I have recently decided to forgo living in rental properties and instead want to put a camper in an open area on my grandparents' property in a small rural town in Louisiana. The area I will be placing the camper is located 500 feet from my grandparents' house.
I am wondering if any of you have experience with an arrangement like this. I want to handle electricity, water, and sewage in the most affordable way. There is a utility pole on the property within 100 feet and a water main within 250 feet.
I need to decide between getting a septic tank or a compostable toilet for inside the camper. As for electric, I would prefer a more sustainable system (ie solarenergy), but not sure if this would be the cheapest option for my current situation. The options for water could be to connect to city water via a water line or have a large tank with an electric pump. The tank could be filled with rainwater or even a hose running from my grandparents' house. The tank would have to provide water for two people.
I only intend on staying here for 1-2 years and I want to make smart investments. I'm having a difficult time determining whether living on the grid/off the grid/combination of both is best suited for my situation. I understand that different areas have different zoning laws/permits and am only seeking general advice. I'm interested in hearing from any of you with similar situations. Thank you for any help you can provide!
We did something similar. Is there power at the utility pole 100 feet away? Does it have a power outlet on it? If so SO cable is pretty much indestructible and you can lay it on the ground. It'll work great for either 110 VAC or 220VAC.
You'll need an electrician to make certain this will work and install it. Here is a link to Ebay SO cable That's one part of the utilities.
First step, check with planning and zoning (or whatever they call it) and make sure you can legally live there. In many areas you are only allowed to live in an RV on a given parcel for 1-6 months at a time.
Second, most campers don't do very well in the winter or the summer, unless you live somewhere temperate, you utility bills will likely be VERY high then. My niece and nephew stayed with us for a few months a couple years ago and lived in a converted school bus. Just running the air conditioner in the bus used more electricity than my entire house, and the bus was still hotter than my house. If you're somewhere that it gets really cold, heating an RV in the winter time can get even ore expensive.
Parking it in the shade of a tree can help during the summer, but then you have to worry about limbs falling during stormy weather.
Solar is cheap these days, I don't understand why more people aren't investing in it. In addition to being dirt cheap, there is currently a 30% federal tax rebate on solar PV systems. When I installed my PV system back in 2010, I qualified for State and Federal tax rebates as well as a performance based incentive from my power company, altogether I only have to pay about 10% of the total cost. You'll pay a higher percentage these days, but the price has dropped so much that your out of pocket cost will be lower now.
The biggest portion of the cost these days is paying the installer (most charge $1-$2 a watt just for installation), if you're allowed to, and have the ability to DIY, that can save you 50% of the total costs.
My opinions are barely worth the paper they are written on here, but hopefully they can spark some new ideas, or at least a different train of thought
Here's some points. I'm not trying to scare you or down you. You can do this, but it helps hugely to not get ambitious until you get experienced. One-two years there? That's not long enough for much investment. This is not going to be like moving into an apartment unless you want to drop $10k into modern pretties before you even take your first nap. If you want to camp there, you can, for sure. But it _will_ be camping, unless as I said above you want to drop big bucks into a classy camper of some kind. And those things break - often. If you just want a usable pad, that's not too hard. But it will be way different from living in an apartment. If you groove on being on the land in that place and don't worry so much about showering at the health club, and cooking one-pot meals, you might be a go. If so, give yourself every advantage, take no chances, pursue no flying dreams until you've made your little toe-hold and succeeded a little tiny bit for a year. Basic, basic, basic. Walmart is your friend here. Don't be too proud. First you need to succeed a little, then you can get fancy. I live on a boat half the time. No plumbing, no shower, just a nice little shelter home w/electricity. Works really well for me, but it completely shocks many people. It's NOT like living with a nice kitchen, bathroom, laundry, central heat, air conditioning, car port, janitor... Way not like that. Think on this a little.
Like Peter said:
Check out the big picture first, including your neighbors and your law. Maybe you don't have them out there, but be careful and remember any contact you have with, say a utility company or an electrician might bring in the bureaucracy. So try to act in simple legal ways as much as possible.
Your transportation vehicle needs to survive and work and that means it needs to get to and live well on your property. Decide the ins/outs, make space and make absolutely sure it will be there and work for you in the worst of the worst. No guesses in this matter unless the local tow truck driver owes you really big.
