Design and style are the focus of most articles on the tiny house trend. But what about the technology that keeps these tiny homes running?
Although a tiny house (defined as under 1,000 square feet for this article) uses a lot less energy than an average sized home (2,600 square feet in 2013 according to the Census Bureau), it still needs electricity, water and heat. If it’s on a foundation, it needs to meet local code requirements.
Despite being called “tiny” homes, some of them aren’t that tiny. “I’ve found that people love the concept of tiny houses, but they really don’t want tiny-tiny… people are just wanting smaller than what they have,” says architect Arielle Schechter, whose “Micropolis” home plans have become a popular part of her business in Chapel Hill, NC.
Her micro-homes start at 450 square feet and expand to 1,500 square feet, a significant down-sizing for people living in 3,000 square foot homes. Schechter’s smallest design is the “Tadpole” at 450-square feet with a detached 160-square-foot office or studio. She’d eventually like to build a small neighborhood of tiny homes.
“These small houses can be so much more livable than the vast, cavernous mansions where you don’t use 40 percent of the space and it feels wrong to leave those rooms unused; it grates against people,” Schechter says of her designs.
Millennials have the most interest in the trend. “They think this is a really cool way to live and want to make a healthier environment by having less of a footprint.”
But Schechter says the idea is also appealing to retirees. “They don’t want a lot of upkeep anymore,” she says. “Why should you pay to heat and cool those spaces if you’re not using them? Just make things more efficient and smaller.”
Heating and Cooling a Tiny Space
Schechter focuses on making her all of homes as efficient as possible, working with builders to design net-zero homes in the Chapel Hill area. Energy efficiency goes hand in hand with living efficiently.
“I think it’s easier to hit net-zero with a tiny house for so many reasons.” One of her tiny homes only needed a 2.3 kW solar panel array to generate enough energy to meet net-zero requirements.
Schechter uses mini splits to heat and cool her micro-homes, but the real challenge in Chapel Hill is the humidity.
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“Our summers are horrible. We get 100 degree days that are 90 percent humidity. It’s almost unbearable,” she says. “We’ve been putting in ERVs and CERV [conditioning energy recovery ventilation] systems that monitor humidity as well. They cost about $5,000 but that’s something that’s beneficial in our climate.”
A Kitchen with a Place for Everything
The small size is the major appeal of the tiny home, but people (particularly Baby Boomers looking to downsize) still don’t want to give up comfort.
“They really want their tiny house to have the luxuries and comforts of a big house,” she says.
The kitchen is one place where wants collide with size, but there are some solutions. Schechter’s most popular design the “Little Ant” has an 8-foot by 8-foot kitchen inspired by boat galleys, where there’s a place for everything. “Everything has a place and things have dual functions. It has some pull-out surfaces, and if somebody wants a little more luxurious kitchen, I try to give them a little baking island.”
Schechter recommends double unit cooktops, separate oven and an under-counter refrigerator. She can also design a kitchen for a full range and hood, a dishwasher and full refrigerator.
“I build in as much storage as I can, but it’s not like a large American house where you have tons of pantry space. You’re probably going to have to go shopping a little bit more and bring home fresher things.”
Eating healthier, saving energy, and living smaller. Good things do come in small packages.
5 Tiny Home Designs and Floor Plans
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Corten Cottage First Floor
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Corten Cottage Second Floor
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Little Ant Floor Plan
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Tadpole Floor Plan
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Moddie’s Mod House
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Moddie’s Mod House
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Little Paws Micropolis House