Tom's Tiny House Interview

Tom's Tiny House Interview

Living simply and within your means is the most common value when it comes to going GridFree. From living in a compact space, to reducing your consumption and being completely self-sufficient this place has it all. It's a tiny piece of paradise - let's go check it out!

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Living simply and within your means is the most common value when it comes to going GridFree. From living in a compact space, to reducing your consumption and being completely self-sufficient this place has it all. It's a tiny piece of paradise.

"Hi Tom, awesome spot!" Thank you, let's have a look around.

So I'm Tom and this is Caro, we live in West Auckland, and we've built this tiny house as part of a larger project, which is for me to start a business producing vegetables on a small scale farm. So where we live at the moment our location we've been there for a year and we found it through a Facebook group actually. We posted on a few local community pages but we could not afford to buy land in Auckland. Caro works here so we had to stick around Auckland and so we decided to rent land, build a tiny house that will move onto the land, and produce vegetables here.

"So what was the place like here when you got here?" Oh it was just a long grass paddock nothing there and quite slope-y here, so yeah there was lots to do when we arrived. We started having a digger to make a flat space for the house and then one of the first things I did was to build this shed, and I had to dig the hill a bit to make it flat as well. It was quite a bit of a job, then I put the shed up and that really allowed me to have all my tools in there so that I could build the deck. And then as soon as this was finished I started slowly moving towards the garden in my future business.

Yeah, we were watching videos of tiny houses together and one day I remember we're just sitting there and and finalizing the design and we ordered the trailer and we were like, all right that's it, we're starting to build a tiny house. And then a month and a half down the track I was crying on the trailer trying to screw the damn floor on it and it was a nightmare, and I was like oh gosh this is just the beginning and we're struggling already. It was really challenging but it's just such an amazing thing to achieve in life I think and something that we can both be very proud of.

"I really like the deck it's north facing, and it's a decent size." Yeah it's a really great living space and it kind of doubles the space we have in the house and it's so enjoyable in summer, and we have the pergola with the roof so that it's good for winter as well.

We started I think in 2014 to be really very conscious about our use of plastic so yeah the tiny house is kind of like a logical next way. Some people move into minimalism from living in a tiny house, but we moved into minimalism through traveling and having to have less and then we realized that's actually what we wanted it's all kind of aligned with the values that we were developing, and it just made sense for us.

"I noticed a outdoor shower out here?" Yeah so it's actually an outdoor shower and an outdoor bath which is underneath, there's a bit of a deck that's removed and and we can use it as a bath as well. "I like that, that's one thing I know about off-grid living is that you tend to do a lot more things outside." Yeah when you can actually be outside and have a shower outside it's so much more fun you know, and and in summer it's perfect - I wouldn't try in winter probably but yeah.

One of the main challenges we faced as well is the sheer amount of choice - you have to choose everything, you have to choose what kind of wood you want to use inside outside, if you want wood, or if you want steel, and what kind of steel, what kind of colour. In the beginning it's fun and in the end it becomes really exhausting. Another struggle we had was are we doing it ourselves or getting tradies to do things as well. So sometimes tradies can be a huge help and very necessary and sometimes they actually proved very very bad in some way, not paying attention to the detail in the end. You should never assume that a tradie is going to do the job better than you can because they're not gonna live in it you, you will. So I think it's important to keep that in mind and believe in yourself for that you know. One of the last challenges I think was really for almost a year we just we had no breaks and we were just exhausted and burnt out, and yeah mental health was really difficult. It's a beautiful journey, it's amazing, but it takes a massive toll on yourself, on your relationships, on your friends sometimes because you don't have time to see them. So you see the whole shiny thing but yeah keep in mind the path was shiny and also pretty hard.

For the wastewater we have a treatment with plants, we start all the grey water from the house comes into here, and that's a worm farm, so it's first pre-filtered all the food bits from the kitchen sink and so on end up in there and they've been eaten by the worms and then it goes underground. There's a grease trap so I need to open that up every year and clean it up scoop up all the oils that are at the top, and the go the water goes in the middle so it really skims all the oils and the fats out. It goes under the ground and goes into that bathtub and so this is finishing to filter that water and then it keeps going under the ground and goes into the pond where the ducks are having fun at the moment. But by the time you the water reaches that place it's perfectly clear, there's no smell, and there's a lot of studies actually on those kind of systems where it shows that we are 99% treating the water, which is actually better than most chemical treatment plants for water. "I love that solution!" Yeah it works really well and it was quite easy to set up, honestly, like we had to fiddle a bit at first but in the end we're super happy with it, it's all natural.

