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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Must Have Tiny House Appliances

Alisha McDarris

When it comes to filling a tiny house with appliances, size, weight and function play a big part in selecting what items will be taking up precious space in the kitchen and bathroom. 

Unfortunately, small appliances are both hard to find (meaning used appliances are going to be few and far between) and often more expensive than their basic full-sized counterparts. Plus, they're rarely on sale when buying them new. Take a stove for example: a new decent full size stove on sale might run you around $250. But if you want an apartment sized stove you're looking at something closer to $400. Not cool. Throw in a preference for electric or propane and you've narrowed your options even further. So what's a tiny house builder to do when trying to save a few bucks on big ticket items like refrigerators and washing machines? Well, I can tell you what we did and maybe you'll have the same luck when you head out appliance hunting!

First off, let me point out that we built with plans to always be hooked up to electric, so we nixed propane. Partly because I just don't want the hassle of having to refill the canister every time we run out, and partly because it's more dangerous. I'd rather just plug in an energy efficient appliance and do my thing. That said, all of our appliances from our "stove" to our hot water heater are electric. No need for a Co2 detector in our tiny house!


We wanted to go with an apartment sized refrigerator which meant anything between 9-11 cubic feet. We love fresh food, but we figured since it's only the two of us we didn't need anything bigger. Plus we didn't want the girth of a full size fridge taking up precious counter space. We searched up and down Craigslist and local used appliance dealers for a small model, but none were to be found. At all. It was depressing. And just when we had resigned ourselves to paying $350 for a new fridge (and that was a good deal, mind you), I found one on Craigslist for $150. We had to drive an hour south to Cincinnati to get it, but it was in great shape and just what we wanted, so that was a win.

Washing Machine

We did a lot of research on this one. And then second guessed our decision to buy what we bought about half a dozen times before deciding we did alright. We considered everything from one of those little portable units all the way to an expensive washer/dryer combo, but decided we wanted simply an apartment or RV sized washer sans dryer. Again we had resigned oursleves to buying new as small washers simply couldn't be found used. And then we found one! This time it was only a ten minute drive away. Woohoo! It's heavy, but it's an efficient front-loading washing machine and had been bought for an RV, so it was just the right size and only $175 compared with a new model around $350. Why did we go that route? Well, I didn't see myself putting up with a portable unit that I constantly had to move and hook up with a hose and empty in the shower every time I wanted to do laundry, not to mention you can only wash two pair of jeans at a time, so that was out. And as for washer/dryer combos, they take a solid 3-4 hours to wash and dry a single small load, so that's not a very efficient way of doing laundry. Besides, we've done enough traveling to know American's are really the only ones who use clothes dryers and they are far from necessary, especially in a place like Texas where the tiny house is parked.

Stove Top

For our stove top cooking needs we thought we'd just get a small oven/stove unit. Turns out that's another thing that's impossible to find used, they are often propane, and they take up a ridiculous amount of space. And new ones? Those suckers are expensive. The cheap ones cost upwards of $400. We didn't want that. So we thought about a two-burner glass drop-in unit. Also expensive and hard to find new or used. So maybe a table top induction cooktop that we could stow while we're not using it. Also expensive at $100 for a two-burner unit. What we ended up with were two electric coil single burner table top units that cost us all of $5 a piece during a black Friday sale. Sold! I like that we can put them away when not in use and we only plug in as many as we need. We do plan to upgrade to efficient induction soon.


When we decided not to get a stove top or range unit, an oven was obviously out, too. I did some research, thought about what we usually use the oven for, and came to the conclusion that really all we needed was a large convection toaster oven. We do bake occasionally but rarely cook anything large enough to require a full size unit (vegans, remember -- no turkey is getting cooked in our tiny house!). So all we had to do was make sure we got a model big enough to cook a pizza and hold a couple trays of muffins or cookies and we're golden. We found a brand new Black and Decker model on Craigslist (all it was missing was the box) and payed $45 for it. It's also more efficient than an oven as it heats up far more quickly and consumes less energy. Plus it's super light.

Air Conditioner

We always knew we wanted a ductless mini split AC unit with a heat pump, but there was a hot minute there when I saw how much they cost ($800 yikes!) and thought maybe a portable AC unit with a heat function would be fine (only $150 and you can get those used, unlike a mini split). But upon serious reflection, a portable unit would be taking up precious floor space and we definitely didn't want to have to dedicate space for that. And a window unit was out because there was no way I was giving up half of a window, either. So we were back to a mini split. Fortunately we found a pretty good deal on one sized appropriately for our space (we had an AC installer friend come run the numbers) and we got a 9,000 BTU unit for $630 on Amazon. They're nice because you can mount them on the wall above your eye-line and you'll hardly notice they're even there.

Hot Water Heater

Initially we planned on using a tankless system for our hot water needs. Then we found out the only units we could get for 110 electric hookups wouldn't supply the amount of hot water we would need for even a low flow shower head. Bummer. Still didn't want to use propane, so we ended up with a small 7 gallon electric tank that is still 94% efficient. Not bad for a tank. It does require short (5-7 minute) showers, even with a low-flow shower head, but the water does get hot. We're still exploring what other options we might have, but it does the job and cost $236.

All in all, when it comes to picking out tiny house appliances, the key considerations to keep in mind are size, weight, and perhaps most importantly, your own personal needs. 

Don't put in a convection toaster oven if you love throwing dinner parties. If it's just you in the tiny house you may not need a proper washer; a portable unit may be perfectly suitable for your laundry needs. Whatever you decide on, patience is key. keep searching on Craigslist, at Re Stores, and at local used and outlet stores a few times a week (for probably several weeks or months) until you find what you need. And extend your searches to neighboring cities within an hour or two drive. The bigger the city the more people who are getting rid of stuff! Happy hunting!

Alisha McDarris / Author & Editor

Alisha is a freelance writer and photographer based in Austin, TX. She loves her tiny house, vegan food and experiencing the community of travel in far away places. She’s also pretty sure she’s addicted to coffee. [Portfolio]


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