Tiny Home Design & Sustainability

The average size of a home in the United States in 2014 was almost 2,600 square feet, up 1,000 square feet than homes built in the early 1970s. At the same time, the average size of the household has dropped about half a person in the same time span. That means that the average living space per person has almost doubled in size.

From an ecological standpoint, heating and cooling homes accounts for almost 40% of all carbon dioxide emissions in the United States, with the average home emitting an incredible 6,400 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere just to keep the home warm. Though technological advancements have increased the energy efficiency of newer homes, the larger size of homes essentially wipes out those gains in efficiency, as large suburban homes take enormous amounts of energy to power.

From an economic standpoint, the average mortgage debt for the American family is just above $200,000 dollars, and is rising each year.

The Move towards Tiny Homes

The combination of a rising ecological awareness among the population and increasing economic uncertainty has led to the surge in popularity of tiny homes. While there is no set definition for what exactly constitutes a tiny home, many people consider a home that is under 500 square feet to be a good example of a tiny home. “Small” homes, in comparison, are those under 800 square feet.

Tiny homes (and small homes) incorporate the best energy efficiency practices of modern, upscale construction while strictly limiting the overall square footage of the home. Because of their smaller size, over 2/3 of all tiny home owners are able to purchase their home outright without any sort of financing. Furthermore, because tiny homes require much less energy to heat, cool, and power, several tiny homes are either completely off-grid or produce much of their own energy from household renewable energy systems. For tiny homes that are connected to the grid, many of these homes are either carbon zero or carbon positive, meaning that they produce as much or more energy than what they use on a monthly or yearly basis.

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Furthermore, since much of the ecological cost of building a home is tied up in the embodied energy of the materials used to build the home, tiny homes also can radically cut back on the amount of raw materials that go into home construction. For example, a “regular-sized” home takes at least seven full logging trucks to provide lumber for a stick-frame home while the typical tiny home only uses ½ of one logging truck. Moreover, tiny homes tend to prioritize a wide range of building materials that are lightweight and eco-friendly in order to reduce the carbon footprint of the home while maximizing energy efficiency.

Material Considerations

Design is the most important of considerations when building a tiny home. While the 3,000 square foot mansion can incorporate a 500 square foot walk-in closet and an extra bathroom that no one ever uses, tiny homes focus on multi-use areas, multi-functional furniture options, and versatile spaces that capitalize on the limited amount of space. Instead of building an extra closet, tiny home design would focus on adding closet space on the stairs leading up to the lofted bedroom. As a replacement for the home office, a folding office desk can be lowered from a fixture on the wall to use in the living room when no one else is home or when guests aren’t expected.

Tiny home exterior featuring Knotwood powder coated aluminum siding.

Tiny home exterior featuring Knotwood powder coated aluminum siding.

When it comes to choosing the materials to incorporate in your design, tiny homes focus on materials with a low embodied energy rating that maximize energy efficiency. Aluminum cladding with a vast array of color options is both lightweight and durable while also helping to maximize the energy efficiency of your home.

Tiny homes don’t have to be drab or cookie-cutter to live in. Laser-cut architectural metal panels are a great way to define different areas within the livable space of the home while also adding an artistic, modern feel. Parasoleil architectural panels are a great way to introduce art and texture within the home as well as bridging the gap between indoor and outdoor.

Parasoleil partnered with Kim Lewis to provide panels for her “Mid-Century Marfa” Tiny Home, designed for FYI’s “Tiny Homes Nation”. Parasoleil copper panels were used in this 380 square-foot  home to screen in the porch, the bathroom, and as part of the front door.

Parasoleil partnered with Kim Lewis to provide panels for her “Mid-Century Marfa” Tiny Home, designed for FYI’s “Tiny Homes Nation”. Parasoleil copper panels were used in this 380 square-foot  home to screen in the porch, the bathroom, and as part of the front door.

Because of limited interior space, most tiny homes also incorporate outside living areas as well. Using lightweight decking material to add a walkout porch can extend your kitchen or living room outside and offer a great dining or living room area to enjoy during the warmer parts of the year. For the look, feel and smell of real wood, Geolam offers sustainable WPC material perfect for lightweight decking.

Old Town Fiberglass planters are lightweight, colorful, and eco-friendly.

Old Town Fiberglass planters are lightweight, colorful, and eco-friendly.

One hundred percent recyclable, Old Town fiberglass planters are an eco-friendly way to bring nature closer to your home, as these lightweight materials are a great way to incorporate plants and punch of color both inside and around your home.  

As housing prices continue to rise while the threat of global warming becomes ever more solemn, finding ways to downsize into a tiny home is a great way to save you money, live closer to the natural world, and reduce the carbon footprint associated with your home.