Our zero emissions tiny house

water lily pond
Our way to zero emissions home!

One of the biggest reasons for building a tiny house is our desire to live in a zero emissions home. Therefore we only want to use renewable energies to power our appliances. We also want to be independent of power and gas companies, even if they sell green energy. Because we want to go one step further and live a 100% off the grid. I reckon this is doable, especially here in Australia! In the following article, I will explain the off-grid setup we have in mind for our tiny house.

Solar panels for our roof

We will have solar panels on our roof, of course! We already bought our solar power setup because we want to power our tools with solar electricity while building the tiny house. Therefore we have two panels set up already. And they work great!

There will be six solar panels in total sitting on our roof. Each panel will bring in 310 W, so together the six panels should generate 1.86 kW of electricity generously provided by the sun. We will use solar power for our fridge, washing machine, lights and to charge phones and laptops.

Solar hot water for our shower

We will heat our water with a solar hot water heater. The system will be ground-mounted because the water tank is too heavy for our roof. Also, our small roof is already full of solar panels. With the solar hot water system we have in mind, the water tank is directly coupled to the solar collectors. The tank will be around 180 L, that should be enough for two people. We still have to figure out a way to heat water on overcast days. Perhaps a gas booster might do the trick? This is yet to be determined.

Biogas digester for cooking

We want to produce our own biogas, therefore we will have a mini biodigester in front of our tiny house. We will use biogas to power our kitchen gas cooktop and oven.

How does a biodigester work? A biodigester mimics a cow’s stomach. The digester is fed with organic material (organic food scraps, manure, humanure) which is then broken down into biogas in an oxygen-free environment (water). Biogas, therefore, consists mainly of methane and carbon dioxide. In addition to that, we can use the excess water from the digester as fertiliser since it will be rich in nutrients from the decomposing procedure.

Rainwater and grey water collection for us and the garden

We will set up a water collection system for our tiny house in order to collect rainwater. This system will consist of a 5000 L or perhaps even 10,000 L water tank behind the tiny house and guttering around the roof. But our roof is significantly smaller than regular houses, so in order to collect as much water as possible, we will also utilise our front deck canopy for water collection. At this point, we are worried that the tiny house might not be able to collect enough water and also that it might not rain enough in this area. Time will show.

In addition to that, we will collect our grey water and use it for watering our plants. This also means that we will use eco-friendly cleaning products and soaps, since we don’t want to kill our plants, right?!

This is our plan for a zero-emissions tiny house. We’re quite excited to go off grid and can’t wait to see it all in action. We also hope that these efforts will reduce our carbon footprint tremendously.

Living tiny and green – What are the benefits for us?

living tiny and green

We have talked about tiny houses and how we came to the decision to build one. But I haven’t explained what living tiny and green means to us.

For us living tiny and green is a whole new lifestyle. This lifestyle comes with a lot of challenges and changes, no doubt! But we believe that it also comes with a lot of benefits and freedoms.

#1: We will own our own house!

Once the tiny house is finished we can call ourselves house owners.

How great is that? Especially in times like these where buying a house is almost impossible for most people in their 30’s in Australia. Living tiny and green will give us the freedom to do whatever we want in our own space without being restricted by Strata, agency rules and regulations.    

#2: Living tiny and green won’t break the bank.

The beauty of living tiny and green is that it’s quite affordable.

Tiny houses are much smaller in size. The architecture of a tiny house is less complicated. A lot of people also use recycled and reclaimed materials to build their tiny house.

Building a tiny house will give us the freedom of not having to pay off a mortgage for the next 30 years. We’re also trying to use recycled materials where possible to make the build more sustainable.

However, the price for a tiny house still varies and depends on a lot of factors, e.g. building materials, are contractors involved, etc.  

As part of living green, we want to add a permaculture garden to our tiny house. The garden will provide us with organic fresh vegetables and will reduce our weekly grocery shopping budget.

#3: We will be able to go off-grid!

The best part about living tiny and green for us is that it enables us to go fully off-grid.

We want our tiny house to run only on renewable energies. In order to achieve this, we will have solar panels on our roof to power our electric devices. We will have a rainwater and grey water collection system as well as solar hot water. In addition to that, we will have a mini biodigester to produce biogas for our kitchen stove. We will also keep our compost tumbler, however, I’m sure that the biodigester will eat most of our organic waste.

