Wondering what it’s like to live in an off-grid tiny home for over 30 years? Here’s a tiny home overlooking the ocean, with a huge rain barrel watered garden.
Mary Anne and John were the inspiration for our tiny off-grid shabin. One of the first things we did after buying our property was invite them over for tea and cookies. They’ve been living on their off-grid property for over 30 years, and we wanted to know all about it.
A few years later, Mary Anne invited me to teach a fermenting course as part of a Sustainable-At-Home workshop series. During my day on Pender Island, I got to enjoy lunch at their tiny off-grid home and see everything they were doing firsthand.
An Off-grid Tiny Home
I love their tiny home. It’s just so small, well-designed, and perfect. It’s built into the side of a cliff, overlooking the ocean. This means they have an amazing view. It also means their bed is in a slightly elevated loft because the house was designed to follow the contours of the land.
What is most appealing about this perfect tiny home is how it has evolved to contain exactly what they need, and nothing more. I yearn for a minimalism that is unattainable in a household of 4 people with lots of different interests and hobbies.
Here are some details for anyone who likes that sort of thing:
- The interior of the house is 275 sq. ft. There is some storage built under the bed, but it’s not as deep as it looks, since the bed is built into the rock cliff.
- In the warmer months, the deck is an extension of their living space. It houses their cooler and a food prep space. It’s also the best place for entertaining company. However, Mary Anne says she enjoys the winter more than the summer when the wet weather helps her feel more connected to the coast.
- They have two solar panels for a total of 175 watts of power. These power the lights, an electric cooler, a coffee grinder, a radio, and their computers. In the winter they heat with a wood stove and the kitchen has a propane stove
- They collect over 7,000 gallons of water from the rainwater catchment on the roof of the tiny home. However, they bring in drinking water in 20 Liter reusable containers. (Seen in the picture of the front of their home).
The Composting Toilet
Mary Anne and John get credit for our decision to use a composting toilet. They were resolutely proud of how clean and nice the resulting compost is. It was exactly the sort of reassurance we needed to get started with our composting toilet.
They have two composting toilets. Their main one is a self-contained composting toilet located in the garden. They also have a smaller, bucket-style toilet built right outside the tiny home for nighttime and cold winter mornings.
The Large Garden
During that visit, I was most interested in their large garden. Access to homegrown fruit and vegetables was of the main reasons why I wanted a piece of rural property. Our properties have similarly difficult growing conditions:
- The soil is mostly rock (or rock and clay at our place).
- Neither of us wants to cut down the forest that surrounds the garden, so it only has partial sun.
- Off-grid means lots of rain collection for watering.
They started with lasagna gardens and hügelkultur gardens. That meant an initial dump of topsoil, but since then they’ve managed to feed their gardens with homemade compost. Thus maintaining their compost is hugely important.
- They have a single cold composter for their organic kitchen waste. That produces really rich, black soil.
- The garden waste is composted in a large, two-bin worm system. To keep it from getting too moist, they alternate layers of organic waste with cardboard. The result is a mulch-like side-dressing.
- Human manure (from the composting toilet) is used to feed their fruit trees and flower gardens.