Next to Christmas week, summertime seems to be the most popular time to upgrade your iPhone or Android mobile phone. It starts off innocently enough. You don’t ‘Skip Ad’ when the US Cellular ad comes on during your Netflix binge. Within a week or two you make mention that you may stop by the store to see what your upgrade options are. Then you casually mention to a salesperson that you really like the camera features on the iPhone 25X (I made it up folks...don’t go looking!) Then you pounce. You are now “leasing to own” the newest phone and all of its cool features including incredible camera with built-in filter effects, extra optical zoom, a bigger screen, and more!
So. Many. Options.
You still can’t shake the price though. $1,000 or $45/month for, well, a long time. The process is not much different when upgrading the technology in your house and now that we are in the midst of building our second tiny house on wheels we are faced with choosing between what we had in our first to what we want in our second that represents the growth in the home tech sector.
Let’s first be clear that not everyone wants to have the latest and greatest and not everyone wants to learn how new products work. Most people don’t want to stretch every penny a little further just to see these upgrades. But for us they are warranted and truly reflect who we are and what our interests are. Our first tiny house on wheels was a high tech house and we intend this to be as well. But before I get ahead of myself, it is important to make note of the planning involved for the electrical schematic required for such a house.
I first started with what I know best: my iPhone. It is, in essence, my virtual assistant and I use it for almost everything now. I have incorporated it into my daily life including travel, bills, communication, and more. I also take great pleasure in using it for free applications that allow my to increase my workflow, monitor systems in various parts of my life, and communicate better.
When I started building our first tiny house home automation and home tech had barely been announced. There were a few options but the big box stores had not yet picked up on the trend and consumer prices were exorbitant. Apple was releasing the HomeKit though and being an Apple fan, caught my eye immediately. After some research and hands-on use, I began searching out companies that were working on HomeKit compatible products. I was beyond excited at the prospect of connecting my home to my phone and even being able to voice activate it all with the help of Apple’s Siri.
My first search brought about Philips Hue Lighting. The lights in my home (and eventually outside my home) would be controlled with my iPhone and allow me to change my lighting to any combination of 16 million colors through LED technology. Not only was it very cool but also very functional. Each light had its own wireless switch, which meant there was no special wiring needed. I was able to wire up the light switches in standard fashion: incoming is black, return is red, and bare copper for grounding. After investing in the lighting and trying it out I worked out how they would actually serve the house. I skipped installing light switches and instead went with just electrical outlets for the LED Philips Hue 1600 lumens strips. If you aren’t familiar with lumens, let me just say that 1600 lumens is daytime during a solar flare bright. That is just crazy bright! Since the Philips Hue are LED they also have a very low load compared to more traditional lighting options and I could place them and re-place them wherever I had wired in an electrical outlet.
Needless to say that after three years of having Philips Hue I have grown to love them even more than the day I first turned them on. Our current build features Philips Hue as our primary light source both indoors and out. In fact, we have wired in extra electrical outlets in places that will have the LED light strips so there is less cord maintenance to tend to. We love that our lights turn on automatically when we get home or that we can have our house a soft red as we go to sleep each night. Even better though is having the lights turn off automatically as we leave our house (or rather, as our phones leave our house). Talk about cool!
Let’s talk a minute about our entry door. There are a number of digital locks on the market but very few that offer both Bluetooth and HomeKit integration. We have decided to stick with what is easiest for us and with what is easiest to set up and integrate into our HomeKit.
Our first tiny house had a Schlage smart lock that stayed connected when we were home or away. The iPhone did most of the setup when we installed the product and immediately allowed us to lock and unlock our entry door whether we were right in front of it or 1,000 miles away. One of the extra cool features is that we would also be alerted should someone try to bust the door down or gain entry improperly. We have decided to use Schlage in our new tiny house as well.
