Saturday, July 14, 2012

Getting Closer to smaller living: Stage 1.6.5 - Infrastructure; Wiring

electrical and other wiring is another issue in a micro home.   You dont need the over the top complex system that you find in a regular home,   In fact you can get away with 2-3 Circuits total.  and all of this can easily be done by a regular person,   no electrician required.  A very small RV style or regular breaker panel is all that is needed, and it can be placed almost anywhere.   BUT where you place it is where all your electrical wiring will be ran to, so pick wisely.   Outside in a service shed that is attached is certainly legal and safe, but do you really want to go out in the snow to reset a breaker when you ran the microwave, toaster, and George Foreman grill all at once?  Putting it inside is the best choice.   Separate the Kitchen on it's own breaker, the rest of the house on it's own breaker,   Lights on it's own and finally any outside outlets on it's own.  4 breakers total for a large micro home with fancy extras like outside outlets.

But that is if you want 110/120Volt lights.   I will be wiring my home differently, all my lighting will be 12 volt.  This requires a different approach.   I will use different wiring as well,  Low voltage is Red and black instead of white, black and green.    Red is 12Volts and Black is ground, while in AC wiring   Black is 120Volts, White is return and Green is ground,  Yeah,  electricians like to make it difficult.

This means I will have two separate electrical systems in my home.   12Volt DC for lighting and a few outlets,  you can get wall 12V power outlets from an RV store so I can use a car charger for my cellphone, or even 12 volt appliances.  This gives me an advantage I will cover shortly.   and a high voltage 120V AC system that most everyone is used to.   This will run a shaver, toaster, Laptop Charger, hair dryers, etc...

A Split system like this has advantages and disadvantages.   First it requires I double up on everything.  I need a breaker panel for AC and a breaker panel or Fuse box for DC.  I need double wiring, and a way to convert one to the other when I am on different power sources.   that means a 12VoltDC power supply/charger that makes my DC voltage when I have only 120VAC power available, and an Inverter to make 120VAC when I only have 12V battery /solar power.   This also makes life more complex as you need to switch between systems.   If I am using the inverter and I plug into a 120VAC source,  I will blow up the inverter.  Flames, sparks, really bad things will happen.  So I need to make sure I have a disconnect so that only one can be connected.  OR I spend a few extra thousand and buy a syncing inverter.

My DC system will have inverters and chargers as well as a battery bank for power storage,  this makes the system a LOT more complex.  If you can make sure you will always have a place to plug into,  you can skip all the Low voltage DC systems and just wire up the home for 20 amp AC service and use a heavy duty (10awg) extension cord to plug into your power.  This simplifies things a LOT.   You then just wire up outlets and lights as if it was a normal home, talk to the guy in the electrical department at home depot, he can tell you everything you need to know.

There are two more things you might want in your micro home that deal with wiring,  Network and antenna for TV,   network wiring is CAT-5e or Cat-6 and requires special connectors, plates, and  TV antenna wiring requires RG6 with special connectors.  The advantage is you can put the TV antenna near the peak of the house inside the construction to get far better reception of free TV channel signals, or you can run it to a connector to the outside so you can put an antenna higher on a pole off the edge of the roof.    You can also embed an XM or Sirius radio antenna up there if you want to have sattelite radio in your home.

The network wiring is really not needed as a wireless setup will cover the entire home easily, but some specialized devices might use a wired ethernet, like a Xbox360.  Having a network in the home allows you to share the internet with devices, friends and family.

Just remember, you can easily go overboard on electrical and you will not gain much.   Keep it simple.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Getting Closer to smaller living: Stage 1.6 - Infrastructure; Water,and sewage.

One of the things that is clear as mud is the plumbing and wiring of a micro-home. None of the micro home websites cover how to figure out what you need, and how to do it. They just assume you will hire someone.

Plumbing.   The Micro home, if it is to be mobile, needs to carry everything inside the structure.  This means tanks for fresh drinking water,  Sewage from the toilet, and "grey water" from the shower and sink.    you really need them in places where they are protected, and  you need to keep them from freezing by insulating them and even adding heating to the tanks.  You also need to know how much each tank contains so you are not surprised one night with a toilet that will not flush as the sewage is completely full.   Luckily the RV industry has been doing this for decades, so it's not a hard thing to deal with,  but it takes some planning.  Your sewage, or Black water tank MUST be under the toilet, in fact the toilet mounts to it. so this means that structure design under the bathroom must be set up for accommodating the black water tank.

How big of a tank will you need?   that depends.   If two people are living there full time,  you will need a large one to avoid having to empty it often.   pulling up roots on your micro-home to find a sewage dump station is not something you will want to do weekly.   If you are clever and make sure you do all your personal evacuation when you are not at home,  you can get away with a smaller unit to cover those days you just cant wait or the middle of the night bathroom run.  In this case you may be able to get away with a portable toilet or a composting toilet, skipping the sewage tank completely.    This has the huge advantage of being able to take your waste away in a car or other vehicle instead of moving the whole home.

Fresh water can be as simple as a water jar and faucet above a large bowl  like they did in the 1800's or a fresh water tank with pump and built in sink.   If you want a nice shower,  you will want the water tank, water heater, and pump setup.   Most of the time the water tank is under a built in bench seat or cabinet.  the pump sits next to it and flexible PEX piping is used.   Again, INSULATE everything and even run electric heater lines for the tank and pipes.

Grey water you have more options.   RV's use a tank to capture all of it,  but if you use only sink water and shower water, you can use it for irrigation of plants.  If you are near a water source,  dont just let it run on the ground as it can contaminate a stream or other water source,    re-use for garden irrigation is perfectly fine.  I personally will let it just seep into the ground if I live in a spot away from a stream or other source.  a Soaker hose will spread it out to water a larger area.  If you are building a mobile micro home,  put in the tank as you will never know what rules you need to follow.

Hot water is another thing to think about.   RV water heaters come in Propane and propane/electric versions.   they are small but must be mounted where they vent outside.  They have very little insulation so cold climate damage from freezing is a possibility.   if you build your home right with a "utility box" on one end that you can control venting and creates an air space, you could insulate the area when the hot water heater is not in use to prevent freezing.  but don't block it's venting.   that can become highly dangerous.

Plumbing is incredibly simple, you will have 1 sink and 1 shower/ toilet.  if you manage layout right the shower faucet will be on the same wall as the sink or close to it.  this will make runs very short and very cheap.

Lastly, figure out your average water use for a day.  and consider how often are you willing to go get more water if you are not where you have hook ups.   If you use a very low flow shower head and and do things right, your shower will only take 5 gallons of water.    that means you have 10 days of showers with that 50 gallon water tank before you need more water.  RV supply stores have wheeled 10 gallon water tanks that you can buy so that you can cart home your own water from another source easily in the back of a car.  Or better yet, join a gym.  and every morning on your way to work, go to the gym, work out for 10 minutes, and then shower and get ready for your day.   now you don't need to replace your water as much.  Side effect is that you become more healthy as you are now working out daily.

Remember this lifestyle change is a big one.   You need to make changes inside and outside  the home.  Taking advantage of other resources like a Gym membership, work facilities, etc to reduce consumption at home makes a big difference in not only your efforts in day to day living, but your costs as well.   a $35.00 a month Gym membership is cheap if you don't have to pay a water bill and the propane used to heat that water.

Again, this matters if you built mobile and will be nomadic.  if you built on a permanent lot, these issues are not something you will have to live with.