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Tiny Houses in Cold Winters
  • GreenTeacherGreenTeacher
    Posts: 6
    Hi there,

    I am new to the site and began my interest in the tiny house after I watched the documentary. I am a student, soon to be a teacher and I have a lot of student debt. I want to be able to move out after my graduation but I don't want to accumulate anymore debt. My concern is about the winters where I live in Canada, on the prairies. Our winters can get down to -35 C without windchill... up to -50C with the wind. I'm wondering how well a tiny house on wheels or a small cottage type tiny house would hold up. I was also wondering if the compostable toilet isn't a good idea in such cold climates as maybe the "plumbing" would let in cold air? I would really appreciate anyone's helpful advice on the matter.
  • jmortstarjmortstar
    Posts: 4
    This link details the construction of a tiny house suited for cold Canadian winters.


    He did a really incredible job. Some of the things he did to cope with -40C temperatures included framing with 2x6 for extra insulation, custom building a wood stove for heating, cooking and water heating and including a blower to pass hot air from the stove over the pipes under the trailer when the temperatures were low. 
  • GreenTeacherGreenTeacher
    Posts: 6
    Thank you for the link, I'm still confused at what kind of heating I should use that will heat the house and the water that would be easiest for me to put in.
  • RhondaRhonda
    Posts: 2
    I live in the south and have been watching extreme weather issues also because of our heat and hurricanes. I recommend 2x6 framing for both strength and insulation. My preference for insulation is rockwool matts recommended on This Old House. Be sure to add metal straps to your frame (study hurricane for wind & earthquake for vibration ties) if you want it to be mobile. I'd go with an on-demand water heater and look for Dickinson direct vent furnaces. There are also plug in electric convection heaters that you can supplement with if needed. There are also small split level or wall mounted heat/air units available on the market but haven't studied their temperature ranges.
  • jamisonjamison
    Posts: 100
    The first thing I would do is move south...lol j/k I think the boat heaters that everyone seems to use would be plenty hot to heat and keep a well insulated tiny house warm. I would design your tiny house in a way that has a fresh water tank on the inside. For example put a 40 gallon tank under you kitchen cabinets and then when you plumb all the lines dont put any of the lines in the exterior walls, run them all on the inside or through inside walls. I have attached a basic set up. I would put the heat on the other side of the wall next to the water tank. I didnt include hot water lines or the hook up diverter or pump depending on if your on or off grid

     
    plumbing.jpg
    1409 x 822 - 258K
  • GreenTeacherGreenTeacher
    Posts: 6
    Jamison, I hope to be on grid as I want some modern conveniences still. What kind of energy do the boat heaters use? I also wanted to know if solar panels can be used in harsh winters where there's cold temperatures and lots of snow that does not melt.
  • SmallHouseBlissSmallHouseBliss
    Posts: 6
    Photovoltaic panels work fine in winter. They actually become more internally efficient in cold weather. Many places (including the Prairies I think) tend to have clear skies in winter, so though the days are short, you do get good output while the sun is shining. The only thing is you have to mount them in such as way that the snow will slide off by itself, or where you can brush them off.
  • SmallHouseBlissSmallHouseBliss
    Posts: 6
    For insulation, have a look at structural insulated panels (SIPs). Besides offering a high level of insulation, they are also a fairly quick and easy way to build as they typically come with all your window openings and gable slope pre-cut. They are not the cheapest way to build, but the increase in cost will be small for a tiny house and you may save a month's rent or two by being in your own home sooner.
  • GreenTeacherGreenTeacher
    Posts: 6
    I was looking into the insulation made from newspaper and other reusable products. Would this insulation work well enough in cold winters or is the more traditional insulation needed?
  • rickhrickh
    Posts: 5
    GreenTeacher: Last year I took off the siding of an old bunk house we have at our cabin to replace it, and it had the remnants of jeans and other cotton-type material stuffed in between the inner and outer walls. It seems that over time a good deal of moisture had gotten in and by this time most of it had already disintegrated, but I remember as a child that the place (about 200 sq ft) stayed warm on those -20F days in the winter when we'd come to the cabin.

    Interestingly, covering the insulation under the sheathing was a layer of... I'm not sure what you'd call it, but it was basically very thin aluminum panels (it looks like the individual panels were used in a newspaper printing press). That may have also contributed to the cotton fibers rotting, as they probably held in moisture. But they also probably helped keep the place warm.
  • GreenTeacherGreenTeacher
    Posts: 6
    Hm that's interesting. I wonder if anyone else has used this kind of insulation and if they had issues with moisture and how I could avoid it. Thanks for your response Rickh.
  • jamisonjamison
    Posts: 100
    My guess is that total moisture control is impossible. You want your house to breath in some form, that is why all those house wraps prevent water from getting in but let the house breath too.
  • DisabledCyclistDisabledCyclist
    Posts: 29
    Makes sense...
  • Dale_DDale_D
    Posts: 63
    Anyone know what happened to the link jmortstar posted? Worked last night but now it loads a blank page for me.
  • jmortstarjmortstar
    Posts: 4
    The power has been switch off on the old Tiny House Forum. This quote is from Tiny House Blog:

    "Michael Janzen from Tiny House Designs and I have been involved with the Tiny House Forum for several years now, but we both have found out that we do not have the time to sufficiently monitor the forum and do it justice. We have also fought a lot of spam and other technical issues and have decided to close it down at the end of August."