Water: First and always, don't gamble on your health. Harvesting rain is quite possible, BUT there are many details that might not work right for months or years. Make absolutely sure you have a workable supply of good water to drink - right from the start, all the time, forever. After that, someday, maybe, move on your "better" plans. A hose from your grandma's _might_ supply clean water to meet your needs. Depending on the hose, it will taste really awful or just "off". But it's affordable, doable and workable and those are sterling qualities. However, think "winter" and "frozen". The hose will survive, but you grandma's spigot might not. Take thought here. Maybe an even simpler approach is better. On the boat I fill a two-gallon bleach bottle every couple days or so. That's plenty for consumption and a little hygiene in a pinch. (Wash cloths and a pump-up garden sprayer.) A health club or something like that covers the heavy cleaning. Finally, don't use the RV plumbing - at all. Water from bottles (or hose if you're in a really nice climate), chamber pot. No plumbing until you're older and wiser.
Power: Heavy extension cord(s) from the nearest outlet. Tape any connections w/black vinyl electric tape to keep the together and weatherproof them. That s/b enough for simple life. Don't turn on the toaster and hair dryer at the same time. Some stuff will run on 100volts (s/b 110v), but most motors and some electronics puke. If the outlet is 500' away, talk with an electrician about the size of wire needed to give you good power. Have him make you a power cord with the right wire. The cost will shock you, but that's the cheapest effective way.
Cooking: Either electric or propane. Count your amps carefully and try for electric. It's way easier and worth limiting yourself to one-pot meals. Hot plate works, but they all seem to die in a year or less. I went to a convection plate. It's safer, quicker, easier to clean - and a lot more expensive. A toaster oven (better quality is BETTER, but they all mostly sorta work) is really nice. Crockpot. You can run this stuff on 20 amps, maybe 15, just not all at once.
Heat (or Cool): This is the problem. I have survived 20F. inside temps w/out any great damage except having to break through the thick crust on the water jug before I could get a drink next morning. However, it _requires_ truly excellent bedding, slippers, 'jamies and sleeping cap - no not a cap, probably a balaclava - and mittens or gloves. There must be insulation _below_ the mattress. I would not recommend a sleeping bag except as a way to convince yourself you want real bedding. You _must_ stop pretty much all the air leaks into the space because even allowing how tough you are, if it's below about 25F. out, you _need_ to exclude the wind. Use door snakes, packing tape, whatever. You _do_ need a chamber pot. RV plumbing cannot be counted on to work at temps below about 30F. (Actually, it can't be counted on to work, any time.) Sooo not something you want to deal with at 3am. Be very very very careful about using any heat-fuel sources (propane, wood, charcoal) inside an RV. You can easily kill yourself. If you must use heat fuel, then you MUST provide a good fresh air flow to the flame and to you. Better to just turn off all your electrical appliances and use all your power for a small radiant (not convection - no fans) electric heater aimed at the head of your bed. That will put the heat where you need it w/out putting you at risk of suffocation or requiring you to ventilate all winter. Suck it up and pay the electric bills all that first winter. You will stay warmish and be able to enjoy things and think the situation through clearly.
Safety: You're 500 ft from any possible help. Maybe much further. If you break an ankle it's a _very_ long way to your car or grandma's.... So, 3am, no moon, no lights, 20F. out, snow over ice on the ground. For some reason you need to go to the car or cottage. Think fearfully and start removing obvious booby traps like loose rock, branches to trip over, holes to step into. Or perhaps the risks are a little different, but do respect them thoroughly.
Rain: I never met an RV that didn't leak. Silicone might help here and there, packing tape works pretty well around windows. If you losing the fight, buy a big tarp and tie it over the top half or the RV. You'll have to get clever around the door to get in and out and you'll hurt for light inside (white tarps let in more light). It will also help with the drafts in winter. You have to stop the leaks or you will get mold, amoung other things.
Vermin: You have created a nice cozy home... For every small thing w/in about a quarter mile. If you have energy and time, you might try plugging _all_ the holes in the bottom of the RV. You can do it, but it's a real job. It'll help a lot keeping warm in the winter, too. Many people place "skirts" around the bottom of an RV that will stay in one place long. It cuts down on the air movement underneath and that helps keep temperatures nicer in winter. But it also invites critters. Don't know which side I'd come down on here. If you have the time it's well worth trying _really_ hard to keep the critters out of the RV. If you're leaving it empty for more than a few days, get a box of Original Bounce dryer tissues and stick them plentifully in all the close in spaces in the RV; it's one of the most effective vermin repellents ever. You'll have to remove it all when you return but it's a LOT better than trying to remove mice. Get a cat and dog.
