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Solar Power for Tiny House RVs

Modified Tumbleweed at the Solar Living Institute 

Can You Rely On Solar Power For Your Tiny House RV?

The short answer is - YES, but you'll need to determine which solar system will work for you. Do this by calculating: 1) Your energy needs, 2) Your expected sun hours based on your geographical location, and 3) The optimal weight and size of your system

 Ariel's Solar Powered 172 square foot Tumbleweed Cypress

How Can I Calculate My Energy Needs?

First, try using a solar calculator to determine your current electrical usage. You can also calculate your energy needs using this appliance chart. Next consider energy efficient or alternative powered appliances for your Tiny House RV to reduce your electrical usage and the overall size of your solar system.

Can you use an energy-star refrigerator or a propane refrigerator?

Can you switch your lights to LEDs?

Can you heat your space with a wood or propane stove?

Can you heat your water with propane?

Can you cook with propane instead of electricity? 

Do you need a blender? A coffee machine? A microwave? A washer / dryer? A big TV?

"Tiny The Movie" Colorado Tiny House RV, powered by Sol Man Portable Generator

How Can I Calculate My Expected Sun Hours?

If you do not plan on moving your Tiny House RV, use this chart to determine your average daily sun hours. Keep in mind, you can expect less sun in some seasons. 

Ryan Mitchell's Tiny House RV Solar Panel Set Up in North Carolina

If you plan on traveling with your Tiny House RV, it may be difficult (or impossible) to determine your average sun hours. You may want to purchase a larger solar system or reduce your electrical need. If you are caught in bad weather on your trip, and your solar system can not keep up, you can rely on campgrounds for an electrical outlet. You may also want to carry backup power - such as a gas generator. 

"Tiny House Giant Journey"'s Goal Zero Yeti Solar Generator

Weight & Size of the your Solar System

Solar panels, batteries and inverters are usually heavy and bulky. This is an important consideration when determining the preferred system for your Tiny House RV. If you do NOT plan on moving your Tiny House RV, you can build an external shell for your batteries. You can then park your Tiny House RV in an ideal sun exposure location and mount solar panels to your roof, or mount your panels on a swivel rack that can turn for optimal sun exposure.

If you intend on traveling with your Tiny House RV, you will need to take care when considering the weight and storage of your solar system. I'm going to speak from my personal experience, as I travel with my solar powered Tumbleweed Cypress. 

My Portable Solar System

I use the Goal Zero Yeti 1250 Solar Generator with four solar panels (two 100 watt panels and two 90 watt panels). I have one panel mounted to each side of my Tumbleweed for transport and the other two are stored in the bed of my truck. The panels in my truck charge my Yeti Solar Generator as we travel down the road.

You can see one of my panels mounted to the side of my Tiny House Rv in the above photo. The mount  is also a hinge, and I add telescopic legs to prop the panel for ideal sunshine

I do not suggest mounting solar panels to the roof of your Tiny House RV if you intend on traveling, for two reasons: 1). You may not always park in an area with optimal sunshine. Having my panels separate and portable allows me to position and clean them easily. 2). Damage may occur from low hanging branches to panels mounted to your roof. 

What I Love About the Yeti Solar Generator:

- It's an all-in-one system. The inverter, batteries and charge controller are combined to create a "solar generator." *Note: the Yeti generator cannot generate power without solar panels.

- It's extremely portable. It's on wheels! We store it in the cab of our truck when we are on the road.

- I can recharge it from a regular outlet if there is no sun.

- It weighs only 103 lbs. That may sound like a lot, but lead-acid batteries are heavy.

- It's affordable. $1599 for the Yeit Solar Generator. That's cheap for solar! 

- It powers almost everything in my Tiny House RV. The Yeti can keep my computers, phones, and cameras charged, as well as my LED lights and water pump powered forever, as long as I have sunshine. It's a small system - only 1250 watt hrs, so I cannot use my hair dryer nor my space heater. I use alternative appliances to lower my electrical need: propane water heater, propane stove top, propane refrigerator, and a wood stove heater. 

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Jenna BioJenna Spesard is currently living and traveling around North America in a DIY Tumbleweed Cypress with her partner, Guillaume, who is a professional photographer and Tumbleweed Workshop host. They are photographing and writing about their adventure and occasionally they will be hosting an open house. Follow their informative blog. 
 
     

Cost of Towing a Tiny House RV

We travel full time with our Tiny House RV and so far we've gone 15,000 miles in eight months. I don't know of any other Tiny House RV that travels as much as we do, so we've had to figure out a lot of logistics on the road. Below I've outlined my monthly expenses in hopes that it is helpful for my fellow travel bugs! 

If you're looking for explanations on towing specifications and requirements, click here.

