How to build a tiny house in 383 pictures

 

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Every picture that I took during the build is contained in this collection.  If you view this as a slide show I added captions to most of them describing whats going on and giving useful tips.  You can use this link to view all my albums which may be easier than viewing them here on the blog.  I have them organized in one mega album (below) and then in smaller topical albums (on Google) depending on your needs.

VIEW GALLERY CLICK HERE

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Tiny House Off Grid Refrigerator Project

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Off grid refrigeration

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Refrigeration is a tough problem to solve for people who live off grid.  The refrigerator does not care how sunny it is out.  You can’t conserve on refrigeration use like you can with other things such as lighting and television.  Your off grid system needs to match the demands of your refrigerator or you will kill your batteries dead dead dead!

There is also a lot of misinformation floating around due to most people’s lack of electrical knowledge.  In this post I will help you to understand the electrical and physical concepts you need to understand when selecting an off grid refrigerator.

“Unbelievable” fridge!

There is a fellow that reviewed what he thought was a great off the shelf Kenmore fridge on YouTube.   It only consumed “30 watts per hour or 720 watts per day”.  Thats pretty much nonsense to anyone not schooled in electrical theory…even if you are, its still nonsense.  What he meant to say, was that his fridge draws 30 watt hours (per hour) or 720 watt hours per day.  Few can relate that to how many amp hours his Kenmore fridge uses without some math.

To derive the amp hour number you can divide the watt hour number by the voltage of your battery bank.  In my case I use 12V batteries, so 30/12 gives me 2.5 amp hours of consumption each hour or 60 amp hours each day.  Wait a minute…I thought this was supposed to be an efficient fridge!  When you compare it to the Sundanzer DCR50 which uses only 9 amp hours per day you realize that this Kenmore fridge is total crap for off grid folks!

The Kenmore fridge he reviewed is actually a pretty good fridge (power-wise) when compared to other fridges designed for on grid use.

The Variables

The most important component in an off grid refrigerator is insulation.  Thick insulation keeps things cold longer which allows the compressor to run less….very simple.

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The second most important factor is the efficiency of the compressor.  In other words how much power does it use and how long must it run to cool the refrigerator contents.  Unfortunately, this is not something thats easily determined from manufacturers spec sheets.  The small compressor used in the Engel 12V coolers run for between 2.5 and 3 minutes to maintain 40 degrees with the outside air temperature of 70 degrees just to give you a point of reference.

Another factor that plays a large role in power consumption is the temperature where the fridge is located.  If it’s in a 90 degree sun room the difference in temperature between inside and out will be large.  This means it will run more and use more power.  On the other hand, a fridge kept in a cool basement at 60 degrees will run very little.

Screen Shot 2014-02-08 at 2.57.03 PMPersonally, I have my fridge located away from my wood stove next to the back door.  Air leakage from the doggie door keeps that part of my kitchen just a bit cooler which reduces power consumption.

Another factor that consumes power is opening and closing the door and putting new things in the fridge.  Off grid fridges tend to be chest style so that the dense cold air stays inside the fridge.  When putting something into the fridge make sure it’s not hot!  Let those leftovers cool to room temperature or your fridge will spend the next 4 hours trying to maintain the inside temperature.

How cold does it need to be?

Also consider how cold your fridge really needs to be.  The FDA recommends you keep the fridge temp to 40F or below for safety.  If your fridge temperature is set any lower than 40F degrees, then you are wasting power.  Get an accurate thermometer and adjust the fridge temperature setting accordingly.  You will likely need to wait 12-24 hours each time you make an adjustment to allow the temperature to stabilize.

Do you need a freezer?

Thats right do you?  If you are like me I buy groceries each week.  Hot pockets stored in the fridge taste the same as those stored in the freezer.  If you plan to use your frozen foods up in a week then why do you need a freezer…keep them in the fridge.  The answer is probably “I need a freezer for ice cream and ice cubes”.  My advice is to lay off the ice cream (advice I wish that I could follow better) and learn to live without ice cubes.  There is an awful lot of power that can be saved if you can learn to live without a freezer.