    Shame as despite the spam, there was still some useful information on there.
  • Dale_DDale_D
    Posts: 63
    Yeah... I wanted to get a copy of the pictures from that post, and his e-mail so I could see how his project finished out. I guess all the data (like his e-mail) is now gone forever...

    ... or maybe I could find an archived version of the blog. Don't know.
  • Dale_DDale_D
    Posts: 63
    Ha ha !!!

    Success !!!!!!!!!


  • jmortstarjmortstar
    Posts: 4
    Nice work. If you do get in touch with him, see if he will post some pictures of the finished home on here. I would love to see it.
  • Dale_DDale_D
    Posts: 63
    I sent him an e-mail already, and it didn't bounce, so I'm kinda hopeful. Also let him know where I found the link (this forum), and posted the address in there. If he answers I'll ask him to post finished pictures here.

    We'll see...
  • Dale_DDale_D
    Posts: 63
    P.S. Thanks!  ...once a geek, always a geek!
  • Dale_DDale_D
    Posts: 63
    OK, I've been in touch with northstar1865 and he offered to mail me a DVD of all his pictures. I also invited him to join us here on the forums if he has the time and is so inclined. If not I asked permission to post his pictures here on his behalf. He also gave me a link to his Photobucket album of the project, but I forgot to ask permission to post the link here.

    Making progress!


  • Dale_DDale_D
    Posts: 63
    OK, Paul gave me permission to post a link to his Photobucket album...

    http://s785.photobucket.com/albums/yy134/Northstar-TinyHouse/
  • Dale_DDale_D
    Posts: 63
    Some more news... I received a DVD from Paul today with all his pics from his house build! There are over 1300 of them!

    I would really like to share all of them with everyone here. My plan is to make either a disc image or zip file containing the pics, and provide a torrent link here for everyone to download. Does everyone know how to download a bit torrent file?
  • jamisonjamison
    Posts: 100
    I do, load them up!!!!
  • Dale_DDale_D
    Posts: 63
    I will make them available as soon as I figure out a few things on my end. Still getting used to my new Mac!
  • Dale_DDale_D
    Posts: 63
    OK... I don't know where to share the darn torrent. Most trackers require you to make an account, and I don't want to have to just to upload and share a torrent. I also have a dropbox account if anyone wants me to share it with them. Only problem is you have to give me your e-mail, and there is no PM function I can find on these forums (so your e-mail would have to be posted in the open on the forums = bad, as spammers can get it).

    If you know a torrent site where I can post, let me know (or another option). The zip file is too big to post (@ 2.1gb), and as I said, there are over 1300 images.
  • Dale_DDale_D
    Posts: 63
    @ GreenTeacher... sorry for kinda hijacking your thread with the other stuff.

    I do have a few suggestions for you, though. Go take a look at the Insulation Solutions thread over in the Green and Eco Talk section. BobHenry was kind enough to post R value info for different insulation types. In your climate my vote would be to spend the extra money on the spray in foam insulation (Walltight or Eco Walltight). Not only does it have a high R value, but it will effectively seal the walls/celing/floor from any air penetration (and water penetration), and acts as a vapor barrier to boot. It would effectively solve all of your worries. The wife and I watch a lot of Homes on Homes and Holmes Inspection and Mike uses it a LOT on the show. The stuff seems to be quite effective. It may cost a bit more to do, but insulation is one place you DON'T want to skimp on in Canada!

    My other suggestion would be to go with 2X6 construction as in the referenced "Tiny Canadian House".

    Also, the spray foam can be used to encapsulate pluming & water tanks to keep them on the warm side of the construction. All you have to do is keep it all tight within the floor joists (close to the flooring) and have them spray over it. You could even use 2X8's to drop the perimeter of the house to meet with the trailer frame, giving yourself an extra 2 to 4 inches of foam in the floor to protect the pluming. If you need me to explain that with a diagram just let me know.

    Oh, if you would decide to go with the spray in, make sure all of your wiring and plumbing is in perfect working order before spraying, or run the wiring in conduit in case you would ever have to re-wire.


