Winter Interlude / A Regenerative Tiny House

I know some of you are itching to see some progress–it’s the same on this end. To be honest, the Tiny House project is somewhat hibernating right now with the rest of the critters.

It’s cold outside, and inside—well, it’s cold there, too. The floors are icy, and the lovely view of pond and pasture out Donovan’s large, south-facing window are obscured by the tightly drawn curtains, which do little to insulate from the penetrating chill. The Tiny House work site has been intermittently crisp with ice or saturated with rainwater. It’s a great motivator for living in a more efficient home, and the perfect time for Donovan to work on the interior design of Juniper in SketchUp. He’s also had to put in more hours to up his funds with electrical work, but still gets to indulge in a little cold-weather hibernation here and there. It feels natural to do less with our bodies this time of year, give them rest and nourishment, let the seeds in our hearts and minds quietly germinate.

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An ad from a Gutex brochure that speaks to our winter experience

We recently participated in an online summit, “Climate Change and Consciousness,” hosted by the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN). One interview we watched was with Christian Felber from the Economy for the Common Good. Christian stressed the importance of figuring out what your personal values are and living as closely aligned with those values as possible in order to do good work in the world (and experience True Happiness). I am so on-board with this way of thinking, and I see the Tiny House project, and the wider Tiny House Movement, as both a means and an end to living one’s earth-loving values.

With Donovan’s Tiny House, Juniper, he is using as many local and sustainably harvested, produced, packaged, and delivered materials as possible in order to create a structure that should last for many decades, require little energy input to operate, and produce its energy from sustainable sources.

In a nutshell, he is going for a “net-positive” house. Meaning, the house will harvest and create all the energy it needs to function, and it will offset the energy to keep it going by giving back to the grid more than it takes. (If we were to run the solar off a bank of batteries instead of being hooked to the grid, the Return on Investment (ROI) would not pan out. Also, we wouldn’t be able to pump sustainably-harvested energy back to the grid.) Pretty ambitious, huh? As far as we know, there are few Tiny Houses that have achieved the amount of on-site energy production and conservation that Donovan is aiming for.

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The basics of passive house construction

Some of the measures Donovan is implementing are good insulation (much higher than a code-built house); breaking the thermal bridging using materials like Gutex; creating an airtight envelope; using natural day-lighting as the primary light source; harvesting rainwater for household and garden use; recycling greywater; implementing solar orientation; and installing 12 solar panels, 2 thermal hot water panels, a whole-house energy recovery ventilator (ERV) (in order to manually circulate air in the Tiny and act as lungs to maintain high quality interior air), a highly efficient minisplit/heat pump for heating and cooling, thermally insulated (R-7 to R-9) double and triple pane windows, and low energy-use appliances (induction stove, small convection oven, apartment-sized fridge). And of course he’s creating a relatively small space which needs less heating and cooling and materials to construct than an average American dwelling.

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In addition to designing a building that functions efficiently, Donovan is thinking about the waste incurred in acquiring materials for the house. In spite of his best intentions, there has been a lot of plastic packaging involved; plastic coating even covers the new sheet metal for the siding and roof. (Another reason to go with reclaimed materials!) As previously mentioned, when Donovan asked about options to reduce packaging for the 15 windows delivered from Alpen in Colorado, they shipped them in a crate, rather than wrapping each individually a billion times in plastic. Incidentally, this method  saved hundreds of dollars. It pays to ask!

One company whose packaging impressed us was Rheem Marathon, providers of the 40-gallon water heater tank. They wrapped all the hardware for the setup in upcycled packaging, including cardboard boxes, pill bottles, and plastic clam shells. While we prefer seeing alternatives to plastic, like recycled paper or bamboo wrapping, we appreciated that they went through the trouble to upcycle materials that would likely otherwise be trashed.

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Water heater parts in a deli container

Below: These folks got it right! The Energy Recovery Ventilator from Renew Aire was packed in sustainable fiber cardboard packaging.

 

Below: a pallet of Gutex, covered in plastic wrap and plastic straps. This plastic is  recyclable, but how much much plastic really gets recycled? According to this National Geographic study, only about 9% of the plastic that is created (including plastic produced for a single use like this) gets recycled!

 

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Another evil: mountains plastic backing from the air-sealing tape used in abundance on the tiny house

Below: Donovan has become proficient at using the forklift to unload materials. Somewhat surprisingly, the solar panels came exceedingly plastic-packed.

 

That’s it for now, folks. Send good vibes for the funds and personal energy and weather to conspire to get this sustainable show back on the road!

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