Eight Months of Our Tiny Home Venture | nikolevelascophoto.com

It’s been eight months since Jacob and I ditched apartment life for our tiny home build/life. To catch you up super quick, we bought five acres of raw land last year and knew we didn’t want to pay rent AND pay for the land at the same time. So we brainstormed how we could live on the land and ended up going with what is called a shed to tiny home conversion.

I would love to share in detail all of the specifics behind buying our land and deciding on the shed to tiny home conversion but there’s just SO much. And in this post, I just wanted to summarize all of the work we’ve done since moving out here, not so much what led up to it, you know?

I’ll start with the fact that we designed our shed structure with United Portable Buildings, I highly recommend United Portable Buildings. We also looked at Tuff Shed and I recommend avoiding Tuff Shed for many reasons.

What we ordered and started with was just the exterior structure. A shell if you will.

We would get the shell and then finish out the interior ourselves. Our shed was delivered on October 8th 2021. The lease at our apartment was up on October 16th, 2021. We were blissfully ignorant and thought we could have a finished tiny home by the time we moved out of our apartment. Mind you neither of us has ANY experience with ANY of this. We look back and laugh at those expectations every single day.

The very first things done were the installation of our windows and doors, Jacob and my Dad did that while I was working. October happened to be my business’s busiest month of all time, full of the most travel I have ever had to do. So that was fun.

Our lease came to an end and we moved into our tiny home. I think all we had done at that point was installed the windows and doors. Once we were living out here, life began to dictate what we would prioritize. I’ll attempt to keep things in order but it’s going to kind of blend together at some point.

Shower

Once we moved out here the first thing we did was build an outdoor shower. It’s a camping shower that connects to a small battery, propane for heat and five-gallon water jugs. It uses about a gallon of water per minute. It looks kind of scary but it’s honestly really nice. It was nice to be able to shower after being outside and working on things all day. Eventually, we will have an indoor shower but this is holding us over while we do other things. Here is a link to the shower on Amazon.

Toilet and Sewage

The second thing we did was install our toilet, for the first two weeks of living out here we did not have a toilet hahaha.

Our land is completely raw land. No electricity, running water or sewage. We can’t afford to do anything that involves drilling into the ground so underground septic and well are out of the question at the moment. Knowing we didn’t want to have to manage a composting toilet and after learning that composting toilets are thousands of dollars we opted for an above-ground septic tank.

Our plan was to keep the tank on a trailer (that I built myself from Harbor Freight thank you very much) so that way we could just drive it off and pump it at the nearby RV park when it was full. But we did not account for gravity. Once we had everything in place we realized the tank on the trailer was above the plumbing/toilet and we are depending on gravity to be able to flush our toilet into the tank. So the trailer didn’t work at first and we had to keep the tank on the ground.

The first few times we had to pump it we rigged the most ridiculous device with a winch, some straps and a broken wooden ladder turned into a ramp to get the tank onto the trailer. When it is full, the septic tank weighs almost 2,000 pounds.

After doing that a couple of times Jacob got a shovel and spent two full days digging a hole through rock so we could keep the tank on the trailer and just drive away with it when it was full. It’s a great system now and I am so grateful we don’t have to use that crazy winch setup in this heat.

The people at the RV park are super nice and let us pump for like $5. We have to pump it once a month.


Water

Like I mentioned before, we can’t afford anything that drills into the ground so drilling a well isn’t an option right now (it would be somewhere around $30,000 to do so in case you are curious). So we opted for a water tank, it holds 2500 gallons of water and eventually, when we have rain gutters, it will collect rainwater. But for now, we have to call someone to come out and fill it up. It requires a really good platform because when that thing is full it is HEAVY so any kind of sharp object underneath will pierce right through it.

