Efficient refrigerator and freezer for tiny house

14 Sep

I’m going to use a top-opening chest freezer and a chest refrigerator in my tiny house. When you open a top-opening fridge or freezer, the cold air stays inside since cold air is heavier than room temperature air.  When you open a normal front-opening fridge or freezer, the cold air quickly spills out, so the unit must power up and cool itself down much more often than a top-opening unit. I’m going to put countertops on top of them and mount them in my kitchen cabinets.

SunDanzer supposedly make some really nice top-opening chest fridges and chest freezers. They even make some units especially designed to work with solar power. Those units are designed to stay cold overnight (up to a week in some cases!) on their own, when there’s no sunlight to power your PV panels. And they are set up to run directly off solar PV panels, or on 12V or 24V DC power, so you can run them without throwing away 10% of your sun-generated electricity to an inverter.

SunDanzer makes two basic sizes and the amount of size inside (5.8 cubic feet for the small one) totally blows away the miniscule amount of space in an under-counter dorm fridge (about 1.2- 1.9 cubic feet that’s not very usable since there’s not enough height for tall bottles, and the freezer intrudes on the fridge space).

Another reason dorm fridges suck when placed under a counter is that this forces you to bend way down or squat down for access. That’s even harder to do in a small kitchen like in most Tumbleweed houses. This link takes you to a portion of a video showing this:

Most people (myself included, until now) are unaware of small and medium sized chest fridges and think that the only alternative to a stand-up fridge is a dorm fridge.  I hope I can spread the word about chest fridges as a terrific option!

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Toilet and plumbing stuff

10 Sep

Today I scored a free, new, never used sump tank and pump for septic systems.

I’d like to go with either a nice composting toilet or a nice incinerating toilet, but I’m not going to spend a big chunk of money without doing all my research first. I’ll need something in the interim so I’ll start with a conventional toilet while I do my research and make a decision on which “green” toilet to get.

But how to get the waste water from the flushed toilet to my septic tank? That’s where this sump tank and pump come in.

With a sump pump sewage system, the waste water leaves the toilet and passes through a grinder pump that breaks up all the waste from the house into smaller pieces (so it doesn’t damage the sump pump, and so the waste can be broken down by the bacteria in the septic tank). The waste water then enters the sump tank, which is buried in the ground.

When the sump tank fills up enough, a sump pump inside the tank turns on, and pumps the waste water through a buried pipe running across the yard to the septic tank.

The tank didn’t come with a grinder pump, but I already own the solution: An InSinkerator! Yep, a garbage disposal unit. I got one a while back off Freecycle thinking it might come in handy for just such a use. In fact I saw a guy use one for this same purpose, to drain his RV wastewater tank:

Yard beautification

9 Sep

Today I scored a free faux rock fountain, and while I was driving away I spotted a nice porcelain sink set out next to someone’s garbage cans, so I picked that up too. It’s the wrong size for my tiny house, but I’ll keep it out of the landfill by donating it to ReStore where someone can purchase and make use of it.

The rock fountain is to beautify my backyard a bit. It’s a fairly large yard but it’s along one side it’s bordered by one of those tall, tan cinder block walls. There are a few small trees growing alongside the wall but definitely not enough to de-ugly it. I set up the fountain against the wall near where the tiny house will go, and I’ll plant some kind of climbing vines to cover the wall there.

My friend Jeff is a Hollywood special effects guy  – a hands-on guy, not digital effects – who has probably made every realistic animatronic animal you’ve ever seen on TV or in the movies. The badgers in the Honda commercial, the impaled ox in True Blood, the bird thing in Robin Williams’ What Dreams May Come, etc… all him. Anyway he is also incredible at faux architectural finishes so I’ll get his input on how to make the fountain look even more like real rock.

Cabinets for tiny house

1 Sep

Heather the professional organizer and all around lovely person from my preceding post, has also introduced me to a client of hers who had two kitchen cabinets available.   I picked them up this evening and luckily they will match my little house’s kitchen just fine. Thanks, Heather (and thanks for the cabinets, Angela!)!

Skylights and a fortuitous meeting

30 Aug

Via Freecycle I picked up some lumber and two skylights from some folks, Heather and Jason. Heather is a professional organizer so we had a good chat about reducing clutter and getting rid of stuff you don’t use but have a hard time letting go of. That can be a tough one. She pointed out that an organizer’s job is not to judge what you should keep and what you should get rid of, rather to help you consider your stuff from a different perspective (such as, “Do I really want or need this?”). She has a very no-nonsense air about her that I would definitely want around if I were looking for an organizer or just someone to help with cleaning out the garage or what have you. It was obvious from the outside and interior of their home that she also has impeccable taste, and can really declutter, reorganize, and re-beautify a room, not just help get rid of stuff. Check out the before-and-afters on her site. If you are near the 805 or 818 area code and want some help decluttering or just setting up a room, in my opinion you can’t miss. And, no, she didn’t ask me to say any of that! 🙂

They had a bunch of extra building and storage materials from their home remodel and from her clients; Heather mentioned that, like me, they donate anything they can to people on Freecycle.org or to Habitat ReStore rather than sending it to the dump. Since I live about 20 minutes closer to the local ReStore than they do, I offered to deliver their donations along with my next batch.

