Repairing our New Tiny House

Problems…and Solutions

In July 2018, our new off-grid tiny house on wheels from Backcountry Tiny Homes was delivered and installed. Most of the issues we had with the house were resolved by December 2018, and we continue working on it as of this post in January 2019. See our previous post for more details.

Here’s how we fixed or had repaired some of the problems, in photojournal style! We hope this gives you hope, or a warning, or at least more information about what you may experience as an off-gridder or tiny homeowner. Any of these captions could be (and might become) posts of their own, we know! It’s brief. Think of it like the overture piece before a musical play.

We’ve just been so busy fixing and improving the house, and at times challenged to acquire basic necessities like water, that blogging has fallen by the wayside temporarily. Yet we couldn’t leave you wondering what became of us and our lovely, troublesome home!

Fixes Without Photos

Some things don’t have photos. For example, our UV filter (drinking water) was resolved when Backcountry Tiny Homes flew back out to Arkansas to attach the filter’s electrical source to a different outlet (they converted it from DC to AC with a DC adapter). The problem was irregular voltage the way it had been installed. They also did a decent job fixing the gutters that collect rainwater, which were leaking in various places. Our missing smoke and carbon monoxide detectors were installed. The bathroom outlet that wasn’t working, was actually just fine! It’s connected to the thermostat, so, it only works when the thermostat tells the electric heaters to kick on. Unfortunately, our solar power setup is too small to run those electric heaters at night or on cloudy days…but that’s another story. 

We are still here, and far from quitting, we have seen enough progress to know that things will only get better in 2019. Happy New Year!

We have been winterizing our outdoor plumbing to prevent freezing. None of our water-carrying pipes are beneath the trailer, rather they’re off to one side and connect the cistern to the house. Here, Ryan hugs some insulation in readiness for wrapping around pipes.
This is where water comes into our house from the cistern, filled by rain. Here it’s wrapped in heat tape before the final layers of insulation are added.
The north side, or rear, of our house is where our outdoor water-carrying plumbing is located. Here it’s wrapped in heavy-duty foil before multiple layers of insulation, heat tape, and a wind break were added.
Ryan makes a pouty face as he uses a hot watter bottle to unfreeze the water inlet. The heat tape and insulation had to stop at the juncture where the tube comes inside the wall. As it turned out, we lost water to the house not because this froze, but because debris from the cistern repeatedly clogs a small mesh filter attached to the inlet here. It must be cleaned out monthly or more often, because the cistern inlet/outlet/drain are one in the same (a poor design).
Our Separett “composting” toilet (not a self-contained composting toilet) has had a bunch of problems: flies, difficult to clean, mechanical turntable issue, broken fuse, fan replacement…so it has been less than wonderful. This is our first composting toilet, and both Separett and Backcountry Tiny Homes were helpful in resolving our issues. Here you can see the flies building up and dying behind the removed vent screen (I have to clean it, that’s why it’s removed briefly). There are I estimate about 100 nooks, tubes, and surfaces to clean with this toilet. It takes me about 2 hours each month to change the bucket and clean inside and outside the unit. It doesn’t smell unless in use.
Our solar panels have been blown over about 3 times from high winds. Here, Ryan tries to organize the cables.
After righting all the panels, Ryan discovered one of the panels’ cables was yanked down into the protective tubing. He hasn’t figured out how to get the cable out without damaging it and the other panels’ cables (all in one tube) so one of our 6 panels isn’t producing electricity currently.
Our bathroom has had the most problems of anywhere in the house. One issue was the RV tub, which had been “stained” by Goof Off and other industrial products. We asked for a replacement tub, which was installed when the bathroom was deconstructed to fix the 2nd plumbing leak.
The inside of our house has been a mess most of the roughly 4 months we’ve lived full-time in it so far. Here, the bathroom plumbing repairs are happening, so the sink is temporarily in the hallway. Before we had sheds, we joked that it looked like Home Depot or Lowe’s threw up in our house, hardware everywhere!
This shows the leak in our bathroom wall. We turned the fan on it to dry it out, and the plumbing was replaced.
Here is the same wall shown deconstructed above. The bathroom was put back together nicely! No more leaks have occurred inside since the first 2.
The new RV tub was installed, and it looks beautiful! The whole bathroom is exactly what we need and everything functions normally. The bathtub drain froze once because not enough insulation and no skirting yet. We can easily thaw it, though, with our heat gun.
One of the windows was broken in July 2018 during transport from the west coast to Arkansas, and the driver immediately paid Backcountry Tiny Homes for a replacement. We received the wrong size window, though. Finally in ______ 2018 we received the correct replacement, and it works perfectly.
We got a nice-looking screen door as a gift from Ryan’s parents! It was lovely. Somehow it hasn’t wanted to open and close properly. We had various issues with the frame and handle. The door had wide gaps that let bugs and wasps in, and it would slam – waking us up in the middle of a windy night. So Ryan took it off and stored it in the shed until we figure out what to do.
Our friend Sim Barrow came out to volunteer on behalf of Ripples! He chopped down 2 invasive non-native callery / bradford pear trees that were blocking evening sunlight from our solar panels. Without these trees we can create more electricity. From the beginning we knew it would be part of our work to remove invasive species and plant natives, so now we look forward to planting 2 new trees in spring!
Here Sim uses an electric, solar-charged chainsaw to cut through a thorny trunk. Over a few days, we hauled the brush away into a pile behind our house.
Amanda the reindeer! When I hauled brush, we pretended I was pulling Santa’s sleigh and had some fun with it. Those thorns are nasty!
Sim and Ryan worked together to install our first shed! It blew over in a wind storm, so we tied it to the cistern. Here Ryan is leveling the ground on our gravel pad to install the 2nd shed.
Both of our 2 small sheds have been blown over in wind storms. We tied them to the cistern until Ryan has time to further anchor them somehow. They usually blow over at night while we’re trying to sleep, LOL.
Ryan proudly surveys his first 2 sheds. We need them to store things nobody wants in their home, whether it’s a large home or small one. Chainsaws, dirty buckets, our riding lawnmower, bicycles, etc.
Erosion control is a top priority for us. We’re gathering ideas for a permanent solution that’s attractive. Meanwhile, we’re using bags filled with soil taken during the construction of the gravel pad to park our tiny house.
We often have to work at night. Here’s one example of erosion control work. Ryan stacked cement blocks and dirt-filled bags to slow eroding soil until we get a more permanent solution.
Our new refrigerator hasn’t been working properly. It leaks water overflowing from the evaporator tray onto the kitchen floor. It leaks water onto the interior shelves. The freezer is over-freezing and forming ice and snow despite turning the dial down. So, our balcony is our refrigerator for now! This is how we spent New Year’s. Looking forward to an easier 2019!

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Update January 2019: We turned off the refrigerator, defrosted, let it dry out and turned it back on. By the time the repairman inspected it a week later, it appeared to work perfectly and we’ve had no more issues with it yet. Not sure cause of malfunction. Repairman didn’t know. Just happy to have our food indoors again! The company reimbursed us for the food we lost to the elements.


Update June 2019: After months of repeated fridge/freezer failure and unproductive service calls in which the repairman couldn’t figure out what to fix, the Haier company (via General Electric) replaced the unit entirely. It works perfectly, one week after delivery. Here’s hoping!

Mike Quain

This is awesome, Ryan! I’m so glad things are working out

Ryan Bancroft

Thanks, Mike! It’s been quite the journey so far, but it’s definitely coming along. I can’t say I’m always excited to learn the “hard way,” but I’m already very pleased with the knowledge I’ve acquired. It’s certainly an efficient learning strategy. 🙂

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