There is a lot of planning for going tiny. From all the downsizing and designing and building your home, to finding a place to put the house and getting the utilities hooked up. And although getting your tiny house situated is a huge milestone, it’s not the end of your tiny house journey, it’s the beginning. Like any homeowner, you now have to properly feed and water your dwelling. Every house has to be maintained, no matter the size. Whether you’re already a tiny house dweller or you’re just beginning to make plans, this post highlights some important tiny house maintenance considerations. It’s not comprehensive, but it’s a good place to start.
A properly leveled tiny house
Getting your tiny home level is task number one. Here is a list of things that can be affected by a tiny house that is not properly leveled:
- Water runoff from the roof and drip edges over the windows
- Proper function of windows, especially larger awning and casement windows
- Functionality of the front entrance door—easily and smoothly opening and closing
- The mini split condensation drain flow
- Cabinet doors and drawers—smooth operation and closing
When leveling your tiny home, make an investment in a 36″ box-beam or I-beam level. Don’t use a busted-up old level. It’s important that the level is accurate. Points to level the house include the hitch, the front and back steel channels of the trailer, and the side steel channels of the trailer.
At Wind River we provide swivel jacks for adjusting the corners of the trailer. Be sure to place concrete pavers or thick treated timbers under the jacks for extra stability. The corner swivel jacks are meant for stability and leveling—not as long-term load bearing supports. You do not want to stress the corner jacks or try to lift the tiny house so high that the wheels are lifted off the ground. For long-term positioning and leveling you will want to put additional, higher-rated jacks or supports under various points of the tiny house frame. Do not put jacks or supports under the axles. Keep in mind that even though the trailer has thick steel channels they can flex and will need more support than just the four corners. We caution against using scissor jacks, as they can slip under tension and become a dangerous projectile.
For situating your tiny house on a more permanent basis, you’ll need sturdy support. Concrete blocks, piers, and other anchoring can all be used to secure your tiny home. Not comfortable with preparing the piers, blocking, and other site preparation yourself? There are lots of professional contractors who work in the manufactured home, mobile home, and residential construction industries who can assist on site. While you’re at it, ask your local contractor if they know anyone who can help build a deck around your tiny house once it’s leveled, supported, and anchored. The best part of a solid site plan is the ability to create more livable outdoor space! Wind River can assist with construction documents for deck plans to go with your house. Just ask us about deck design while you’re getting your tiny house quote.
Roof and siding
Every homeowner has to get up on the roof every once in a while. It’s very important to keep leaves, debris, and snow (as much as possible) off the roof of your house, especially if you have a skylight. This is important for the life of the roof and for preventing the collection of water that can lead to water seeping where it’s not supposed to. Keeping the roof clean will also help preserve the color finish of your metal roof. Be careful—some metal roofs have an air gap from the roof decking. If you need to climb up on your metal roof, be sure to step where you can see fasteners.
Many permanent foundation houses have eaves, boxing, and overhangs that provide extra protection for the siding of the house. Because of size restrictions, a tiny house often doesn’t have these features. Instead, there is often extra caulking in the siding and trim to provide protection from the elements. Caulking will invariably experience weathering from sun or freezing, or from flexing with temperature changes. About once a year be sure to inspect the house for caulk cracking/separating. But sure you get your eyes on the trim above the windows and doors. You might need a ladder. Caulk is often purposefully missing from the bottom of trim pieces but the sides and top of trim are usually caulked. If you are not sure what kind of caulk to use, ask your builder. At Wind River, we use SherMax and other Sherwin Williams caulking products. We pride ourselves in quality craftsmanship, so the caulk beads on your Wind River tiny home will not be mistake coverups.
If you have natural wood on the exterior of your tiny house, like cedar siding or trim, you will need to evaluate treating the wood annually. It’s usually best to repeat prior treatments. Be sure not to ignore this maintenance. It’s essential for maintaining the integrity of appearance of the wood. Weather conditions can play into how often it is necessary to retreat your cedar siding, but definitely keep an eye on it and err on the side of caution.
Humidity and condensation
In a tiny house, humidity tends to be on the high side. Humidity levels rise with showers, dish washing, boiling water on the stove top, and washing the floors. One of the biggest factors is actually people. People generate about 1.25 liters per day per person just by breathing. During various seasons, warm humid air can lead to condensation. When warm humid air hits a cold surface, it condensates—like the outside of a cold glass of water on a hot day.
