10 June 2017

Gas Water Heaters (Califonts) Explained

We've installed a gas water heater califont into our tiny house. There are multiple options in terms of water heating systems available but we chose to go down this route and below we explain why. (Watch the video for the 'how to' install.)

What is a califont? 

First up they are known by a number of names:
  • Califont
  • Gas water heater 
  • Water heater
  • Instantaneous water heater
  • Califont gas heater
  • Can be known by brand names like infinity
Typical domestic califont
A califont is basically a tank-less on demand gas powered water heater.  

Califonts provide hot water only as its needed. There is no tank or energy lost waiting to use the stored hot water. They burn gas to heat cold water instantaneously. In NZ they typically use bottled LPG or natural gas from the mains line to your house. In NZ califonts only burn one type of gas so ensure you use the right type.

Advantages of a califont:

  • Relatively light weight.
  • Small space envelope.
  • You won't run out of hot water (as long us there is gas).
  • Relatively inexpensive due to saturated market, including second hand options.
  • A lot of the install can be done by owner with consultation and sign off from a qualified gas fitter.
  • If you are running a solar system a califont works well due to using gas energy instead of electric. 
  • May be more efficient for small homes than other forms of heaters. 
  • No tank means less chance of harmful disposals building up.
  • Can be installed out of sight on the outside or inside of the house (depends on type of unit)
  • Life could be up to 20 years if installed and maintained correctly. 
  • Safe as they only operate when they heat water. 

Disadvantages of a califont

  • Produces greenhouse gas emissions, but may be cleaner than electricity generated using fossil fuels.
  • They can break down quickly if using hard water (use water softener). 
  • Gas bottles need to be filled or replaced regularly and require regular paid safety checks.
  • They produce noise while operating, consider this before selecting install location.
  • Qualified gas fitter needs to sign off install - added cost and time.
  • Can be a high up front cost - depends how this is tackled (can be both advantage and disadvantage as demonstrated on both these lists). 
  • May need expensive venting which can be unattractive.

Flow Rate

Flow rates vary from around 5 litres per minute to about 30L/min with the marine style at the lower end of the range. For two people in a tiny house 10-20L/min should be fine, we settled on 16L/min. So for example say the shower draws 10L/min there is still 6L/min to provide hot water at the kitchen sink. 

NZ standards

The relative NZ standard that needs to be followed is 'ASNZS 5601.2 LP Gas installations in caravans and boats for non-propulsive purposes'. This is a relatively light read and contains excellent information to keep everyone safe. We used the guys at Hagen and Owen to help us install.


We are using solar power to take our tiny house off grid so we needed to reduce our electricity draw where possible. Using a califont to take care of one of the big energy uses was essential for the off grid system.

Marine Califonts

We've gone for a domestic califont as our choice which is explained in more depth in the video above. However there are also Marine califonts which can be another good option for small spaces.

Typical Marine Califont

  • Primarily designed for boats but can work well for tiny homes. 
  • Tend to be cheaper than domestic.
  • Have more adjustment of gas and water flow. 
  • Tend to have lower flow rate.
  • Need a flue to extract combustive gas.
  • Lighter than domestic.
  • Batteries usually used to ignite flame. 

As always we would recommend giving it to go to install a califont yourself with help where needed. Please comment below if you have any questions. 

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11 May 2017

How we built our walls ... its different

Our tiny house uses nontraditional systems in terms of structure, bracing, weather proofing and cladding. We are using a form of structurally insulated panels (SIPs) for the structure which is based of the Pop Up House design. The tiny house uses an open joint cladding system using US products which is not common in New Zealand. The cladding was pulled from the rubbish pile and turned into a free and lightweight cladding system. Yes we like to do things a bit differently, read on for more detail.


The floor, walls and roof are constructed from rigid polyurethane foam (imported from china) and plywood glued together. Sections were glued together on a level ground surface and assembled to the house floor.

This is a form of SIPs system which minimises thermal bridging creating a very well insulated house. The floor roof and walls have an R-value of 4.2m²K/W which is well over NZ building.

Image result for insulation building code nz

In the design of mobile tiny houses weight is a big issue and has to be considered for every material choice. An advantage with this system is its light and strong and incorporates the insulation into the structure.


