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