A tiny home’s greatest asset is arguably how much control you have over its design. If you’re building a tiny house from the ground up, you get to decide how every single part of it works, right down to utilities.
However, it's easy to miss something if you don’t have a lot of experience with installing your own utilities. One thing that most novice tiny homeowners may often skip on is their plumbing. Because this is something you’ve relied on when you were still living on-grid, it can seem complicated for you to install your own plumbing.
So what are the plumbing options for a tiny house? There are a few systems that you can consider, but the important thing to remember is how self-contained your property will be. Once you’ve established this, it becomes easier to set up a plumbing system that’s easy to maintain.
What Types of Plumbing Work With a Tiny House
Tiny house plumbing isn’t as complicated as you might think, since there’s not a lot of difference from how you would install a regular plumbing system in a conventional household. Because of your home’s smaller size, there are fewer fixtures that you need to install, which also means a reduction in overall upfront costs.
There are four plumbing systems that tiny houses can use:
1. Tank and pump system
The most practical way of getting plumbing in your tiny house is to use a tank and pump system to circulate, store, and pressurize the water you need. Most homeowners use this method of plumbing since it’s like the systems that a conventional house uses, which gives you the freedom to install fixtures like a shower.
One thing to remember about using a tank and pump system is the more you detach yourself off the grid, the more tanks you’ll need. This is a general rule for most tiny home plumbing options, but it’s especially true with the tank and pump system. The primary limiting factor you need to consider is the size of your tanks since they can take up a lot of space.
A downside to having a tank and pump system is that you need to fill the tank/s yourself, either by hauling water or using an external water source to fill them up. This is great for mobile homes and RV units, but it can be a little cumbersome for stationary tiny homes. Depending on your tank size, you might not have enough pressure to get a conventional toilet installed, or lack some optional kitchen features.
However, the tank and pump system is the most off-grid plumbing option, which can cut down on utility expenses significantly. You should choose this option if you’re confident in your water usage and if you have a readily accessible water source near your home.
2. Hookup system
If you live in a stationary tiny home, then a hookup system is the simplest way to set up plumbing in your area. A hookup system uses fixtures like an RV hose so you can hook up your home to a regular water supply. This will limit your capability to live off-grid, but it’s a system that’s virtually identical to how you can install plumbing in a regular home.
Most DIYers will usually opt for a hookup system since the components are much easier to install and maintain, and there’s very little specialized knowledge needed to integrate them into a tiny home. It’s also a system that makes the installation of conventional household and bathroom fixtures like a sink, shower, and toilet.
One thing to remember with hookup systems is that they cannot function without a nearby water source – so if you’re determined to put a hookup system in an RV or mobile home, make sure that you’re at a park or area that can accommodate your water requirements.
3. Hybrid system
For total flexibility, you can use a hybrid system for your tiny home’s plumbing. This means combining the hookup system’s components with a backup system of a tank and pump, so you can choose to live off– or on-grid when you feel like it. This is an excellent system for tiny homes that move and settle from place to place since it allows them to stay longer without a lot of work.
This option requires a lot more work since you’re technically installing and maintaining two separate plumbing systems, but the tradeoff of versatile living is very much worth it. Most DIYers will transition to a hybrid system once they’ve gotten more comfortable with other tiny house plumbing options, though it bears reminding that this system isn’t meant to be installed by novices.
Hybrid systems usually work best with mobile homes, but stationary houses can also benefit from them if they want to reduce their total expenses with on-grid utilities. These houses will often integrate rainwater recycling, separate drain systems, and other similar setups to ensure a steady supply of water at all times.
4. No system
The last option that tiny homeowners can use is to have no plumbing option at all. This approach doesn’t require you to install or maintain any plumbing systems, though that does come with the burden of putting the water collection on you. This goes not only for the bathroom, but for the kitchen as well.
However, there are some advantages to having no plumbing system. This approach really shines if you live next to a dense metropolitan area where utilities and options like water delivery and gym showers are more accessible.
This method also allows you more versatility with the amount of water that you use in your tiny house. Because you carry the water inside yourself, you can look into things like a gravity-fed shower. You’re really only limited by your creativity with getting water inside your home, which can make this a very appealing option for DIYers that really want to live off-grid.
You’ll have to consider installing options like a compost toilet instead of a flush toilet and find alternatives to using a water heater so you have steady access to hot water.
However, it’s crucial that you still have access to a nearby source of water, since there will be times that your house’s reserves run out earlier than you expect. Most of these homes are usually next to campsites or RV parks, since it gives the owners reliable access to water and other related utilities.
Remember that each of these systems mean giving up some features that you might want to see in your bathroom or kitchen. But it’s admittedly a small price to pay if you’re determined to pursue the off-grid lifestyle you want!
Special Considerations For Cold Weather
Winter is the toughest time for most tiny homes because they rarely have the fixtures and installation needed to manage the cold. This is especially crucial with off-grid plumbing, since the ambient temperature can freeze your water reserves if you aren’t careful.
There are a few ways you can do to avoid this from happening:
- Put most of your water connections inside
If you’re using indoor heating inside your home, then moving most of your water connections (like hoses or drains) inside can help keep your pipes clear. Frozen pipes can affect the temperature of the water you bring in and freeze any wastewater on the way out, which can cause higher energy expenses and expensive plumbing repairs.
- Use insulation and heat tape on any exterior water connections
Plumbing systems like a tank and pump will have some external water connections, so you must use insulation and heat tape to prevent them from freezing. You may also use heated hoses to prevent the water from freezing while it’s in your pipes, but keep in mind that any heating will put a greater load on your energy expenditures.
- Check on your wall insulation
Because most of the pipes and connections in plumbing systems run through the wall, making sure that your walls are properly insulated is one of the best ways to help your plumbing withstand winter. Suitable wall insulations include both synthetic and natural materials, so you have a lot of flexibility to choose which option works for your tiny home.
These tips are less urgent for RV homes or for homes in areas that don’t experience winter, but they’re still essential to helping you maintain an efficient plumbing system.
Move Into the Tiny House of Your Dreams Today
While plumbing for a tiny house isn’t complicated, there are several important considerations you need to keep in mind. Not only will this make your plumbing more efficient, but it can also open other avenues for you to explore with self-contained water systems for your tiny home.
Hey, there! We're Ivan and Manuela from Croatia, and we're crazy about tiny houses. We don't own one (yet).
This website is a result of our passion to share all the knowledge, photos, tips and tricks that we were able to learn while studying everything possible about the tiny house movement.