The whole structure is warped in a rainscreen membrane by DuPont under their Tyvek range called UV Facade. This lightweight product from Pink Batts is water and UV resistant and vapour permeable. Meaning its keeps the weather out and-enhances air tightness while being able to breath. 

Cavity Batten

The cavity battens are 25mm thick pine from Mitre 10 painted black using Resene paint. They are attached to the 25mm plywood via screws which bracers the polyurethane. The top surface of the battens have a mitre cut so water does not form on this surface improving life of timber. 


The cladding is recycled pine extrusion packaging we sourced for free. At around 8mm thick makes this a light and very cheap material. The cladding is attached to the cavity battens via screws which again help brace the structure. The cladding is stained using resence woodsman 'woody bay'. The cladding has a 12mm gap between each vertical piece crating a gap known as open joint cladding. We also took advantage of second hand corrugated iron by painted the same colour. The idea here is to reduce weight and break up the wooden cladding around the back of the house. 

A post shared by Wee Make Change (@weemakechangenz) on

Open joint cladding 

Open joint cladding is not common in New Zealand but more widely used in the US and Europe. The idea is the Rainscreen, cavity battens and cladding all work together as a system. The open joints between the cladding has two stages. Firstly instead of fighting to keep the moisture out at the cladding this system simply lets a small amount in. The house is protected from the incoming moisture via the rainsreen. Now stage two kicks in with the open joints that let the sun and wind to quickly dry out the moisture. The second benefit of this system is the negative detail aesthetic from the black rainsreen. 

Cavity Battern inside

We used 12mm plywood ripped down to 25mm wide and screwed and glued to 25mm think structure ply. This braces the inside of the walls and creates a cavity to run wires and plumbing. 


7mm lightweight plywood lining is glued and pinned to the battens create cross bracing element. 

At time of writing the system has been installed for a year and half and we have has no problems. The UV facade it still the same black colour and showing no signs of giving up in the hot Hawkes Bay sun. Some of the cladding has warped and blown a few screws a month or two after installing. This is due to immature pine timber twisting in the heat and rain. In hindsight better material section would have avoided this. 

Another reason we could be a bit more riskily in terms of design is because this is a tiny house. For example we can re clad it if we had to and its not a massive job. 

The warm inside the structure seems excellent with living it at as of yet. We have not considered a heat source us of yet and taking the wait and see approach. We suspect we may need a small heat source or just turn the oven on! 

A lot of what we have done is new and even unproven in some regards, but that is whole idea. This has all taken a great deal of time but the whole idea for use was to learn and think and about things differently. Would we do it again this way? For the most part yes, off course they are things we would do differently but we are real happy how its all turned out. 

Please ask any questions you have.

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16 February 2017

How to Plumb a Tiny House

Plumbing can be a daunting proposition if you have never tried it before but like most things a bit of research and learning and anyone can do it. We have put together a how to video detailing the process which was involved for our tiny house. To simplify the concept think about it like this, liquid goes in one end and comes out the other without leaking. Of course there is a bit more to it but that is the basic concept.

In the following videos we explain:

  • What plumbing system we are using and why
  • What the different fittings do and and how to use them.
  • Show the use of the Dux plumbing system
  • Where to source your plumbing supplies from
  • How to use pipe crimpers
  • Working out pipe diameter
  • How to cut pipe with pipe cutters
  • How to reuse copper pipe fittings
  • Best way to route pipe
  • Securing fittings
  • How to install an isolating tap for your tiny house
  • How to use thread tape
  • Leak and pressure testing

We would like to thank Plumbing World Napier for their support and knowledge throughout the build.

Image result for plumbing world logoImage result for dux logo

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28 October 2016

How to Replace Glass Pane Timber Window

Broken a window? Don't worry this video will see you right. In this video we show you how to replace a glass pane in a timber window.

In this case we have very hard putty (glazing compound) left from the old pane of glass. We used a heat gun to soften the existing glazing compound. A chisel is used to scrape the glazing compound making way for the new pane. Glazing points were removed and reused. We used a water based paint primer to seal the window frame.

Heat gun used to soften existing putty on this timber window

Chisel used to clean up old glazing compound from this wooden window 

The video also talks about using oil based paint and linseed oil for sealing. We run through four techniques to apply the glazing compound and comment on each. Hope this video can help you guys with a broken pane or new install.

