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).
Wow! Thank you for this article. Really helpful in getting an overview of things to think about when living in colder climates.
Hi, we are about to install our plumbing and I had intended to drain under the house into a portable tank to then dump. We plan to live in Maine in the future But until then we will live in other areas, mild and cold climates…so we will not be able to set up anything other than the portable tank. I am worried about pipes under house freezing and water in tank freezing. Does anyone have any recommendations on either tanks and pipes that won’t freeze or also grey water pumps if we have to do it all inside. If we don’t do a pump we have to raise our shower up a foot under our loft and my husband is tall haha so this is not our favorite option. We have washer, two sinks, and us showering a few times a week. Thank you!
Do you have an option to let your grey water pour onto the ground instead of into a tank? Sitting water will freeze in a tank, but if the water is directed and dispersed you won’t have as much issue. You’ll need to make sure the products you are using are earth safe and that you don’t create an ice rink outside your home.
Secondly, I highly recommend raising your shower at least high enough for the p-trap to be inside your trailer. Otherwise it will freeze in Maine’s winter (and other cold climates).
Hope this is helpful.
Thank you, I am not sure if we will have the ability to pour grey water directly onto ground. It will depend on where we are parking. We are moving around for a few years. Do you have any sources for people who have done a winterized grey water system? I am not having much luck searching.
So here’s my thought. I am currently going through the design process and the whole grey water storage in winter thing was hanging me up. I came to the same conclusion that indoor storage using a grey water pump is the only reasonable way with periodic drainage into either portable tanks or a hose to ground using a ball valve inside the house to keep any water away from freezing temps. That said, the P traps are really only for keeping sewer gases out and since we are only talking about grey water, assuming solid waste is managed by a urine diverting composting toilet, the necessity of a P trap is now questionable. I would opt. out of the P trap in the shower to save head room and vent the indoor grey water tank up.
An interesting dilemma if you are off-grid..
Heaters need propane to operate, and propane needs heat to keep efficient pressure
The electric blanket heater needs 200W of 120AC power to run
The Goal Zero Yeti1250 will run it for about 6hrs
With 380W will run without loss and about 150W of battery recharge on ideal sun days.
So I wonder….
If a ‘shed’ was added to enclose and protect the tanks with a vent cut thru into the TH with a small 12v fan to push heated air into the shed, add a 2nd 100Ah battery to the Yeti to increase the run time from 1250WHr to 2500Whr and installing an auto changeover regulator would help.
Your thought process is correct though I wouldn’t use the Yeti for creating any sort of heat. The blanket we have uses only 120W. It would completely drain the Goal Zero overnight (about 10hrs) and that’s not something we’d want to do, even if we doubled the battery capacity. The Yeti can handle 240W of charging power meaning it theoretically could be charged in just over 5 hours in absolutely optimal conditions and without being used. But we’d use the Yeti during the day and it would still have to heat the propane tanks. It just wouldn’t work, we’d run out of power all the time. It’s not the Yeti’s fault, it’s just the fact that we like to keep our solar system fairly minimal and travel friendly, which means it can’t really be used for anything creating heat. Fortunately, we are plugged in where we are currently parked, so it’s a non-issue for us right now.
Are you still in Colorado! I’m in Denver and I just found your project and I’m super new and interested in building a Tiny Home! My dads a home developer and my sister graduated with a degree in Enviromental Design and I’ve always been on the job site so we have quite a bit of home design/building experience but none with tiny homes on trailers! (All of us our interested in building tiny homes) I am interested specifically I’m trailer size and truck requirements. Do you have a post about that? Since I am barely starting design, I’m trying to figure Out size before I start designing.. Thank you!!
Hi Angelina, glad to hear that you guys are interested in this movement. We have a FAQ page that will have some answers to your questions.
I would suggest you contact the builders in Colorado for more details. Tumbleweed Tiny House Company makes a great trailer for tiny houses for example. Trailer Made Trailers offers them too. There might be others.
I am as well a fifty something women and building a tiny house myself. I did have help with the exterior walls and roof, but the rest is all me. Its amazing what you can do when you put your mind to it. So far I am still under $5K using new and used material and donated. good luck
I’m in in Calgary in my tiny house. Yes it does get cold here..
Spray foam is the way to go against the cold of winter and the heat of summer. I don’t have all my skirting up yet but I did get my heat tape on my water hose, a drink safe one…
After the first cold spell I replaced the hose with copper pipe, a little soldering. The taste of the water from the old hose, when it got warm from the heat tape, was real bad. With the copper pipe that is gone. Over the pipe and tape I put pipe insulation, a great foam stuff that comes in 8 foot lengths.