Tiny House Plumbing

Tiny house plumbing...seemingly so easy but fraught with difficulty. I designed my plumbing system to be minimal with the kitchen sink placed adjacent to the shower so the interior wall between could be my plumbing wall. I purchased a Bosch Tronic 8 gallon electric water heater and placed it beneath the sink in a stainless steel pan made of leftover material from my shower pan. Water heaters can either have their pressure relief valves directed into pans or out through the floor or wall of a building. Since I wanted to minimize exterior penetrations, I decided to direct mine to a pan.
I used 12" flexible 3/4" copper hoses to connect the water heater to the brass fittings reducing to the 1/2" PEX system. The cold water in comes through the floor (see photo below) via a frost free hose bib connected to a water hose and outdoor spigot. The water is directed into the water heater which, when connected to electricity, will heat the water and send it out the hot side to the sink via the braided flex line and shower via PEX tubing and brass elbows. The cold follows a similar path. In the shower, the mixer valve combines hot and cold in varied amounts depending on handle rotation. I used clamp rings to secure the tubing to the elbows and in line connections. It requires a special tool that I borrowed as well as a tubing cutter. (You can buy the push fittings but I was told by some plumbers that they are not as great for long term durability.) The clamp tool requires significant strength to tighten the rings but when it is dialed in, you only have to squeeze to the point when the tool releases. If it's not tight enough, the tool stays connected to the ring. Fairly straightforward. Make sure you leave 1/8"-1/4" of tubing end visible between clamp and fitting to ensure a good connection.
The tubing is somewhat flexible but cannot really make 90 degree turns quickly so I used elbows in those junctions. There are also T fittings which can help direct water to other fixtures but I didn't need them in this situation. I used red tubing for hot and blue for cold which is not really necessary (you could do all of one color or even all white) but I like color coding things so that was kind of fun. Just make sure you check the labels on the fixtures if you color code so they match up with the PEX colors and hot/cold indicators on the escutcheon plate.
I used a drop ear 90 up top to screw in my shower head which I will be directing toward the back corner of the space. I added blocking behind both the drop ear 90 and mixer valve in order to mount them. The front face of the mixer valve needs to be flush with the finished wall surface so you have to know what thickness that's going to be before adding the blocking. I actually swapped out the 2x4 blocking for the mixer valve for a piece that is only 1" thick since I decided to go with a 3/8" marine grade plywood coated with epoxy paint for the walls (see the next blog post about that).
Once I ran the supply lines, I started working on the drain system. For the sink, I used an S trap so I could drain out the floor. A P trap can also be used to drain out the wall. I needed an extension tube to continue the vertical piece through the floor since my system is taller than typical.
I added an ABS adapter under the trailer to connect the drain to a short piece of 1 1/2" tube and then to a rubber coupling which transitioned the size from 1 1/2" to 2" to match the diameter of the shower drain. I used ABS cement to attach a piece of 2" tubing to an elbow, let it dry, slid it into the coupling and tightened the metal ring with a screwdriver. From there, I added a length of 2" tubing to the shower drain.
I added an exterior p trap to the shower drain again connected by a rubber coupling attached by metal clamps secured with screws. These couplings will enable me to easily disconnect the drain system when I want to move my house. 
I added a vent to the system which allows air in so the water can flow out easier and faster. Ideally you have one of these for each fixture but since my system is so small and a short run, I was told I really didn't need any venting. Since the area under my sink is open and I wanted to use chrome fittings, I couldn't find a way to make a vent there look good. I will see how well the system works and if I feel like it needs to be changed, I can explore those options in the future.
When we did the first test on the system, there were so many leaks! First in the outside spigot to hose connection (a different fitting and a clamp solved that problem), then in the connection between the hose and frost free hose bib (just needed to be tightened), then in the brass connections between water heater and PEX/braided sink connects. I tried to tighten those connections which was difficult to do in place then retested but still found leaks. I asked a friend to help me take everything apart and use new Teflon tape tools to get those joints water tight. Also part of that process was replacing the flexible copper hoses since they had developed pin leaks from too much bending and one actually broke off while I was trying to disconnect it, shooting water out onto the floor until I could tip it upright. Hopefully that didn't do too much damage after I got the water mopped up and a fan running. Once we re-installed everything, all of the supply joints looked water tight. All of the PEX joints looked good from the start so I was thankful for that. The sink strainer was leaking so I took it apart, cleaned things up, applied new plumbers putty, re-installed and it seems good to go after another water test. The sink faucet is still leaking a little at the base which is somewhat worrisome since I had all of the internal components replaced when I had the new copper tubes braised on. Not sure what's going on there but it's an old faucet so maybe nothing can be done. Worst case, I have to remove the sink to take out the faucet, find a new faucet, have new holes drilled in the sink and re-install. Read the post about my farm sink for more details about that component. Now I can start focusing on my electrical system so I can not only have running water, but hot running water!

