Tiny Houses

Living small in the high desert

Living small in the high deser...
As you can see, this tiny home is almost completely isolated in the high desert of Arizona. There is one nearby neighbor. 
As you can see, this tiny home is almost completely isolated in the high desert of Arizona. There is one nearby neighbor. 
View 42 Images
Nestled just outside of Dragoon, Arizona, sits this off grid tiny home.
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Nestled just outside of Dragoon, Arizona, sits this off grid tiny home.
Custom tiny home compound, completely off grid.
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Custom tiny home compound, completely off grid.
As you can see, this tiny home is almost completely isolated in the high desert of Arizona. There is one nearby neighbor. 
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As you can see, this tiny home is almost completely isolated in the high desert of Arizona. There is one nearby neighbor. 
The original 340sq ft barn was converted into the main living space. 
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The original 340sq ft barn was converted into the main living space. 
The living room with every modern day amenity, including an Xbox. You can access one of the two loft style bunks via the ladder.
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The living room with every modern day amenity, including an Xbox. You can access one of the two loft style bunks via the ladder.
Looking towards the kitchen from the living room, you can see that there's plenty of living space. Modern, sleek, and efficient. You can also see the second loft above the kitchen.
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Looking towards the kitchen from the living room, you can see that there's plenty of living space. Modern, sleek, and efficient. You can also see the second loft above the kitchen.
I had to walk the last bit down the long driveway otherwise I wouldn't have been able to turn around in my RV. It was quiet and peaceful, albeit quite cold.
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I had to walk the last bit down the long driveway otherwise I wouldn't have been able to turn around in my RV. It was quiet and peaceful, albeit quite cold.
As I approached the tiny home compound, I could see the layout better. The solar panels and the wind turbine were the first thing to catch my eye.
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As I approached the tiny home compound, I could see the layout better. The solar panels and the wind turbine were the first thing to catch my eye.
The building on the left is the original 340sq ft barn. The building on the right is the addition Chris is currently building. It adds an additional 300sq ft. Behind, you can see the wind turbine.
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The building on the left is the original 340sq ft barn. The building on the right is the addition Chris is currently building. It adds an additional 300sq ft. Behind, you can see the wind turbine.
The front of the tiny home addition. Being so remote, security doors and windows help keep bad guys at bay. The high windows were purpose built so that direct sun does not enter, as the summers of the Arizona desert can produce blazingly hot days.
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The front of the tiny home addition. Being so remote, security doors and windows help keep bad guys at bay. The high windows were purpose built so that direct sun does not enter, as the summers of the Arizona desert can produce blazingly hot days.
The rear of the tiny home addition. It lacks many windows for higher efficiency.
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The rear of the tiny home addition. It lacks many windows for higher efficiency.
Chris has a standard Atwood RV style furnace installed in the wall for heat. It runs from two 30 gallon propane tanks housed outside near the shipping container. Also shown are the conduits and connections for the power running from the shipping container to his tiny home. 
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Chris has a standard Atwood RV style furnace installed in the wall for heat. It runs from two 30 gallon propane tanks housed outside near the shipping container. Also shown are the conduits and connections for the power running from the shipping container to his tiny home. 
The shipping container serves as Chris' main power junction. His batteries, inverter, converter, and generator are all housed within.
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The shipping container serves as Chris' main power junction. His batteries, inverter, converter, and generator are all housed within.
The garage. It is still unfinished as he ran out of concrete before he could floor it.
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The garage. It is still unfinished as he ran out of concrete before he could floor it.
The garage, the shipping container, and between is a small tool shed where his 12 volt water pump and propane tanks are.
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The garage, the shipping container, and between is a small tool shed where his 12 volt water pump and propane tanks are.
Chris erected this 1600 watt Missouri Freedom Wind Turbine by himself. He enlisted the help of an ATV tow winch that he welded to the top of his shipping container. 
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Chris erected this 1600 watt Missouri Freedom Wind Turbine by himself. He enlisted the help of an ATV tow winch that he welded to the top of his shipping container. 
Fresh water storage tanks. In all, he has 1050 gallons worth of fresh water which can last him as long as 6 months with careful conservation and planning. 
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Fresh water storage tanks. In all, he has 1050 gallons worth of fresh water which can last him as long as 6 months with careful conservation and planning. 
When I asked Chris about this, he laughed, telling me that it was a winch from an ATV. He had been having trouble erecting the wind turbine and with no one around to help him, he welded the winch to the shipping container to act as a second hand.
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When I asked Chris about this, he laughed, telling me that it was a winch from an ATV. He had been having trouble erecting the wind turbine and with no one around to help him, he welded the winch to the shipping container to act as a second hand.
The front of the original 340sq ft barn turned tiny home. He's still building out a gazeebo. 
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The front of the original 340sq ft barn turned tiny home. He's still building out a gazeebo. 
The front of his property. I asked him if he had horses; he laughed and said no, the trough is his "redneck hot tub." Inside the trough, he has a 1500 watt water heater to heat up the water quick when he wants to lounge in the "hot tub."
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The front of his property. I asked him if he had horses; he laughed and said no, the trough is his "redneck hot tub." Inside the trough, he has a 1500 watt water heater to heat up the water quick when he wants to lounge in the "hot tub."