We were hesitant to fill it up at first because the price we were quoted was around $600 and we had spent so much on supplies and materials at that point we needed to hold off on spending for a bit. So we would fill a few five-gallon jugs at a water station in town a couple of times a week at first instead. Thankfully we have some neighbors a few lots away from us that we have befriended, they have been super nice and helpful. They had some water delivered and the truck ended up having more water than they needed so they gave the rest to us! We rushed to prep the platform and tank to have water in it. We were told it would be a couple of hundred gallons at first but they ended up filling our tank halfway! That lasted us pretty much the full eight months we’ve been here. AND when we met the driver he mentioned he could deliver the water at a fraction of the price we were quoted. Blessings on blessings. So now we can fill up our tank and have an estimated year’s worth of water for around $300.

The tank isn’t connected to any plumbing inside the house yet so we still fill up our five-gallon jugs and just use them wherever we need them. The dogs even have their own five-gallon jug with a hand pump attached for their water bowl. For our own drinking water, we use water bottles right now. It hurts to use so much plastic but literally everything about the way we are living is inconvenient right now and the water bottles are one convenient thing okay. Having a sink should eliminate the need for water bottles because then it will be easier to keep other dishes and reusable bottles clean.


Eating/Cooking

When we didn’t have electricity this is something that had a huge impact on me personally. I severely underestimated the importance of having decent nutrients. Did you know that 90 percent of the body’s serotonin is made in the digestive tract? For a while our eating habits were horrible. Like fast food and constant gas station snacks. My go-to’s at the gas station were Lunchables, sunflower seeds, fruit snacks, and lime topo chico. My go-to fast food was Mcdonald’s breakfast, Schlotskyz and Taco Bell. It was bad. There were also a lot of Little Ceasars Pizzas and I frequently made Ramen Noodles with my Jetboil.

We didn’t have a good way to store or cook any kind of food. We tried using our YETI but the ice would melt so fast. The cooler was super high maintenance on top of everything else going on and we didn’t do a good job at keeping up with it. I did try to get fruit and other things that were good for us and didn’t need to be refrigerated.

Once my business started to slow back down and I was able to actually soak in all that was happening I fell into a depression. I think everything that happened between September and December, on top of not properly taking care of myself is what did it. I don’t really want to unpack this right now, maybe I will later.

At some point, we graduated to at least being able to use an electric griddle and microwave with our generator and that helped.

The true saving grace is when Jacob got our very first working electric outlet installed and we were able to get a fridge. I love having a fridge. We still use the griddle, a George foreman grill and the microwave. So we’ve got a plethora of ways to make food now. Being able to eat right immediately started helping me crawl out of depression.

Right now we are working on setting up our kitchen so it’s easier to do dishes and have counter space to prep things. Having a sink will be so nice. We do want an oven/stove top but that’s going to come in later on because she’s an expensive item that isn’t really NEEDED right now with all of the little appliances helping get the job done.

Heat

It’s hard to remember the exact timing of things but after we figured out the toilet and shower, the next thing we really needed was a way to stay warm through winter. At first, we figured a wood-burning stove was the way to go. It would keep the tiny home warm, we could cook with it and it was super ~aesthetic~. Like everything else, we underestimated the installation and cost of a wood-burning stove. The stove itself we got no problem, it’s the chimney and everything else that blew our freakin’ minds. So we had to pivot and got a propane heater instead. We found some large propane tanks on FB Marketplace and hooked our heater up. The heat pretty much goes directly into the loft, it is so nice and toasty. That was one of the easier things to figure out. 

Note – The heater we use is made to be used indoors, and has multiple sensors and ways of shutting itself off, we have a carbon monoxide detector and I insisted on opening the window right above our heads in bed when we did use it.

Jacob installed all of the necessary wirings we would need for electricity so we could also install our insulation before getting the heater. The insulation was a messy process but looking back that was one of the easier things to do as well. I was gone when he did the wiring so I can’t really speak too much to that.