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26 September 2016

Taupo Couple Build and Live in 3 Meter Wide Tiny House

A Taupo couple designed and built their our tiny house where they have lived for a year. Now its time to move on so the house is for sale on Trademe. We were drawn to this 7m x 3.1m house with its open plan living and spacious feeling.

Holly and Oli were inspired to build the house after browsing through YouTube and watching a channel called Living Big In A Tiny House. They took approximately one year to build and have been living in the house for about a year. They really enjoy living in this beautiful space but now its time to move on hence the reason for selling.

The mini abode is open plan, containing a small kitchen, bathroom, living room, and loft-style bedroom. It has both a staircase and a climbing wall up to the lofts, cupboards with room for a washing machine, insulation and double glazing. They have manged to keep the house compact but somewhat similar to a traditional house with things like full size appliances and a dining table. Unlike most Tiny Homes, this sleeping loft even allows the couple to stand up!

They have taken a different approach by building 3.1 meters wide. The thought behind this is to gain extra width which makes a big difference to the space. The house is designed to be towed by a tow truck or similar by a professional. Apart from the extra cost involved all the house needs to be transported in NZ is wide load flags which is made possible using the reg'ed and warranted trailer the house sits on. The intent is the house is moved infrequently.

Bet the new owners will be stoked with this one.
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31 August 2016

How to Replace Single Glazing with Double Glazing in a Door or Window

The following post and video explains how to retro fit double glazing into a timber framed, single glazed window or door. So before we crack into it why would you want to do this? Double glazing has the following benefits:
  • Can halve heat loss through windows and doors
  • Significantly improve thermal comfort of your home
  • Reduce external noise
  • Reduce or remove condensation build up in cold weather.

For our tiny house we have chosen to double glaze all windows and doors for the reasons above. All the tiny house timber windows and doors have been sourced second hand.

A door or window can be converted to double glazing either before or after the frame has been installed in your house, the first option is easier and faster. The video below shows an example of how to do this, it took us four full days to complete one colonial style door. In NZ double glazing can be sourced from your local glass shop who will generally use either Metro or Viridian.

Without going into great written detail we will let the video of the process explain how to do it:

We will show you how to:

  1. Remove existing window or door
  2. Remove existing glass 
  3. Measure and size for new double glazing unit or Insulating glass unit (IGU)
  4. How to calculate the thickness of your IGU
  5. How to recess the windows and door to fit the new IGU
  6. How to rebuild a colonial window or door
  7. Sourcing IGUs
  8. Talk about argon filled and low e IGUs
  9. How to install IGU using the drained method. 
  10. Explain the purpose and placement of window/door drainage holes
  11. Prime the frame before installing double glazing
  12. Make and install wooden beads
  13. How to use butyl sealing tape to seal and protect from moisture 
  14. How to make and install packers to support double glazing unit
Like anything with all the information its not a hard job and very rewarding. Let us know if you have any questions in the comments below. Happy building! 
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08 June 2016

Tiny House Bed that Lifts Away with a Touch of a Button

We love great design - we think these guys over the ditch have it going on big time. Want to see a bed that lifts into the unused roof space at the touch of a button? Or a deck that can be assembled in two hours that almost doubles the size of the house? Check out this blog post for details....

This 18 square meter tiny house was built by a team of young Australians and is designed for a sub topical climate near Brisbane. After building this house as a prototype, the couple have created The Tiny House Company so the can make more of these beautiful houses.

Clean sight lines though the house make it feel bigger. "de-cluttered and ordered views tend to feel bigger"

Up up and away, one push of a remote button and the bed rises to the roof and is out of the way for entertaining, relaxing or whatever takes your fancy.

Exposed LVL (Laminated veneer lumber) frames at 900mm centres dictates the place of kitchen cabinets, doors and windows

The demountable deck almost doubles the floor area of the house and can set up or dismantled in a couple of hours.

Clean lines all around lead to eye creating the feeling of space

With limited width the high ceiling creates a real sense of space.

Beautiful recycled hardwood timbers have been re purposed and used as flooring and decking which creates that warm, homely feeling.

Don't believe us about the bed - check this video out.

