In a tiny home on wheels in Canada, chances are you’re planning to be at least partially off-grid. There are very few on-grid places in Canada where legally live in a tiny home on wheels is even possible.

Going off-grid, whether it’s power, water, or both, is exciting, bringing feelings of freedom and adventure.

However, if this is your first time going off-grid, be prepared for new ways of living. You’ll need to think about your home and be ready to do things a little differently!

Photo: Sunshine Tiny Homes Photographer: Damon Berryman

Pam Robertson owns Sunshine Tiny Homes on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia. She has extensive experience building for off-grid as well as guiding her clients through the transition process.

Here is some of her advice for things to consider before you go off-grid in your tiny home.

#8 From city life to living off-grid: the shock to the system

Pam walks her clients through the transition to living off-grid. She explains how the vast differences and “many factors” between the two living situations are arguably the most significant obstacle to overcome.

In Pam’s eyes, people are least prepared for off-grid tiny home living when moving from a bustling city apartment. “You’re moving from an apartment that potentially has a maintenance program built in. All your climate control and your lights – all those things are very much maintained.

“Exteriorly, all the things are taken care of… You’re going into a rural area where there aren’t a lot of neighbours around. That’s a big jump from being door to door in a highly condensed, populated place.”

Photo: Sunshine Tiny Homes Photographer: Damon Berryman

The most crucial step for someone making this change is to adjust their thinking. You’ll suddenly be fending for yourself rather than depending on 24/7 superstores or local conveniences (such as garbage collection or mains sewers).

“Sometimes, you have to live without air conditioning.”

Air conditioning (mini-splits) and other ‘traditional’ heating systems draw an awful lot of electrical power. “Sometimes, you have to live without air conditioning.”

Off-grid dwellers might also find it difficult to adjust to these non-automatic systems. In your city apartment, the temperature is controlled by sensors and thermostats. While these are still available off-grid, they require expensive inverter setups and dedicated power supplies.

#7 How an off-grid tiny home’s location affects power

In a city, suburb, or, in fact, anywhere on the grid, you’ll never think about how your home’s positioning and setup. It comes as-is, and changing anything often involves a lengthy process involving many legal forms and several inspections.

With off-grid living, everything is the complete opposite. Pam points out the importance of this and how off-grid residents still have things to pay for!

“A completely off-grid tiny home would be primarily operating on either solar, wood heat or propane.”

“One of the biggest things is to consider where you’re situating your tiny home and how much sunlight exposure you’ll get. We work with a knowledgeable solar company to do the measurements and the math for daylight exposure. They calculate how much energy you’ll need, your battery cycles, and things like that…”

Photo: Sunshine Tiny Homes Photographer: Damon Berryman

“If you can imagine someone going, ‘Okay, I’m going to get an off-grid tiny home. I’m not going to pay anything for electricity or whatever.’ It’s not that simple.”

No matter where you situate your off-grid home, things always go wrong. Having backup plans is essential.

“You have to consider what to do if you don’t have enough of the sun’s energy to power your solar. You’re going to have to have a backup system, which is generally a gas-powered generator.”

Photo: Sunshine Tiny Homes Photographer: Damon Berryman

“Handling jerry cans of fuel will become part of your daily/weekly routine. It would be beneficial to be technically or mechanically inclined, because you’re going to have to check the oil in your generator and make sure you get it maintained, but you still have to run it frequently.”

#6 Living off-grid makes you more energy conscious

Producing your own power means you’ll naturally be more careful with what you use. Of course, this has a subtle knock-on effect, making you more environmentally friendly. Pam helps clients choose the right home equipment, hardware, and power supply to ensure they’re comfortable and prepared for what’s in store.

“You start discovering and understanding how much power your computer draws, and using your toaster, or if you have a microwave – all those things are calculated and factored in for the unit or equipment you will have.”

“But you’re not going to run those things continuously, so you become strategic in your activities. You’re thinking, ‘What are my breakfast needs that take less electricity?’”

“We put in a lot of LEDs and low-drawing appliances and fixtures. Dryers, standard hot water heaters, electric stoves – they have the biggest energy draws in your house. You’re working with different appliances and sorts of technologies.”

Photo: Sunshine Tiny Homes Photographer: Damon Berryman

Being conscious of the electrical draw also forces off-grid tiny home owners into more innovative appliances. Pam has worked with all her clients to help them find creative solutions, usually powered by propane, to get around the current requirements.

Pam usually advises off-grid tiny home inhabitants to invest in a propane oven, wood stove, and other non-electric heating systems, as well as alternatives to the traditional appliances mentioned above.


