2016

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Sheepyard Flats, Jan 2016

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Mt Bogong, Feb 2016

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Swim training in Melbourne at sunset, April 2016

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Californian Redwood Forest, Warbuton, May 2016

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Rottnest Island, August 2016

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Maleny, September 2016

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Sunset from my tiny bed! October 2016

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Wilsons Prom, November 2016

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Early morning balloons, November 2016

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Pre-triathlon sunrise, December 2016

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Wilsons Prom, December 2016

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Bunyip, December 2016

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Linings: silver and ply

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I used up any leftovers from my outside cladding in the parts that won’t be visible – like here under my stairs and inside my cupboards

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Internal walls are covered

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Insulated

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Look Dad, I cut a hole. Such skillz

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Lining boards – doubling as an excellent picnic table

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The crew hard at work

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A dodgy game of tetris

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Nicole’s impressive attention to detail plugging my dodgy tetris gaps

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James’s pièce de résistance

 

Off grid Part two – Solar

I have put off starting this post, partly because my solar set up still feels like it’s in the early stages, and partly because there’s so much to wrap my head around for this part that it’s hard to know where to start putting it all into words.

When I was first researching my power options I had to go right back to basics, to learn what Watts, Amps and Voltage even meant. I found this tutorial site one day and it is definitely worth a look if you’re in the same boat I was. Step by step explanations for all the basic terms and equations are available. Highly recommend!

240 volt versus 12 volt power

One of the first decision I had to make was about the voltage I would run through my house, 240 volt (standard powerpoint type power) or 12 volt (common in Caravans). 12 volt has some appeal as it usually means less energy consumption, this is advantageous if you’re running off solar and need to minimise your usage.  240 volt power is far more common in houses and makes buying lights and appliances much cheaper and easier.

One thing that took me longer than it should’ve to get was the difference between DC and AC power. DC power stands for direct current  (where the electric current flows in one direction only) and is the form of power produced by batteries. AC stands for alternating current, where the electric current has been modified and the current now reverses directions many times a second. I’m sure there are very important scientific reasons for this happening, none of which I can explain to you. The important thing to understand is that DC means it’s running straight from a battery. AC means it’s running through an inverter. Commonly, 240v like we have in houses is AC power. 12v caravan power is most commonly DC power, as these often run from solar. I just assumed AC meant things were always 240v power and DC was another term for 12 volt. WRONG. Made for a few interesting chats with my electrician and solar guy, before I finally got things sorted in my brain.

Originally, I thought about running a dual system – running my lights on 12v DC from solar and plugging the rest into an extension lead from mains power to run the appliances. In the end I decided to put my money where my values really are and commit to making this little house sustainable in its energy usage. Setting up an off grid solar power system isn’t a small investment and I can’t even say that the financial returns will be worth it in the short term. It would definitely be cheaper to just connect an extension lead to regular power and pay for the small amount of electricity I’d be using. If saving money was my only motivation then that’s probably the way I would’ve done it. But I’m down the rabbit hole now with this experiment in tiny living, it might be the only chance I get to try it properly. It only makes sense to keep going! So, I’m going fully solar. It’s a whole new world, but also pretty exciting.

The solar stuff makes a lot more sense after having chatted to a solar expert. I only wish I’d done it before I’d gotten excited and hired the electrician to come in and do the wiring. There were a few touch and go moments where I was slightly worried that the wiring might’ve had to be redone to suit a solar system, but it’s all worked out in the end. It’s slightly confusing and will have a few quirks, but it’ll work.

Overall, the system looks like this:

  • All power coming from solar panels to the batteries (starting as DC power)
  • All power running from batteries into the house through an inverter (changing all power to 240v AC)
  • 240v AC running to all power points in the house (grey wires in the picture)
  • Wiring branching off this with transformers, stepping all power for lights down from 240v AC down to 12v AC (black wires)

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Advantages to this set up are:

  • Standard 240v power means I can run normal appliances on my power points
  • 12v lighting should be more energy efficient and draw less power from my system than 240v lights
  • 12 volt wiring is approx half the price of the 240 volt wiring meaning it was cheaper to rough in
  • Being off grid means I’ll produce all of the power I’ll consume. I’ll have no electricity bills, independence from blackouts and all the good feels from knowing that my energy consumption is sustainable and not contributing to ongoing damage to our environment.

Disadvantages include:

  • An inverter is needed to change power from DC to AC if you want to use regular appliances and are a pretty standard part of a solar system. But keep in mind that inverters draw power whenever they’re running. My solar guy suggested that these will go into sleep mode when power isn’t being drawn through the system to save energy, but it means even having one thing plugged in overnight (phone charger, for example) will keep the whole system on and churning through power. The inverter can’t really be classed as a ‘disadvantage’ as such, but it’s still an extra element to keep in mind if you’re considering 240v power.
  • Transformers (stepping voltage down from 240v to 12v for my lights) also use a small amount of constant power, even when the lights aren’t on. Even though it’s not much power, this feeds back into the above problem. Having the transformers on will keep the inverter running and will be drawing double the amount of extra power for nothing. The solution for this is a mains/manual switch to turn off the transformers before bed or when leaving the house for the day. Here’s hoping the mains switch will be within reach of my bed, otherwise I’ll be climbing up to conveniently turn my loft lights off from bed before climbing back down to put the whole house to bed. (Quirk).
  • 12 volt lighting requires 12 volt light fittings. Unless you’re looking for ugly bulky caravan lights (sorry caravans) these aren’t so easy to come by. Would definitely be easier to source nice 240 volt fittings.

