by Lenore Pafford, Gaia Intern
photo from tinyhousetalk.com
Sometimes “green” living costs the other kind of green. There are not a lot of available homes made with efficiency in mind, and those that are equipped with environmentally friendly technology like solar panels and low flow plumbing, cost extra to build because they are not the standard. To anyone interested in sustainable living, it can be daunting to the search for an affordable home that fits both their financial and ethical needs.
As a penny-pinching college student looking for my own one bedroom crib, I have found plenty of ads for 600 square foot 1-bedroom homes for rent, usually for thousands of dollars a month. Those with solar panels cost more to rent, with the justification that utility cost would be less for the renter. And with all these choices, I can’t help but think to myself, “If I split that area in half, only had 300 square feet for myself, would that bring the prices down? I don’t really need a breakfast nook and a living room.”
Mathematically it makes sense that upkeep cost should decrease with size, as there would be less utilities being used per square inch. Less space to heat, less lights to leave on after a long night of schoolwork. When thinking about expenses, it is easy to point a finger at our society’s access to excess. It could be our ability to overindulge in a hot shower, or the abundance of electricity used to binge-watch every series available on Netflix that keeps us from living sustainably.
I think the problem is even more basic; this excess really stems from the excessive use of space. And this leads me to believe in the future of tiny homes.
Picture everything you need in a house; a refrigerator and stove/oven for cooking, a table to dine at, a bathroom with a shower. And of course there needs to be a bedroom. What if you could have all of that in less than 200 square feet?
photo from tinyhousetalk.com
According to a listing site specifically aimed at selling tiny houses, there is a 120 sq ft home in Monterey that costs $30,000 to buy and includes everything listed above. This is sort of deceiving in its price, because the tiny house is on trailer wheels and comes with no land. Most tiny homes have to be made on wheels because they do not meet the building minimum square footage for room sizes. Yes, that is a legal item in building codes to keep housing at certain standards.
Some of the technology that goes into a trailer home also can contribute to greener living. Compostable toilets allow for less plumbing needs and increased mobility. Solar panels keep the tiny home energy independent.
The best showcase of the “tiny house movement” and the variety of reasons people gravitate towards smaller living may be the documentary We the Tiny House People by Kirsten Dirksen. The documentary starts in California, a perfect place to build and maintain tiny homes. California is a paradise for many reasons, one main one being the consistent climate. This allows building costs to be kept low, and outdoor space as an expansion option. People can use a variety of materials, such as redwood, or even scraps found in junkyards without worrying too much about insulation.
Some of these residents simply could not afford the thousands of square footage of a standard home. Others sincerely wanted to create a smaller energy footprint. The common underlying theme is that with such a small space, there is less waste. No wasted space, no wasted energy, no wasted money.
We are fortunate enough to live in a place where the weather is always warm and inviting. Don’t we want to spend our free time being entertained outside? Forgo the giant sofas or big screen TVs; if it rains, we can stay in bed and watch our Netflix shows on our laptops.