Our wet Tiny House RV - we assume the house weighs more after a rain!

MY MONTHLY EXPENSES ON THE ROAD

GAS: $726

Our Tiny House RV weighs 10,100 pounds when fully loaded. We tow with a Ford F-250 Diesel 4x4 and get between 8-10 mpg. We put 2,070 miles per month on our truck. That number includes ALL driving, not just towing. 

MAINTENANCE ON TRUCK: $294*

*This number has been divided by the eight and a half months we've been on the road to calculate our average monthly expenses. Total truck maintenance is $2,499

This number is SUPER high! We had to replace a few parts in our truck, including the FICM, the alternator and two batteries. I can't say whether this is due to towing or not, because the 2006 Ford F-250s are known for these problems. Sigh.. that's life I guess. Hopefully this number will start to go down. 

MAINTENANCE ON TRAILER: $55* 

*This number has been divided by the eight and a half months we've been on the road to calculate our average monthly expenses. Total trailer maintenance is $467.50

We had a regular 10,000 bearing inspection (they were good). We had to replace our tongue jack because we crashed the Tiny House RV on our maiden voyage... Full explanation here. We also had to replace our chimney cap a few times due to damage from low tree branches.

TRUCK INSURANCE: $95 

We are insured through State Farm. We have liability coverage on our "tow load." 

TRUCK PAYMENT: $0

Our truck is paid off. Yippee!

TINY HOUSE RV PAYMENT: $0

Our Tiny House RV is paid off. Yippee!

MOBILE INTERNET: $130

We use Verizon wireless as our provider because they have the fastest data service. We've been relatively happy with the service, but it's expensive. Due to our web related jobs, we need at least 30 gigabytes a month. This isn't even enough for us to stream movies, we always run out! Obviously if you do not need 30 GB (or the internet at all) this number is irrelevant. Campgrounds sometimes have WIFI available, but it's almost always terribly slow. 

CAMPGROUND FEES: $238

We park in campgrounds on average 9 nights a month. The rest of the time we park on private property, offered by some of the most gracious people in the world (our followers and other Tiny House RV enthusiasts). That helps A LOT! Campground fees can average between $10 - $60 a night. We are a member of Passport America, which offers a 50% discount on thousands of campgrounds all over North America. 

PROPANE: $12

We use propane for our cooktop, water heater and sometimes to power our refrigerator. 

WATER / ELECTRIC: $0

We fill up our water tank in campgrounds or from our parking hosts. So far we haven't had to pay for water or power (of which we use very little), aside from our campground fees. 

TRASH: $0

We carry our trash and dispose of it responsibly in campgrounds.

TOTAL AVERAGE MONTHLY EXPENSES FOR TOWING & TINY LIFESTYLE  = $1550

This total number is for two people and while it might seem high, it's less than just our apartment rent payment in Los Angeles! We could save a lot of money by traveling less and canceling our internet, but that's not the lifestyle we want at this time. We also hope our truck maintenance costs will go down now that we've fixed everything. You might notice that we did not include food expenses, cell phones expenses, student loans, etc. That is because those expenses would be the same on or off the road, tiny or big. 

QUESTIONS?? I'll do my best to answer them. 

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Jenna BioJenna Spesard is currently living and traveling around North America in a DIY Tumbleweed Cypress with her partner, Guillaume, who is a professional photographer and Tumbleweed Workshop host. They are photographing and writing about their adventure and occasionally they will be hosting an open house. Follow their informative blog. 
 
   

 

Written by Jenna Spesard — May 19, 2015

Filed under: Tiny Home   Tiny House   Tiny House Giant Journey   Tiny House RV   Tow   Tow Capacity   Towing   Travel  

Tiny Interior Showcase

Creating a functional interior is challenging. Creating a functional interior in less than 200 square feet, is MIND-BOGGLING!! Do you know what makes a Tumbleweed unique? The owner! Browse through a few tiny interiors below to see the creativity and individuality of each space. 

Ariel's "Fy Nyth" Interior

Ariel's interior design on her Tumbleweed Cypress 24 is clean and inviting. Her transforming couch and table are great examples of multi-purpose furniture and really work to expand the space! Ariel brought nature (and a pop of color) into her tiny space with live plants. Her dark curtains add depth to her tiny interior, and her wrap around book shelf?? Books are beautiful, why hide them?

Click here for more interior shots of "Fy Nyth"  

Ella's "Little Yellow" Interior 

Ella's modified Cypress -18 has a whimsical theme with its curved window trim, live edge countertop and floral accents. Wainscoting with a natural top cap adds complexity to her walls. Ella chose to paint her wall panels white, while leaving the ceiling natural, creating separation. Ella's round kitchen sink is unique and beautiful, and she believes it's more functional than a rectangular sink because her dishes are round. 

