May 26, 2021

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Building an Off Grid Tiny House

This time last year, the tiny house was not even something Deb and her family had thought would happen. They weren’t planning to build a cabin , they weren’t supposed too... This time last year, they were planning an adventure of a lifetime to Europe with their children. Then the pandemic began... it changed so much for so many. ???? 

Deb’s family didn’t want to let the pandemic change their plans for adventure so they allocated the money they had budgeted for the trip and turned a garden shed into a cabin in the woods.  The whole family is so happy that they did. Sometimes there is a silver lining isn’t there?!. ???? 

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tiny house kitchen view

Location, location, location

So let’s dive in to the tiny house!! The property the tiny house is on belonged to Deb’s grandfather! She grew up spending so much time there as a child. He farmed the land that is surrounded by a cluster of Alberta lakes. Deb has so many happy memories in this very spot. For years now, Deb’s family have spent summers out-there boating, fishing and having fun as a family. They would bring their glamper at the beginning of summer and leave it there as long as possible. It was such a quick and easy getaway for her family all summer long as it is only a short drive away. The family always joked about building a cabin there someday but never actually thought they would pull the trigger. When the pandemic hit and they couldn’t continue with the holiday plans, there seem to be no better time than now! 

on the lake out at the tiny house

Deb’s children are eight and 11 and only have a few years left with them as a family at home. They wanted to have a place to make memories and for all of them to go back to as their children grow.  Deb and her husband began to explore options for moving something onto the property or building something, but it all seemed overwhelming and just not the right fit. 

The Building.

AKA The Garden Shed

the tiny house in the winter

One night before bed, Deb’s husband was searching Kijiji and found a listing for Premier Buildings, which were selling prebuilt garden sheds and portable buildings. The very next day, they went and toured the existing buildings that were displayed on a farm outside of Didsbury, Alberta. Some of the garden sheds seemed spacious enough that with the right design, they could work for the family and be quite cozy. Deb went home and used the building software on Premier’s website. She started to design the building that she thought would work so they could get a quote. Deb added tons of windows, changed positions of both windows and doors, removed the one loft, bumped out the patio, insulation to the floor and even raised the ceiling. 

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The Quote

When Deb submitted the quote, she was pleasantly surprised with how affordable the cost of the shed came to. Even with the adjustments she had done,  it was still between C$13-C$15,000!! That also included hardy board siding, a tin roof and extra windows and doors. From there, she budgeted another $15-$20,000 to finish the unit.

living room view

They decided to take the plunge!! There was a lot of preparation that had to go into the physical land to get it ready for the tiny house. They surveyed the area that they were hoping to put it and brought in loads of gravel to help level the surface. The building is on skids which is nice as it will be movable down the road if we choose. The family then waited approximately a month and a half for Premier to finish building our custom garden shed. 

Finishing the Interior of the Tiny House

kitchen view of the tiny house

It was very important that they maximize the interior space of the building as much as possible, Deb wanted a bedroom on the main floor for her husband and her as well as some form of a bathroom. She knew that the loft would be used for the kiddos and that it needed to be separated into two separate rooms or spaces.  

Tiny House Layout

the loft

When Deb started designing the 12’ x 32’ shed, she knew she wanted it to have a very open concept but still be functional and have storage. The original building had not one but two lofts and a small porch that bumped in to the building. She began by removing one of the loft’s and the porch to give the space a much more open concept. Deb also extended the remaining loft to 11 feet long. In addition, Deb also added an additional 12 inches to the ceiling height, keeping the loft where it was and allowing for more overhead space for the kids rooms. The master bedroom is approximately 11 feet long by 9 feet wide leaving just over 2 feet for the bathroom

master bedroom in the tiny home

The entire time that they were building this tiny house,  Deb knew she wanted to have shiplap on the interior! Deborah has slowly introduce shiplap into her historic home in town and loved how it looks. She purchased 12 x 1“ planks that they cut down to 10 inch shiplap themselves. She also used cottage grade one by four, 5/16” Penny lap for the walls and ceiling. In the bedroom and bathroom, she did 4’ wainscotting using the same material. 

