alberta-proofing our house


One thing that we noticed when we were researching tiny houses was that, well, most of them are built for a decidedly U.S.A climate. Now, we don’t have anything against our friendly southern neighbors (most of the time) but no offense, your designs just aren’t going to do the trick up in Alberta.

The biggest issue obviously is keeping heat inside our place in the winter, and the heat out of our place in the summer. Tying into that is making sure our off grid systems will function throughout all the Canadian seasons – like will our water line freeze or will we get enough sun for our solar array? So many questions…

Insulation: We want to be warm in the winter and not die. We also want our cat to live, too, so we’re double invested. The major thing here, clearly, is insulation. Our pro Paul really came through for us in all these design considerations, so we bow to his knowledge and wisdom and he’s probably handsome or something too. In our design, we are having close to R-30 walls. An R-value is basically your warm number, the higher the R-value, the better your house is insulated against both the bitter cold and the heat. That’s something I didn’t know before, that insulation actually also helps keep your place nice and cool in the summer. Let’s all think back to a time when we felt nice and cool in the summer. Aaaah. We will be using 2×4 framed walls, which gives us that much space to fill with insulation. We have chosen Roxul, which will give us R-14 to start. Then, on the outside of our frame, we will be adding on 2-3 inches of extruded polystyrene for an additional R-15. Our floor and roof will be insulated too. All said and done, it should be around R25-30 which is pretty amazing considering fibreglass insulation (that pink itchy stuff you may have seen in an attic somewhere) is R4 per inch. Brrr.

Passive solar design: Passive solar design is essentially making sure your house is designed in such a way to take advantage of all the free perks of the sun – like heating and cooling. You do that through things such as window placement. On a tiny house, some passive solar concepts are not as important to be really strict on as a conventional house. There’s just not as much of anything to make as big of a difference as in a bigger house – but it’s still something we wanted to take advantage of and I think will definitely help us with heating/cooling considerations. Mainly, we are going the window placement route. Simplified, it’s lots of windows on the south side so that you get lots of good warm sun into your home through your windows. You want practically no windows on the north side of your house because they will just let out heat since it’s all shaded and chilly. Minimal, strategic placement on the east and west. For us, our giant glass doors, and an additional 4 windows on the south side will make up our glass house wall to get us the most passive solar heating. We have about one window per other wall – operable ones in the lofts for the summer when it gets too hot and we need to vent that heat! We will be able to open ’em up and let it out cause heat rises, baby. Another couple tricks to use are things like dark floors or putting in things that store heat (bricks, water tanks, etc) – thermal mass as they call it. That way the sun will heat up the dark, bulky thing and it will stay hot past when other stuff would have cooled down. It cools down when everything else is cool by venting its heat around your area, and that helps you keep toastier for free because the sun is awesome and our friend.

Not freezing our water: We don’t want to freeze a water line. It just doesn’t sound fun to head out there in -25C and stare at a frozen water line and know that we can’t shower, or do dishes, or have a sprinkler party or whatever we do in our spare time with water it’s none of your business. Let me mention again quickly that Paul is a hero and a scholar. OK. We are planning currently on buying a few of those flexible water bladders that they use on boats to store fresh water. That way, they are light when they are empty and easy to move around, fix, replace, etc. We want to store them when they are full underneath our trailer. But what about the cold weather, Melissa?! You ask. I have an answer for you, my friend. We will be adding fancy skirting to the bottom of our trailer once it’s parked for a long stay. It will be insulated skirting. We will dig a hole and put the skirting into that hole. Long, skinny, rectangular hole moat thing. We will put all the dirt from our hole up against the skirting to insulate it even more. Heat from our house will go through the bottom of the trailer a little bit (even though it will be an insulated floor) and keep the temperature underneath there relatively OK for water to not freeze. That’s the plan. We will also have our greywater tank down there (the water from our showers and sink). Most of our greywater will be warm and because it is big and water it has thermal mass! Pop quiz! Thermal mass! Anyway it should help heat our little crawlspace water tanks under there. If we absolutely have to, we will throw a heater down there now and then. We will  have a little emergency door for only Kenton to ever crawl through and take a look at things if we ever need to troubleshoot.

Enough sun: We are having photovoltaics for our electricity – fancy talk for solar panels. The tall side of our roof will be our south facing side so we can have more windows and get our precious vitamin D. But oh no! That is not a good slope for our solar panels to be on, all in the shade and stuff! It’s OK. We will be attaching them to metal frames that will prop up when we are parked and safe. Not only that, but we will have two settings on them – one for summer and one for winter. This way, we can take best advantage of how low the sun goes across the sky for the season. Or how high the sun goes, depending on if you’re an optimist or not. Our solar guy, Trevor, has done the math and says there is no real benefit to having more than two settings (a 3% gain) so we only have to climb up onto the roof to move them around twice a year. Score.

With all this thinking and planning, we hope it will be enough to keep our heating and cooling loads low on our system and be cozy all year round. Except if we maybe have to snowshoe home sometimes. Ah, hell, why not just take the dogsled? It is Canada after all.



3 thoughts on “alberta-proofing our house

  1. Good luck on your build. I am west of Stony Plain, and I am building a Triloboat, which is a floating/sailing version of a tiny house. On the composting toilet, my research is indicating that a design that separates the urine works best in small spaces. I also found that vermiculture (worms) complements the composting, just add a handful of worms and let them do their thing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! We know it always takes longer than you think, but at this point we’re still hopeful to get it done quickly AND right. 😉

      We are planning on using a composting toilet that separates – the Nature’s Head one is our pick so far. Never thought to add a handful of worms though! We do vermicompost now, so it would be worth a try once or twice for sure! Making sure that gets composted well is a top priority for me…

      We just checked out your blog and it looks amazing! Really impressed with your build – and how much of it you’re doing yourself. We’re excited to follow your progress!


      1. If you want to save a bunch on the toilet, there are a lot of simple plans out there. My toilet was the first thing I built, as I needed to know if a black water tank was required (I don’t like black water tanks, or the associated plumbing). If you haven’t seen it, the toilet post is
        I based it on 5 gallon Home Depot buckets (there are minor differences between brands) so that I could fill one bucket up, then swap it out and let it compost while using a second one. Once the second bucket is full, the worms will have completed their work on the first, so it can be emptied out and reused.
        Good luck on you build as well, I have you in my reading list


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