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Living Off Grid in a Tiny Cabin and Why We Did It

When we first decided we wanted to build our own house we were always interested in some type of alternative living situation. The reasons for this are varied and some are probably rather unexplainable. The best way to articulate it is that we wanted to prove to ourselves that we could live comfortably and inexpensively at the same time.

Before we decided on building an early Tumbleweed Tiny House model we considered some other alternative building solutions like a Cordwood Masonry structure or an Earthship. Our experiences with both of these types of building were based on off the grid systems.

By going off the grid we could reduce our dependency of resources and essentially eliminate our monthly utilities payments. There were some added benefits of being more environmentally conscious but to be perfectly honest these considerations were secondary. The first priority was to build our own home and be able to quit our conventional jobs and not have the expenses that traditional housing requires.

Photo by Laura M. LaVoie

Photo by Laura M. LaVoie

We wanted to live off the grid to prove we could do it.

Our tiny house is considered rather Spartan by most onlookers. Our kitchen doesn’t have a sink, a stove, or a refrigerator. We use a Berkey system to filter our spring water and make it usable in the house. We have butane burners which are portable and easy to move around if we need more or less counter space. Butane is inexpensive and can be bought in bulk.

photo by Laura M. LaVoie

photo by Laura M. LaVoie

For the rest of our energy we rely on a solar power system. We worked with an online store called The AltE Store to help us put together our  system. We have two 245 watt panels that connect to 45 amp Tristar MPPT charge controller made by Morning Star. These all feed into three 110 amp hour AGM batteries. We have a 1800 watt inverter to convert all the power to AC inside the house. There are separate breakers throughout the system so they can be safely isolated and serviced at any time. All of the wiring runs underground in rigid conduit.

This system runs all of our lights, our laptops (we both work from home), a fan to keep the house cool, and any chargers that we need throughout the day.

Piglet working from home. Photo by Laura M. LaVoie

Piglet working from home. Photo by Laura M. LaVoie

Since we both work from home we need to have access to the internet. We ran cable through the wall and up to an antenna on the roof which then connects to our Verizon MiFi wireless hotspot. Because our roof is metal it acts as a conductor for the magnetic antenna and we get 4G signal.

So, you might be asking yourself, was all this worth it? I can say absolutely yes. Our lives are drastically different from what they were before and we find ourselves happier in general. Having a simpler house rewards us in ways we didn’t expect. For example, instead of taking more time to do the dishes I find that I can easily wash a plate or two in just a few minutes after we’re done eating. We do our laundry at a local Laundromat which is also a bar so we really enjoy that social time out.

What I love most about the Tiny House Community is reading the experiences of each person, couple, or family who lives in these teeny homes. You can see everything from a gourmet kitchen to a huge luxury walk in shower. Some people chose to live on the grid and some off and we value that kind of diversity.

How do you imagine your tiny life?

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Laura LaVoie

Contributor and Tiny House Owner at 120SquareFeet.com
Laura M. LaVoie is a professional writer living in the mountains of North Carolina in a 120 Square Foot house with her partner and their hairless cat, Piglet. Laura graduated from Western Michigan University with a degree in Anthropology. She has been published in magazines and anthologies on the subjects of mythology and culture. She spent nearly 15 years in the temporary staffing industry before deciding to become a full time writer. Laura works closely with the Zulu Orphan Alliance volunteering her time and the skills she's learned building her own small house to build a shelter for orphans and other vulnerable children living near Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Laura also enjoys simple living, brewing and drinking craft beer, and popular culture.
{ 6 comments… add one }
  • Jerry
    June 7, 2013, 12:10 pm

    Thank you for sharing the details of your life in your tiny house with us Laura. You are pioneers IMO, showing how a simpler life can indeed be a richer life!

  • john
    June 7, 2013, 12:44 pm

    A century ago industrialists figured out that if they one dollar from one million people they would have a million dollars…they improved the math and started playing on our desires for more than we could afford…today they know when a baby is born how much money it will earn in a lifetime and how to take as much of it as they can get away with.

    For millennia people had a concept called “A Legacy” it is an inheritance of land, a home, and perhaps a business. Each generation of family added to their legacy when they could, more land, added rooms, bigger or more business’s…parents knew when they died their children would be cared for, they had a family home and lands…even a small home and a small plot of land could grow large over generations creating wealth and security from nothing but hard work and frugal living.

    Savvy businessmen sought ways to tap that shielded wealth…not to steal it, but to have those land holders give willingly in exchange for lack of a better term “shiny beads”…status and envy, desire and lust, temptation…fancy wagons, fine clothing, expensive lifestyles bled them slowly, seductively…

    Today they do the same, and are so much more skilled. They hire psychologists, employ advertising companies, and PR experts to create new “shiny beads”…they are oh so good at it that our entire economy is built around it, our legacies are gone, spent, we inherit debt now.

    Breaking that cycle requires starting over…giving up on “shiny beads”, building tiny homes on little plots of land, building the seeds of legacy once again. You can hope your children add to that legacy instead of going after “shiny beads” so that their children will inherit a legacy to build upon…

    Be leery of businessmen, do it without loans if you can, even if it takes years to do it as you can pay in cash. Every dollar you invest and save is adding to that seed of legacy. ‘No man is free who owes a debt’…true freedom in this century is financial freedom, and a home no one can take away from you on lands you own.

    We all need an income to feed and clothe ourselves, to provide medical coverage and life insurance, a new or used vehicle every ten years or so…but be wary of spending money you don’t have, be wary of temptation and “shiny beads” they know how your mind works, they know how to stir desire…that way lies ruin…the loss of everything you own.

    • LaMar
      June 7, 2013, 12:57 pm

      Well said John!

  • LaMar
    June 7, 2013, 12:55 pm

    I am glad you showed your system as that helps people to see that small homes can be run very efficiently off solar/wind power.

    I am not a minimalist and my reason for going small and off-grid is because I don’t want a house payment, rent and utility bills and want to be as sustainable as I can. The side benefit of that is I have reduced my impact on the environment.

    My power system is only 500 watts solar and a 400 watt wind turbine and that runs a compact fridge, water pump, lights, laptop and tons of gadgets. I use propane for a very efficient OD water heater, stove and backup furnace.

    That way I can work when I want as I want and focus on what I enjoy doing and as a result I have put money away to take care of myself and help my kids and travel if I want.

    I would say people can put together their own solar power system and they are not that difficult but if you need help there are lots of self help websites and professional installers.


    • john
      June 7, 2013, 1:03 pm

      There are many resources to build a solar system. Even a bunch of free ones. The sellers of solar systems don’t typically post DIY info because they want to be paid for their expertise…and fair enough, but anyone can spend a day or three reading and learning, and know enough to build any sized system for themselves…except a grid tie in, for that you need a professional, and i seriously recommend you not attempt that on your own!!!

  • carol
    November 23, 2013, 2:33 pm

    we have been looking into off grid tiny home living for about a year now.due to our current finances we are not able to keep up with the bills and house payment in our conventional home.After looking into alternative living my husband and I have come to a decision that this is what we want to do.We have figured out how we will acquire our home but have no land to put it on .We live in Eastern Washington.We would appreciate your feedback
    thank you.

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