Going Electric in a Tiny House: We Got a New Car!

Well, we did a thing.

Earlier this month we purchased our first electric car, a Fiat 500e.

Fiat 500e

Chris has had a bit of a love affair with the Fiat 500 for many years. Some people dream of sports cars, but he dreams of tiny Italian city hatchbacks. We'd sit in them at the Portland International Auto Show and watch for mentions of Fiats on Top Gear and The Grand Tour. We even took one for a spin once when my cousin drove it home as a rental while their car was being serviced. We fought jealousy when Chris's sister bought one in the Midwest, even though we were the ones who encouraged her to do it. Our dream was to buy one by the time we turn 40, which is still a few years away.

Another car maker that we have a bit of a crush on is Tesla. (Who doesn't? Other than Jeremy Clarkson, of course.) While we may love Tesla, our budget is not a fan. Owning a Tesla has always been a bit of a pipe dream for us, and we honestly have no plans to actually buy one unless our circumstances change drastically.

A few months ago, though, we realized that electric Fiats are actually quite affordable, and with the majority of Fiat 500e models being leased rather than purchased, the market for three-year-old models with low mileage is actually really good if you live in the right part of the United States, which we do. (The Fiat 500e has thus far only been sold in California and Oregon.) We may not be able to afford a Tesla, but maybe we could combine our interest in electric cars with our Fiat 500 love affair.

We also happen to live in a part of the country that has expensive gas and cheap, mostly clean, electricity. We did a lot of math. And then we ran the numbers again. And again. And we realized that the money we would save by not driving our gas-guzzling full-size sedan as much would nearly cover the cost of the car payment, not to mention money we will hopefully save on maintenance (or lack thereof) by owning an electric car.

After we did the math, we were very cognizant of exactly how much we were paying in gas for each trip we took in our sedan. It was eye-opening, to say the least.

We've also dreamed about owning a second vehicle that actually seats our whole family to replace our aging Ford Ranger. We love that scrappy truck, but it's hard to drive, and it just isn't practical for our family these days. (It's only been two weeks, but so far having two "family" cars has been pretty amazing.)

Of course our other concern, and it's a big one, is environmental. We live in a tiny house, after all. We've become very conscious of the things we do and buy that damage our planet, and one of the biggest concerns we have had is our sedan, which we love but which gets horrible gas mileage. If we can use it less, that would be a huge step for us in reducing our environmental footprint even more.

This all sounds good, but there is one major complication.

Can you actually charge an electric vehicle from a Park Model?

The answer to this question will of course vary from EV to EV and house to house.

Fiat 500eElectric vehicles in the United States come equipped with Level 1 charging capability, and what that means is that the vehicle is sold with a cable that attaches to the car and you plug in to a regular 120v outlet. While the Fiat 500e is capable of charging at 6.6kw with the appropriate 240v receptacle, the Level 1 120v charging cable limits the wattage to something near your other high-powered appliances, such as your average hair dryer (1800w) or space heater (1500w) that is capable of working on a regular 15amp circuit. Sharing this circuit with any other moderate energy draw is not really feasible, and having a dedicated circuit to charge on is ideal. A dedicated 240v outlet is even better, but we don't have any of those in our house at all.

Some Park Models have upgraded electric panels to enable all-electric appliances, or they use propane/gas appliances and their electrical load is actually pretty low. For us, though, that is not the case. We have a standard 50 amp panel in our home, which is usually enough. We have a propane range and a propane furnace, but any electrical issues we experience occur due to the fact that we don't actually use the furnace to heat our house. We use a window heat pump and an Envi wall heater. The window unit is on the same circuit as our bathroom and our outdoor outlet. Obviously, this is not ideal. We have tripped that breaker a few times using hairdryers and power tools when the heater is running.

Thus, we knew going into our purchase that we would need to figure out a different solution for charging.

Fiat 500e
We tossed around a few ideas, but the simplest one is to just plug our car into the outlet outside my parents' garage next door. We are hoping to install a dedicated charging station in the near future in the same place since the electric panel is right on the other side of that wall, and wiring for it should be fairly simple and straightforward for an experienced electrical worker.

If we didn't have the option of charging at their house, I don't know if we would have been able to make this happen any time soon.

I want to leave this post with an encouragement to anyone who is building/buying a tiny house in the near future to plan ahead and wire your house for electric vehicle charging in case you do a crazy thing like us and buy a tiny, bright-orange European hatchback that needs to be plugged in at night. Because you just never know what the future may bring!