Electrical, Plumbing and Insulation

It feels like it’s been ages since I’ve put up a post. Oh, wait. It has. Just about a year to be exact. It’s now winter again, and it’s hard to imagine we were in the throes of this massive project this time last year working in the frigid rain. It was about this time Mike began hassling me about my dwindling blog performance. When we started this project, I was ignorant of the time, effort, and stamina it would require.  The tiny house was all-consuming. There was little energy for much else, for instance, this blog.

For those who are unaware, the tiny house was successfully completed in early August of 2017, and I am happy to report living in the tiny house for the last five months has been, for lack of better words, like coming home. For the first time in my life since moving out of the house I grew up in, I feel like I have a true home again. This entire house was built by Mike and me. Everything in this house was chosen by me. In essence, this house is me: simple, low maintenance, a little rustic.

Now that the house is done and I’ve had some time to breathe again, I am eager to finish out the write up on the rest of the build. So, if you’re interested in seeing the interior process, please read on!

We were six months into the tiny house project by the time we completed the exterior. (By the way, six months was my original timeframe of when I had hoped to be done with this entire project.) It was time for a much-needed break and we were just in time for the Christmas holiday. We treated ourselves with a little trip to New York City and got to hang out with several of Mike’s friends for a few days. Half way into the trip, I caught a cold – I was convinced I caught it from the guy who sneezed on me in the subway train, gross. Awhile after we got back home, Mike got the flu, just in time to finish off the year with a little booze and board-game fun in good company.

After a solid month of no tiny house work, it was time to pick up the hammer again. As one might imagine, it was absolutely dreadful getting back into the swing of things. At times, I was overwhelmed with the thought of the exterior being done: in one regard, it was exciting because we were more or less half way done; and in another, WE WERE ONLY HALF WAY DONE. I knew I couldn’t let any discouraging thoughts take over. If they did, they were bound to make the rest of the project horrifyingly miserable. The best way to get past the despairing thoughts was to keep our blinders on and focus on one task at a time.

The next major hurdles we needed to work on were the electrical and plumbing systems; both of which are intricate and require thorough thought and planning. These are just some of the questions I had to consider:

What kind of electrical system do I want? Do I want a backup system in case the power goes out? (During the previous winter, the power had gone out several times due to downed trees. So, the answer to this was, yes). Okay, so what kind of backup system do I want? Do I stick with 110v and go the inverter and battery route, or do I want to install 12v wiring like boats and RVs have?

I chose not to install 12v wiring and instead use an inverter/charger and a battery to use as a backup system. The next question was which appliances and outlets do I want connected to the inverter when the power goes out?

My cooking range runs strictly off propane. My fireplace runs off propane but needs electricity for the ignitor, although, in the event of a power outage it has a battery backup (4 AAs). My fridge runs strictly on 110v, so I had to decide if I wanted it to be on the inverter/battery system. If it were, it could potentially drain the battery well before the power ever came back on. So, I decided not to put the fridge on the backup system. The only major appliance that I needed to connect to the inverter/battery was the water heater. It runs off propane but requires electricity to light the ignitor, however, it does not have a battery backup like the fireplace.

I also had to think of where all my lights were going to be (and what type of lighting), and where each switch, outlet, and electrical appliance was going to be.

For the plumbing (this includes the propane lines), I had to know exactly where my appliances and inlets for my sinks and shower were going to be.

Another important question: Do I want an internal fresh water tank that supplies water via a water pump? This was a bit of a quandary. Since I had been living in my RV for two years by this point, I’d become spoiled with all my spiffy “off-grid” gadgets like my generator, batteries, and internal water tank. It was a bummer to think about not having any one of these. Currently, my water supply comes from a well. So, when the power goes out, I have no running water. The problem with having a fresh water tank is that they’re big (depending on what size you want). And if I kept it indoors, it would take up valuable space. If I kept it outdoors, I would need to protect it from freezing. Then, there is the added work and money of installing a water pump to get the water from the tank to the plumbing system in the house. In the end, I decided it was a luxury I could do without since I don’t have any plans of ever living completely off-grid in this house.

