Tiny House Electrical – You Conduit!

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The bathroom wall with its electrical and plumbing mostly done.

Electrical was a bit more complicated than plumbing. For one, we had to determine ALL the fixtures we’d be using, where exactly they would be going, how much power they would draw, etc. Lighting the great room turned out to be the most difficult. Like we’ve mentioned in earlier posts, we are looking for low impact, and off-grid ready appliances, so we shopped around for LED lights. Drew’s parents had a large collection of left-over light fixtures from their kitchen and bath business that we were free to choose from. These came in handy on several occasions.

We thought about having recessed can lights like traditional homes, but decided against it once we realized that the recessed part of the light almost always required a 6” deep ceiling stud, which we simply did not have room for in our 2×4 roof. We found a large box of task lights in Drew’s parents’ shop that we initially thought would be perfect for the great room. Drew rigged up a few lights and hung them up on the ceiling. For 12v lights, they lit the room up like they were 60 watts bulbs! They looked great in the space, but they seemed to heat up rather quickly, which we thought was odd for LED lights until we realized they were xenon lights. Oh well…

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Our attempt with can lights.

Then we saw a design online where a tiny home used LED strips along the tops of the walls on either side of the great room. It lit the room up with the beautiful looking glow of reflected indirect light. Perfect! We definitely want to use LED because it uses less energy and produces less heat.

We chose a  very small ceiling fan (that hopefully won’t hit our walls when it spins), two wall sconces for the dormer walls, one sconce for over the half circle window, a set of decorative track lights for the nook, two kitchen lights, and a sconce for the bathroom. Plus, we bought an outdoor light for the front door as well. We lucked out with the track lights because a builder Drew ran into had some extra lighting he didn’t need, so he gave it to us. (Thanks again!)

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Our new porch light! Note, the white paint line on the half circle window above is from when Sierra attempted to paint the shakes surrounding the window, and the bees living in the eaves decided that wasn’t the best idea.

We decided to run our house on 120 volts AC because this was the most common, most easily managed type of electrical setup we could create for ourselves. Simply put, more, better, and cheaper appliances are available when you use a traditional electrical load. This means you have more choices for energy saving appliances once you start looking for them. Since we had a tight space for our kitchen, we decided to splurge on an under-counter refrigerator that was much larger than your usual dorm fridge.

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Electric setup for the nook. The wire will be hidden by a trim piece we’ll be installing later.

It should be mentioned that there are some great and ingenious food cooling solutions for totally off-the grid homes. We’ve seen propane powered fridges, flexible power fridges that can take 110v AC and 12v DC. There was even a time we were convinced we were going to convert an old chest freezer into a super-efficient refrigerator that used less than $12 worth of power in an entire year. (Thank you Internet.) However, in the end, we decided we could afford a larger, foodie-friendly fridge at the cost of an extra solar battery or two once we made the switch.

Speaking of solar, we are looking into using a portable all-in-one solar station called the SolMan. It is a box that contains all of the batteries, solar panels, and related equipment needed to charge a few computers and run a few small appliances off the grid. It can be upgraded with more battery storage or solar panels and all you need to hook your house up to it is an extension cord! There is absolutely no need to install those puppies on your roof and clench your stomach (and your wallet) every time you drive your house under an exceptionally low-looking overpass.

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Lightswitch for the nook light. Since we have so many boxes we took to labeling the wires for clarity.

Because we were mentally exhausted from all the plumbing research, and we were both busy with jobs and life, we decided to play it safe and hire an electrician for this part. Because Drew’s parents work in the construction business, they knew a contractor that could help. And that’s how we met Tom.

Actually, that’s a bit misleading. I (Sierra) have never actually met Tom. For all I know, Tom doesn’t exist and never has existed. Due to busy work scheduling on my end, Drew is the only one who ever actually interacted with him. Ever. Drew also tends have uncanny knack for understanding technical stuff, so as far as I know Drew made Tom up and did all the electrical himself. It’s become a running joke with us.

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Drew’s electrical design

So Drew met with Tom and showed him a diagram he’d mapped out of our electrical system. Tom then gave us some wire to get started (thanks Tom!) and taught Drew how to install it.

