How-To get electricity for your Tiny House

A common question on tiny house forums is in regards to electricity. Can we use standard size appliances? How do you wire a tiny house trailer? Are there plugs inside a tiny house? Where do you plug in? All perfectly valid questions save one factor. I have not yet seen a post on how you actually get electricity on a lot you intend to park your tiny house on. Yes, you can run an extension cord if you are parked in someone’s driveway. You can use an RV connection if you are at a mobile home park. You can even install solar as we have talked about several times. You first have to determine the electric load of your house though in order to determine your solar need. I digress though as I am getting ahead of myself.

The question for us was HOW DO WE GET ELECTRICITY TO OUR TINY HOUSE? It sounds simple enough but with our lot being wooded, our closest neighbor an acre away, no budget for solar until 2012 (or even 2013), and a fear of running hundreds of feet of extension cord illegally, how would we get electricity to our tiny house?

Let’s first talk legalese. At the current time our lot is not approved for full-time domestic use. It hasn’t been perked, it has no septic, and it has no real address. We are solving those issues (as we don’t see them as problems, to be honest) by drilling a well, installing a compost toilet in our house, and renting our current PO Box. Here is where we had to get creative.

We 3 sizable chicken coops – one of which came from Georgia with us –  as well as a hog pen, and the beginning of a goat shed. We also have our garden needs and shed coming up within the month. All of those can benefit from electricity in the form of electric de-icers, incubators, security light, and a shed light. Armed with those needs we contacted our county Planning & Inspection Department to talk about agriculture power poles. If you don’t know what an ag power pole looks like take notice next time you pass a mobile or modular home. They are standalone poles that are attached by cable to a power pole with transformer. What we soon found out was that 42 feet away from where we thought our pole should go, there was a transformer; dormant, but present.

After speaking with the director we called a local electrician to come out, spec out the job, and go to work. Easier said than done. A feast or famine job, electricians often have to put your job off for weeks at a time. Ours was no different. After the initial call to him we met face-to-face nearly 3 weeks later. Our conversation was brief and in it he explained that we would have to contact the energy company first, have them send out an engineer to say the job was possible and give a written approval. Only then could our electrician return to set the pole.

The engineer came out 24 hours later, took a look at our land, took a look at the transformer, made some notes, and informed me that a tree company would be out in 2-3 weeks in order to clear the transformer pole right-of-way as well as the line path to our pole. He did, however, say our electrician could set the pole. I was delighted to hear that and quickly called our electrician to tell him the news. Just a few days later he was back and putting in the pole and the meter.

A week later the tree company came out and set out clearing the right-of-way. The job was not without folly though. The first day they came out they broke their chipper and had to call it ‘a day’ after about 2 hours of work. The second day they came out the stopped after only 45 minutes of work explaining that they cracked the rear axle of their truck. The third day they came out with fury in their eyes and a renewed sense of purpose. What they didn’t know though was that the weekend prior my daddy had come to visit and together we cleared the are from our pole to the transformer. It was a good, wide path, and just as clear as the trailer portion of our lot. The tree guys had relatively little to do.

I was pretty impressed with the job they did and was happy to be that far along even though we were firmly into the start of week #4. No one said a r(E)volution was formed in a day!

You may have noticed that so far I have said nothing about expense. After the tree guys came I sent in the first payment – a $75 check to the energy company for the engineer visit. I had been quoted just at $600 for the electrician and figure I’ll be assessed the standard $175 soon for the actual electrical connection.

As week #5 came about our electrician returned, finalized the pole (added the necessary braces), adding a grounding pole and clamp, and promised me he would have the permit for inspection in by the following morning. He was true to his word and the next morning around 11am EST the inspector was feeling of the meter, staring at the footing of the pole, and leaving a passed inspection with me. We were so close to having electricity for our land and our tiny house.

The next day just before close of business a power company bucket truck rolled up and a single, middle-aged man, jumped out and hollered over at me that he was going to get the line run and power us up. I smiled, waved, and stayed out of the way. During the course of his fairly quick visit he admired the work of our electrician, commented on our 200 amp service, and asked if we were going to build a house on the site. I told him with all honesty (feet firmly planted in NC soil) that I was not going to build a house here. I didn’t feel he needed to know I would be building it in Georgia and towing it to NC. His response was, “Well, if you ever have anyone come through with a camper, at least you know where you can put ‘em. Y’all have a great space here now.” I smiled from ear to ear, turned, and left him be.

By supper time the lineman had come and gone. I could see from The Bungalow the wire running from transformer to Ag pole. I asked Crystal to come with me and together we went out to the “hot wire” with boom box in hand. It was time to celebrate. Some 7 steps, 6 weeks, and nearly $1k later, we had electricity of our own with our own meter and our own sense of purpose. We flipped the breaker, turned the radio on, chuckled a bit, and danced together; me, Crystal, and baby Tilly.

