SHRINKING HOUSE: PREPARING THE SITE IS HALF THE BATTLE

Aug 16, 2016 · 6 minute read

By: Colleen Valles

I’ve been thinking a lot about sewage lately.

Well, specifically, I’ve been thinking about sewage, water, electricity and fencing. In order to park my tiny house in the back yard, I’ll need certain amenities. The house won’t be off-grid, so we’re going to run the electricity and water from the main house. We also have to trench a sewer line from the main house to tiny house site in the yard.

We’ll do all this with a standard RV hookup, the kind RVs plug into when they pull into a campsite. For the same reason I’m not building my own house, I’m not installing the RV hookup on my own. I have neither the time nor the skill, and at 6 months pregnant, I’m not going to get either. So I’m hiring professionals to install the whole thing.

Below I’ve outlined some of the nitty gritty about powering up a tiny house on wheels. I’ve included cost estimates, but you never know what they’ll find when they start the work, so those could change (though let’s hope they don’t.)

Sewer

estimated cost: $2,980

My dad, to my relief, vetoed a composting toilet. Those who know me know that I have a little bit of crunchy granola running through my veins, and while I did consider it, even with my hippie streak, I really couldn’t get myself totally on board with composting our own poop. We’re in the middle of the suburbs — where would we compost it? I’ve heard horror stories about how the toilets AND the compost piles can sometimes smell, and not only do I not want a stinky house, I certainly don’t need a way to upset the neighbors. Or to develop low-level anxiety about my toilet.

I want to ease my mind with this tiny house, not find new and innovative ways to increase my stress, so a sewer hook-up it is.

This involves digging an 18-inch-deep trench (required) to lay pipe from the spot where the RV hookup will be to the spot under the main house where we’ll tie into the plumbing. It also includes installing a pump. Sewage is generally gravity-flowed to the main line in the middle of the street, but the plumbing under the house sits kind of high, so we wouldn’t be able to maintain the trench depth and get the right slope to meet up with the plumbing under the house. So we have to pump up to the plumbing under the house, then let it all gravity flow together down to the main line in the street.

I’m told this won’t cost me a lot in operational costs. I’m really hoping that’s the case.

Water

estimated cost: included with sewer and trenching (see above)

We’ll be using the sewer trench to basically run a hose from the main house to the tiny house. While the plumbers are in the area of the main house, we’re going to have them fix any leaks.

My life is already not very water-heavy. My daughter and I are good about saving shower water as it’s warming up for watering plants, taking short showers and turning off the faucets when we’re brushing our teeth, washing our hands, washing dishes, etc. (This is California in the midst of an epic drought. What might seem extreme to wetter regions of the country has become a way of life for many out here.)

We will have an on-demand hot water heater which should save water, and we won’t have a washing machine of our own, as we’ll be using my parents’ machine. I think having a tiny house will result in less water usage, but I’m interested to see just how much we do use. Unfortunately, we won’t have anything to compare it to, because our water is currently covered in our rent, so we don’t see a separate bill outlining our water usage.

Power

estimated cost: $1,850

In the same trench as the sewer and water will be the electrical line from the main house. It’s going to be a very busy trench. I had wanted solar originally, but it was too expensive to add to the house right now, and given how small it is, we don’t expect to be using a ton of electricity anyway.

We are going to need a 120 volt, 30 amp outlet, as well as a separate line to run the sewer pump. Does this mean anything to you?

No?

Me neither. Telephones and light bulbs still hold an air of magic for me, so I’m just going to trust the magician – I mean, electrician – will get it all hooked up and when I come home, I’ll be able to switch on a light.

That would be a big upgrade from my current place, where rent is approximately one arm and one leg each month. Gotta love Silicon Valley.

Fencing

estimated cost: $2,462

Not the sport, y’all. The big wooden wall that separates us from the neighbors.

In order to get the tiny house into the back yard, we’re going to need to take down the fence and put it back up once the house is in place. The fence that we have to remove is actually in pretty good repair, but there’s no other cost-effective way to get the tiny house into the back yard.

This part may also entail some concrete repair work on our side of the fence and the neighbor’s, because pulling a 10,000-pound-plus trailer over it might cause some damage. That’s not included in this estimate, and could add to the cost.

Total: $7,292

I was figuring about $10,000 for all this work, so with this current estimate, I have about a $3,000 buffer to cover concrete repair and whatever they might find as they dig the trench and run pipes and hoses and wires to the main house. It definitely is a lot of money, and someone who is handy could probably save quite a bit. I, however, wish to take no chances doing my own electrical or plumbing work, so I’m leaving it to the professionals.

So there you have it. These are the extra costs we have budgeted for with the tiny house. I will, as the build progresses, do a post on the actuals and what the true up-front cost of going tiny is for us. Stay tuned!

Feel free to share this with any tiny house enthusiast you know who might be interested in the cost of hooking up a tiny house to the grid!

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Colleen Valles
I'm Colleen, a writer, mother, knitter, pet mama and tiny house enthusiast who truly believes that everybody should slow down and simplify to make room for the things that are most important in their lives. I'm on a journey to do just that, to be able to spend more time with family and friends, riding my bike and working in the garden. Sign up to get awesome content right in your inbox, or follow me on social media.