Then he left Drew and I to install our electrical boxes and the wires leading to them. It was actually pretty easy. It also made everything overall easier for us since we knew the plan backwards and forwards and we didn’t have to explain our incredibly complicated and amateur electrical plan to a professional who had other things to worry about.

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The red and black wires are for the LED strip lighting. The white wire leads to the loft. The silver metal pieces are the wire guards.

Then we (meaning Drew) called up Tom and met with him to look over our work. From there, Tom installed our electrical box and “did all the complicated stuff” of building a circuit box, installing all of the breakers, wiring the supply line to the box and explaining 3-way switches to Drew.  Then Drew and I finished up the rough wiring by installing some junction boxes. We also went through the house and installed these metal wiring plates that get installed directly over a wire or a pipe so it will be impossible for us to drill into a live wire. Ouch!

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We set it up so we can turn on/off the loft lights from downstairs, as well as from upstairs, for convenience.

And that was it! Working with Tom (I guess indirectly on my part, haha) was fantastic! It was nice for something to go smoothly for once. Honestly, this was way easier than either of us had expected for having hired a professional. We were thinking we would have to explain the whole project to Tom and then watch over his shoulder to make sure he was installing it the way we needed it. Nope! No such troubles. Tom, just as calm as you please, explained how to wire an outlet, how to wire a switch, and how to put together an electrical system in the simplest way he could, and then left us to install our plan the way we wanted. It was a great arrangement for everyone.

Now we’re working on the walls. We’ll dedicate a whole post to that coming up. Stay tuned..

Plumbing, Electrical, Paint – An Amalgam of Half-Completed Updates

So it’s been a while since we last posted… It’s mainly because we’ve been waiting to have something tangible to post about, like, you know, plumbing. In fact, we hope to have an entire post dedicated to the subject. But building the house hasn’t been a very linear endeavor lately. It turns out a lot of things co-depend on one another, which is one reason we had to finish the floor before we could install plumbing. Plus we haven’t actually been able to completely finish anything. So let me delve into the amalgam of our work over the past month.

PLUMBING/BARREL

For one, our beautiful bathtub barrel is not functioning properly.
Exibibit A:
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Yeah.. So even with the support cord (tension band) around the top of the barrel, the staves still warped unevenly so they were no longer water-tight. The wood is supposed to swell when filled with water. We filled the barrel multiple times and each time the water would stream out the sides. Over time it would hold more and more water, which was great! For a little while.. But then as it dried out it would start leaking again and would never fully fill to the top. We could hardly keep it full with a garden hose constantly filling it up (as you would imagine this incidentally makes an awful bathtub).
So we had to rethink things – which meant we were back to square one on choosing a bathtub. (Sorry Holly…)
I cannot recount the number of hours we’ve spent researching bathtubs. It really is ridiculous. First, we went through our options as to what kinds of tubs to consider. Acrylic and fiberglass are the most common options, but we’re trying to make them an absolute last resort because they typically off-gas all kinds of stuff soon after being installed. Porcelain is nice and clean, but really heavy, and typically way too big. Galvanized steel horse troughs were one of our first ideas, but after reading about zinc over-exposure, we didn’t like the idea of bathing in them. Cast iron is nice, but again, that’s a heavy bathtub.
 
 So we settled on stainless steel. We knew we wanted a tub – we’ll be doing laundry in it for one thing – and the space allows for a max of 32″x32″ tub. We were hoping for around 20″ in height.
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This is how much water was left after being filled to the top and leaking to its heart’s content.
So we searched.. and searched and searched and searched. We searched through tubs, sinks, utility sinks, and even got creative looking for mop sinks and stainless steel barrels. Anything we did find remotely in that size was around $3,000, which needless to say is way out of our budget.
I know you’re waiting for a “so we settled on this” statement, but alas, we are still searching! BUT we have made progress! We’ve contacted a local welder and are waiting for a quote back. If we can, we may just get a stainless steel box with a hole in it. No fancy curves, nothing, just health(ier) material with a drainage hole. At this point that would be a gift. We’re really tired of searching.
As for our other plumbing endeavors, I won’t go too into detail as to our material selection, but I will say that we’ve installed the majority of our plumbing! It’s been a lot of waiting to get things in the mail, finding a tub, etc. that’s been a challenge.
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The beginnings of our pex plumbing for the sink and shower.

