Originally from France, Marie has been in New Zealand for several years, and we first met her in June of 2019, when she purchased a Tiny House Kit with a Hybrid Inverter from us. She had just finished the exterior cladding and windows on her tiny home, and was ready to start the interior. Since then, she’s gotten all the solar, electricity, gas-fitting and plumbing completed, and is now living in her tiny house as she completes the interior. We spoke to her about what inspired her to go tiny, and her experience building her very own tiny home!
How did you set your kit up and where have you got it installed?
“So I had an electrician help me set it up, one of my friends. He did it all he did my electrical and the solar system, and helped me install the panels on the roof as well, which was pretty easy. But he was too fast for me to figure it out myself, he just figured it out for me, so it probably would have been a struggle on my own. The solar system diagram looked pretty straightforward though. The kit is set up on my tiny house, which is on a trailer, and I can remove it from the trailer if I want. I've got three solar panels on the roof, and I am located somewhere where I don't have any shade from anywhere - so full exposure all day. And I've got the battery box inside the tiny house now in a sealed box ventilated to the outside, with the inverter just next to it in another box under my bed. So everything is hidden under my bed, but I can just access it with a little panel!”
What are you running on your kit?
“I've got the lighting running on it, my fridge, a couple of extractor fans, a water pump, a heater, a blender, a waste disposal - I'm also charging my laptop, my speaker and my phone too. I'm not using it yet, but I'll have a small washing machine running on it. I have a gas cooktop for everyday, but also an induction cooktop and I can switch depending on my battery level and how sunny it is. And what else do I do? I have a straightener for my hair that I don't run often (but I do sometimes!). I think that's it. I've got a Califont for the shower, so the hot water isn’t using solar. So far the batteries are always full because it has been very sunny for the past 2 months so I haven’t had to be careful with my power consumption, which has been really great.”
What about the tiny house lifestyle appealed to you? Why did you go with the tiny house over a camper van, for example?
“I really wanted to be able to say I built my own tiny house from start to finish. I studied environmental science because I thought I could change things this way, doing research or work for a company which wants to make a difference. But I realised really quickly that if i wanted to make a change I needed to start with my own lifestyle, and I could have more impact just sharing that way of living. Being off-grid and knowing what it takes to power your house as well as managing your own waste and not depending on anyone else is really empowering, that's what appealed to me. It's just a simple way of living your life. You can control everything that's going in and coming out. It’s a lot of work but i wouldn’t do it any other way.”
So why did you choose solar as opposed to a generator or having like an extension cord to plug into the grid like campervans?
“The fact that it’s there and it's so powerful - why would I use something else when I have a solar system available? For me it was an obvious choice. It will also force me to use less, and be mindful of my consumption when I get a few cloudy days. Going tiny it looked like an easy choice to make, as I wasn’t sure I would have a powerpoint available wherever I go, but with solar I wouldn’t have to worry about it.”
Why did you choose GridFree instead of another company? How did you find us?
“I just Googled, “solar system Auckland” I think. I got a few results, and I looked at a few other ones, but I remember, your site was the first to pop out.
Your website is just so easy to understand - literally, like “Tiny House Kit” on the first page, no one else is doing that. It was just easy to understand, and just available to me, I knew exactly what I needed to tell you and what I needed to do for the solar system from the website. There was a big difference. I found other websites are not really targeting tiny houses or smaller property.”
What inspired you to build the whole tiny home from the ground up, rather than buying one pre assembled?
“Yeah, why would you do that!? I know. I actually started last year, but it was a good five years thinking about it before I started. I think everyone doing tiny homes has the same inspiration in New Zealand - I watched that tiny house YouTube channel with Bryce Langston, Living Big in a Tiny House when it was just starting, they had maybe a few hundred views. And I was like wow, this is a cool way of life, because at the time I was 23, I really wanted to travel and live in New Zealand, hated commitment and just wanted to stay free. I felt like having a house, having a mortgage, being an adult, getting all of that was really scary. So I was like, oh, a tiny house! Perfect. I have somewhere to live but I still have freedom. I thought, this is how I do life without being tied to something for the rest of my life and having to work a 9-5 job. The entire process was awesome because I love design, I love drawing, I love creating things, and I can put everything, all the things I love into building a house and see if it works! Probably won't but it might! And it did take like five years just thinking about it and wondering, can I do it? Should I do it? And just looking into all those YouTube videos and eventually I thought, OK, let's do it!”
Where did you learn the skills that you needed for this project?
“So I think most people are right when they say you can learn everything on YouTube. Pretty much that! I also went to the Tiny House Workshop on Waiheke Island two years ago. It was two weeks of just learning to use the tools, learning the basics of building. We built an actual house and it showed me "ok, not impossible". But obviously in two weeks you don’t learn how to build an entire tiny house, I learned how much I would struggle to build it. I was like, oh, I know how hard it's gonna be, I'm not going to cry after 1 week of building it because I just know how hard it's going to be already. So after that I was like, okay, not that daunting anymore, I think I can do it. That was the key thing, just doing that kind of a course gave me some comfort with the project.