One area few would think is impacted by wireless technology is that of windows and skylights. We knew in the planning stages that we wanted skylights in this new tiny house. Unfortunately, there really are only a handful of options on the market offering wireless skylights. We were able to find one that seemed to stand apart from the others. We honed in on the Velux Solar Skylight. The less I have to do, the better. That rules out the skylights that have to be wired into your electrical system. The Velux has a built in batter with a solar panel directly outside of it to charge said battery. Can you guess which I went with? It’s Velux all the way! There is less wiring involved and the skylight opens and closes automatically on a schedule I set. It also closes automatically if it senses rain. Could it be any easier? Another great feature of the Velux is the air sensor it comes equipped with. If the skylight senses the air quality getting in ranges it deems unhealthy, it opens and lets in fresh air. I can control the skylight with my iPhone, set the schedules for opening and closing, keep our air fresh, and feel confident in it all. It also helps to know that even if the power in our tiny house is out, the skylight has its own power source and can still function. (NOTE: our skylight also has built-in blinds that can be closed to block out overhead sun if it becomes a nuisance during the day)
The first tiny house was an awesome house but it didn’t incorporate all the things I now think are essential. I look back and wish I had built in floor heaters. Seems a bit odd. I know. I love walking barefoot though and I also hate having the heater on full blast causing the house to heat up but the floor to still stay cold. Because we actually travel with our tiny house(s) we have lived in snow covered mountains, hot Las Vegas summers, and very damp, cool environments. Our floor always seemed to affect the overall interior temperature of our house. In Las Vegas, for instance, the wintertime can see temperatures in the 50s and 60s. That is too cool on my feet! After a great deal of research and speaking with different companies, we have decided to install the WARMUP system. The floor heater system has a low power draw complete with wireless technology. It helps too that they are the largest floor heater manufacturer in the United States. They have invested a lot into R&D, which means they will continue to improve their products and embrace new technology as soon as it stabilizes. A hidden benefit of our new heated floors is that our actual home heating system will be completely out of sight! The WARMUP system is already functioning as our primary heat source and is installed directly under the floor. It takes up no precious real estate in our new tiny house.
Technologically speaking, the under floor heat will be controlled by a 4iE smart WiFi thermostat which is then controllable by our iPhones. WARMUP is efficient, easy to install, and has the best warranties, while the company itself has shown us impeccable customer service and support. Electrically speaking, all we need is a dedicated breaker for our floor heaters. Since we are building our tiny house from the blueprints up we have been able to accommodate the system while avoiding the need for more traditional heating sources. Such a win for my feet and us!
These technological advances and electrical systems require current. We understand that and we are also very familiar with what the power draw of our tiny house will be. That has allowed us to be very accurate in planning our solar system, which is our singular source of electricity. Let’s first be real. Solar power is a luxury at this point. They can be expensive and aren’t needed if you intend to live on the grid. If you are going to live off-grid even for a weekend, solar is necessary. As I did with the first tiny house, we are going to install an entire house solar system with salt-water batteries. This allows the wiring to remain consistent but give us a little extra power out. It sounds complex but is really quite basic. This house requires a few extra panels, which we found with our friends at the altE store online. They have been instrumental in helping us design the system that is right for our tiny house.
We have a lot going on with this new tiny house on wheels. Some may find our love and dependency on technology to be unsettling or ridiculous. To each his own. We love tech and we want our lives to be enhanced by it. We take our time in learning about our systems and how they can help our home be as efficient and high-performing as possible. When thinking about your home we encourage you to ask yourself if you really need it or if you just want it. Neither is a correct answer. For us in-home technology started off as just cool stuff in our house. But we now realize that it enhances our day-to-day and makes things easier. There was a learning curve, most definitely. But what we know now has been worth every penny we have spent along the way. Everything from our lights to our air conditioning is wireless. It requires knowledge though. Do your homework. Start off by fully understanding your phone and its Bluetooth capabilities. Then move on. As with all things knowledge is key. If you don’t take the time to understand what you have at your fingertips, it can cause more trouble than it’s worth.
for the Tiny House Magazine
Married to his best friend, MARIO SOTO works from home in the tech industry. A technology aficionado, Mario and his wife live in Las Vegas…for now! He grew up in Southern California and loves cooking alongside his wife and entertaining friends in their tiny house on wheels.
Mario can be found on Instagram and is always happy to answer questions.