Doesn't sound so romantic, but before romance can happen you need to be sorta healthy and happy. For that you need all the above described amenities w/out yourself having any experience on how to make it happen. So don't be too proud. Nail down the essentials fully, crudely and probably somewhat more expensively than you like. Then go back and upgrade to eco-friendly, romantic or whatever tickles you - but only after you've given yourself a real chance to actually make it through the first months. Only after that.
And note, the above is all pretty simple. The real hard parts often turn out to be the social issues. So be diligent about your arrangements before plopping down a lot of hope or money on hardware.
Lots of people here, we really like to see folks succeed. Unless I'm guessing totally wrong, you don't have any experience in this sort of thing, you're not rich. So, position yourself carefully with good resolve, using any advantages you might find you have, and keep everything as dirt simple and certain as possible. Do not depend on or expect anything to "go right". Nothing ever does, but you're going to make it happen. Respect totally that what you're talking about is way different than apartment living and IT MATTERS.
If there is one thing I would say is the most important thing you can ever do when trying to make moves like you talk about: Your vehicle is your life line. Do anything/everything you can to ensure it runs perfectly every time all the time. And that _you_ don't lose the keys!. Tires good, doors good, lights, window washers good... Everything. You don't have a street full of neighbors to shout to for help. Your vehicle and your phone (if there's phone coverage there) are your last life line. See to them religiously and with great love. You or somebody dear to you might be glad you did.
Stuff happens and can be more permanent when it happens when you're alone. Even if the next neighbor is only 1/4 mile down the road, if for some unfortunate reason you can't get there... My aunt, a good and practical woman living in Oak Creek, a suburb of Milwaukee, was walking home along their suburban street from her daughter's house at, we believe, about 11pm. Their houses were about 150yard apart, maybe 5 lots down the road from each other. It was January, and only about 25F., not too cold, out and a light dusting of snow. While crossing one of the gravel drives at the street, she turned her ankle badly and slipped into the roadside ditch. They think she hit her head hard. Her husband was an invalid and nobody else knew where she was. They found her body frozen 50yards from her door the next morning. She was 57 and in good health.
Stuff can happen to anybody, anywhere, any time. But it carries far more significance when you're alone and little things that "shouldn't matter" become critical. Hedge your bets. Double check. Be a wimp and play to win. Respect your environment greatly. Consider the idea that you might really be a Stranger in a Strange Land. Stay humble and careful and you'll carry the day. Our civilized living has made us forget these things. It's good to get back closer to the land, but we civilized sorts need to consciously take extra precautions because of our soft habits.
posted 2 years ago
Brian- I'm not sure of the exact distance of the utility pole so will have to measure and look into the SO cable. I have an electrician friend who could likely help with it. Thanks!
Peter- Thanks for your advice on looking into zoning laws...it's unfortunate that there are so many requirements for living in a camper/tiny home.
We'll continue to keep insulation in mind when examining our options, as this is an important factor for us. Definitely not trying to run our bills through the roof.
A solar system would definitely be preferable, and multiple sources have stated that it's not too expensive so this seems promising!
Rufus- Lots of good advice here, reminding us not to get overly romantic/ambitious all at once. We are down to rough it a bit at first and appreciate your tips. I understand what you're saying about thinking it all through carefully, buckling down, feeling it out the first year, and not going all in until we've gained some experience in several areas. Your words have been a help indeed.
Location: Chicago/San Francisco
posted 2 years ago
The only thing I think worth my further gab is this: If you both (it sounds like you're partnering in this, and that is very good) can manage to tolerate a dog, get one. There's a thousand reasons why man long ago domesticated dogs. No, not just tolerate, but commit to and _train_. Besides dealing with a certain amount of vermin and wildlife, a dog is an ally that other people recognize and mostly respect. A trained dog, which, when in your territory, only accepts food from you, can be much, much more than that. Ideally, for a small space like you describe, the animal s/b between 25-40 lbs (has to fit w/in its place and not be too expensive to feed) and it should BARK when needed. And in some cases attack - and NOT attack. That is why training, if you can possibly do it, is so important. Training a dog is really about training the owner and it's not a kissy-poo "oh that's so lovely and cute" experience. It's way better than that and it's _work_. If you can love dogs, two dogs is better from the practical value standpoint as well as the animals' comfort and well being.
Best luck to you.
Diego Footer on Permaculture Based Homesteads - from the Eat Your Dirt Summit