Living Large with a Tiny Home: Q&A with Jarrod Tocci

Posted October 31, 2023

After nearly seven years of van life spent traveling throughout the West Coast, Jarrod Tocci is the poster child for the old adage that less is more. With no rent, no mortgage, and constantly surrounded by friends within the van life community, Jarrod lived some of his best years out on the road in his solar-plus-storage powered van. In mid-2022, Jarrod decided it was time to head back home to the East Coast to be near his family again and pursue his dream of designing and building a fully off-grid, 250-square-foot tiny home on wheels in Maine. We spoke with Jarrod about how he went about his tiny home build, what his energy system consists of, and advice he has for those considering embarking on a similar minimalist journey.

How did you go about designing and building the tiny home?

Jarrod: “I studied architectural engineering in college and as far as I can remember, I have loved building and designing. Even back in kindergarten, my favorite part of the day was building blocks. I'm one of those ‘weird’ people who play with different shapes, ideas, spaces, colors, and textures. For me, it's more like art than design.

My process for creating this tiny home began with me asking myself what the purpose and function of the home would be. In this case, I was building this tiny home for me, not a client, and I therefore knew what my wants and needs were. For example, I knew I wanted a loft with a small workspace. I'd start out with a simple computer drawing and then once I’m in the empty space, that is when everything changes. I'll sit in that space for hours or even days if needed. I'll ask myself if certain things will work the way I want them to. The trick is knowing all of the systems and products you want to use in the space before you start building. The reason for that is so you can start to design around those elements instead of trying to ‘make them fit.’ From there, it's like playing chess without the pieces on the board, imagining a space before anything is in it.”

Jarrod Tocci Off-Grid Tiny Home

What is your favorite part or feature of your tiny home?

Jarrod: “I have hydronic radiant floor heating. There are other homes that have electric warming mats, but my tiny home has 300 feet of tubing running in the floors that have antifreeze that gets heated and radiates the entire space. My tiny house is located in Maine and it gets very cold here, so having that feature is something that I'm proud of. The radiant floor heating also runs low voltage and acts as my hot water system too. It was not inexpensive, but when winter hits, I know I will be thanking myself every day.”

What part of the tiny home design/build process did you enjoy the most?

Jarrod: “There's a turning point in any build. For a while, you don't see the ‘light at the end of the tunnel.’ Then there is a moment when you can see things coming together. For me, in this tiny home, it was when I was done running all the wires and had the spray foam done and was able to start working on cabinets and other built-ins.”

Inside Jarrod's Tiny Home

Were you able to leverage prior experience on your van build-outs or otherwise in the design & build of the tiny home?

Jarrod: “Absolutely! I built my tiny home as a large-scale van. What I mean by that is I ran a lot of products at low voltage. I wanted to show tiny home builders that you don't need to build a tiny home that has to be plugged into the grid. I would say I deployed all of my previous build experiences into my tiny home build.”

What does your energy system consist of?

Jarrod: “My tiny home is powered by two RELiON lithium batteries, as well as eight 405-watt Sunamc solar panels, totaling 6,000 watts of solar power. The system also includes a 6,000-watt Growatt inverter/solar charge controller. Although most tiny homes are not off-grid, this home is able to exist entirely off-grid thanks to this robust and reliable solar-plus-storage system. Some examples of the items this system powers are an electric stovetop, a custom 48V Cruise N Comfort air conditioning unit, lights, television, laptop, water pump, refrigerator, washer/dryer unit, and internet.”

How did you choose which batteries to pair with your solar system?

Jarrod: “When I decided to commit to going off-grid, I had a few battery companies in mind. Throughout all of my time spent living in my vans, I always used RELiON because I knew the brand was very dependable. In total, I’ve used RELiON batteries in three other builds. After talking with several people who are much more knowledgeable about batteries than me, and after comparing the specifications and warranties, I again decided that for this tiny home, RELiON was the clear-cut winner. I did dabble with gel lead-acid batteries for a bit in my very first van because it’s what I could afford at the time, however, once you use lithium batteries, you will never go back to lead-acid or gel due to the non-stop headaches. For example, gel and absorbed glass matt (AGM) batteries are extremely heavy and can only be drained to 50 percent without damaging them. Lithium batteries like RELiON’s are much lighter and longer lasting. You can simply install them and forget about them.”

Jarrod Tocci Tiny Home Solar System

What is your favorite part of owning a tiny home?

Jarrod: “Less is more and having less in my life is much less stressful. Other than that, I’d say I love having the ability to design my own home without breaking the bank. Also, since my tiny home is on wheels, I really like that I still have some flexibility in terms of where I can live. And as the home is quite small, I have a lot of land options where it can fit.”

Do you have any recommendations for those considering building a tiny home?

Jarrod: “Have a plan, do your homework, be as patient as possible, and know that you are likely going to spend more than you want. It’s important to also try to actually enjoy the build and make sure to choose who you listen to carefully. Also, if you have two sizes in mind, just go with the bigger size because it’s often hard to add on or expand down the line. You should also think about how you plan on moving the tiny home - be sure to choose the optimal trailer.”

Make sure to follow Jarrod’s tiny home journey on YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook. If you have any questions about how to choose or install the right batteries for your tiny home or van, get in touch with an expert at RELiON.