I also met a few builders that I could ask questions, and then a few helped me on my build. I could be like, okay, I don't know how to do my floor. Can you come and help? And then I just paid them for the day and things like that. Just having the contact was great because before I didn't know who to ask, then from there I could ask the builder if they knew a good electrician and so on. So this is how it worked. I just went to a workshop and from there on it just started. The best advice I got about tiny houses and how to start and how to get the skills is just start! There were all these worries, like, how do you do it? I don't have land. I never used a hammer before. And the guy at the workshop told me, just start. And you see, it's just going to work. When I started, I was like, I don't even know where I'm gonna build it. And eventually at some point it just happened. You do have to be out there, and try. So far I've been successful. Things happened and the time was right!”
What help did you have? Were they friends? Did you have to hire people?
“Yeah, the thing you can't really skip for the tiny house is weather tightness, so for this part you do have to have a builder. It depends on your builder, but mine was obviously passionate about tiny houses and had built them before, so he knew about all the laws and the consent and things like that. He also helped me with the weight and the dimensions. I was also asking heaps of questions - I kind of knew the big picture of how to build a structure, and he would just come and check my work all the time. From there, everything that was important was done. I did ask my friend who is a roofer to help with the roof and some friends with the painting. And I needed to hire an electrician, and a plumber/gasfitter. In those cases it was like, I need them, this is not a job I can do myself. And the rest, a few friends helped, but I really hate asking for help so I kind of did it all myself and also because I wanted to say "I did that myself.” When people would help I would just have a drink with them, work a little bit but we didn’t do that much.
So you have to get a builder to check your work. You need an electrician, a gasfitter and a plumber for sure. But that's it, apart from that you can figure stuff out.”
What challenges have you really faced during this project?
“Time! Everything is taking too long. That's about it. You can do anything, but when I've tried to take a shortcut, it would come back to bite me - anytime I try to go fast, it's worse. So I have to take my time and think about things, I literally have to sit down and look at the thing I have to do for two hours and think “okay how am I going to do this?”
When my mum came to help me for two weeks and we were on a holiday together she was just saying, “can you just work? Just do something!” And I was just looking at the space in my tiny house where I wanted to build my bed and my couch for the whole day, thinking how am I going to build this? She was telling me “just start and you will see!” And I had to tell her “you're gonna have to redo everything if there's one thing wrong, one thing you didn't think about”. So take your time. That's the biggest thing. The biggest challenge was that I wanted to go too fast, and it didn't work. Whatever time you think it's going to take to build something, double it. If you think it's going to be three months, it's probably going to take you six!”
What's been the best part of the whole project so far?
“It's something that you can touch with your hands. I've been studying a lot, so my entire life I was like, you need to be smart and you need to, you know, have a job that is well paid, at a nice company, and you need a massive degree blah blah blah. So I never had something I could touch at the end of the day, like, “oh, you've made this!” And now every day of work, there's something I can feel and I can touch. And that's my day of work. This is something I designed. That's so rewarding. It’s the best feeling. Just sitting in a house and being like, oh, I made that, this is so cool. So the best part is just having the project actually happening and making progress.”
Are you living in your tiny house currently?
“Kind of. Well, yeah, I am! I don't know if we can say camping, but I am living in it. So there was nothing, just walls when I moved in with a mattress and now I've got my bed, my desk, a table for the kitchen, and I’m cooking inside. The shower's all done, but it's not fully plumbed yet. I have electricity to power the tiny house, which is the greatest thing. For the bathroom I go to the next door house - they're lending me a bathroom for probably a couple of months at this stage. Living in it means I can just set everything up and I can take my time. I'm there all the time, which is great. I don't need to drive there and go back to my place at the end of the day. “
What’s the best part about living in it at the moment?
“You get to experience all the things that you design and the things you thought would work or wouldn't work. You just imagine how your life is going to be with each thing, and now actually living in it you can see if it works or not. So far everything has worked better than I thought! So all that design I made up, thinking “I hope this is gonna be OK, is this is gonna work?” - everything is working. And it's just awesome to wake up and be like, well today I'm gonna add another piece of furniture to it. Or I'm gonna do a little bit more on this piece. So you see it evolve every day. And that's pretty cool to be there for that full time.”
Do you have any advice that you would give to other people that are going off-grid or building their own tiny homes?
“Yes, I think most people are like “just build it.” And I agree. Just start. But also, you need to know that this is a full time job. I think everyone that has built a tiny house and finished it thinks "this was the best decision of my life". I don't know about any bad stories because you don't really hear about them, you just hear about people building tiny houses and loving it. So I think you just have to start. In New Zealand there is a great tiny house community on Facebook if you have questions or you're looking for any help. There's tiny house workshops happening, conferences. If you just go a bit deeper in a tiny house world, see you've got a community, and it's great to be part of it because you're not alone…. And Watch YouTube videos! So just start. Yeah, that's my best advice.”
It was such a pleasure speaking to Marie about her experiences! She’s documenting the Tiny House build on her Instagram @marie_beringer and she said anyone who needs help building or designing their tiny home, who just has questions, is welcome to DM her.
If you’re looking to kit out your own tiny home with solar, check out the Tiny House Kit or get in touch with us to spec the right kit for you.