#5 Does living off-grid mean you don’t pay any bills?

One of the largest misconceptions about living off-grid is that it’s free. Unfortunately, as Pam often walks her clients through, that’s not the case. Instead, expect to pay for decades’ worth of equipment up-front.

Photo: Sunshine Tiny Homes Photographer: Damon Berryman

“People don’t quite anticipate how much you’re putting up in the very beginning. You’re going to be spending a big chunk to offset the systems you’re going to be putting in, and save yourself money in the long run that way.”

Before you can fully move into your off-grid tiny home, you’ll need all sorts of systems set up. These include the following:

  • Electrical power (solar, water wheel, wind turbine, inverters, batteries, backup generator, etc.)
  • Heating (propane, electric, wood stove, etc.)
  • Water (rainwater collection, top-up tank, well, mains water, etc.)
  • Sewage and grey water (septic tank, composting or incinerating toilet, grey water outlet, etc.)
  • Efficient insulation for the Canadian winter
  • And more.

If you live in a condominium or city apartment, these are usually included with your rental or maintenance fee. If something goes wrong, you’ll call the building manager, and the issue is often fixed within a few hours.

Off-grid tiny home owners can throw that idea in their makeshift garbage. Anything that goes wrong will be paid for and worked on (in most cases) by you.

These systems alone are expensive to set up, even when working with second-hand parts. Keeping them running brings more potential payments on top of this.

For example, propane must be topped up or refilled. If you have a wood stove, you’ll need a saw or chainsaw, an axe, or a log splitter. The chimney should be swept and inspected for safety reasons. The filters in the water have to be clean and operational, and so on!

There are plenty of costs to consider when it comes to going off-grid. With the right ‘can-do attitude’, you’ll find a way.

#4 How much water do you use when living off-grid?

Living off-grid means disconnecting from the electrical grid. For many people in this situation, city water systems also aren’t an option. As always, there are plenty of potential tailored alternatives.

“One operating system we had was utilized to activate the well system. The build was configured to supply electrical power to the pump. The pump only draws when you turn on your water.”

Photo: Sunshine Tiny Homes Photographer: Damon Berryman

In another instance, Pam’s client “hooked up to an above-ground water system to be supplied by a truck. This would fill up their cistern, and then they had a hose connected to the home. That was also operated by an electric pump inside the home..”

“You would have a sort of digital game to show you your water levels. We put it on the wall in the kitchen. You’re continuously watching your levels – your levels are everything!”

In all these cases, an off-grid tiny home owner will spend much more time monitoring their “levels” than a city dweller. An electric pump draws current, so you’ll need to watch your batteries. You don’t want to run dry with above-ground fill-up or collection systems.

Because of this, you’ll naturally use less water when you’re off-grid. If it all goes or you run out of electrical power to run the pump, you’re left in a potentially tricky scenario. (That’s why backups are so crucial.)

#3 Living off-grid: preparing for when things go wrong

“You have to have a bit of a thick skin, knowing there could be things that just don’t function properly. One of the biggest unexpected things about going from a condominium to a rural wilderness setting is that if something you don’t anticipate goes wrong, you’re going to be very unprepared for it.”

“Go into it knowing that things may not operate properly. You have to tweak them or get whoever did the installation to come out to check on it. There are lots of conversations and troubleshooting.”

“You’re going to learn and being part of the process is really important. Ask as many questions as you can!”

As a self-dependent homeowner, you’ll face new challenges and difficulties every day. Pam remarks how vital it is to take these on the chin and admit that you can’t possibly know or do everything beforehand.

You’ll learn to fix or work around almost all issues you encounter. Sometimes, for more intricate faults, you’ll need professional help. For instance, you might need to take a seized generator for a detailed repair or hire an electrician to help with your solar setup.

Photo: Sunshine Tiny Homes Photographer: Damon Berryman

The best way to prepare for things going wrong? Accept that they’re going to, and have your tools and backups ready in advance!

Even if you feel unprepared now, people learn to deal with these challenges. They find the experience positive, rewarding and empowering once the lifestyle is mastered.


#2 The Canadian winter: propane, wood stoves, and freezing temperatures

In Canada, winter hits hard. Most people, snuggled up in their furnace-powered homes, complain a little bit and wear a few extra flannel layers. However, life broadly continues as normal.

Not so when you’re off-grid. The most common heating methods are propane and a wood stove. Running out of wood or propane gas spells immediate trouble, and reaching this point might be alarmingly easy.

“Propane heaters are nice because you just turn them on and off.”