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13 April 2016

Building a Tiny House in the Rain

How do you build a tiny house in the rain? What about in the intense sun, or wind that is so strong it feels like its going though you? Building in the elements can be very challenging. Fortunately with building mobile and tiny there are options to combat the weather. As we see it there are three options to consider:

Build your Tiny House Exposed to the Elements

Building in the rain might be fun the first time it happens but it will soon drive you crazy. The work you can do on any given day is affected by the weather, for example installing a roof in the wind is not going to be a smart idea. Some materials are not well suited to sit in the rain for periods of time and can degrade, discolour and even become unusable. This situation can also affect your morale for the build and it can be hard to draw enthusiasm when everything is soaked and cold. The benefit of choosing this method is its cheap and is sometimes the only option. A temporary trap could be used to protect while sitting. We thought about this option ourselves but realised a lot of trap or traps would be needed to cover the house. We also didn't love the idea of pulling wet cold traps off the structure everyday to work for it to start raining shortly after.

Build a Temporary Structure Over Tiny House

Building a temporary structure can protect you and your house build from the elements. This method does involve time initially designing and sourcing the materials for the structure. The time spent at the start of the build to get this right though should be able to be made up by being able to work on your house wind, rain or shine. Sourcing materials is going to cost unless you use the free variety or re purpose the materials for the tiny house or another project. For example we used and old PVC advertising hoarding that was cheap which we used to protect materials after we had finished with the temporary structure. This method also has the added benefit of keeping your tools dry which they will love. Just remember your temporary structure needs to stand up to wind, rain, sun and maybe even snow so design it well and design it for your specific environment and weather conditions. We used this method by attaching the temporary structure to and existing shed. Check out our video:

Build Tiny House in shed or workshop

This is the supreme option and if you have a choice you should do this every time. We are talking about building your tiny house in a shed or workshop environment. The benefit here is you and your tiny house are always protected from the weather elements. Having a solid level floor would be great and wheeling tables, pushing ladders around and working on the ground would be much easier on an even dry surface. Access to power and even air lines would added bonus for power and pneumatic tools. Being able to secure your new house and tools while you are offsite is excellent. Also being able to come and go and leave tools where they are half way though a job can be a time saver too. There are not many negatives with this option apart from finding a premises and maybe having to pay for it. Make sure you do your maths regarding door height and width, otherwise you may be living in a tiny house within a workshop!

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17 February 2016

How to Install an Old Wooden House Window

We looked low and high for a video how to install an old timber house window but could not find a full how too, so we made one. The video below takes you through the the following steps.

  • Cutting and sizing rough opening
  • Cutting and attaching building wrap
  • Sloped window sills and benefits 
  • Flashing rough opening to be weather tight
  • Use of tyvek UV Facade wrap and tape plus Dupont Flaxwrap NF
  • Fitting reclaimed wooden window
  • Leveling and squaring window using packers 
  • Benefits of using backing rod to fill rough opening void
  • Filling and sealing rough opening 
  • Sizing, installing and sealing window trim

Thanks to the following companies for supplying.

Quick dry undercoat
Lustacryl Gull Grey

Backing rod

UV Facade wrap 
UV Facade Flashing tape
Dupont Flaxwrap NF

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29 January 2016

NZ Tiny House that is Build like a Boat

This off the grid tiny house has been built with systems and fine craftsmanship in mind. The house is totally self-sufficient, generating its own power and collecting free water from the sky. The small wood burner takes care of space heating and also warms water using a wetback system.

Jeff Hobbs a boat builder and cabinet maker has designed and built the tiny house for a client. Jeffs expertise in these fields has come through in the build, using techniques like vacuum pressing SIPS walls and floors and using materials like epoxy. The floor is recycled kauri at 3mm thick laminated is friber glass to save weight.

Some simple ideas have really been thought about like having the washing machine outside in the unity box and designing an open but quite steep staircase to maximise space.

This home has been constructed for one of Jeff’s clients and has now been moved to it’s new home on Waiheke Island, New Zealand. Check out the blog roomtomove.co.nz for more info.

Watch the video tour of the house here by Bryce at Living Big in a Tiny House.

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18 November 2015

Couple Design and Build Beautiful Tiny House with Limited Experience

Young couple Brian and Joni have designed and built a very polished tiny house with little previous construction experience. Close to their 30's they were eager to settle down in a place of their own but they did not know where their fledgling careers would take them. So they devised a solution that was unorthodox but practical, and they built a house that could go with them no matter where they ended up.