Click here for more interior shots of "Little Yellow" 

Art's Tiny Sip House Interior

Art's modified Tumbleweed Elm -18 interior is the sleek and earthy. The knotty paneling, reclaimed flooring and clean window trim combine to create a woodsy aesthetic. A reclaimed stained glass window (with a depiction of a crawfish) acts as a centerpiece for Louisiana Tiny House RV. LED lights with hand cut Shoji paper diffuse the interior light to a soft glow. Other highlights include a custom steel kitchen countertop and a collapsible futon couch. 

Click here for more photos of Art's "Tiny SIP House"

Brittany's "Bayside Bungalow" Interior 

Brittany's modified Cypress -18 is simple and sophisticated. "I wanted more of a cottage feel, rather than a cabin," she explains. Brittany had spent some time in France prior to decorating her tiny house, and she fell in love with the cottages along the French countryside. Her glass front door expands her space and lets in a lot of natural light. She also incorporated wicker accents, such as baskets and wicker chairs. A fold down table acts as a desk and a dinning area. 

The "Bayside Bungalow" is available as a vacation rental in Olympia, Washington. More interior photos and information here.  

Jenna & Guillaume's "Tiny House Giant Journey" Interior

This is my Tiny House RV interior, a modified Cypress - 20. I painted my walls because I felt that the pine panels clashed with my reclaimed accents, alligator juniper counters and maple floors. The white walls really open up the space, but they also protect my panels from moisture and warping. I chose bold patterns for my curtains, accent pillows and cushions. I mixed metals: copper, brass and steel. My interior design theme was a combination of "French Country" and "Rustic." A stainless steel wood stove acts as a centerpiece for my tiny space. There's nothing better than a tiny fireplace in a tiny space!

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. 

It's okay to be inspired by others! I loved Ella's live edge counter, Brittany's glass door and Art's dark floors. You can see their influence in my interior design, but I also made the space unique with some of my own ideas. For example, the thing I'm most proud of in my interior design, is the wood detail around my round window. Guillaume spent hours routing out a stump for our window trim, and we also created a "sunburst" effect with some spare pieces of reclaimed wood. It wasn't easy, but the finished product was worth the effort. 

Click here for more photos of "Tiny House Giant Journey"

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HOW WOULD YOU DESIGN YOUR TINY HOUSE RV INTERIOR?

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Jenna BioJenna Spesard is currently living and traveling around North America in a DIY Tumbleweed Cypress with her partner, Guillaume, who is a professional photographer and Tumbleweed Workshop host. They are photographing and writing about their adventure and occasionally they will be hosting an open house. Be sure to follow their tiny house and giant journey here.
 
  

 

The Advantages of Tiny House Dormers

A dormer is a structural element in architecture that protrudes from a sloped roof and allows for additional space. If you're a tiny house enthusiast, the words "additional space" in a tiny house article might seem oxymoronic. Yes, owning a tiny home means that you are "okay" with small spaces, but there is no reason that you should have to sacrifice comfort in your tiny house RV.

So let's learn a little more about dormers and what they could do for your loft. 

A Tumbleweed Elm or Cypress loft WITHOUT dormers (keeping the gable roof line throughout) and a skylight.

Some tiny housers love the coziness and lightweight option of the un-dormered loft (keeping the triangular gable roof line throughout), but most prefer to have a little more headroom. Dormers provide extra space for comfort and additional windows, while keeping the lovely visual aesthetic. 

Tumbleweed Cypress WITHOUT dormers. A lovely gable roof line throughout.

 

Tumbleweed Elm WITH Dormers. Space is gained. The visual aesthetic is not sacrificed. 

How much space do you really gain by having dormers? In order to visualize how much space is actually gained by adding dormers, you will need to have a basic understanding of roof pitch.

Roof pitch is described as the vertical rise divided by the horizontal span of a roof. The gable roof in our Elm and Cypress models have a 12:12 pitch, while our lofts with dormers have a 3:12 pitch. It is important to maintain some roof pitch for weather runoff. 

Examples of roof pitch. Photo credit: Wikipedia

An older Tumbleweed model, where the 3:12 pitch returns to 12:12 for the last few inches of the loft.

If you peer into the back of this older Tumbleweed's loft, you can see where the 3:12 pitch returns to the triangular gable roof line (12:12 pitch). This is a great way to visualize the difference between these two roof pitches. 