ELECTRICAL

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We tried some button lights for the great room, but decided against them because they heated up rather quickly.
On the side we’ve ALSO been focusing on electric, since that’s next after plumbing. I found some really great articles on Houzz about lighting design. I’ve been spending hours reading through them, trying to get a crash course in lighting design. What’s weird is that while online you’ll occasionally find info on how to install tiny house electrical, you rarely see articles on what lights to install or what kind of layouts work best! I initially thought that was because tiny houses are so unique to their owners, but after reading so many great general lighting tips I thought it would be helpful for someone to apply it to tiny houses as well. It definitely would have made our search easier! Also, other tiny house bloggers don’t seem to post much on lighting decisions either. It’s weird that no one seems to talk about lighting, yet composting toilets are all the rage on blogs and forums.
I (again) hope to go more in depth on tiny house lighting and why/what we chose, but for now I will say we have two task lights in our kitchen (one over the sink and the other over the stove area), a set of three lights in the nook, 2 sconces in the bathroom, 2 sconces in the sleeping loft, a small one in the storage loft above our half circle window, and LED strips along the sides of our living room. We’ve also selected a 34″ fan for our ceiling. We’re going to need it to help cool off things. (Also, Drew has found some really cool DIY air conditioning ideas we hope to try in the future. Hopefully more on that in a (very) future post.) So after drawing up an electrical plan our next step is to hire an electrician. We decided not to do it ourselves, mainly for safety. But we do want to be there when s/he installs it so we see how it’s all put together.

PAINT

Next topic? Paint. Yes, because linseed oil is not the greatest, our siding was not doing so well due to weathering. So as much as we liked the natural look, we decided to paint it to  preserve the wood better. This decision sprouted a whole lot of research. We had to find safe paint (we settled on ECOS brand), BUT we also had to find a primer that would bind with an linseed oil finish, but allow for water based paint to sit on top (thank you orange store). The primer we chose still contained VOCs, but was better than some of the other brands we found. Also, ECOS paints are VOC-free, which is awesome.
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Our house with most of a coat of primer.
I must say that it almost took us as long to pick out the paint as it did to find a stainless steel tub. We photoshopped a picture of our house with different colors to see what worked best. Then we began the arduous task of painting. Between the shakes, eaves, and cheek walls alone there are hundreds of difficult nooks and crannies to access. Plus it’s the middle of summer, which is essentially monsoon season here (remember how difficult building the actual structure was last year? At least we have a watertight structure now!) so working around the storms has been challenging. I should also mention that both Drew and I have multiple part time jobs right now (Drew was up to 4 at one point), so finding time that we’re both free has been an acrobatic act on its own. So we hired a painter.
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Ta-da! We still have some work to do (especially in the front eaves).
Everything was going well with our painter (thanks Jerry!). That is until he discovered that we had a wasp problem.
Yes, wasps had moved into our eaves. And not just one nest, but spread out all around the house in different areas. So Jerry was able to paint the majority of the house, but the bees stopped him from getting the difficult areas.
So Drew and I became the wasp patrol. For our first few attempts we used a garden hose. We were able to get the nests down, woohoo! Then Jerry came to paint the next day and said that the wasps were still hanging out around where the nests used to be. Figures. So we went for a round two of water blasting. That worked a little bit. Jerry had to go work on another job, so Drew and I set to painting. Which was great until I got stung.
So now we were stuck with a painting job that had to work around both our schedules and the rain, and now the bees. And our painter had another job he had to work on that involved rented scaffolding. Great.
And that’s where we are now. They keep rebuilding. We know they’ll wind down toward the end of summer, but we’re not sure how long that will take. We’re hoping Jerry might be able to come back and help, but we’d need to get rid of the bees first. We really don’t want to use pesticides.
Also you know what’s weird? They don’t like the cedar wood siding, but they do like the little bit of roofing plywood that’s exposed under the eaves. That, and any nails that are sticking through – they build their nests suspended on those. Hey, whatever works, I guess.
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At this point no white paint had been added, and we were still working on green and blue.
So as you can see, everything is kind of half finished. But at least there is progress happening on all fronts, albeit slowly. I do hope we’ll be able to give more in-depth entries on these topics. If you have any questions (or ideas on where to find/make a stainless steel tub), feel free to leave us a comment below or write us on our contact us page. We’re happy to help.
Onward!