Being remote and not exactly having neighbors, security can be an issue. The front sliding glass door of his tiny home has a security roll up door.
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Being remote and not exactly having neighbors, security can be an issue. The front sliding glass door of his tiny home has a security roll up door.
It's beautiful country to have a tiny home.
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It's beautiful country to have a tiny home.
The bathroom is set right next to the living room. He plumbed the entire interior with exposed copper piping, which adds to the modern look and feel inside.
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The bathroom is set right next to the living room. He plumbed the entire interior with exposed copper piping, which adds to the modern look and feel inside.
"Energy is at a premium when you're off grid, but sometimes you have to have style." That was Chris' justification for having a pair of 60 watt edison lights.
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"Energy is at a premium when you're off grid, but sometimes you have to have style." That was Chris' justification for having a pair of 60 watt edison lights.
The view from above the living room loft. You can see the second loft on the far side.
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The view from above the living room loft. You can see the second loft on the far side.
The view from his loft is nothing short of stunning.
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The view from his loft is nothing short of stunning.
A portable AC unit, a big screen TV, and even an Xbox. All the creature comforts you're used to in your regular home.
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A portable AC unit, a big screen TV, and even an Xbox. All the creature comforts you're used to in your regular home.
Copper piping accents along the walls for the shower. 
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Copper piping accents along the walls for the shower. 
Small but functional bathroom. There is no sink inside the bathroom itself. The sink is located just outside of the bathroom for space efficiency as well as minimizing the about of plumbing required.
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Small but functional bathroom. There is no sink inside the bathroom itself. The sink is located just outside of the bathroom for space efficiency as well as minimizing the about of plumbing required.
The "bathroom" sink and vanity.
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The "bathroom" sink and vanity.
Centrally located, the Liquid Propane Gas heater evenly heats the interior efficiently.
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Centrally located, the Liquid Propane Gas heater evenly heats the interior efficiently.
The kitchen boasts everything you'd ever want for full meal prep...cooking it, on the otherhand, is more of an issue, as it lacks an oven or a stove. Outside, however, Chris has a 3 burner barbeque that he grills on frequently.
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The kitchen boasts everything you'd ever want for full meal prep...cooking it, on the otherhand, is more of an issue, as it lacks an oven or a stove. Outside, however, Chris has a 3 burner barbeque that he grills on frequently.
The Waiwela Mini Tank is an instant-on hot water heater that runs on electricity. It has a 1400 watt draw on his system. It's the least efficient part of his entire setup. He limits showers to just a few minutes.
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The Waiwela Mini Tank is an instant-on hot water heater that runs on electricity. It has a 1400 watt draw on his system. It's the least efficient part of his entire setup. He limits showers to just a few minutes.
As hot as the summers in the desert can be, it can also get extremely cold during winter. When Chris needs extra heat or just heat in a specific area, he has a portable  Dyna-Glo 18,000 BTU Cabinet Heate.
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As hot as the summers in the desert can be, it can also get extremely cold during winter. When Chris needs extra heat or just heat in a specific area, he has a portable  Dyna-Glo 18,000 BTU Cabinet Heate.
Chris gave me a sneek peek into the 300sq ft tiny home addition that he's building. The entire addition is designed to be the master bedroom. Chris and his wife have 3 kids, so they wanted more privacy for everyone.
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Chris gave me a sneek peek into the 300sq ft tiny home addition that he's building. The entire addition is designed to be the master bedroom. Chris and his wife have 3 kids, so they wanted more privacy for everyone.
The master bathroom, still under construction.
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The master bathroom, still under construction.
The main power junction inside the shipping container. Power from the wind turbine and solar run into a charge controller. Also in the system (the red paint roller looking things) is a 1500 watt diversion dump load resistor to prevent the wind turbine from freewheeling and overheating. It also dumps excess power in case you're at a full battery charge.
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The main power junction inside the shipping container. Power from the wind turbine and solar run into a charge controller. Also in the system (the red paint roller looking things) is a 1500 watt diversion dump load resistor to prevent the wind turbine from freewheeling and overheating. It also dumps excess power in case you're at a full battery charge.
A 4000 watt Trace SW4024 Power Conversion Center provides 60hz 110 volt AC to Chris' tiny home.
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A 4000 watt Trace SW4024 Power Conversion Center provides 60hz 110 volt AC to Chris' tiny home.
Six 6v 400ah batteries are connected in series to create a 24 volt system. 
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Six 6v 400ah batteries are connected in series to create a 24 volt system. 
Missouri Wind and Solar HVA Hybrid Controller For Wind Turbines & Solar Panels as well as a 1500 Watt Diversion Dump Load Resistor Bank. The hybrid controller can handle up to 440 amps and 10,000 watts.
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Missouri Wind and Solar HVA Hybrid Controller For Wind Turbines & Solar Panels as well as a 1500 Watt Diversion Dump Load Resistor Bank. The hybrid controller can handle up to 440 amps and 10,000 watts.
Pyle 24 to 12 volt step down converter. It's only purpose is to run the LED lighting inside the tiny house.
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Pyle 24 to 12 volt step down converter. It's only purpose is to run the LED lighting inside the tiny house.
The garage is unfinished as of yet. I felt compelled to inlcude this shot, as his entire tiny house adventure began with simply having a garage for his motorcycles.
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The garage is unfinished as of yet. I felt compelled to inlcude this shot, as his entire tiny house adventure began with simply having a garage for his motorcycles.