I’m looking forward to making the most of that intense Australian sun! Also, we won’t depend on electricity companies anymore. Isn’t this just the best?!

We’re really excited about the fact that living tiny and green will reduce our carbon footprint tremendously.

#4: We will build the tiny house ourselves!

Building the tiny house ourselves will give us the freedom of putting our individual taste and style into the tiny house. We’re also going to save heaps of money by doing most of the build ourselves.

Most tiny house stories I’ve seen were successful self-builds. And why not? There is certainly a lot of research involved beforehand. And yes, it doesn’t hurt to possess some building skills. But let’s be honest, it really is just a base with four walls and a roof on top.

Building a tiny house is not as complicated as building a gigantic countryside mansion. However, we will hire professionals for a few things like electricals, etc.

#5: Our tiny house will be mobile!!  

We will be living in a fully functioning house and we will be able to move it whenever and wherever you want! How great is that? 

Although we don’t plan on moving the house too often we still have the option to do so should the need arise or we decide to change our scenery. I love this kind of flexibility!

This also means that we have to follow the regulations of Roads & Maritime Services and make sure that our trailer is roadworthy. So, in short, we have to register our trailer and watch the weight of our tiny house.

#6 Our life will be simplified

Who needs big houses and lots of stuff? I don’t! Usually, that stuff is just piling up in messy storage rooms and garages but no one is actually using it. Living in a tiny space will give us the chance to downsize and to live with only the things we really need. I like this kind of minimalism because it’s serene. We will also spend more time outside enjoying nature. This might sound boring to some people but again this is just something we decided to do.

I’m looking forward to our new tiny and green lifestyle!

How we decided to simplify our lives and build a tiny house on wheels

Tiny House in Byron Bay
Bye bye city life

Why would we want to give up a convenient and secure lifestyle in order to do something completely insecure and potentially inconvenient like building and living in a tiny house?

We had a good life in Sydney. We had jobs and a very nice apartment in a popular suburb and we tried to live green-ish. I started little gardening projects and converted our balcony into a herb- and tomato plantation. Then I made a small compost from an old bin for our food scraps. I also tried to recycle and re-purpose as much as possible to avoid waste. At the same time, Paul started experimenting with renewable energy. He built a solar oven which actually worked. Paul even built a mini-biodigester to create biogas. He also a bought a full-size solar panel which powered our TV and charged up our phones. You should have seen our balcony, it was so packed with solar stuff and plants!

Our efforts of living green weren’t bad considering that we were living in the middle of a busy city. But still, at one point our little projects wouldn’t cut it anymore. Also, we ran out of space on our balcony!

Trying to live off-grid but not being able to, was one reason for leaving Sydney. Another reason was the noisy city. We lived right next to a busy main road and close to the airport. Sometimes we had to pause conversations because we couldn’t understand a word. So we tried to escape the noise as often as possible. We spent most weekends outdoors at the beach or camping somewhere. But at some point, even that wasn’t enough anymore. We needed change, somewhere quiet!

Why build a tiny house on wheels?

We could have moved to the countryside and live in one of those gigantic Australian houses with too many bedrooms, right?! But that’s not what we’re after. We’re after simplifying our lives, not accumulating more stuff. We want to live off-grid and utilise renewable energies. Especially since Australia has plenty of renewables to offer.

The problem is that in order to go off-grid one has to own the house he or she is living in. But first of all, we can’t afford to buy a house and most importantly, we don’t want to drag a mortgage along with us for the next 30 years.

We want flexibility, independence and therefore need an alternative!

How did we stumble across tiny houses?

One day while browsing the WWW for renewable energies, Paul stumbled across a video about a tiny house on wheels. We loved the concept instantly!

We soon started watching every video there is about tiny houses, tiny living and the tiny house movement. I’m not kidding when I write this. We were obsessed with tiny houses!

The idea of living in a small space with only the things we really needed was fascinating for us. This concept seemed to tick all the boxes.

  • We wanted to pursue an environmentally-friendly lifestyle and live off-grid. Tick!
  • We wanted to live in nature. Tick!
  • On top of this, a tiny house seems to be affordable. Tick!
  • We would own our own house without having to pay off a mortgage. Tick!

All we wanted seemed to be doable with a tiny house. Yes, I know it’s not that black and white. Tiny houses aren’t the answer to everything. People are able to achieve some of the items on above list without a tiny house but the financial aspect is a valid point! Especially in an expensive city like Sydney where it is almost impossible for first home buyers to afford a mortgage to be able to buy a house.