When I explained I was looking for reclaimed materials to build a little house, Heather introduced me to her neighbor, who handed me her cell phone: It was her sister Claudia, who owns a local doors and windows company. Claudia was surprised I would want used windows or doors, and happy that I would pick them up to save her crew from taking them to the dump. I believe that counts as a win/win/win. Thanks, Heather!

I am curious to find out just how many windows Claudia’s company replaces in a month, and whether I can help set up some way to keep them out of the landfill on an ongoing basis. I’m reminded of the words of Dan Phillips of Phoenix Commotion, a truly amazing person. You have got to watch some of the videos on Dan and the houses he builds, or check out the New York Times article, including the slideshow. In this video Dan remarked that without his program to build houses from materials that would normally have been sent to the landfill,

“A town this size would otherwise be discarding usable building materials that would build a small-scale house once a week… We’re burying a small-scale house once a week! Well, that’s crazy, when we have these families that would do ANYthing to own a house.”

Dan is referring to Huntsville, TX, population 38,040. It’s a bit of an isolated town in that it doesn’t run right into four other towns around it. Ventura County (where I live) has little separation between towns or cities. It has a population of almost 800,000: twenty-one times larger than Huntsville, so we’re probably throwing away about three houses’ worth of materials every day.

Doing my project with salvaged and reclaimed materials has introduced me to so many cool people I’d never have gotten the chance to meet if I just bought everything new.

Almost everybody who finds out about my project is happy to help. Nobody has given me a weird look for using free and salvaged items. Instead they immediately start thinking of other things to donate, or people they could introduce me to who may have something that could benefit me. It’s a really unexpected bonus and it’s making this fun.

Tiny sun house floorplan

23 Aug

When I began the project I listed my criteria for my tiny house:

  • a bathtub, not just a shower
  • a sink in the bathroom
  • a walk-in closet or changing room for getting dressed in privacy and for easy access to stored clothing
  • a house wide enough that six or more people could sit in the great room around a dinner table
  • at least two private areas (rooms or lofts)
  • can sleep two couples comfortably full time with room for a third couple to sleep over
  • no need to stoop over to access a dorm room fridge beneath a counter
  • a large freezer and a large refrigerator
  • a convection oven and a microwave oven
  • two cooktop burners
  • higher water pressure than a basic gravity system
  • house can operate off-grid for at least 1 month without refueling in case electrical, water, and/or gas hookups are not available
  • windows in every room

I put perhaps five 40-hour weeks into researching and developing the layout, house design, and exact size (and in some cases, brand and model number) of just about everything that will go into the house: Which toilet, which water heater, fridge, cabinets, sofa, sinks, burners, tub, flooring, counter height, windows, etc.

Using wooden doors, big sheets of cardboard, and a measuring tape I mocked up and tested various room combinations to see what dimensions worked and what didn’t.

I sat in my bathtub to see the mininum and maximum height the bathroom window should be in my tiny house.

I arranged chairs around a small table in my kitchen and set the table with plates and serving dishes to see how various layouts worked in real life – how much room each person would need while still leaving room for shared dishes, etc.

I mocked up a sleeping loft and had my daughter test it out to see how it worked for sitting, playing, and curling up (she gets to make the decisions regarding her loft, and loves it).

As a result, I have met all my criteria in a house that’s the same size as a Tumbleweed. I hope my design, ideas, and my tiny house can help inspire others who are interested in small living but don’t want to decrease convenience from their current level.

I’ll clean up the floorplan so others can understand it, and post it here shortly!

Bamboo flooring for tiny sun house

7 Aug

My amazingly talented friend Calethia Deconto is moving again, and getting rid of most of her things. She said the fewer things she has, the more free she feels. “Having too much stuff is unhealthy. I think going too far with minimalism isn’t healthy either, but I look at this stuff and if I haven’t used it by now, let someone else have it, if they’re going to do something with it. I don’t need it.”


She gave me 50 square feet of brand new bamboo flooring she found by the side of the road in Sunland, CA. It was exactly the kind I planned to buy if I couldn’t find any!

I’m going with a light color flooring (and walls, ceilings, and cabinets) because it will make the house bright and cheery, and seem larger inside, instead of a little dark cave. Some friends of mine just installed very beautiful and very dark cabinets and hardwood floors in their house — the room’s feeling went from cheery to somber.  My house needs to feel like a bright sunny day.

She also gave me the top from a desk. The wood is beautiful and exactly what I hoped for; it looks like cherry or something. And it’s exactly the right width and length I need: 2’x5′.

I’m going to cut it and turn it into a leaf table. At 4′ long with no leaf it will be the computer desk and have room for two people and two computers side by side.

With the leaf, at 5′ long it will be the dinner table and seat 6 people.

I’m amazed this and the flooring were exactly what I wanted.

She also gave me a slice of tree trunk; apparently you can get them at Michael’s Crafts (although I can’t find it on the Michaels.com website). I’m going to cut it in half and make two semi-circle shelves out of it; I want the house to feel a bit like a cabin in the woods.

Speaking of woodsy, she also gave me a small pair of deer antlers. I’ll either use them for some kind of coat rack, or for something else, like a wall sconce for a light.

This was a great day for the little house.