Electricity

Lol where do I even start with electricity? The good thing is we technically do have electricity. Now, we can power our fridge, fans, lights, appliances and kind of power our air conditioning. We have the essentials.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the system is pretty genius and I am so proud of Jacob for figuring it out as a short-term solution. We have yet to come across anyone else doing something like it and none of our electrician friends knew what to say when we asked them questions about it. But it is a WACK setup that we had no intention of depending on for very long.

So here we go…FIRST OFF, the place where we bought our land had promised grid power by the end of 2021. We figured we’d be without electricity for three months max so our system was supposed to be a very temporary solution. Jacob knows all of the technicalities but I’ll just describe what I know. We set it up in a way that one might set up a system with solar panels. With a bank of batteries and an inverter. But to get an efficient/effective amount of solar panels is expensive and we weren’t expecting to really NEED them so instead of charging our batteries with solar we opted for charging our batteries with our gas-powered generator. Emphasis on gas-powered. 2021 comes to an end as does the promise of connecting to the grid. Maybe spring 2022, they say. Spring 2022 comes and goes, just kidding maybe August 2022.

JUST KIDDING GUYS YOU WON’T HAVE ACCESS TO POWER FOR AT LEAST ANOTHER YEAR, is what we found out the first week of June.

So now we are in the middle of pivoting and planning to be completely off-grid. I pick up our first set of solar panels tomorrow, we need a lot more than this one set for them to actually power everything we need but hopefully this will ease the use of the generator and we won’t burn through so much gas until we can continue to add panels on.

The batteries are super effective and actually hold a decent charge unless we want to use air conditioning. We installed a mini-split air conditioner fully expecting to be able to connect to the grid so we didn’t really plan for the most energy-efficient solution or go out of our way to find an off-grid-friendly way to stay cool through the summer months.

As it is right now we cannot run the air conditioner unless we are also running the generator because our AC kills our batteries in a matter of minutes.

The current ac routine;

  • No ac at night. We use two fans and open the windows.
  • Windows stay open and fans stay on in the morning. Usually, in the morning, the inside of the tiny home is actually hotter than it is outside so I like to be outside in the mornings.

  • The batteries start to die around noon.

  • I run the generator and ac for about an hour from noon to one because if I’m going to run the generator I might as well get some ac out of it.

  • Turn everything back off.

  • The tiny home stays bearable for a couple of hours, I am able to hang and be fine in front of a fan until it gets to be about 93 degrees inside then I run the generator and ac for another hour.

  • Turn it off and repeat.

  • Around 5:00 is the hottest part of the day.

  • Usually by 7:00 pm we don’t run the ac or generator again until the next day.

Right now it is June 27th and we go through about five gallons of gas per day. Our nearest gas station is $4.69 per gallon.

Why the AC is such an issue for us:

I know being off-grid means embracing the inconvenience and getting accustomed to a totally different lifestyle. I can get on board with that.

BUT

We have two dogs and two cats. Leaving them at the tiny home for anything longer than MAYBE two hours isn’t an option with the current heat we have. Right now I stay home as much as possible, if we need to go somewhere for more than a couple of hours we have to make sure the dogs can come with us and that we are either home by 12:30 pm or that we aren’t gone until after 6:00 pm. The cats are slightly more tolerant of the heat than the dogs are. We are hoping the solar panels we get help this issue but our expectations are low.

If we left the cats outside they probably wouldn’t make it more than a day, they are inside cats. And as far as leaving the dogs outside – our land is not fenced in, fencing is an expensive and time-consuming task that falls behind other priorities. As I said, life decides what we prioritize.

Maybe if the solar panels are a complete fail then fencing will move up the list. We are also talking about window treatments to help keep the inside cool, right now we have shirtains (t-shirts over our windows) and they keep the sun out but don’t really do much for the temperature, though they do make me laugh a lot and that counts for something.