Check out my flickr for more photos!

Kitchen Farm Sink

This spring, before I started my build, I found a stainless steel double basin sink at the ReBuilding Center for $24. Since many tiny housers start their build with a sink, I figured I may as well too. I had planned to make a cutting board to rest over one of the basins which would also contain the dish rack. That way I would have flexibility in space use since I was not planning to install another sink in the bathroom.
I really wanted to find an old cast iron farm sink with drainboard but had no luck in finding one at the time. So I kept passively looking and then stumbled across one a little over a month ago at BMR just before I was about to check out. It was resting near the front of the store away from the rest of the sinks so it must have just recently arrived. I stopped and stared at it for a minute, thinking "huh, I think this is my sink." At $95 it was more expensive than my other sink but my other sink would have required a butcher block countertop that I had planned to make. With the sink basin on the left side and drainboard on the right side, it fit in with my house design. It even came with a unique wall-mounted faucet (more about that below).
So I decided to buy it. I learned later that several other people had come back to buy it after I did so I felt lucky I chose to make the trip there when I did. (I found two similar sinks the following week but each had a center basin flanked by drainboards). I took it back to site and set it on a folding table in it's eventual place. There is about a 7" gap on the left side between it and the bathroom wall that presents a new design opportunity for some kind of pantry and/or dish storage with shelves/hooks/etc. On the right side, I will build or find a small cabinet with a drawer and shelves for cookware.
But before that, I needed to figure out if the faucet would be usable. (I found the patent number, looked it up and found it was from 1945!) Whoever removed it, cut the copper supply pipes off so short that I was told by most people would render it useless. If I could not use it, I learned that a replacement would be difficult, if not impossible to find due to it's unique quality of the supply coming in through a central hole in the backsplash wall. For some reason, a second hole was cut in the backsplash behind one of the faucet "wings" and no one has had a good explanation of that. I could not find any new faucets with this single hole design, most wall-mounted faucets are now designed with two separate holes 6-8" apart. If I used a new faucet, it would mean that I would have to drill another hole into the porcelain/cast iron backsplash. I did not feel comfortable doing that so I kept asking around at the reuse stores.
Finally, I went to Hippo Hardware which specializes in antique hardware. I figured if anyone could help, it would be them. I talked to a guy in the plumbing section who looked at the faucet, took it apart to check out the condition of the components. He said it was in pretty good condition and could probably work with some new gaskets if I could find someone to braise on new supply pipes. I thought about who I might know and trust to accomplish that task and then asked Kevin on site who had welded my loft joists. He looked at it and told me that if I could get the body separated from the rest, he would try to make it happen.
I had other house projects that were more pressing so I set it aside for the time being. Kevin came by an hour later and said, "Let me see that faucet." I gave it to him and went back to work. A few hours later, I needed to leave and let Kevin know. He went to get the faucet and handed it over to me pipes braised and internal components replaced! I haven't tried it yet since my plumbing isn't in but my fingers are crossed that it will work.
Next, I worked with Rory to design and build some steel sink brackets to cantilever it similar to the loft ladder. I had originally thought I would need a steel cube wireframe structure but Rory reminded me of the strength of steel. Apparently some old cast iron sinks were hung from special brackets but I figured the chances of me finding ones that would match my sink were slim. So he made two really beefy brackets out of 3/8" x 1 1/2" steel. They started out as L's and he thought about adding a small triangle gusset to each but I thought a diagonal support would be better. He thought that piece as an arch would look better so I told him to go for it.
Once Rory cut, drilled and welded the pieces together and I had marked out their locations on the wall (ensuring space for water heater and fridge below), we set one in place to mark the location of the top hole, then removed it and predrilled a hole for a hanger bolt. I installed the hanger bolt, then we put the bracket in place, plumbed it, and added a temporary screw in the bottom hole. Next, we leveled over for the other bracket and repeated the process. Then, we set the sink on top to line up the edges so we could mark where the holes in the sink would need to be drilled into the horizontal section of the brackets. This was a tricky process since we could only do one at a time and space was tight since we had to mark from the top. I tried spraying paint through the hole of the sink onto the bracket but that plan failed since the paint spread beyond the hole opening. I tried drawing a line with a short pencil around the flange of the hole so when we removed the sink, I could more accurately locate the hole with measurements. That worked much better. Once one side was done, we added temporary bolts to secure the sink to the bracket so we could mark the second side. All went well except one of the holes was slightly off but Rory just drilled a larger hole so it was fine.
We took everything apart to Rory could sand and lacquer the brackets and I could add the remaining 4 hanger bolts. Once the brackets were dry, we put it all back together without much difficulty. Now I can start installing the plumbing! For more photos, check out my flickr!

