Winter is Here

As winter settles in and the temperature stays below freezing, the realities of building a house on a trailer bed in Montreal make their presence known along with the weather.  When I first decided to build a tiny house I searched and searched for tiny houses built for my climate.  I was frustrated because I found very few resources for adapting a tiny house for northern climates.  I found the story of a tiny house that was riddled with humidity – condensation on all the windows and poor air quality as soon as the house was sealed up against the weather.  I found another house built in the Yukon, but couldn’t find much on how it was handling the winter.

I started my build without all of the answers for my questions and fortunately some of those questions are being answered.  At the beginning of December  I found an HRV unit that will work with both the size of my house and can handle the winters.   I am thrilled to know that my house will have a healthy air quality all year round.  I fully plan on using passive ventilation during the spring, summer and into the fall, but have no desire to let the heat escape and windows freeze open (and then possibly warp) in the winter.

But air quality isn’t the only thing to worry about.  Plumbing also a concern.  How to set up the plumbing so that I can have running water year round.  I have purchased a 26 gallon fresh water tank so that I don’t have to have a connection via hose to have water in my house.  This water tank will live under the sink, and the water pressure will be supplied with the help of a small RV water pump.  To fill the water tank, I have bought a marine fresh water deck inlet that I plan on installing in my counter so that I can fill the water tank from inside the tiny house, I will also be able to run my water from a potable hose in the summer through an exterior water inlet.  I don’t really relish the idea of having to fill my water tank from outside in the middle of January.

Then what to do with the water once it goes through the tap… I am pretty sure I will only be using my grey water tank when the weather is warm and will live with very simple plumbing in the winter – i.e. having a bucket under the sink to collect grey water and showering at friends or the gym.  The direct vent propane tankless water heater that I had really hoped to be able to use, can be susceptible to freezing, and I haven’t been able to find the  one vented through the roof that I selected for order in Canada and it would also require some fancy venting through the kitchen and main sleeping loft.  I went back to the drawing board and have chosen a 6 gallon electric water heater.  As much as I would like a tankless water heater, the  propane options don’t work well for my house.  The electric tankless water heaters require a lot of power each time they are used, and I’m concerned that it will test my electrical system every time it’s used.  The 6 gallon electric water heater will demand more constant but lower demand on the electrical system.

Other considerations I have made for my climate:  an insulated door with a smaller window,  triple pane windows (only an increases the Rvalue by 2, but every point counts), an additional 1″ of insulation on the exterior of the walls and 2″ on the roof.  I am looking into ordering straw bales to go around the bottom of the trailer instead of building a skirt of temporary insulated panels around the base of the tiny house to keep the space underneath the house somewhat insulated.  The straw will also serve as composting material during the summer.  I am sure other things will be added to the list as I go along.


11 thoughts on “Winter is Here”

  1. Hi Natalie,
    Very inspiring work. I sent you an e-mail regarding the roofing concerns you had. On a somewhat different topic, have you considered catching the water run-off from the roof and using this as another water source (non-potable, of course)? Some homeowners who have installed their own roofs have set up such a system to reduce their use of the “normal” water supply.
    Kind regards,

  2. Yay for some details on designing for northern climates! I’m designing a tiny house in Wisconsin and am having the same difficulties you did finding ideas for what works.What references did you finally find? Thanks!

    1. Hi Tracy,

      Thank you. I scrolled through a lot of different blogs and websites, and much of what I am implementing is learning from other peoples’ trials and tribulations as much as from their successes. Fortunately people have been really generous with their mishaps. As far as resources go – Laird Herbert from Leaf House has been really helpful, that being said, some of the lessons I learnt from him were on posts about him on other tiny house blogs. I have been fortunate enough to stumble onto a great deal. Is there a specific item of concern – maybe I could point you in the right direction of a more specific topic.

      1. Thanks Natalie! My three biggest concerns in terms of designing for winter are condensation, drinking water and gray water. That’s why I was so excited to stumble upon your blog and this post in particular, because you’ve thought about the same things. I think I read that same blog post you did about terrible condensation problems in one tiny house in the winter. So I’ve also thought about a HRV and am curious to know which one you decided on, since it’s hard to tell from websites which HRVs would be sized right for a tiny house. It sounds like maybe you’re installing 2 – one in the kitchen and one in the bathroom? Or did I read that wrong? I too am designing in a drinking water storage tank and am probably going to go the route you have taken by having a way to fill it from the inside as well as outside. Did you go with an RV tank and plumbing? Will you be hauling buckets in to fill it in the winter? Gray water is still a conundrum, since I don’t want to have to make space for a holding tank, but I do like your simple solution. The water heater is also still a question. I’m holding out for finding an on-demand heater but have been having the same trouble you did.

        I’ve also gotten a lot of great info from your blog about insulation – I’m going back and forth on what type to use. Building in the winter is a great way to test it out and it sounds like you’re happy.

        Love the Refuge! I’m so inspired to get started on my own. But probably in Spring. 🙂

      2. You are welcome Tracy – I’m glad my blog is of some help. I bought a Lunos E2 HRV, it works in pairs one draws in air as the other expels it and then they switch. It is a German made product that is the smallest I have found, it’s designed for apartments and small spaces, though if you buy additional pairs, they can be used in larger spaces. One of the other reasons I chose the Lunos E2 is that they have been used throughout some colder climates (i.e. Russia – I hear it gets cold there). When I called a different company here in Québec that makes HRV units for standard size houses they informed me that they felt that my tiny house would be too small for the smallest of their units and there might be a pressure issue if I used it.
        In the winter I will be bringing water in containers into the house to refill my fresh water tank. I bought a water tank kit (Barker’s 26 Gallon tank) that comes with all the necessary connectors.
        Thank you for the love! Good luck with your build!

  3. I am planning to move into my tiny house (still being built) in November. And I live in Jackson, WY so this whole post about cold weather was interesting to me. I am curious, did you use the straw bales? If so, how did it work out? Were there a lot of problems with mice? I was thinking about doing the same thing but haven’t been able to find anyone with any actual experience with this method.

    1. We’re possibly moving to your area and are thinking about building a tiny home. How did things work out for you for the winter? We also have questions about the water issue. We have 2 kids, so we’ll use a decent amount of water. Also, what have you done about parking your RV? We’ll be in Jackson next week on vacation.

      1. Hi Benthany,
        Things worked out beautifully. It was a terribly cold winter and the infloor heating did the trick, I only used the propane furnace to boost the heat more quickly if needed, and in the end I wouldn’t recommend that model of propane heater for my climate as a primary heat source. I, however am not in Jackson. I’m in Montreal Canada.

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