NOTE:
To view the complete picture set, visit our Flickr page.

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Bigger does not always mean better. Progress does not always mean forgetting our roots in order to forge a new future. Blogger, photojournalist, and hobby farmer Andrew Odom has spent much of the last few years rediscovering the lost art of living, growing, and being truly happy. Visit him online, find him on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter.

 

35 Comments How-To get electricity for your Tiny House

  1. Dovie

    Lovely story! It’s really nice to see another aspect of running electric. The ag power pole is genius! I’m definitely bookmarking this for future reference.

    Reply
  2. vitus douglas burch

    I have lived off the grid for years but my electric system is severly undersized. I have six 50 watt solar panels,four six volt batteries and a 1000 watt inverter. It runs lights and television and my water pump and a little personal sized cooler. My fridge is propane, my stove is as well and I heat water on the stove for bathing. It isnt great but it is not bad.
    I have helped install “real” solar systems that run refridgerators and small swamp coolers but they cost about 20 thousand dollars. I use a little generator for power tools and the like.
    One thing I learned living off the grid is that if you don’t have something long enough you learn to live without it. I finally caved in when I had a girlfriend in town and was reaquainted with air conditioning, cable and the works.
    Vitus

    Reply
    1. freespirit

      That’s great! What I would like to know though is the cost of maintaining and replacing batteries and generators. Nothing is free, so it would be nice to look at the true cost. Please share if you can provide such information. Note: Some of us need a fair amount of computer and internet use for our work, so these things can not just be thought of as luxury items either.

      Reply
      1. Zer0

        I agree with this comment. I do my consulting work on a computer through skype and I need to run it almost all the time.

        Reply
  3. SteveR

    200A seems excessive. I have all of 60A coming into my current house and it’s plenty.
    And of course you are lucky enough to have power nearby. The nearest line to where my tiny house will be is 1.5km (1 mile) and so running a line from there is not an economic option. It will be a solar system I’ve already have and experimented with – about 500w and 4 6v deep cycle batteries. Stove, fridge will be propane. Solar hot water. Heat will be wood stove.

    Reply
    1. anotherkindofdrew

      200A is excessive so it would seem. However, just a few weeks ago we had my folks visit (with their 5th wheel) and my brother’s family visit (with their pop-up including fridge and AC) and that power was needed. I am actually quite glad I went with such a setup.

      Reply
  4. Dave Lingelbach

    Excellent story. There is a reason why there are so many steps to getting electricity. The stuff can kill you. It must be respected. It’s OK to go through all the steps this guy did. It’s also very wise to carefully watch one’s words with the inspectors and other workers installing the electric service.

    It’s better to have too large of a service (such as a 200 amp service) than to have too small a service. One doesn’t have to use all 200 amps.

    When it comes time to install solar or other site generated electricity, it is vitally important to have an electrician install the proper transfer switch or other similar devices. If the line power goes out, those fixing the problem could be killed by unexpected site generated electricity back-feeding into the power lines. Do it proper. Do it legal. Please.

    Reply
  5. alice

    I got electricity to my lot in a fairly similar process, though I also had to get permission from a neighbour to trim back some overhanging branches from trees at the edge of her property. She was a bit huffy about it, but the trees were not harmed and it’s a heavily forested area, you hardly notice anything missing. She moved the next year and one of the trees has since blown down,luckily without damaging anything. Luckily I only needed one pole from the road to my property and have a temporary trailer service which provides a plug for a trailer on one side and a duplex GFCI receptacle on the other, about 50 feet from my actual trailer site. This can be coverted later to regular electric service for a house by changing out a couple of things on the pole and most people here opt for underground wiring from pole to buildings. I had to have a temporary driveway built down from the road for some of the machinery, essentially just a gravel ramp which was removed later, so the whole thing from start to finish and including my seriously heavy duty new extension cords was just under $2,000. I pay about $14 every 3 months for the electricity which includes a basic fee just for being connected which is usually more than the amount for actual electricity used. Since my trailer was gutted when I got it there is no wiring insde and I have a makeshift system which I don’t leave on if I’m away for more than a day. Proper wiring using a trailer connection cord is high on the project list. I have a small oil filled electric radiator which heats the Boler trailer in Pacific NW weather. Power can go out in storms (usually due to downed trees) but usually not for more than a couple of days so you need backup heat, light and cooking, propane in my case. I run a small fridge with tiny freezer, the heater, toaster oven, M/W, electric kettles (one for tea, one for a water heater), induction hot plate, 3 lights, radio, TV/DVD, laptop computer and a couple of chargers, plus tools. I’m not a full timer, usually spend about 1/4 of the year there, working up to full time in a year or two. It may be possible to run solar at some time in the future as there is a spot that gets a lot of direct sunlight but I have no plans to do so at present.