Once we had a plan, we had to buy all the supplies. It was comical how many people sympathized with us when we told them we were starting work on the plumbing. “Be prepared to go back to the hardware store four or five times!” they’d say. Or, “No one ever gets it right the first time!” they’d warn. I scoffed. We got this. We had a plan.

Our plan served us well until we messed something up and had to redo a section of piping, or decided to change the design, or realized we had bought parts that were not lead-free. We spent hours upon hours in the hardware stores scrutinizing all the little parts and pieces to figure out the best solutions for our application. And if one thing didn’t work, Mike reassuringly, figured out another way.

It seemed easy enough once we got to attaching all the parts together. Then, it came time to check for leaks. It reminded me of those old Looney Toon cartoons I watched as a kid – some goofy character diving over a hole that sprung a leak, only to have a geyser come shooting out beside him. It felt a lot like that.

In most cases, it wasn’t as easy as just tightening a fitting like you would tighten a loose bolt. We used CPVC pipe for the fresh water supply lines, which get cemented together with fittings. If you have a leak at any one of these fittings, your only option is to cut the fitting out from the pipe and cement a new fitting onto the pipe, effectively shortening the pipe. So, if you end up cutting too much length off, guess what? You now have to buy a whole new length of pipe. For various reasons, this happened more than I’d care to remember. To our credit, Mike believes it had something to do with the cement we chose to use which was a multi-purpose cement rather than a CPVC specific cement.

 

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Fresh water supply lines

For the propane lines, we used copper piping. We installed a regulator at the front of the trailer and ran the copper piping underneath the trailer branching it off in three locations where the propane appliances were going to be installed.

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Regulator installed at front of trailer with two tanks hooked up.
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Propane line running underneath the trailer.

 

I chose to design my own floorplan which took some amount of consideration when it came time to planning the plumbing lines because we wanted to do it in the most efficient way possible. That meant having all the propane appliances on one side of the trailer, so we only had to run pipe along the one side. We followed the same idea with the electrical. Everything that I wanted to be able to run on the battery/inverter system when the power goes out is on one side of the trailer.

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Electrical running through the kitchen area.
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Electrical running up to the bedroom loft.
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Electrical running up to ceiling light/fan.
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Installing the circuit breaker box.
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The outside outlet box.
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Inlet and outlet fresh water valves on the outside of the house.
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In the midst of working on the electrical and plumbing lines, we built these cool black iron pipe light fixtures with LED Edison bulbs.

 

By the time the plumbing lines were completed, two months had gone by and we felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment. Next order of business was insulation. Originally, I thought I’d go with the same Extruded Polystyrene Boards (EPB), also known as Styrofoam, which we used in the subfloor of the trailer. However, considering our previous experience with it and how time consuming it was to cut each piece to size so that it fits relatively snug in each crevice, and then filling the gaps with endless cans of Great Stuff Gaps & Cracks insulating foam, the thought of going through that process again with the interior walls made me want to pull out my hair and run away forever.

Alternatively, what seemed to be the overall better option would be to use closed cell spray foam (CCSF). Not only would it make the entire house air tight (if done properly), it would also make the structure itself more rigid. Additionally, it acts as a vapor barrier when applied with a minimum two-inch thickness. The downside… cost. You can buy DIY kits at home improvement stores, but that route did not seem practical considering we had never done this before. The odds of making mistakes seemed too high, which could end up being costlier. I decided to hire out the job and settled on a local father and son business. They did a great job and three of them got it done in about eight hours. I knew I had made a good decision.

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CCSF insulation. For our climate, I chose to do 2.5 inches thick along the walls and 3 inches thick in the ceiling.

Now with three major milestones complete (electrical, plumbing and insulation), we could now start on the interior!

Author: Debora Schwartz

I am a traveler, a writer, an outdoor enthusiast and a tiny house dweller.

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