My New Abode

While on my road trip, I decided to move back to Portland, Oregon to live. My time living away and traveling reminded me of the people and quality of life I missed here. I contacted everyone I knew in town and sent out a couple of Facebook requests for temporary or longer term affordable living arrangements. Ideally, I was looking for a place where I could trade house work for rent so I wouldn't have to tap into my savings too much until I found work. I was also hoping to be close in so I could bike to where I needed and save on gas for commuting. I responded to some Craigslist roommate searches, but did not have much luck since it was November and few people want to have an unemployed individual move in unless they are a friend. I have a few friends who knew a family member or friend remodeling their homes with a potential capacity for a work/trade arrangement. Two of those fell through, but the third, which I connected with less than a week before arriving in town, worked out. A couple I had volunteered with previously had a house in inner SE Portland that they were remodeling while they lived in another house nearby where her parents would be retiring to at some point. They had purchased their house about 5 years ago and spent time painting, deconstructing the chimney, removing the old furnace and duct system, installing a radiant floor heat system heated by the water from a new energy efficient condensing water heater, installing solar on their roof, and building up garden beds among other projects. The current big project is the kitchen and powder room which the owners and friends had gutted down to the studs. One of the owners is an architect who is currently finalizing the design to submit to the city for permitting. The hope is to finish the kitchen by the spring but more likely, it will be summer. So I should have a place to stay until then. My situation is ideal in that I am able to live alone in a great location and trade my skills for rent while also learning more about remodeling a 100 year old house. The downside is that I don't have the conveniences of a full kitchen or washer and dryer. For laundry, I have brought snacks over to a friend's house to trade for use of the machines which I continue to plan to do if available since I can catch up with friends instead of having to deal with going to a laundromat. I did hear of a really great efficient laundry not too far away so that will be my backup. 

For a kitchen, I purchased a Kenmore two door Energy Star 3.1 cu.ft. stainless steel mini fridge from Sears on sale for $160 (originally $230). I love having the two doors so my freezer is physically separate from my fridge. The freezer door even has space to hold items. The fridge has a crisper drawer on the bottom with two removable shelves above. The door has space for a half gallon container of juice or milk. The only thing I don't like about it is that the door also has space dedicated for cans. I don't drink much soda so this feature has not been helpful for me. So far, I have been just sticking other things in there like condiments but may modify it in the future to suit my needs. The owners lent me a toaster oven and hot pot. I bought a Presto popcorn popper since I love it as a snack. The model I have is an ingenious design because it has a measuring cup that sits into the hole in the cover above the heat element. The cup also melts your butter while the popcorn pops! I have a folding table set up as my counter, prep surface and dry food storage. Underneath is the rest of my kitchen dishes for eating and baking, Magic Bullet, water bottles, cooler and camp kitchen supplies. There's a grill in the backyard found for free on the side of the road so I'm still figuring out the temperature regulation on it. The trickiest part is clean up. The bathroom sink is too tiny to wash dishes in so I have to do them in the tub. The tub drain is not the greatest at draining, a homeowner special, so I have to pre-wipe my dishes with a paper towel to remove the excess to avoid a plumbing backup. The plumbing is going to be replaced at some point during the remodel so hopefully that will be sooner rather than later. It's worked out fine so far as I have also been going out to eat with friends occasionally and had use of a full kitchen for a week while I was dog sitting. I miss the ability to make coffee since grounds are a mess to clean up but have been savoring the times I meet up with people for coffee. I'm also drinking more tea and may try instant coffee at home occasionally.

My kitchen is set up along a wall of my bedroom next to another table holding jewelry, jars of pens/pencils/markers, white board with my notes, a stack of movies and a few other misc. items by the door. Underneath the table lives my suitcases, tools and bike gear. I recently purchased a full size futon and frame which I love because I can multipurpose it to be both a bed and a couch. It was made by a local Portland shop and is comfortable. The sliding mechanism isn't the smoothest, but I'm guessing over time that I will get the hang of adjusting the positions or will come up with a better solution. I've been using an old sleeping bag and blankets for bedding but am thinking about getting sheets for the summer since I like to be covered when I sleep. The mattress did come with a removable cover that can be zipped off but that seems like it would be difficult for one person. There's a good size closet in my room which stores my clothes, jackets, shoes and gear. 

In total, my room and closet are about 150 sq.ft. and the bathroom is 50 sq.ft. so I'm essentially living in 200 sq.ft. total.