Friday, September 9, 2016

Tiny House Dry Run

My Canadian girlfriend Sheilagh came down from Vancouver to help me break in the tiny house. We would spend one night in it then head for a friend's cabin in Inverness which I figured would seem palatial by comparison. My aim was to serve a meal, wash up and sleep in the tiny house therefore testing the essential components. I had also offered a foot bath in the shower pan so on the way home from the airport we stopped at the hardware store to pick up an elbow so I could divert water from the drain into the rose bushes.

It was fun having Sheilagh there putting the house through its paces despite not being hooked up to water yet. So the first chore was to fill a 5 gallon bucket with water and bring it into the house where we put it in the shower pan. I was also dismayed to find that the sink drain leaked likely because I had not put enough silicone down when I installed it. So we had to make do with spitting into the shower pan drain while brushing teeth.

Dinner was relatively easy since I only had to boil water for peas and heat a pre-made casserole in the new toaster oven. I managed to find one big enough to fit a small casserole dish and found it on clearance at B,B & B for only $15. I marveled at my good luck. I was also delighted to discover that my little butane stove fit nicely into the drawer of the desk tower facing the shower pan which would allow it some air from the window above. This stove was already part of my earthquake arsenal. I have another as a back-up and a camping stove to use up those small propane canisters people are always having to throw out when they move.

Since I lack a dinette and have yet to make a fold down table, I brought a card table from home for us to eat off along with folding wooden chairs. I also brought out my camp chairs for us to sit in, but they were not quite right being too big a footprint for the space. Plus they gave the house the look of a hunting lodge or fishing shack. But they were perfect for pulling up to the shower pan for our foot bath. (For which I made sure to bring the Epsom salts.)

As for the washing up I was happy with my assortment of dish pans for scraping, soaping and rinsing all the dishes. It was easy to sit on the wall of the shower pan to wash the dishes. I did remember to bring dishwashing soap (the biodegradable Dr. Bronner's) and my favorite washing up brush. Sheilagh dried the dishes as I rinsed them, but I'm thinking about installing a removable wire shelf for the drying of dishes.

This report would not be complete without a note about the tiny house facilities in use. There is a very popular off the shelf toilet that you see in all the Tiny House Nation episodes. It costs $1,000 to $1,500 and according to one friend these manufactured composting toilets are more difficult to clean out than a simple bucket toilet due to the fan drying the contents to a crust. The price was a barrier for me so in 2010 I set out to make one inspired by the book Liquid Gold by Carol Steinfeld which I reviewed on flickr (which led to my becoming friends with Carol). Also reviewed is the classic Humanure Handbook. Two important books in the world of off-grid living. At the time I used my DIY toilet for an urban camping expedition where I was camping in the yard of some rental property we owned.

Carol's book convinced me that separating the urine from the rest was the key to an odorless toilet and so it is.

The challenge is to figure out how to separate the two. I used a funnel in mine. And found an oil pan I liked to drain it into. The oil pan lies flat in the bankers box I had on hand. I combined that with the city provided compost bucket.

I focused most of my effort on the housing which I made from a wine box and two pieces of 1 x 12 for legs, hand rubbed with linseed oil. I needed a seat to make it complete and chose the light weight plastic one I found at Ikea. Much more comfortable than what you buy for emergency kits that fit over a 5 gallon bucket.

This effort has sufficed, but I have plans to make another toilet specifically for the tiny house using a chair. Because I can feel people flinch when they see a toilet out in the open in a living space. To afford some privacy for us I hung up a shower curtain for the duration.

For our trial run I repurposed a wooden recipe box to use as a sawdust container and added a garden trowel. I have been collecting sawdust from all the wood I've been cutting and storing it in a pet food container a client was throwing out.

Using a composting toilet seems to be the barrier to many people adopting the tiny house lifestyle. Sheilagh was such a good sport about it that it made me love her for that reason alone. She said the whole experience reminded her of her tree planting days in Northern Alberta. We also duly noted that my minimalist 3" memory foam mattress topper on top of the rubber gym mats was perfectly comfortable. And she was thrilled that I had it equipped with a red Canadian Hudson Bay wool blanket.