3.3m high and 2.6m wide

Large skylight over loft bed

  Storage compartments in the floor

The 22 sq meter (236 sq foot) mobile tiny house cost $50K US. “We maxed out all the assets we had. Most of our family members thought we were crazy.”  Brian says.  “I thought I would knock it out in a few months,” but the project, which the couple squeezed in around their jobs, took about a year. They married in August 2014, plan to continue living in the trailer full-time until they start a family.

The cedar-clad trailer is slightly taller at the back, giving it an angular, contemporary shape.

Structural insulated panels were used for floor, walls and roof

Inside, the dominant material is birch-veneer plywood - a modern choice, versatile enough to serve as walls, floor, ceiling, and kitchen cabinets.

Simple yet stylish kitchen with full size appliances

Large sliding-glass door and two sky lights adds natural brightness

Still room for a 55-inch flat-screen television

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04 November 2015

Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) Tiny House

There are many ways to build a house and many ways to build a tiny house. Most tiny houses go down the path of traditional stick frame construction due to its relatively simple construction and easy access to materials. But is this the best approach to build a floor, walls and roof? Like most things there are multiple options, each with pros and cons. One option that is a fairly new-ish approach in NZ is (SIPs) or Structural Insulated Panels. SIPs are reasonably common for tiny house construction in the States but not so much in NZ yet. Lets find out the pros and cons, look at some examples and hear what approach we have taken.

What are SIP's?

SIPs are generally referred to as panels made from a thick layer of foam (polystyrene or polyurethane) sandwiched between two layers of Oriented Strand Board (OSB) or Magnesium Oxide (Mag). The result is an engineered panel that provides structural framing, insulation, and exterior sheathing in a solid, one-piece component. They can be used for many different applications, such as exterior walls, roofing, floor and foundation systems.

What are the benefits of SIPs over traditional timber construction?

  1. Better energy efficiently - because the construction method is very precise a near zero air leakage is achieved meaning no drafts. Due to zero thermal bridging your energy bills will be less, saving money over the long run.
  2. Durability - improved structure strength, great for a mobile tiny house.
  3. Speed - due to the standardized and all-in-one nature of SIPs, construction time can be less than for a frame home, as well as requiring fewer tradesmen.
  4. Cost -  Less man hours are required during the build but the material is generally more expensive. However the running cost will be less in the long term. These factors vary between countries, regional, location of building and local labor costs. As with any build a cost analysis would need to be conducted to compare. In general SIP's seems to be more cost beneficial. 

SIPs Specifications

Typical product specifications are:

Width: 300mm, 600mm, or 1,200 mm wide
Length: 2.4, 2.7, and 3 m long, with roof SIPs up to 6 m long
Thickness: 100mm-300mm
Density: 15−20 kg/m

They are not limited to these sizes as custom panels can be constructed.

Examples of SIPS tiny houses include. 

Minim Homes

Brian and Joni's Tiny House under construction

Leaf Tiny House

Monarch Tiny Homes

New Zealand SIP's Manufactures

There are a number of NZ SIPs manufacturers which include and not limited to:


Our approach to SIPS's

We think SIPs is an excellent option for building a tiny house for the reasons above. However we investigated this option for a long time and after some careful thought we decided for our budget this method wasn't for us, A do it yourself build methodology was a better fit for us and was better for green reasons.  

Cost: After getting quotes for a single level foot print approx 8m x 3m we were getting quotes in the order of $15k to install yourself. For a total house budget of $25k, this was not feasible for us. If you build you own I don't think you get the cost savings from the reduced labor time.   

Build mythology: We want to build as much of the build as possible to gain experience. Although possible to build your own SIP panels it did air on the risky side and required equipment and plenty of space to construct.  

Green : Not all but many SIP's use polystyrene for insulation and structure. We were not comfortable using in this material in our tiny house, see here for why. Having said that there are more green SIP alternatives available. 

We decided on a different approach that uses polyurethane and plywood sandwich see here. You might be thinking these are not the greenest materials, but there is always tradeoffs. Polyurethane and plywood do off gas initially and then become stable, and seem to be a much better option than polystyrene. The structure is lined inside and out reducing this risk also.

To conclude we would recommend building a tiny house or any house from SIP's if you can get the cost at the right point.
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