I've often wondered what it would actually be like to have a small footprint, off-grid house. How does it work? What does it take? How much does it really cost? Does it feel like going back in time? I happen to have a friend who spent the last few years building one. He invited me over to show me how he lives.

After Chris had given me directions and the gate code, I plugged it into Google Maps to get a satellite view of what I was about to get myself into. He'd told me not to go too far down the dirt road – as GPS units tend to not find the address of his tiny off-grid house – otherwise I might not be able to turn around in my 30ft RV with a 6x10' trailer attached to the back. Looking at satellite maps, I was a little nervous.

I was headed to Dragoon, Arizona. If you've never heard of Dragoon, it's likely due to the fact that as of last census it has a population of 209 people – and those 209 people are spread out over several square miles of land. It's sparse ... and rolling in on dirt roads at 9pm trying to find your way in the dark, blustery, and bitter cold desert offers a sort of Deliverance ambiance. I'm pretty sure I hadn't imagined the banjos playing as I drove through town.

Chris has a tiny house there – or rather, a tiny-house-mansion of sorts. I've been fascinated by tiny off-grid home culture for some time now. Given that I travel full time in an RV with no "stick and brick" home, everything about off-grid life appeals to me. I've found myself researching it time and time again, and never fully feeling satisfied with the information I've come across.

Looking towards the kitchen from the living room, you can see that there's plenty of living space. Modern, sleek, and efficient. You can also see the second loft above the kitchen.
Looking towards the kitchen from the living room, you can see that there's plenty of living space. Modern, sleek, and efficient. You can also see the second loft above the kitchen.

Chris started construction in 2014 on a piece of property he owns in the high desert of Arizona. It's about 8 miles from the freeway down a bumpy, neglected highway, followed by about a mile of dirt road before you reach his gate.

"Originally, it was never going to be a house. The barn was to store dirtbikes and camp when we were there. I didn't get a permit, so when the county came, they said I couldn't have a garage without a house ... so I had to convert it or get it off my property within 30 days ... it's just a bunch of pieced together sh*t that I could afford at the time and then it just kept expanding and changing."

