The decision to go off grid was a pretty quick one for us, really. We had been living in our tiny home for about a year and a half, nice and cozy, hooked up to power, septic, and water when our friends offered us space on their remote property in the mountains. Being that it is a large plot of land and their cabin is at the top of the property with all of their amenities, we were going to have to do some serious work(or shell out some serious moolah) to make a livable space for our tiny home on wheels down their hill. Excited at the opportunity to settle down, start living more harmoniously with Mother Earth, and to share land with one of the coolest families we know, it was a quick "hell yea!"
Now, the fun part...how in the world are we doing to pull this off?!
Before we met, Kyle and I had both been independently researching off-grid, tiny living. We both knew eventually the goal was to live as much in unison with nature as possible, minimize our footprint on the earth, and limit our reliance on the "system". So, luckily, making this happen wasn't going to be impossible for us. We both have a "those that do, get things done!" type attitude.
The thought of having the opportunity to actually put our plans in motion, was exhilarating and, honestly, a little intimidating. Are we actually going to move to the middle of the woods on totally raw acreage?!
We threw together a quick list of our needs to survive, and thrive, off grid in a tiny home on wheels. Here's what we came up with:
- Flat parking spot for our home
- Septic(or alternative)
- Outbuilding's for
- Apothecary/Music studio
- Workshop space
I will eventually highlight how we accomplished each of these things in way more detail, but for now let's talk about how we planned to get all of these things to this raw land in the most affordable way possible.
Flat Landing Spot.
First things first. Where are we going to park a 31' tiny home on wheels on this property?! It's totally bare land. We are going to need a tractor!
So, we rented one! We (and by we, I mean Kyle) did some tractor-ing and cleared out a bunch of space and a driveway-ish type path. It is pretty steep and will get muddy and slippery in the winter, so we had road base gravel delivered from the local aggregate company. We will need about 5 more loads to do the whole driveway, so that will happen eventually.
After the tractor work, there was a long flat-ish space on the property that we planned to park the trailer. We dug our plumbing line to feed down the hill to that space. I will elaborate in another post, but basically we were not able to tow our home to where we planned and it ended up in a completely different spot. Because of how hilly and rural the property is, and because the tow company didn't use a 4WD tow truck, we are just thankful it is on the property at all and in one piece. It was a very precarious drive and almost didn't make it.
One of the biggest lessons we have learned so far through this process: you must be flexible and roll with the punches if you're going to make the move off grid. Not too many things go as planned and if you're not patient and flexible, you'll lose your mind! I will admit, we had some bummed out, frustrated moments, but we chose to see each new obstacle as a challenge and as a puzzle that needed to be sorted out and solved. This helped us keep our composure and spirits high.
The trailer is parked on a hill. You can't live in a home that isn't level. Luckily Kyle's parents are only 20 minutes away and are the best people ever, we stayed in their granny unit for a month while we got our home level and new water line set up.
The well up the hill that is already on the parcel, isn't the best producing well so it wasn't ever an option to use it for our needs. Drilling a new well closer to where we are living, would cost somewhere between $30/ft-$65/ft, and we have about 650' to get down to an aquafer, so we are looking at around $26,000. That option was a quick no. Apparently, water delivery is a thing and even though we are pretty far off the beaten path, there were a few delivery services in our area willing to travel to us!
Initially, we heavily underestimated how much water we would need, so we stocked up on some used 275 gallon water totes in metal crates. Bad call. We were naïve and didn't bother to ask if they were clean. To no avail, we tried to clean the "water treatment" goo from the tanks. A few short days later, we sold the tanks to people who didn't care about the goo.
We then decided to shop around for a larger water tank. In the middle of the summer, and during a pandemic shortage, the potable water tanks were few and far between. Finally! We called the right people over at Ferguson Plumbing and they got us a killer deal on a new 2600 gallon potable water tank. A couple weeks later, ours was in stock, so we rented a trailer and picked it up!
When we had the tractor, we leveled out a space at the top of the property near the road, so it would be in a convenient spot for water delivery and so gravity could do it's thang. We then threw down some pea gravel, and rolled the huge water tank into place, dug a water line trench, hooked up some PVC, got water delivered and are now happy as clams with clean running water!
Because we parked in a different spot on the property, closer to the top of the driveway, we had to get a solar powered pump set up ASAP. There isn't enough of a slope from the water to the tiny home for us to use a gravity situation. No worries though...for about $250, we were able to piece together a totally reliable solar panel, battery, pump situation.
A more detailed explanation of our water setup will happen soon, don't worry!
While it would've been neat to figure out and build a free-energy-generator, and because PG&E would've charged around $35,000 to wire us up to their lines, we had to settle on a super awesome solar setup.
Over the last couple years, in an attempt to prevent wildfires, PG&E has shut power off for millions of residents across the state, leaving many in very vulnerable predicaments. We sometimes didn't know when the power would be shut off, and sometimes it would be off for 5 days! As you can imagine this was inconvenient, to say the least. We quickly purchased a gas powered generator that has not failed us yet! ((This is the Westinghouse generator we have)) It felt great to be a little bit more in control of our power but still wasn't the most ideal situation for long term living. It's been so useful in our transition while setting up our solar, too. Our power lines, now, are underground and won't ever be a threat during fire season.
