Hot Water Options For A Tiny House
Appliances can be the biggest space hogs when you're trying to fit all the amenities into a tiny house. Most houses that qualify as tiny are under 400 to 500 square feet in size, so every inch counts. Yet, hot water is still a major source of comfort you likely don't want to skip. Fortunately, the following options can save you space while providing just enough hot water to do the dishes or take a comfortable shower.
Tank or Tankless?
If you need plenty of hot water, and want it ready instantly, a tankless hot water heater is a better option than one with a tank. Most tankless units have a relatively small profile since they don't need to keep a large tank of water heated and filled to capacity at all times. The smaller home models are about the size of a small suitcase, so you can place them inside a cabinet.
Even the smaller home tank heaters require a small closet for storage. These also can only heat a small supply of water at any given time. They do cost less than tankless heaters, if you are on a tight budget and have the space to install one.
Hot water heaters for RVs are an excellent option to consider in a tiny home, because they are already sized down for small spaces. RV units can be costly, compared to home units. The tankless heaters are the better option, since they supply hot water on demand and don't require time to heat up additional water as you need it. These take up about half the space of a traditional tankless heater, and you will pay more for a tankless model.
A more cost effective choice is a small 10 gallon RV tank heater. This is enough hot water for an approximately 8 minute long shower, or for filling the sink for dishes. There are RV models that fit into a footprint of less than 16-by-16-19-inches.
Hot water heaters require some venting. In a small space, it can be difficult to vent a closet or cabinet unless it is accessed by an exterior access door. For this reason, it's often best to follow RV protocol and install the hot water heater in a cabinet that's accessible from the exterior of the home and features a vented door. Place it near the area where hot water is most needed, such as the kitchen or bathroom, so you can limit how much water conduit is necessary during installation.
There are three main options for powering your tiny house hot water system:
Electric. Going electric gives you the most choices for size, style and price. Your home will need access to on-grid electricity to properly power an electric water heater.
Propane and gas. Gas hot water heaters aren't usually a good option unless you are fully on the grid, because they need both gas and electricity to operate. Propane is a better option, because it's a low cost fuel that you can have delivered to tanks on your home site, so there's no need to hook up to local utilities.
Solar. If money isn't a concern and you live in a site that works well for it, solar is the most environmentally friendly way to stay off-grid and to power your hot water heater. Solar kits are available specifically for running a small hot water heater. You will need to give up real estate on your roof for the panels, or set them up on a freestanding stand nearby. This is the most expensive option to install, although you won't have any energy costs going forward.
Weigh your desires with the reality of your budget when making a choice through a company like Brother's Plumbing. The main concerns are footprint size, capacity and energy options. Generally, you can have two of those three at a reasonable cost.