By Mollie Busby
After living in a 30-foot off-the-grid yurt for two years, the first question we get asked in regards to our tiny home is, “Why would you choose to downgrade?”
Sure, I can see it from that perspective: when you’re talking about conventional living spaces, moving from 700 to 420 square feet seems like a downgrade in today’s larger than life society. But when you’re talking about off grid living, moving into a tiny house made logical sense. (Not to mention the millennial spirit in both of us wanted to up the ante and learn to frame, build and finish a home with recycled materials.)
Living off the grid is just like being on the grid, except you have to pre-plan EVERYTHING because the entire house is relying on you to function. We plan when to heat the house, how much firewood to cut, making sure the snowmobile starts to get up anddown our mountain road, how much water to haul up, how much earlier to wake up to get it all done, and the list goes on--just to survive for one day.
Also - a bit more specific to our situation - Sean (my husband, business partner and best friend) lives with two auto-immune diseases without cures; type 1 diabetes and lupus. Because we plan to start a family at some point, the thought crossed our minds from a practical standpoint that living in a big yurt with a wood stove, versus a wood stove in a tiny, well- insulated traditional home makes things extremely simple to heat.
So no matter what’s going on with either one of us, it’s super simple to crank the wood stove. We love our yurt, and we were warm for two whole winters... it just takes much longer to heat the space from nothing (6 hours) compared to the tiny house, which warms up in 30 minutes. So we set out to build our own house - determined to make what seemed like a downgrade in square footage into a massive off-the-grid upgrade with the systems we installed.
One thing stayed consistent: four Goal Zero 90 watt panels serve all of our electricity needs. These panels then feed into Goal Zero Yeti 1250 Portable Power Stations and a battery bank and the power is then distributed throughout the tiny house. We also have a solar hot water shower mounted on the patio roof - simply a water tank painted black to absorb the sun’s heat in the summer. The showerhead is a garden watering can. A wine barrel below collects additional rain water for gardening and filling Sean’s favorite feature of the house: a SnorkelTM cedar wood-fired hot tub. We fill the hot tub from rainwater, collected off the main roof into the big collection tank painted green to somewhat blend into the environment and prevent algae growth. The rainwater is processed through a first-flush diverter, and a filter before it’s pumped into the hot tub or house for non-potable use.
Cedar shake siding on the front and back of the house were reclaimed from a house torn down a few hours south. Corrugated metal skirting was reclaimed from a roof in a town nearby. Not seen in photos are six logs used as structural supports inside the house and four additional trees that were used to support the outside patio roof, all of which were sourced from our property. We used second and third cuts of miscellaneous scrap wood from a local mill (sold at a deep discount) for our soffit and patio roof. Our decking is reclaimed lumber from a house torn down in Missoula and the deck railing was a gift a friend saved from the landfill. Our patio furniture by Polywood® is made from 90% plastic from post-consumer bottle waste, such as milk and detergent bottles.
We use an Aqua2use® greywater system, which captures, pre-filters, diverts and recycles our rainwater shower water to be used for watering non-edible, subsurface roots of plants and trees in the garden.
In our kitchen, we wanted easy access to hot water through the long winter. In the yurt, we had to boil a kettle of water each time we needed to do dishes- which works, but also takes time. Thus, a shallow well hand pump draws water from a holding tank to either the kitchen sink or to our homemade thermosiphon water heater that wraps around our wood stove - naturally cycling cooling water from the repurposed brewing kettle into the siphons’s hot copper coils. Similar to the yurt, a car siphon pumps water as you press it with your foot to the sink for pressurized dish washing without wasting any water. We pump as we need water from the holding tank.
Solar power operates our SundanzerTM D.C. powered chest fridge where we used velcro to attach a chop block to the top for more counter space. A solar-powered LED bulb sits in an old chicken egg wire basket serving as our kitchen light. Propane gas lights are sprinkled throughout the house for those many days of winter darkness when solar power isn’t available - to no fault of the system. It just gets so dark! Propane also powers my favorite feature: a propane range/ oven. The yurt doesn’t have an oven, and I’ll tell you: it’s what I missed the most when we began living off grid! Our propane utilities are hooked to little BBQ propane tanks for easy snowmobiling and handling in winter. Pantry shelves are built into the back of the log that holds our cast iron cooking pans.
In the bathroom, we wanted easy hot water. Mr. Heater’s Basecamp® line features an on-demand pressurized propane hot water heater for showers, which Sean rigged to rainwater storage. We used half of a reclaimed whisky barrel for our shower basin, and an NSF approved SunmarTM composting toilet, which is really top of the line in terms of off grid toilets.
Upstairs, storage is at a premium, so we got a queen bed that’s like a reverse Murphy Bed. It opens up, lifting the mattress for more storage of seasonal items below. Each time we translated an off grid system from the yurt into the tiny house, our goal was to have the house work smarter, not harder, to support our needs for years to come. Although it seems tiny by today’s standards, our little house packs a mighty punch of upgrades for our mountain homestead.
For more details about Sean and Mollie’s homestead visit TheBusbyHive.com, or follow @seanbusby on Instagram.