Wrap Up

The reason I’m talking about refrigeration is that I have just completed work on a DIY off grid fridge made from a 12 Engel car cooler.  My next post and my video of the week I’ll show you that project.  Needless to say it uses far less than 60 amp hours per day.  I’ve also developed an online web app that will help you calculate the amount of power you refrigerator will consume.  Stay tuned!

 

The Truth About Firearms Ownership in MA

This video was created by NHPatriot on Northeast Shooters and shows the hoops law abiding citizens must jump thru to own a firearm.

The laws mentioned in the video may seem absurd…they are reality here in MA.  You may be against gun ownership in general and I respect your right to feel that way.  Out here in the boonies of western MA you might rethink your position after a pack of coyotes shows up outside your tiny home.

This is how things are in a state with some of the strictest gun laws in the country:

Ting Lowers Data Prices!

What? A phone company that drops its prices thats crazy talk!

Well its the truth they have dropped their data pricing by $3 per tier.  Here’s what the new pricing looks like:

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What does this have to do with tiny houses?  Well I know that tiny house dwellers are always looking for ways to pinch a penny.  Personally my phone bill went from over $90 per month to $29.  A $60 savings is 3 sheets of plywood, or about 25 2×4’s….in a couple months you can save enough to build one wall of your house with brand new materials.  You can read my review of the Ting service here.  If you want to sign up click on this banner and get $25 off a phone or a $25 credit and I get a small referral fee that supports this blog.

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Tiny House Electrical System Mods

This week I posted a video showing the completed modifications to my electrical system.

 

Solar Array

My old solar array consisted of 3 mismatched panels of 50, 70, and 100 watts. The 50 watt panel was particularly mismatched as its peak voltage spec was 1/4 volt less than the other two. During peak sunlight conditions its likely that this panels voltage was too low to provide an real power to my system.

The new array is a pair of identical 100 watt panels. I found a nice inexpensive disconnect rated at 50 amps that is used for AC units. Its not DC rated, but it won’t be switched on/off much and the loads are very small compared to its rating. The DC rated units are 10X the price. Inside this disconnect there is plenty of room for a fuse holder and fuse which protects against overloads.

Charge Controller

I replaced my Xantrex C40 with a MorningStar SunSaver MPPT charge controller. The SunSaver is only rated to 15 amps (200 watts) but you can add additional units for more capacity if needed. The charge controller and temperature sensor was about $250 from the AltE Store here in MA. Larger MPPT units are lower cost per charging watt but you have to spend at least $550 to get one. Being a cheap skate I opted for the 15 amp unit.

Mounting the charge controller is easy. It fits in a standard depth load center enclosure. You just need to allow 6 inches above and below for cooling. The terminals are a bit small since this controller is only rated at 15 amps. My 8AWG wire did not fit at all and I had to cut strands to get it to work (don’t tell anyone please).

Pump Controller

The pump controller that came with my submersible pump has some “issues” that bothered me. First when the system voltage gets to 14V or so it would “trip” saying there was an overload. The pump controller was only capable of supplying 4 amps. My pump is drawing 3.6 – 4.2 amps which is a bit more than the specs. I don’t know if there is an issue with my pump, water line, or whatever. I can’t have my pump controller tripping out during a load of laundry.

The other issue with the pump controller is that is electrically noisy. This electrical noise was causing my system monitor to improperly read the amp draw of the motor. I decided to replace the controller with a simple relay and an amp meter to monitor the pumps condition.

With the relay in place my noise issue is gone and my pump has been drawing 3.8 amps. I’ll keep monitoring things to see if I have an issue with the pump.

Performance

It’s hard to gauge performance after only a week or so. I am definitely harvesting more power especially on partly cloudy days. Typically I would get 20 amp hours on a bright sunny day with my old setup. On partly cloudy days I would get about 10 or so.

The first day of operation with the new MPPT controller was a partly cloudy day and I harvested 22 amp hours! Needless to say I was pretty happy with that result.