Kyle did a ton of research on solar arrays and how to create enough power for our family of 4 and our workshop needs, since both of us work from home. We now have 5 solar panels, a charge controller, 250ft heavy duty wire, and a whole bunch of lithium-iron phosphate batteries.
This has been a very interesting component because it's forced us all, including the kids, to have an extra awareness of what sorts of electronics we use throughout the day to help us conserve our energy usage. We will have a total potential backup of 14.5 kWh per day. Considering that the average household in the US uses about 30 kWh per day, and that the amount available to us will be way more than enough, I feel glad for making the necessary changes to our lifestyle so we don't need to use an excess amount of energy to live comfortably.
Some power cutbacks we've made include installing a mini wood burning stove so we never need to use our outdated central heating, changing all lightbulbs to LED, replacing refrigerator with one that is more energy efficient, and utilizing our propane powered stove.
We are officially totally hooked up. At this moment, our 16 batteries are currently in their electrical house being charged by the sun.
Our bathroom in the tiny home was still needing a giant facelift, and we knew that we wanted to eliminate the need for a septic tank, so we had some research to do.
At some point in the last two years, mama got fed up with the shower in our tiny home. It was way too small, the pressure was wonky, and my poor tall Kyle had to duck down while using it. So, we stopped using it and built an outdoor shower.
Now, we had to transform the bathroom so we didn't produce any blackwater. Blackwater is pretty much the toilet water, or any liquid that could contain pathogens or fecal matter. Kyle started reading about compost toilets. THIS was our solution. Apparently, if you are composting correctly, you can compost just about anything.
Before we made the move to our new property, we had to turn our gross trailer toilet room into a beautiful, tiny-home worthy, compost toilet. We used some beautiful redwood and cedar slabs to create a much bigger feeling toilet room. We chose not to rip out the shower pan so we could build around that and keep our toilet bucket in there. It made the construction part much easier. We did not buy a fancy "composting toilet" because, well, they are way too expensive and seemed way more complicated than it needed to be. Seriously, all it takes is a 5 gallon bucket, a toilet seat, and some cover material (like sawdust, leaves, peat moss, or coffee hulls) to make your own compost toilet situation!
Since we had water hookups in the bathroom already, we stepped it up a notch with a sweet bidet toilet seat. Even though the toilet paper is composted too, using less is better for the Earth, and the bidet makes for a cleaner bum! Highly suggest adding a bidet to any toilet! We are loving our new toilet room...and don't mind the composting aspect of it, at all!
Now, we don't have any black water waste, so what shall we do with our gray water? Let's recycle it and use it to water our garden.
So, in short, we need to filter all of the water that is used in the home, and in the shower and store it to be used later. Again, a lot of research happened until we came up with a plan. Here is the quick version of the story...
We placed a worm box under our gray water outlet which then feeds to a trough filled with lava rock and reed plants. The worm box consists of a few layers: lava rock, play sand, straw, compost/worms, and more straw. The worms digest the food scraps and oils that come from your sinks and turn it into compost. Eventually, you will get worm castings to use in your garden! We use castile soap in all sinks and in the shower. Castile soap is biodegradable, won't kill the worms, and won't harm your plants.
After the water has run through the worm box it slowly drains to the first lava rock trough. We have two partitions in the trough(so the water flows slowly through all of the lava), lots of lava rock, and snake grass. The water then flows to the second trough and eventually into some holding tanks. The water is now ready to reuse for our garden!
Those are the main biggies we needed to set up! Phew!
We are still figuring out our Wi-Fi setup, but for now we can hotspot from our phones and it's been working pretty efficiently! We have a Starlink Wi-Fi satellite on preorder, but aren't sure when that will actually happen, so we are looking into other options.
We set up, what we call, the garage tent. Its a heavy duty, 20' hoop-style tent and works great as a storage area while we continue to develop the property. Because of the hilly nature of the property, we had to build a deck on a slope. All lumber used was milled by Kyle on this property from fallen pine trees. Pretty neat!
The next big project will be to build a music studio/apothecary for our work needs. We have an earthen foundation prepped and ready to build on. Our plan was to use some specially created hardware to build a geodesic dome. We ordered the dome hardware back in June and sadly never received the product. We have several other projects to finish before this building gets built, so we are discussing other plans for this step.
Last but certainly not least, and actually ranking pretty high on our priority list, is a workshop area for all the tools and magic to happen. We have another hoop house tent that needs a deck and then we will be good to go. Sadly, in the wet months of the year, it's not super easy to work outside so we need to get this done soon!
How are we doing now?!
Wow! So after 7 months of planning, prepping, clearing, building, moving, and living, we are SO glad to be living in our tiny home on this new property. We spent the night many times so we could maximize our work day. It was a 1.5 hour drive each time we had to travel to our new property to get work done. We quickly purchased a more full time tent and have loved the glamping feel during the summer months of building. Bell tent for the win! Now it serves as the kids lego room and will eventually be a guest tent.
Every day there is something to do so we are definitely keeping busy. Kids are homeschooling like champs and Kyle kicks butt taking care of the property! We have lots more to do and are learning so much along the way. We will be back soon with more posts!
Thanks so much for taking the time to read about what we've been up to! Love to you all! ♡ ♡