So we always planned for the house to be fully off-grid, so we went with the most common solar providers, asked for some quotes and we were really shocked at the prices and even the way they were working with us. And then I think out of an internet search I found GridFree and I felt that i had a real true discussion about technical issues that those guys knew what they were talking about, and in the meantime they had good quality products, it was so much cheaper, and they were offering DIY support you know. They were really knowledgeable about their kits. Honestly I don't have a lot of suppliers through the whole build of this house I'm so happy with, so yeah I totally recommend them. 

"I see the GridFree solar panels on the roof there." Yeah yeah they work pretty well, it was a bit of a mission to fit the four of them on the tiny house and also to make sure that we could change the inclination of it and make sure that we have enough power constantly for the appliances inside. "It's good to tilt them more in winter and get the absolute max out of those panels." Yeah exactly, absolutely, yeah and the solar hot water works really well. It's paired with a wet back system that's in the wood burner so we get hot water from the wet back in winter and from the solar system in summer pretty much. They kind of balance each other out and so that works really well as well.

We have the Bach kit, and we installed it ourselves. Installing the panels and the batteries and connecting it all together is very easy and the technical documentation that you can get at GridFree is really easy to understand and works really well.

"I noticed when I came in that you had a little box on the side here, I'm sure that's where the inverter is." Yeah yeah yeah, so when we actually received it I thought it's probably better to put it out of the house. Smart move, I put my inverter inside my cabin, and in the middle of the night when the fridge turns on the inverter turns on and wakes me up, so smart move putting it outside." Yeah I've seen people putting them under their beds I'm like 'oh man', but yeah no I'm really happy with it, it turned out really well and it's really happy in there.

Probably the biggest source of inspiration for the design was definitely the YouTube channel Living Big in a Tiny House, and then we were looking a lot at specific subjects like um 'now we have to install windows how do we do that?' so just typing keywords in YouTube a lot and on google as well. Yeah and just finding websites for specific issues.

"So you built this yourself? "Yeah from the ground up. "I build my own stuff, it doesn't look anywhere near as good as this - I don't have visitors!" Yeah we really wanted to look like a house and so we've spent a lot of time working on details, and it has been a journey but we're so proud of it now. "What gave you the confidence to build something yourself? Had you built anything before?" Uh not really, I was not really experienced in DIY but when we arrived in New Zealand about five years ago I bought an old motorcycle from the 70s, and it's a dream that I always had to totally restore it. So I took the engine out and worked on it for years redoing everything, when I finished it I realized that if, you know, I can do that I can probably extrapolate that and make my own house you know.

Toilets are generally a big part of an off-grid living lifestyle, for us we went with a composting toilet we really love that aspect of our new lifestyle because we really take responsibility for our own shit, literally. It's very important to realize that we don't have to look at it in a bad way, it's actually part of fertility cycling and it's it's a normal thing. I don't think there's anything challenging in the GridFree lifestyle really, it's just a matter of, in the beginning, switching your mind to 'I'm not just a consumer, I'm not flicking a switch and not thinking about it' but 'I'm starting to be conscious that the power I use is the power I generate' and you start feeling like you live in an environment in an ecology you're not you're not just above the rest of nature and so on you're starting to feel part of it.

Yeah all in a whole, moving into the tiny house and living where we live at the moment it's just, it's just being outside, and we live much more outside than what we used to which is really special. And also it's a tiny house but we don't even realize it's so tiny for us I don't feel constrained and I don't think you feel it either. We live the three of us with a dog, we have space for kids later on. I think that's something that we really enjoy is that we can be cooking in the house, living in the house, within half an hour to an hour it's fully cleaned, and then we can go and enjoy outside and be in the garden with chickens or be at the beach with a dog you know and and not have to constantly be caring about the house. So yeah it's just spending more time really connecting with people and and the environment more than taking care of physical things.

"What an amazing place, with the Bach Kit on the roof and other off-grid 
systems, Tom and Caro have built themselves an amazing place. I'm really excited to see what they do in the future."