Humidity can lead to condensation, and condensation can lead to mold growth or it can attract pests. There is a relationship between humidity, dew point, and temperature that can cause condensation in various ways. Every house will have some condensation issues somewhere. As a homeowner, the important thing is to understand what circumstances cause condensation in your home and how to prevent it. Here are some tips for controlling humidity in the home and avoiding condensation:
- Monitor the humidity in your tiny home—professionals say optimal humidity ranges in any home are 45% to 55%
- Make sure your mini split runs consistently and efficiently so that it’s dehumidifying capabilities are optimized
- Perform regular maintenance on your mini split unit (read more on this below)
- Run vent fans generously and during activities that cause additional humidity, like showering, cooking, and cleaning
- Make sure that warm humid air is not trapped behind furniture or home decor—allow space for airflow
- Be mindful of covering the interior walls of the house with any kind of non-permeable material that will trap warm humid air
- Use a dehumidifier
- Regularly inspect problem areas
- Educate yourself on what causes condensation in a home and be vigilant about looking out for it
Did you get a bunch of new appliances with your tiny house? Take time to read about regular cleaning and maintenance for those appliances. Also, take time to register the products with the manufacturer so you can take advantage of warranty terms. When registering your appliances you can typically list your builder as the installer when asked. Don’t put this off! Many new appliances require you to register within a certain amount of time after purchase or installation. It means paperwork and filling out forms but it’s not as painful as finding out your appliance failure would have been covered under warranty if you had had your ducks in a row. If your appliance is acting funny or not functioning properly, don’t ignore it. Investigate and get it fixed. Appliances, whether electric or gas, can become hazardous if not functioning properly. Understanding the necessary maintenance for wood stoves and propane appliances is especially important!
We recommend that you partner with a licensed HVAC technician to perform maintenance on your mini split at least twice a year. Here is a list of maintenance items your licensed HVAC technician can help with on a regular basis:
- Cleaning/replacing mesh filters
- Clean indoor air quality filtration components
- Examine evaporator coils for debris and cleaning, if needed
- Inspect and clean the drain pan
- Verify that the blower and fan wheel are in balance
- Inspect the insulated tubing at the condenser for defects and wear-and-tear
- Ensure the integrity of connection points
Preparing for winter
Tiny houses need extra attention in the winter. In colder climates, tiny houses should be skirted. There are plenty of commercial and DIY suggestions on the web for skirting your house. This is very important for protecting the utilities under the house from freezing and to increase heat efficiency. Be sure that any water lines up to the house are not exposed to the elements—they need to be buried below the frost line. There are other normal winter freeze considerations like letting your faucets drip during the night and having a backup heat source. You can also add a splicing connection to your outdoor hoses to drip the lines leading up to the house, and the lines can be wrapped in heat tape. Take precautions to make sure you don’t freeze any of your plumbing inside the house. We recommend you keep your tiny home climate controlled year round whenever possible.
If you cannot climate control your tiny home and are needing to store it for the winter, there are drain points under the house that allow you to empty your p-traps. However, this does not empty all the water from your pipes. In some climates you will need to use the same winterization protocols as other recreational vehicles. Be vigilant about this. Busted pipes will likely cause water damage.
This topic deserves it’s own blog post because there are so many factors. For our purposes here, we just want to point out that when you’re off-grid you are your own utility company. Utility companies perform tasks like monitoring, trouble-shooting, repairing, and disposing of waste, all of which we take for granted when on the grid. Many people mention their desire to be off-grid during our quoting process. Sometimes we feel like people suggest it for themselves because it will be the most carefree option. Off-grid options are fantastic for many people, but you, as the homeowner, will need to be willing to adapt, learn, and be involved.
Oftentimes the off-grid options are added later by other service providers. Consider asking your vendor or service provider about ongoing support and trouble-shooting help as you install and get off the grid. Surround yourself with help! As we said, off-grid options are great, but you’ll want to make sure you educate yourself on all the pros and cons.
Tiny homes have a larger percentage of wall space containing wires or plumbing. Your builder will use (or should be) nail plates to prevent nails and screws from penetrating into wires or plumbing. Small tacks and nails are probably OK for interior decorating; however, if you want to secure longer nails or bolts in the wall, check with your builder. They should have pictures or videos of the uncovered walls that show where all the wires and plumbing are located. You definitely don’t want to nick or pierce wires or plumbing. Blindly penetrating the walls is a proceed-at-your-own-risk project.
Build a support network
Every homeowner, tiny or otherwise, needs a network of trusted professionals to help with house maintenance. Getting a good plumber, HVAC professional, and handyman are crucial. While your tiny home builder should stand by their product and be there to support you, they are not a home maintenance company and are likely not set up to provide maintenance services nationwide. Before you even purchase your tiny home you should be thinking about a support network to help you maintain the house. Remember, the most important person in your tiny home maintenance network is YOU. When you suspect problems or notice issues, address them right away. If you ignore problems because you think they might be too expensive to fix, it’s likely that they’ll become more expensive the longer you wait to address them. Be proactive, get educated, and tackle problems so you can gain confidence about taking control of feeding and watering your tiny home.