  • Dale_DDale_D
    Posts: 63
    OK, my Dropbox account is set up and I have a zip file with all of Pauls photos stored in my account. If you want to you can click on my name and post a message to me with your e-mail and I'll send you an invite to Dropbox (that way I get more free space to host files), and then add you to my shared folder so you can access the zip file. Otherwise I still have to find a bit torrent site where I don't have to register to upload, or use something else like Frostwire peer2peer software.
  • Dale_DDale_D
    Posts: 63
    Not sure if this will work for anyone, but I have Pauls pictures available (I think) in Frostwire...

    http://bit.ly/UWVLTc

  • Dale_DDale_D
    Posts: 63
    Looks like it will work!

  • JammerJammer
    Posts: 3
    I know this thread has been dormant for a while but in case anyone is still reading it I thought I'd share a couple of comments.

    1) PVs.  PVs work great in cold.  They do not work great in the winter in cold climates, because at high latitudes the days are short and the sun stays low in the sky.  If you orient and tilt your panels in the ideal way that will help somewhat with the low solar angle but it will not make the days any longer.  Snow and ice will tend to accumulate on the panels but can be removed.

    2) Condensation is a problem.  You can keep the interior dry with ventilation, but that will make it less comfortable.  The only way around it is to take on the winter construction techniques, insulate, use a vapor barrier, use double pane low e windows.

    3) Water and sewer connections will freeze.  The only reliable way around this is to have them come up to the house from 6' underground in an insulated riser.
  • Dale_DDale_D
    Posts: 63
    A comment on ... to alleviate freezing you can use a heat tape on the lines, with insulation around them.
  • JerryJerry
    Posts: 56

    :  How much power does heat tape require?  Is it feasible to run heat tape from batteries charged by solar?

     

    :  Would it be prudent to include some desiccant between each stud?   I know they use a desiccant filled bar in most double pane windows to deal with condensation, perhaps something similar would be wise in a tiny house, it would add $200-300 to the costs, but might be well worth it.

  • Dale_DDale_D
    Posts: 63
    Jammer,

    If you use spray foam a desiccant won't be necessary. Spray foam completely seals and acts as a vapor barrier (which is why I would personally use it in anything I build). If you also use foam sheeting on the outside you can create a complete thermal brake between the outside and inside of a home (creating a complete disconnect from outside to inside temperatures). 1/2" of foam sheeting is all that would be necessary under the outside plywood sheeting. This would protect the studs from ever seeing moisture, and would keep all condensation from ever touching the exterior plywood sheeting.

    As far as how much a heat tape draws... I don't know. But you would need to be connected to the grid to ensure you always have power. In my opinion, in cold climates anyway, you really can't go without a grid connection. Why? ... because without it you run the risk of running out of power (unless you have one hell of a battery bank, and a combination solar/wind/ and -possibly- micro-hydro), and putting your structure at risk of freezing (pipes AND people). The way I see an -almost- off grid small home working in cold climates is like this...

    1. In late spring through early fall you can produce enough energy to run your home and send power to the grid (making you money in the process), just like solar and wind supplemented full sized homes. In slightly warmer climates where AC is desirable because of a combo of heat and humidity, summer you would be drawing slightly from the grid.

    2. In late fall to early winter and late winter to early spring you should be able to operate mostly off-grid (sending power to the grid and off-setting the cost of what you will draw during other parts of the year).

    3. In winter you will need grid power to maintain your home.

    For me, not for everyone else, this is how I would design and maintain my home. No, it wouldn't be as mobile... as a matter of fact, not really mobile at all. But I don't think storing water in your home is really feasible either. It takes up too much room in a small dwelling. If your home DOES get below freezing you run the risk of having a major catastrophe if your storage system is broken open and spills it's contents everywhere. I don't think it's feasible to have enough battery storage to run everything (appliances, lights, heating tapes) all winter long, especially since winter daytime is shorter than summer daytime (for solar).

    The most important thing you can take away from this is regarding the insulation. With the spray foam and foam sheeting you can do it once and forget about ever worrying about condensation, inside or out. If you have never see them, watch Holmes on Homes and Holmes Inspection on DIY or HGTV (not sure what channels in Canada). That's where I learned about spray foam and foam sheeting, and how to use them properly. Mike Holmes is a contractor that cares, and over-engineers everything he does. It's the way the small homes community should be doing things too.
  • JerryJerry
    Posts: 56

    Thanks for the info Dale.  I had been wary of spray insulation due to it's chemical properties, but I think I'll have to research it a bit more now.

