Tiny House, Big Impact: Getting Green by Building Less

Video by Shivan Sarna and Ethan Oser

Think about all the things that you own. Clothes, electronics, kitchenware--everything. Now imagine you had to take all of that stuff and cram it into 200 square feet. Not only that, but you have to fit a bathroom, bedroom, and kitchen into that space. Welcome to the tiny house movement. These small houses can be found across the country, but one group is looking to take the movement out of obscurity and into the limelight--from backwoods and backyards to an urban setting.

Courtesy Google Images

Boneyard Studios is showcasing and promoting the tiny house lifestyle in Washington, DC. It is the first attempt to take the tiny house concept and build a multi-house community in a city. The tiny home builders at the Boneyard Lot in Northeast DC immediately made me feel welcome. The sun was shining, friends were there to help with the build, and there was a buzz in the air that something truly exciting was happening--that these people were revolutionary. I was ready to join them and start building my own tiny house then and there. The philosophy of the tiny house movement can be boiled down to three words--affordable, efficient, green. But is it worth leaving the lifestyle I have become so accustomed to? Could I really live in a tiny house?


In terms of cost, there is no doubt they are more affordable than traditional homes (or even apartments) in Washington, DC. According to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2011 Washington, DC estimates, the median cost of  rent is $1,216 per month. For over 60,000 renters that is 35 percent or more of their annual income going towards housing. Annual mortgage costs are even higher, with a annual median cost of $26,700.

Fencl Tiny House FloorplansCourtesy of Tumbleweed Tiny House Co. Fencl Tiny House Floorplans (Courtesy of Tumbleweed Tiny House Co.)

If I were to order a tiny house blueprint from Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, the total cost of materials would be $23,000. That one time cost is more expensive than renting or buying a traditional house or apartment upfront, but in the long run is cheaper. Not to mention, if I were to move the house could come with me if it were mounted on a trailer.


The efficiency of tiny houses is second to none. Matt Battin, a consulting architect at Boneyard Studios, compared designing a tiny house to a game of Tetris. It's all about finding the best way to fit in all the pieces of the home in the least amount of space as possible. These houses make the most of the space that they have. Tather than being built like a traditional home--with the intention of filling it with stuff once the shell is complete--tiny houses are built from the inside out. There is a consciousness of space and using that space effectively among tiny house builders that has become lost in the mainstream of our culture.


Finally, these tiny houses are inherently green.

Efficient Tiny House Kitchen (Courtesy Google Images)

The size of the house reduces heating and cooling costs, they can be completely powered by solar panels at a fraction of the cost to power a traditional home with solar energy, and there are even incinerating toilets that help reduce water consumption. Through the proper application of green technology it would be possible to live net-zero and completely off the grid in a tiny home. Even if the house were connected to the a city power grid and took water in like a traditional home, energy and water consumption and costs would be significantly reduced. Overall, living in a tiny house would be great. It's one of the rare instances in which cheap and green go hand in hand. Once I left the lot the rose-tinted glasses faded and I began to think practically. Despite the pros, there is one major con--it is a complete shift away from everything I have become accustomed to in terms of culture and comfort. I like having space to move around and to have stuff. The goal of Boneyard Studios is not to make money. It is merely to present a new model for living and to challenge the status quo. I may not be in the market for a tiny home, but they certainly have gotten me to rethink how I live.

- Ethan Oser

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