Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Major Systems Review

One of the key things that I don't remember ever seeing is a review of systems "after" the tiny house/cottage has been built. What works, what does not? So I thought it would be good to go through my major systems and give some fair and honest feed back on the decision I made and how they are holding up after a year of habitation.

So when it comes to major systems here is what I am talking about: water, hot water, heat, solar, composting toilet. Of the major investments when I built the Cottage was my BioLet Composting toilet, $1600, Dickinson 12,000 BTU boat stove at $1200, next behind that was the  Precision Temp instant on water heater at $1100. I kind of exclude the cost solar system as that is an "extra" and not really a key system but I will discuss it in this post. For your info though the cost of the solar at this point is $3,160, my electrical bill is around $15 to $20 off the grid this past summer.

So on this soon to be hot summer day, I will start with the heater. I like the ambiance the heater gives, it does a reasonable job, is quiet but at 192 sq ft it is not going to "bake me out". Knowing I used a radiant heater during the cold spells last winter, I chose to purchase and install an Envi Heater. It was touted pretty strongly by someone I respect in the Tiny House community Lina on her blog This Is The Little Life. I have yet to put it to the test but I like the design and reviews. I still really dig my Dickinson but realize that I need some different options on the heat side of things.

Water and more importantly, hot water. Let's start with the catchment system and using rain water for showers and dish washing. That has been an awesome decision, even through the summer where we get no rain (at least this year). Since I have access to a well system, filling the tank has not been an issue. When I got the system set up last September, I never once had to use an outside source to add water till after I moved in early July (I drained 100 gallons that I left for my brothers garden). I have had no issues with clogged pumps, dirty water, or illness from the system. I don't drink it but I do wash my dishes with it and so far I am good to go.

So the 205 Gallon tank worked well, I did feel I was wasting a lot of water with my limited capacity, so I think I will upgrade to a 500 gallon tank at some point. I get 151 gallons from every inch of rain. I am using a flo jet 12volt water pump and am having no pressure issues out of the sink or shower. I did originally install a filter that I had to remove as the pump would just not pump through it. I also added a boat accumulator tank that stopped any pump hammering. Here is a shot of the old filter system.

On the hot water side of things I installed a Precision Temp water heater. During the winter I did have some issues with hot water as the tank temp was cold and a system like this really is only able to raise the temperature about 40 degrees. So if the incoming water temp is 40 then best case scenario is "hot" water at 80 degrees. I was able to slow down the water flow that made showering a bit more pleasant but no worries about getting burned. Once we got out of the really cold mode the Precision Temp heater has been excellent, reliable with no challenges so far. I have had to turn it down a couple of times as it became warmer outside. I am really really pleased with the service and functionality of this unit.

On to the Composting toilet. While I was not aware and did not enjoy the idea of having a fan running 24/7 I have moved past that issue. The fan is not loud and it does not consume a lot of energy (I run it off the solar system so it is not an electrical hog) but it is still "on" and I am aware of it. That being said, the functioning and operation of the toilet has been excellent with no problems or concerns. I have emptied it twice without trauma over the year. When I emptied the compost it was half full and really nothing more then dirt. I am sure the Rhododendrons enjoyed it. I am a single guy who has a job so it is really under light use as I am not home during the day. Bottom line to me is this is a great option and I would feel comfortable using this type of technology the rest of my days and we should all get ride of water flush toilets, what a total waste of good water.
Lastly on the solar system you can see my post about adding two new solar panels (August 2nd Post) to get the scope of what my system contains. In evaluation of the entire system I love it. It is doing exactly what I had hoped when I installed it. I use very little power off the grid and could easily go for weeks during sunny weather to run the cottage. I would have to change my lifestyle a bit to do that but so be it. I have 400 amp hours of batteries and the smart inverter, and reliance on core 12 volt systems (boat heater, water pump, instant water heater, some lights) which means I could do away with grid power all together and be a happy camper. Add in the inverter and you have a stereo and vacuum cleaner, TV and air conditioner (not running at the same time).
I was asked if I would change any of the systems I put in and the answer was no, not really. I have been pleased with the performance of all the systems and if I had to do this over again I would install all the same equipment. Maybe I would add a more powerful water pump but the flo-jet I have is their top of the line from a power perspective so it would mean going to something far more industrial (bigger size wise) that would impact where I could put it. So really there is no changes I would make a year down the road from moving in. Hope this helps anyone out there reviewing systems and trying to make a decision on what you are putting in your cottage! If I missed something or you would like me to dig into a topic, let me know.


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  2. Thanks for the great info! I'm looking into a Precision Temp Tankless water heater right now for my tiny house build. I'm pondering the "floor vent" option...which Precision Temp are you using?

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