    Reply
  6. Dieter

    This is as poorly written as what I would expect from a fifth grader. Have you ever heard of an outline or proof reading?

    It is good that you got an electrician.

    If this was meant to be help for others as I thought it was, it is a disappointment.

    Reply
    1. anotherkindofdrew

      I am sorry you feel that way Dieter. You seem to be one of the few (if not only one) that feels that way. After another round of review I did indeed find one missing word, one misspelled word, and one misuse of a comma. I suppose then I should have been held back in 5th grade until I mastered grammar and composition.

      Reply
    2. Irene

      I have to say this: I used to be a regular here but I started coming here less and less, primarily because of people like you. People who contribute NOTHING to the blog with regard to their own accomplishments, their own successes, their own ideas that someone else can use, but who have plenty of criticism and negativity toward the things that other people contribute. Nothing good to say, nothing constructive, just vague naggy, whiny complaints.

      Drew has offered really valuable information to some of us. If you don’t like it, that’s fine, but can you offer up something else in its stead?

      If not, please keep your unkind remarks to yourself. And I’d alter my negative outlook. That rotten viewpoint and miserable state of mind will give you cancer. Literally.

      Good job, Drew. I thought it was very helpful. Thank you.

      Irene

      Reply
        1. Irene

          No worries. Quite honestly, I have always wondered how to get electricity to a parcel of land that someone has purchased for their tiny hiome. I understand that not every piece of land will already have a transformer, but everything you wrote from start to finish answered many of my questions (which have only been in my head, never asked out loud) about how to go about it, at least one way of doing so. To me, this has been very useful. I appreciate your giving us this detail.

          I am an editor, and at no time while I was reading it did I think it was badly written, by the way. That was just someone having a bad day.

          Thanks again!

          Reply
          1. Carleatha

            I have to agree with Irene, I personally am getting tired of those people who come on this blog and have nothing kind to say. If you don’t like what you read then move on. Better yet, don’t even come on the site.

          2. Joshua

            Same here, at no time did I get hung up on your writing. I also do editing.
            By some of the comments here I think you have just come across the hot topic of bringing electricity to your tiny home. It seems there are some off the grid fanatics.
            Great article.

  7. tim

    i live in south ga. on an acre of land with a shallow well in a pumphouse, a septic system and a lite pole my dad bought several years ago with 200 amp service. he installed a gfci outlet to run power tools. next he ran underground electric to the pumphouse with a breaker panel.finally he installed an rv outlet 30amp type at the main panel box for the motorhome. my electric bill averages 35bucks a month and 75.50 a year in taxes. if you live in a camper or housetrailer with the wheels or axles on it does not raise the value of the property allowing you low cost living

    Reply
  8. when

    This end run around zoning laws will likely get you lots of gleeful attention from the government (as now they have someone to harass), up to and including heavy fines, jail time, and confiscation/destruction of your home. Don’t think you are immune, lots and lots of offgridders after literal *decades* of no problems suddenly find themselves homeless after some bureaucrat gets overly excited about their unapproved/illegal/noncompliant/whatever home. It doesn’t even have to be illegal, if they want the land or they’re just bored they *will* find a way to get you off it and destroy your life. They have unlimited budgets, lots of free time, and unlimited power and they *do not* like to lose or look bad.

    The usual way offgridders get busted is that a developer doing aerial surveys wants the land and goes and greases the right palms at the state/county level to get enough fines levied to lien the land, have it confiscated by the government, and sold at a no-bid auction to the appropriate developer. (This is not an indictment of corporate power, it is an indictment solely of government that it has these powers in the first place).

    I’ve worked within the government and I saw this happen several times to people who just wanted to be left alone. Don’t screw around with these people.

    Reply
  9. Carlos in ATx

    @when, I say offgrid it whenever and where ever you can! All of our current gov’t’s are being run for the sole benefit of the wealthiest 20% of Americans who have 92% of the national income. What’s happened to the working class over the last 40 years was pure class warfare by the rich on them. Every penny’s worth of energy you don’t spend benefits you and hurts them. Same goes with taxes! Best thing to do is plan ahead and have a 2nd retreat much farther away from the urban anthills we call cities. Sell your lot at below market value just before they foreclose and start over. It’s called guerilla warfare and even if you work for the gov’t, they certainly aren’t working for you!