If I had my time again, I would take the extra cost of the 12 volt wiring and the extra energy consumption to have the whole thing wired up for 240 volts. This would simplify things and probably would work out to be the same cost once I factor in the transformers that all of my lights will now need. Lots to consider in these systems but I appreciate the way it forces you to be more conscious of your consumption and quite intentional in what you use. Definitely fits into the tiny living ethos!

More details to come on batteries and estimating the size of your set up.

Go hug your toilet

Warning: this post will probably be full of overshares, feel free to back out now.

Most mornings I’ll wake up ready for the loo. After a solid night spend sleeping, who isn’t? There have been a couple of early mornings and late nights that I’ve been camping out in the tiny and have had to visit the bushes for a quick wee. Which I don’t really have a problem with, actually (except when the mozzies have just woken up). But I’ve been hanging out for my whizz bang compost toilet pretty much since the get go and it finally felt like I had enough of a bathroom (albeit without a door) to justify the purchase.

As fate would have it, the day I had organised to pick up my toilet happened to be…you guessed, it: World Toilet Day! With friends working in water sanitation and hygiene I often have fascinating conversations about toilets, menstrual hygiene, water usage, etc. and on this fortuitous occasion I was advised to make sure I gave my new friend a nice big SQUEEZE!

Thanks toilet, just for being you!

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On a more serious note, having access to clean water and hygienic places to toilet is a big deal and one more thing that most of us take for granted. Today, 2.4 billion people are struggling to stay well, keep their children alive and work their way to a better future – all for the want of a toilet (worldtoiletday.info). Without safe ways to dispose of waste, drinking water often becomes contaminated (if there is any) and there’s usually not enough to spare for washing hands either. Doesn’t it seem silly that a huge portion of the world doesn’t have clean water to drink and we’re busy POOING in ours?? Doesn’t make much sense to me.

Ok, so. Back to the topic. Toilets! More specifically, how do compost toilets work, I hear you ask? Let’s break it down. There are a few different types of compost toilets available, the most practical tiny house option I found is a waterless, self-contained unit with a urine diverter. That means no flush, no water at all. This also means no plumbing and no thinking, for once. Woohoo!

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Liquids:
Urine contains high levels of nitrogen (great for most plants) and is in most cases sterile. Why WOULDN’T you put it on your garden? These self contained units direct all the liquids from the toilet bowl towards the front and down into a big pee bottle basically. You can detach the bottle fairly easily, take it outside and dispose of it. This means either tipping it into a normal toilet (although that defeats a lot of the purpose in my opinion. I think sometimes people do this if they’re using the toilets purely for logistically purposes, like if they’re out on a boat), pour it into an existing septic system (these often filter out into a garden somewhere anyway) or dilute it and put it straight on the garden. One part pee to eight parts water is apparently the magic recipe for garden use.

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Solids:
Much like any compost pile in your veggie garden, it seems an important part of the process is to balance out the nitrogen and carbon levels. Before the toilet is used for poo, you put in a base layer of peat moss to ensure there’s plenty of carbon rich material for the composting organisms to consume. This system came with the enzymes to add in to kickstart the process – much like a sourdough starter really! A lot of drop toilets that don’t separate the liquids and solids will require extra carbon to be added in to balance out the wee – hence the handful of sawdust that goes down when you’re done. Not required for these ones.

ah-1There also has to be enough oxygen for the grubs to do their job, so a ventilation fan keeps the tank well aerated and also dries out any sneaky liquids that may get in. Rather than a flush, there’s a handle on the side that lets you give the system a crank each time you go, turning everything over and improving the composting process. There are also big patty-pan-esque bowl liners to keep your bowl clean(ish) and to reduce contamination of the liquids with any dangerous poo pathogens. These sit on a little trap door that opens to deliver the goods down into the tank, before closing again to keep out any bad bugs or smells.

According to the manufacturers, the solids tank can hold up to 80 uses before it needs emptying. This will depending on your personal habits and how many people are using the toilet, obviously. This guy (Art Cormier, tiny houser extraordinaire) says he’s had his for 8 months in this video and still hasn’t emptied it! The system breaks everything down even as you use it.

Keeping the two separate also seems to be the key for making sure it doesn’t smell – I can’t testify to this just yet but people swear they don’t smell! Even less than a normal toilet, they say. I’ll report back to you when I’ve got mine fully set up and functional. Once the solids tank is full and needs emptying, you put it out to finish composting in a compost bin in the garden. It’s supposed to sit for another 12 months once it’s out there, to be sure all the harmful pathogens have been cooked off and broken down. Then you basically have dirt, ready to use in the garden! Genius. So simple. And no waste!

Models:
The two comparable options I found were the Nature’s Head (shown in the video) and the Airhead toilets. Both come from America and use a very similar design, with a few small differences. After speaking to the pros over at A Better Way to Go in Richmond who stock the toilets and some other tiny house friends, I was sold on the Airhead model.

The ins and outs of the whole set up are explained in far more detail in the Humanure Handbook, an excellent resource and general read for everyone. It’s fascinating stuff, I promise. There are so many taboos topics out there that make it hard for people to talk about important stuff like toilet hygiene. Although I don’t necessarily suggest you start using your own personal toilet habits as an ice breaker in conversations, it’s never too soon to get ready for next World Toilet Day.

Feel free to take my friend Steph’s advice and give yours a little hug too, if the moment is right.