Off Grid Kitchen

The cabinets were made out of plywood and wood plank!  They give a more vintage, rustic feel to the space then manufactured cabinets which is exactly the look Deb wanted.  She went with open shelving to keep the space bright and airy, instead of using upper cabinets.  The countertops were makes out of 1 x 6” planks that Deb stained a whitewash color!! 

off the grid kitchen

They also use a vintage ice box as a refrigerator out there. It takes about 5 blocks of ice every two days to stay cold down below. It’s very easy to use and Deb loves that it is completely off the grid! 

side kitchen view

Finishing Details

The Colour:

As so many of you already know, Deb’s favourite colour white is Oxford  White by Benjamin Moore so she used a solid stain in this colour to paint the entire cabin using a spray gun. Deb love’s the look of the shiplap as it adds so much detail the space but keeps it light and airy. 

The Floors:

For the floors, they used a V groove pine board. This was the most affordable option for the cabin. They then used a custom colour that can be found here and Deb finished them herself . For details on how to paint wood floors, you can read the blog post here. 

Propane Heating & Electricity in a Tiny House

We also added a beautiful natural gas stove to heat the unit. This adds an element of cosiness to the space, but is still practical and functions well. For now, they have attached it to a propane 30 pound propane tank. Eventually,  Deb may add a large propane bullet on the property.

heating the tiny house

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We run the tiny house off of a 3500 V generator, the one we use has command start and works really well. Eventually, they will be adding solar power that will make the unit completely off grid!! The remote start is key to convenience for this source of power! It is so easy to turn on and off when needed no matter where you are!

Off Grid Bathroom

This is the question they get asked most most! Although they have an outdoor biffy on the property, Deb still decided to put in a separate room for a toilet and sink. There is no plumbing in this unit however, they use a simple compost style toilet. You can purchase Double Dootie bags from Amazon. These work pretty good for a weekend away as most of the time they only use the indoor toilet in the night. The outhouse works fine throughout the day!

Water in an Off Grid Cabin

The water situation:

Deb and her family haul water to the unit in large 5 gallon jugs. They have a vintage kitchen pump that they attach it to for the kitchen sink. It totally works like a charm! She also boils water and keeps it in a thermos for quick hot water whenever needed!

water in the kitchen

In the summer months, she will catch rainwater off the eaves which will also be used to wash dishes, etc. Eventually, they would like to add a drain pipe somewhere in the building for gray water. 

If a shower or washing is needed, it is only a short drive to home or you can always go take a dip in one of the surrounding lakes to cleanup!

All About Decor

mastere bedroom

During that time, Deb begin hunting for items that she wanted to use additionally in the tiny house. She found the beautiful door that was from an antique shop just outside of my small town. They had Premier custom build the cabin to fit the door. Deb also found the most perfect table at an antique shop in central Alberta. She also knew that they would want a ladder instead of stairs for the kids to use in the loft, as much as stairs are a safer and easier option, we just didn’t have the space. So Deb went to her favourite shop, Uniquities, and Julia the owner had a Hungarian vintage ladder that fit perfectly!! A lot of the decor items that Deb used in the cabin, she had been collected over the years, so that really help keep the cost down. 

decorating the tiny house


Deb was also able to find some beautiful lighting options on Etsy!  She loves the ones that are hanging over the kitchen island and the school house light in the master bedroom.  

Shop the tiny cabin decor here:

The memories the family has already made are irreplaceable and they truly can not WAIT to keep the good times coming.  In fact, Deb's husband would gladly live out there if he could. This summer, they plan to add two decks and a small garden to the space.  Eventually, Deb and her family would love to have a turnkey oasis in the woods and they are well on their way!! So tell us, would you ever build a tiny house in the woods and live off the grid?

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the VINTAGE SOCIETY CO. team

What started out as a duo of Brittany and Deborah has now expanded into a TEAM! 

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Deborah McDOnald

CO-FOUNDER

AKA @bvintagestyle

Small town girl living in a 1903 Heritage home she dreamed of as a child.

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Brittany Hislop

Co-Founder

AKA @white.farmhouse

Living a simple life in a rural Alberta town and painting her house white as she goes!

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