If the above loft DID NOT have dormers:

  • The roof pitch would be that triangular slope throughout
  • The four windows that line the sides of the bed would be lost
  • The space on either side of this queen bed would be lost
  • A king bed would not be possible (only possible with dormers)
  • The use of a staircase would be rather difficult (a ladder would most likely be used instead)

Due to costumer feedback, in all of our current models and plans, the dormers extend all the way to the back of the loft. By doing this, the above Tumbleweed loft has gained even more space. Starting this year, we will also include dormer plans with our Elm and Cypress plans, free of charge.
Steve Weissmann (President of Tumbleweed) is 6'2" and can comfortably sit up in bed in this Cypress loft with dormers. 
By adding dormers to your loft, you will also gain valuable wall space, not only on the sides of your loft, but also in the front and back. Consider the cheek walls: the walls that are formed between your dormers and gable roof. Below is a photo of my loft and, as you can see, we've chosen to add an outlet to our cheek wall. My future plan is to mount a television there one day. I could also add a cabinet, shelving, additional lighting or hang decorations / plants / photographs in this additional space. 
Tiny House Giant Journey's loft with dormers. 
So what do you think? Do you want dormers in your tiny house loft?

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Jenna BioJenna Spesard is currently traveling around North America in a DIY Tumbleweed Cypress with her partner, Guillaume. They are photographing and writing about their adventure and occasionally they will be hosting Tumbleweed workshops and open houses. Be sure to follow their tiny house and giant journey.

 

Written by Jenna Spesard — January 26, 2015

Filed under: Cypress   Dormers   Elm   Loft   Tiny home   Tiny House   Tiny house Giant Journey   Tumbleweed  

Q&A with Tiny House Experts

We asked three of our tiny house experts to answer a few Frequently Asked Questions:  

ART CORMIER

Art Cormier / Tumbleweed Workshop Presenter

Background:

In 2012, Art completed his Tumbleweed home using SIPS and reclaimed wood and even posted some videos on YouTube explaining how he did it  And that's how we connected - we asked him if he wanted to partake in our Tumbleweed Construction Video and Art obliged. One thing led to another and today Art is traveling the country teaching others the benefits of owning a tiny home. Read more on Art's blog.

Art's modified Tumbleweed Elm

Question: What is your favorite part of your tiny space?

Art: My favorite part of my tiny house?  The love seat when I want to sit,  or the shower when I want to get clean.  Or do I have those confused?

Art's love seat, which can convert into a bed.

Q: Do you have any space saving or downsizing advice?
Art: See video!
 
Q: What would you do different in your tiny home if you could build it again?
Art: If I built it again I would have dormers, got to keep up with the neighbors!
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EDDIE LANZO
Eddie Lanzo / Tumbleweed Workshop Host
Background:
Eddie and his girlfriend Lacey have their almost complete DIY Tumbleweed Cypress parked in a campground in Austin, Texas. Eddie's background is in real estate and he also recently joined the Tumbleweed team as a workshop host. More about their house and build here
Eddie's DIY Tumbleweed Cypress
Question:  How are you decorating your tiny space for the holidays?
Eddie: We have perched a very wintery wreath on the wall for the holidays. That should do it for us. Next year if we're more ambitious, we want to do a stick christmas tree.
Q:  Clever storage ideas / space saving ideas?
Eddie: We plan on adding loft beam storage, installing a leaf table, and putting our compost toilet on tracks that slide out from under the storage stairs.
Eddie's loft with dormers
Q: What would you do different in your tiny home if you could build it again?
Eddie: We would've finished plumbing before moving it to the RV park. It’s all “roughed out” but ABS piping still needs to be finished so we can install our sinks.
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GUILLAUME DUTILH
Guillaume Dutilh / Tumbleweed Workshop Host
Background:
Guillaume and his girlfriend Jenna finished their DIY modified Cypress since September 2014. So far they've traveled over 7,000 miles with their tiny abode, from California to Nova Scotia to Atlanta, while hosting countless open houses and Tumbleweed workshops. Learn more about their tiny house journey here. 
Guillaume's traveling DIY Cypress
Question: What do you do when you and your partner need... space?
Guillaume: We usually just take the dog for a walk since the front door is never that far. 
Q: What is biggest benefit of having a tiny house?
Guillaume: Being able to pursue my passion for photography while traveling.
Q: What would you do different in your tiny home if you could build it again?
Guillaume: If I could do it again, I'd have my corner porch on the sidewalk side or I would build a full porch (the Elm). Porches are awesome!

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Jenna BioJenna Spesard is currently traveling around North America in a DIY Tumbleweed Cypress with her partner, Guillaume. They are photographing and writing about their adventure and occasionally they will be hosting Tumbleweed workshops and open houses. Be sure to follow their tiny house and giant journey.

Written by Jenna Spesard — December 10, 2014

Filed under: Art Cormier   Cypress   Elm   Experts   Holidays   SIPS   Tiny Home   Tiny House   Tiny House Giant Journey   Tiny SIP House   Tips   Tumbleweed   Workshop  

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