The front of the original 340sq ft barn turned tiny home. He's still building out a gazeebo. 
The front of the original 340sq ft barn turned tiny home. He's still building out a gazeebo. 

After being told to make a house or leave, he decided rather than scrap the garage, he would turn it into a home so he would have a place to stay closer to "work" at a nearby racetrack where he's a member. Chris teaches people how to ride motorcycles at a very high level.

What had begun as a 340 sq ft garage of a barn evolved into a 340 sq ft home and then into a 750 sq ft tiny-house-mansion. Earlier this year, he added a second 300 sq ft building and attached it with a small hallway to expand his living quarters. The addition is only 70 percent complete he says. He and his wife Jennifer have three kids and felt like they could use some more privacy.

You'll notice a big prefab garage in some of the photos; that came at the same time as the recent 300 sq ft addition some four months ago. After all, the garage was the reason his entire build started in the first place.

The garage, the shipping container, and between is a small tool shed where his 12 volt water pump and propane tanks are.
The garage, the shipping container, and between is a small tool shed where his 12 volt water pump and propane tanks are.

With the property being entirely off grid, that is, no hardlines of any sort into his property, basic home functions we tend to take for granted aren't always easy.

He has no well for water. Chris trucks water in – 275 gallons (1040 l) at a time – from town half a mile away where he has a bulk meter. He fills the container up that's in the back of his "beater work truck" that he bought from Craigslist for $1000, drives it to his house, and dumps it into the storage tanks on site. In total, his water storage system holds 1050 gallons (4000 l). That will last him up to six months before he has to truck in more water in the back of his pickup. "When you've got a limited amount of water, you tend to not waste any," he says. His septic system is a 350 gallon concrete tank with a leech field. That means no city sewage and no visits from the "poo truck" when the tank is full.

Electricity comes from a 1600 W Missouri Freedom Wind Turbine (which was purring along nicely as I shot photos) paired with four 295 W, 24 V Monocrystalline solar panels. They're tied into his four 400 Ah, 6 V battery bank. A single battery alone weighs in at an impressive too-heavy-for-me-to-pick-up-alone-without-injury. The batteries are wired to a 4000 W Trace SW4024 Power Conversion Center to give him standard US 110 V AC power inside the tiny home. He also has a 24 V to 12 V rectifier attached to the system to power only the lighting in the house. With this setup, he has ample power to last through the night and even a day or two longer if there were no sun or wind. All of his lights are energy efficient LEDs (except two decorative Edison bulbs that he runs sparingly). Rather than pulling 40 W from a standard incandescent bulb, he can achieve roughly the same amount of light with just 4 W. The biggest electrical drain on the entire system, he says, is his "instant on" hot water heater which has a 1400 W and 12 A draw while in use.

The shipping container serves as Chris' main power junction. His batteries, inverter, converter, and generator are all housed within.
The shipping container serves as Chris' main power junction. His batteries, inverter, converter, and generator are all housed within.

Having 2780 W of solar and turbine power, he's able to run a small portable air conditioning unit during the day when it's hottest during the summer. In the winter months when it's bone-chillingly cold (as was the 50ºF day I was there), he heats his home with a propane furnace mounted the the wall. He keeps a second portable LPG furnace for the especially cold nights.

In case all else fails and there's no wind or sun and his batteries are depleted, he has a Yamaha 2000 W inverter generator that he can plug directly into his grid to power everything.

Chris framed the house himself. He poured the concrete, wired the electrical, fitted the plumbing, painted, insulated ... everything. Everything except the drywall. "I hate drywall" he said with his eyes squinted and glaring at nothing and everything all at once. I didn't press the issue further. The budget for his second home isn't as tiny as the house itself: all in, including the 15 acre parcel he has, he's looking at around $80,000.

When asked if all this work has been worth it, Chris flashes me a toothy smile and simply gives me a big thumbs up.

2 comments
Craig Jennings
"I hate drywall" he said with his eyes squinted and glaring at nothing and everything all at once. Like I couldn't like this guy any more. Chris is a dead set legend.
Jean Lamb
Drywall is indeed the Great Satan (remember doing some on a far-distant Christmas Eve because the ceiling jack had to go back really, really soon).