    Reply
  10. Somewhere in USA

    Once the power is on do not leave the camper in view with the power cord, sewer line hose or water hose connected. It would be best if you built a pole barn and placed the camper inside or better yet just finish out the pole barn and live in it. Should you build a pole barn to live in do not have any visible signs (Clues) that say I am living here such as exposed plumbing vents (Use a Studor vent) or clothes lines in plain view. http://www.studor.com/DesignCriteria.pdf

    The camper may be able to be stored on your property. You may not be able to live in it “connected”

    It would depend on your county’s zoning. In our county you cannot have a camper or RV on your lot connected, unless you are in a camp ground. Yes I see it a lot of them next to some ones house all around but one phone call can do you in if it is the only option you have.

    It has gotten so bad in the county where I live that the inspection dept. will not let you place a septic tank or allow a temporary power pole unless you have a set of house plans on file with a building permit.

    Ten years ago I was faced with a problem. I was a single parent. We lived in a house in town where I had a twenty min drive to work. I wanted my son to go to an elementary school close to my work. It was a hardship for me since my hours vary and my son would get home hours before I got off work. I took him to school and set it up where he could ride the bus home and get dropped off at my shop and office. The bus driver asked my son some questions as to where we lived and the gig was up. I could have gone over her head saying it was a hardship but I did it by the book.

    My office and shop is a commercial building inside the school district. Although I am not zoned for residential, I got my Driver’s license changed to my work address. Once I had this I set up to have cable installed at my new apartment / the office. I used the same address as my shop example 111-A and called the apartment 111-B. I showed up at the school with my documentation and told the school I indeed was living there.

    We had an outside shower. Under the radar I added a shower with a LP gas point of use hot water heater. It is hidden behind some tall shelving units and drains into a gray water gravel pit outside of the building. When I did this work I placed a French drain around three sides of the building to help with drainage. My neighbor was very nosey at the time and he called the health dept. I explained it was a French drain for the building and after he left I finished the project.

    The back yard has a privacy fence so some of the digging wasn’t in view. I delivered the fiberglass shower after dark and put it right in place. When I stayed we would use army cots and Cabala’s cot pads. It really was comfortable.

    We had the office kitchen and indoor plumbing. Out back we have a LP gas camp stove and a gas grill. When we cooked we would did it all out back of the building or we could visit a Deli, convince store, Mexican, McDonalds and Pizza place next door. It was well worth the investment.

    State buildings codes usually do not apply to Agriculture buildings Just do not be visible from the air or ground with your camper. I am not kidding about this. Our county looks for campers, additions, decks, docks and mobile homes that have been installed without permits. They have software that finds them through comparison changes from Arial photos that the The United States Geological Survey (USGS) provides them about twice per year. The lady at the permit office told me the software was very expensive but has paid its own way through the added fines and permit fees they had charged. Big brother may not be in your county but it is here in mine.

    Also knock all you want I’ll never answer. If you know me you’d have called first applies.

    Reply
  11. Tank

    Interesting article, but it hardly addresses electricity to a wider audience as the title suggested but instead only really tells us about your personal situation. I’m very interested in this part of small living & don’t ever see articles that broadly discuss & go into detail about how to go about powering up your small home. Again interesting article & thanks very much for sharing, but I’m disappointed by the article as a whole due to the misleading title.

    Reply
  12. Abel Zimmerman Zyl

    Hi all. Nice discussion! I build my tiny houses to run on a single AC circuit… 15a. So far i have been able to do most everything including running a clothes washer this way. Amply sized wires/extension cords are most important! Ill email a simplified sizing, length, amperage table upon request.

    I dont want to advertize, but for the sake of safety, email me if you are unsure. Depending on the questions, i may decide to charge for a consult. (i am an off grid systems engineer)

    I like the agriculture pole idea. How about the rest? County regulations about living in a house that isnt attached to the ground? People do it here, but it is ‘off the radar’.

    Abel Zyl Zimmerman

    Reply
  13. Carolyn MVaussies

    If you are jumping through ALL the hoops it takes to get power to a piece of land. Yes, it makes sense to do it the right size for the possible day you might build a planted house(codes), or for re sale. 20 years fly by,& the power poles still stand.

    Reply
  14. Bill Kastrinos

    Really great article. There are other issues, however. RV panels and house panels are not wired the same. You really need to research “open neutral”, as it applies to running an extension cord to any tiny house. Find an electrician that understands the difference. Do not assume they do, as this is not something most electricians do everyday. The danger comes, in depending on the ground wire of an extension cord to power your tiny house.

    Reply
  15. Benjamin

    This is very helpful. Thank you for sharing. May I ask, once electric was in place and the home move on location, how did you actually connect it? Just an extension cord?

    How do you pay your bill? What is the account setup like with no address? Is you bill cheap?

    How do you get water to your tiny home?

    Does your tiny home use gas at all?

    Do you have a driveway?

    Reply

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