We recently moved to the Colorado Rockies after being evicted from Denver. This is our first cold winter in the tiny house. Read below for tips on how we prepped our tiny house for such a cold climate.
Tiny House Cold Climate Prep
The following applications are intended for wintering in your tiny house. If you plan on storing your tiny house for the winter (not living in it) there are different methods for winterizing. Check out RV websites and forums for these methods.
Start with Decent Insulation
The first ingredient to keeping a warm tiny house, is insulation. We insulated our walls, roof and floor with rigid foam. We estimate our total R-value is R-18. If we could do it again, we’d probably splurge for spray foam to get a little more R-value. If you’re planning on living in your tiny house in an extremely cold climate, its a good idea to add an extra layer of insulation on the outside of your walls, like Mark Wipfli did in his Alaskan Tiny Home.
Skirt your Trailer
The coldest part of our tiny house is the floor. To save a few bucks, we built a snow skirt around our trailer. We also purchased tire covers for extra protection.
**Or check out this $100 DIY Tiny House skirt option that doesn’t melt every year! This is what I use now **
Our propane water heater vents through the floor and our wood stove has a floor air-intake. It’s important to keep these vents clear so that the appliance can function properly. We dug air holes in our snow skirt so that those pipes could vent/receive oxygen.
Two options for FRESH WATER
Because our RV hose will freeze, we fill our 46 gallon fresh water tank every 3-4 days from a nearby spigot. Sometimes the spigot freezes, so we try to fill our tank in the afternoon when it has thawed. This takes some planning and thinking ahead. Trust me, it’s no fun to run out of water at night!
I considered purchasing a heated hose, but it was out of our budget. With a heated hose, we could stay hooked up to the spigot. No more tank fill days! This is what Brittany Yunker does in her Washington based tiny home.
**UPDATE: I purchased a heated hose and now use that every winter**
Plan ahead for your GREY WATER
Luckily, we are parked next to a large wooded area on private land, so we simply pour our grey water into an isolated area. We use all biodegradable soaps, so the environment is not damaged by our grey water. In fact, I like to think it’s a great way to recycle! Check with your local zoning laws and dispose of your grey water responsibly. Digging a french drain is a great option for grey water disposal, but you’ll need to dig below permafrost line. If this is your plan, start in late summer! We missed our opportunity.
Protect your PROPANE
We screwed up big time and ignored this step, which is only necessary in EXTREMELY cold climates (like Colorado). The propane pipes froze in our tankless water heater*, and we had to replace them (setting us back about $235 in new parts). Ouch! After that fiasco, we purchased a $380 propane tank blanket. Ouch again! We only purchased one, so we swap it whenever we swap tanks. If you are living in an area with temperatures that rarely dip below freezing, you can purchase the cheaper $95 propane blanket. A propane blanket will help your propane last longer and operate more efficiently. I didn’t think we needed one, but now I’m a believer!
*We have a propane tankless water heater. Be sure to ask the manufacturer about cold climate practices for your specific water heater.
The #1 mistake new Tiny Housers make for winter living is to ignore their water heater
Some Tiny House builders try to save space by installing the water heater on the outside of your Tiny House (sometimes in a utility area on the tongue). This area is not insulated, so your water heater is not protected from the elements. This means, if you choose to winter in your Tiny House, your water heater will VERY likely freeze because there is always water sitting inside of the unit’s piping. Make sure to ask your builder to use a water heater that can be installed inside the insulated part of your house if you plan to winter in a Tiny House.
Condensation is the enemy. Most tiny home owners like to keep a window open or a skylight vented at all times to reduce moisture problems, but that’s not very efficient in cold climates. Our wood stove acts as a dehumidifier. We also purchased an electric dehumidifier for the winter season.
Consider covering your windows
While great for letting in natural light, windows are terrible insulators. We have fourteen double-pane windows in our tiny house, and that’s not counting two skylights and our half-glass front door! For extremely cold climates, such as Alaska, installing triple-pane windows (or opting to have fewer windows) is a good idea. We considered buying thicker drapes or places foam over the skylights, but I didn’t want to spend the money.
Purchase a Weather Station
Because we are obsessed with keeping our house warm and dry, we purchased a weather station to help us monitor our interior climate. We love it! Obviously, this is optional, but I can’t recommend it enough.
Don’t forget your tow vehicle
Our truck is parked outside and she does NOT love the cold weather. We try to run it on a daily basis, but some mornings she won’t start at all. We now have her plugged in to keep the engine warm, but she still acts up occasionally. I think Ol’ Bertha is up to her old tricks! Remember when she sabotaged our Alaska Highway trip and forced us to put her on a boat? Here are some tips for keeping a diesel truck warm in the winter (without a garage).