Structural and Building Things

I forgot to mention our stairs! For a while, we used a ladder to get into our loft but that got to be pretty sketchy so Jacob built the stairs. They are unfinished but they get the job done! Jacob also built the shed we keep our batteries and tools in from scratch with recycled lumber which is pretty cool.


Lights and Plywood Ceilings

The insulation on our ceiling started falling down so Jacob and my Dad installed plywood we already had to make sure the insulation stays intact. This allowed us to install pocket lights! For a while we just used string lights, Jacob didn’t realize when he bought them but they were colorful string lights, so life just felt like a fiesta any time they were on. We call them our fiesta lights.


Current Projects and Priorities

Our current projects are the kitchen and solar panels.

For the kitchen, we got the basic unfinished cabinets from Home Depot, our sink and faucet from Amazon. I am pretty stoked about the design aspect of it all, I am going for cozy cottage vibes. I finished painting the cabinets and Jacob got the sink ready to install. We are planning to stain our butcher block and then cover it in epoxy to make it more durable. The sink is one of those things that you don’t expect will be a huge priority but right now the process of doing dishes is super annoying and it will be SO dope to have a sink where we can do things like washing our hands, faces, and keep things a little cleaner inside the tiny home. It will be good for everyone’s mental health.

Solar Panels – I got to pick those up today! I have no idea what all goes into installing them. According to Jacob’s research, we need fifteen to be fully efficient. We bought five to start, the way they work they have to be connected in groups of five. We are going to set up the first five and see what happens then go from there. We just want it to ease the burden of the generator so we can save on gas and work towards a full solar system. I don’t know any of the technical aspects but Jacob does and he plans to blog as well so I’ll link his blog here when that happens (:

My current takeaways

I should have written this part first because now I am just blown away by how far we’ve come and don’t even know where to start.

One big takeaway is that you are either off-grid or you’re not. If you want to be completely off-grid you cannot live the way you live connected to the grid. There’s no middle ground, you are either sacrificing a lot of the comfort and conveniences that come with grid power or you aren’t. 

I am really proud of what we’ve done so far. Whenever anyone hears what we are doing they all say this is what they dream of doing but not many people would actually do this. We are definitely doing it the hard way but still, we’ve managed to take raw land and turn it into a home, that’s pretty cool.

Jacob has done 99% of the work and it’s been amazing to see him learn everything…electricity, carpentry, plumbing, solar power…he has done A LOT. Seeing Jacob learn and work is like witnessing God work directly through him. I just hold and carry things for him sometimes. I have to add I do make it a little extra difficult because I am so particular about the design and the end result.

With that being said, I personally have learned not to hold on so tightly to expectations and things having to be one certain way. It’s a lesson I am constantly learning but I have gotten a lot better about it. 

As far as daily life – I have a good routine down and am taking better care of myself now than I ever have before. I don’t want to fall back into depression or add more weight to Jacob’s shoulders. I have learned the way I manage stress is so important.

Faith is coming into play a lot. It’s hard to stay optimistic and not get frustrated living like this sometimes. It truly feels like we are holding on by a thread at times. But I have faith it all works out in the long run and when I find myself forgetting that, I have to lean into God. He keeps telling me time and time again to trust Him. So that’s what I’m doing. I imagine Him gesturing at all He’s done in my life so far and saying “Have I not kept my promises?”

Last but not least I want to note that, with everything going on, we do have a lot of issues at times but not once has our marriage been one of them. If anything our marriage is stronger and we are a better team now than we have ever been before. Which is all I could really ask for.

If you’ve read through all of this and want to pray for us, here’s what I have been praying for lately;

  • Clarity on what to prioritize
  • Daily bread: sustenance and nutrients to stay healthy physically and mentally
  • Weight and stress to be lifted from Jacob’s shoulders
  • A miracle regarding our electricity set up

If you want to follow along I post some behind-the-scenes on Instagram sporadically and have an entire highlight saved called Tiny Home where I’ve been documenting the process. You can check out my Instagram here.

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