Tiny houses are certainly worth considering because they build an alternative to the housing madness in Sydney.

Did we just decide to build a tiny house on wheels?

Building a tiny house seems like a no-brainer and we wanted to do it. But there were also lots of concerns and questions. Where would we build the tiny house? Do we have the money to afford it? Are we really leaving Sydney? Where would we move to? Will we find jobs in this new area?

The list is endless. All these questions stalled our decision making. Should we really take this risk? Is it worth risking our safe existence for a weird idea? After all our life is good the way it is at the moment. It could have just gone on like this forever. But I think that we also have to ask ourselves is: Wouldn’t life be very boring if we never took any risks but lived in our comfortable routine year in year out?

Let’s take a risk every once in a while

According to Margi Warrell, people regret later in life that they never took any risks when they had the chance to. In her article Take a risk: The odds are better than you think she points out that the most common reason for people not taking risks is that they “over-estimate the probability of something going wrong”. Furthermore, people tend to “exaggerate the consequences of what might happen if something does go wrong”. She refers to this as catastrophizing.

I agree with her. I think Paul and I did a lot of catastrophizing ourselves. Common questions we would ask ourselves included “What if the house is too tiny and we hate living in it?” or “Will we still have some personal space?” or “What if we want to multiply”.

But taking risks can also be a positive thing. In a few years from now, we might regret that we never tried it. I also never felt that we took that big a risk. It’s not like we wanted to move to the North Pole to go on an epic journey to find Santa Clause! We simply wanted to downsize, live off-grid and move to a quieter place. This doesn’t sound too crazy to me!

The beauty of Plan B

I also think that we can control our risks to a certain degree. If we have a solid plan and don’t just chase after an idea blindly, I believe that it’s possible to minimise the risk of failure. Perhaps even create a backup plan?

Our backup plan was to postpone the tiny house build and to move to the Gold Coast or Brisbane, find jobs and live a normal apartment life until we’re ready to start building or continue building or whatever the problem might be. We have friends and family in both places, so we felt quite good about this.

It’s still a big step. But obviously, this is what we wanted since we kept watching tiny house videos and kept talking about living in a tiny house. So at one point, I guess, we were sick of talking and decided to do it!

We have watched so many people from all different backgrounds and of various age build a tiny house. If they can do it, we can do it! We wanted change and now we would get it. We’re so excited and happy about our decision!

Where to build our tiny house

The next step was to find a build site/area to move to.  Truth is, that we couldn’t leave Sydney fast enough but we also weren’t sure where to go. One year ago we were ready to move to Adelaide. Everything was booked and organised but then we had to cancel everything because of work-related reasons.

We were a bit clueless until we visited friends in the Byron Bay area for Easter. I knew immediately that this gorgeous spot was where I wanted to live. The area is so beautiful but also though when it comes to finding employment and accommodation.

Byron is a popular holiday destination but doesn’t have a lot of industries other than tourism, hospitality and trades. Also, Byron is as expensive as Sydney because of its’ popularity. So we weren’t sure if it’s smart to move here. On the other hand, this area sounded so promising since a lot of people here believe in sustainability and a healthy, environmentally-friendly way of living.

Well, what can I say, at some point, we just literally said: “Fuck it! Let’s just do it!”. So one day we packed up our things and drove up to Byron. From there on everything just sort of fell into place.

We were lucky enough to be able to stay with our friends again initially. We’re very grateful that they put up with us and our cat! It is also thanks to our friends that we have found our cute little studio cabin with ocean views. We can even build our tiny house on the same land! On top of that, we were even able to sort out employment. I found work in town and Paul was lucky enough to find a work from home job as IT support using his Sydney contacts.  We surely landed on our feet.

Here we are

More than three months have passed since we moved here and things are sweet. I’m glad that we were brave enough to follow our dream. It probably also helped that we had a backup plan. It took a lot of pressure off our tiny house plans and made us feel more relaxed.

I know that every tiny house story is different. There are certainly more things to consider than the ones I have pointed out. However, I’m really glad that we stopped catastrophizing and instead had the balls to jump into the unknown.

This is our story so far. It started out with a crazy idea of living tiny and green, followed by endless research and lots of discussions but we got there in the end and haven’t looked back since!