Tiny Houses Have Even Tinier Carbon Footprints

If you think about it for just a minute, it makes logical sense that tiny houses produce a significantly smaller carbon footprint than a typical-sized house—on average, 2000 pounds of CO2 per year, as opposed to 28,000 pounds a year.  Consider for a moment that this difference serves as the bare minimum of savings.  If you decide to enable your tiny home to be zero energy efficient, it will be capable of deriving all its energy needs from renewable energy sources such as solar power. 

Because zero net-energy homes are designed to be extremely well-insulated, it costs less to heat and light them, and their energy-efficient appliances don’t use a lot of energy to begin with.  Zero-energy homes work by utilizing both solar-photovoltaic systems for generating electricity and passive solar-thermal systems for heating water.  They’re also extremely well-insulated, so during periods of mild weather, it’s possible for zero-energy homes to actually send their excess energy to the electrical grid.  However, because they’re connected to the grid, it’s possible for them to draw whatever energy they might need—but only when absolutely necessary, of course!

Amazingly, there’s a company in the Netherlands that developed a kit allowing homeowners to retrofit older dwellings into net-zero energy homes in a little over a week!  There are solar panels that can be affixed to the roof, and there’s a cube-shaped energy module that sits in the backyard and holds everything needed for sustainable heat, hot water, power, and ventilation.  Perhaps the most amazing aspect of this retrofitting kit is that it manages to allow for the changes at no additional cost to residents.  That is, for the same price as current utility costs, the cost of the zero-energy retrofitting is paid for within a year. 

The future of housing will likely look a lot like this prototype house of the future, which is a cross between a zero-energy house and a future Internet-of-things residence that further conserves energy by sensing how much to adjust the blinds, turn down the lighting, and heat the house.  This fundraising video shows a little bit more about how the Acre Home works.  In addition to the homes being, for lack of a better term, artificially intelligent, they will be located in Google’s new “Fiberhood,” which means it is automatically connected to Google’s fiber network and the Google cloud, as well.

It’s a futuristic vision—one that Jay Shafer, one of the pioneers of the tiny house movement, believes comes down to expanding the number of options available to people who want to live small.  Shafer wasn’t likely to have envisioned as possible on such a large scale until a number of years from now.  However, he did imagine a day-to-day existence that was largely free from typical energy-related expenses.  Greg Johnson, co-founder with Shafer of the Small House Society, added, “I thought I could buy a home on the small scale and then I thought I wouldn’t have any rent at all.”  With new advances in net-zero home technology, however, Shafer and Johnson’s original vision is now coming true. 

A large part of the change in what’s considered normal can be attributed to the digital revolution: many of the possessions that were once limited to physical form are now available in digital form, such as music, photos, and books.  Of course, we might want to hold on to certain possessions, such as collectible LPs and rare first-editions of Shakespeare and Dickinson.  However, when the majority of audio and video files, along with written documents, may be stored online, the game is changed from one of picking and choosing to a choice between different capacities of hard drives. 

Taking all the above possibilities and factors into consideration, it is clear that tiny homes present a clear benefit, in terms of a reduced carbon footprint and cost of living, to boot.  Moreover, with relatively little effort, tiny homes may be converted into net-zero energy homes; that is, it is even more efficient and cost-effective than the process for converting a typical-sized home into a net-zero energy home. 

Ironically—or, perhaps, to be expected—tiny houses are being embraced by hipsters and homeless people alike, drawing attention to the need for affordable housing as a result of a variety of factors, including rapidly rising rental costs in many large metropolitan areas such as San Francisco and New York City, in addition to a shrinking supply of affordable housing for populations like artists and the working poor.  The bottom line is that tiny houses have an even tinier carbon footprint than anything of typical size.  If you want your impact on the environment to be greatly reduced, invest in a tiny house.


Image Source: Flickr/Tammy Strobel

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Daphne Stanford grew up near the ocean, and she loves taking pictures of the mountains and rivers in Idaho, where she now lives. She believes in the power of writing, education, and community radio to change the world. She hosts “The Poetry Show!” Sundays on Radio Boise. Find her on Twitter​ @daphne_stanford. ​

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