    I do respectfully disagree about not being able to be disconnected from the grid.  There are hundreds of thousands of homes in the US and Canada that are completely off-grid, and they get along just fine.  There are millions of homes around the world that are off-grid, and they get along just fine.  A simple wood stove with a copper tube running around the stove pipe is enough to give you hot water all day long, and that is just one simple solution, there are literally hundreds of other methods to keep a handy supply of hot water without being attached to the grid in any way.  The property I am purchasing now has a community well, but no pipes, hauling is the only answer (ground water is too deep to make individual wells economically feasible).  It has electricity within a half mile, but it costs more to run a connection than to buy twice as many solar panels and batteries as necessary.  Each person will have unique circumstances to deal with in an off-grid situation, you cannot pigeon hole everyone into Holme's idea of what is proper.

  • Dale_DDale_D
    Posts: 63
    One of the products that Mike uses on his shows is Eco-Walltight spray foam (not sire if that is the right spelling). It's more environmentally friendly. It's also blue in color and heavier that most spray foams new building contractors use. I think it's 4lb. The more common stuff is a sort of manila folder color or off-white in color, and is only 2lb (plus it deteriorates, unlike the walltight). In a 2x6 studded wall 6" of the wall tight would give around and R30 value. In a 2x8 ceiling it would be close to (if not more than) R50 (2x10 would be R65+). As I said, coupled with 1/2" or more of exterior applied rigid foam sheeting (also colored blue) - (properly adhered to the studs and sealed at the butt joints - preferably tongue-and-groove or half-lap joints) the home would be : 1) airtight, and 2) impervious to moisture penetration and condensation. The walltight is it's own vapor barrier.

    NOTE: Their site seems to be indicating that the R value is 6.7 per inch of foam. Even if you don't fill the entire 2x6 void, say going to 5", the R value would be 33.5. With even just 1/2" of exterior applied rigid foam the R value would be at least 35 to 36... way above any building codes that I know of (in the States most codes require R19 for the walls, and R24 in the ceiling).

    Here is the link to Walltight.

    My opinion on needing a grid connection is just that, my opinion. I'm
    looking at the issues of heating/cooling from my perspective only, and possible the perspective of others like me (see below). I am
    also presenting my ideas for others to consider. I'm sure there are a
    few out there that would agree with me, to some degree at least, and
    others like yourself that will see it from the opposite direction... and
    that's cool too.

    I'm not Pigeonholing anything or anyone. What I'm saying is that the small homes community can learn a lesson from Mike... Take standard accepted building practices and go a few steps further. Over-engineer the solution to your problems. A prime example is his insistence to spray foam the floors of rooms that are over the garages (in a lot of the episodes from both shows). It is more than what building code requires, but solves the problem of cold over-the-garage rooms that a lot of people complain about in new construction. Don't just build to code... build to Code-on-Steroids! In the long run it will save you time, money, and some frustration.

    I also respect you opinions. There are a lot of homes that are completely off-grid. And if you can do that I think it's great! I am just stating my opinion, and it is how I would do it. I have my reasons... first off I'm disabled and can't cut wood or do a lot of work changing propane bottles. Second, I have been in a home heated by wood (and coal) and it was fine, except for temperature control... it's a little more difficult than with, lets say, a high efficiency heat pump (all electric or geo-thermal). Third, I need an environment that is relatively stable due to my lack of cold tolerance (an issue with my disability). The more stable my environment inside, the more comfortable I can be with my pain. There may be a few people reading this that have been leaning towards NOT building a small home (on wheels or a foundation) because they were worried about some of the same issues... being disabled, getting older and not being able to keep up with the demands of living off-grid. I know it is one of the obstacles that I have been trying to find a solution to for over two years now. My opinion of being grid connected with at least two means of power generation has been evolving over those two + years.

    There is also one more thing I have been working to overcome, and that is getting my wife interested in the idea of smaller living. One thing she is concerned about is livability over the long run. The interior fit and finish on some of the small homes we have viewed is not what she wants, and it isn't what I want either. We both want something that has top-notch looks and finish inside, and some of the issues of water (storage, heating, etc...) and heating/cooling have given her pause. We want to live in something that is comfortable, easy to maintain, and looks like a "normal" house on the inside. It's a balancing act for us... features that are modern vs. living at the lowest possible cost and complications.

    Again, I'm not pigeon-holing anyone. I also probably presented an idea that many may have overlooked for power generation... micro-hydro. If you live or plan on building anywhere near a fast moving creek or river it's something you can consider. The bonus is that as long as the water doesn't freeze you will have some power.

    The purpose of forums like these is to get ideas out there so others can benefit from them, and so we can learn and evolve ideas. Lets keep them coming!


  • JerryJerry
    Posts: 56

    Excellent response!  I wish you the best of luck finding the solutions to your unique problems, and hope you will continue to share them with us!

  • Robert
    Posts: 6
    Ray-Core makes awesome SIPs that are R-24 for a 2x4 wall. Planning on moving my tiny house to Jackson, WY… Very cold winters. I'm excited to see how they fare.