“If you’re going to have smaller canisters, it’s very hard to know what level you’re at. They don’t have meters on them. You need weight scales to determine where you’re at, from full to empty. Only the really large tanks have a volume reader.”

“If companies don’t deliver propane, you’ll need to haul all your tanks to get fueled up.”

“If you have a tiny home wood stove, you are continuously cutting wood. The more compact wood stove requires smaller pieces of wood, so that will be your new pastime. You’re going to constantly be using a chainsaw or an axe. You have to be able to picture yourself with an axe before you commit to that.”

“You have to be on top of getting firewood, and get it with enough time for it to dry for a season.”

As Pam walks her off-grid clients through, keeping your home fueled through winter is tough (but rewarding) work. As always, preparing firewood and having backup propane supplies is key.

Extreme cold climates like Canada (between November and March) spell far more problems than freezing temperatures in your home. It might also lead to breaking or inefficient appliances (particularly electrical) and freezing water (faucet or heating) pipes.

“Nothing is reliable 100% of the time, especially in cold climates.”

“I recommend some systems that other builders aren’t necessarily doing, like using glycol antifreeze in your heating pipes. Having a continuous cycle of water or even a light that helps keep the water warm. But that won’t necessarily work in minus 30 or minus 45.”

“Obviously insulating around your pipes is the best way to prevent your pipes freezing, and having everything integrated and skirted. You can even build an insulating box around your pipes, but there has to be a way of keeping it warm as well.”

#1 The off-grid toilet situation: a conversation you need to have

Off-grid septic solutions are perhaps the most unpleasant topic you’ll have to deal with. But it’s a fundamental part of life.

Living in a city apartment (or anywhere on the grid), you never think about what happens to that waste once you flush the toilet. Moving off-grid makes the entire process your responsibility.

Flushing toilets usually are only an option if you can hook up to an existing sewer or septic tank. You typically need a permit and the relevant inspections for this.

So, what are the alternatives?

Most off-grid dwellers have either a composting or propane-operated incinerating toilet.

“An incinerating toilet doesn’t draw much power, but even in that, you’re adjusting to how it works. If you go and do your business, it has a cycle that takes a while to go through. You’re calculating how long till you can do more ‘business’.”

“With composting toilets, you have to dispose of that ‘compost’.”

“With composting toilets, you have to dispose of that ‘compost’. There’s definitely some handling. When the system gets full, you need to remove it, replace the bucket, and start afresh. And then it’s a six- to nine-month process for decomposition where you bury the bucket and its contents.”

Photo: Sunshine Tiny Homes Photographer: Damon Berryman

In terms of the smell?

“Using sawdust and other waterless methods to eliminate smell is a bit like having a hamster in the house.”

Although it might feel unpleasant and uncomfortable initially, the off-grid toilet situation is a discussion you must have, especially with your family and anyone living with you. It’s a jarring leap into reality next to the luxuries of city plumbing and sewers.


The reality of off-grid living: is it for you?

After Pam guides her clients through these considerations (among other things), it essentially boils down to this: is off-grid living for you? As she spells out, living without modern comforts is challenging. It’s a completely different lifestyle.

You might decide that off-grid living isn’t for you, and that’s fine! There are plenty of other ways to approach tiny homes.

If you do decide to commit to the off-grid world, expect a physically demanding life full of challenges. In return, you’ll live more conservatively, with unparalleled satisfaction and an appreciation for a good day’s hard work.

“There’s a lot of people out there glorifying it right now. There’s a reality to it. You could be living in the cold and the dark, and there’s nobody to call.”

But living off-grid comes with major benefits, and more and more people are choosing this way of life.

But living off-grid comes with major benefits, and more and more people are choosing this way of life. “The good news is that it’ll just become second nature after a period of time.”

“You’re going to be living more conscientiously. You’re going to be very aware of what you’re doing and how that’s going to affect your lifestyle.”

Challenges will be faced, but overcoming them brings a sense of satisfaction and self-trust you can’t find anywhere else.

“A good way to summarise is that someone accustomed to an automatic life is moving to a manual life.”

In much the same way as the driving analogy, a new ‘manual’ life is much harder work. Knowing and understanding what’s going on beneath the surface is vital. However, it brings with it a much greater ability to control and forge your own path.

To chat with Pam and Sunshine Tiny Homes, contact her on (604) 741-3108.



  1. What is the baseline price and what size is that for?

  2. “Going off-grid? Consider these 8 things” is an excellent article. As an individual with significant electrical power knowledge your article left me with the question of – could I realistically live off grid?

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