Do people in tiny houses live more sustainably?

August 2, 2019 by  
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Minimalist living is as old as time, but the tiny house trend sweeping across North America and Europe has influenced many people to downsize, declutter and live simply. A new investigation into the habits of tiny house residents reveals that living in smaller houses encourages people to adopt more sustainable habits across the board. What are tiny houses? The unofficial definition of a tiny house is typically any single housing unit under 500 square feet. Many tiny houses are on wheels to get around state and federal government laws that limit the minimum habitable dwelling size. Because of this restriction, tiny house owners often own the transportable housing unit but not necessarily the land that it is on. Related: Is a tiny home right for you? The media and tiny house designers market the micro-dwellings as environmentally friendly alternatives to large family homes. Sellers encourage prospective buyers to downsize their possessions and kiss their mortgages goodbye in exchange for experiential riches like travel and financial freedom. Though they take up less space and store less junk, few studies exist that actually prove that living in tiny houses is more sustainable. Little house habits Maria Saxton, an environmental design and planning PhD candidate, studied the impact that downsizing into a tiny house had on inhabitants’ sustainable behaviors. She conducted surveys and in-depth interviews of 80 downsizers who had been living in their new tiny homes for at least a year. She calculated their individual ecological footprints before and after the move and examined which behaviors changed for the better and which changed for the worse. Her research discovered that on average, residents reduced their individual footprints by 45 percent after they settled into a tiny home, which is a huge reduction. She also found that the move and new lifestyle impacted other aspects and behaviors even without the inhabitants realizing it. Ecological footprint is usually calculated by determining the amount of land that it would take every year to support an individual’s consumption. The average American’s footprint is 8.4 hectares per person per year. That’s about the equivalent of eight football fields per person. Among those who downsized to tiny houses, the average footprint was approximately 3.87 hectares per person compared to a per-person average of 7 hectares before the move. How tiny houses encourage sustainable living Remarkably, housing-related behaviors and consumption patterns weren’t the only changes that the residents experienced. Of more than 100 individual behaviors examined, about 86 percent changed to become more environmentally friendly. For example, tiny house residents tended to shop and buy significantly less than the average American and less than they themselves did previously. Without room to store additional items, tiny house inhabitants simply could not support their old consumption habits. While 86 percent of behaviors changed for the better, about 13 percent changed for the worse. For example, tiny house residents tended to eat out more to avoid the frustration of cooking in a cramped kitchen. These residents recycled less because they had limited space for sorting and storing recyclable materials. They also tended to travel more, including both adventure trips and traveling further for basic items, likely because many tiny houses are located in more rural areas than where the owners previously lived. According to a separate investigation into the habits and motivations of tiny house dwellers, the majority of downsizers simply kept a storage unit. So, while they had fewer items within an arm’s reach, they hadn’t really committed to a minimalist lifestyle, and they could still support the overflow of their overconsumption. Smarter designs to support sustainability According to Saxton, the results of this study are critical for tiny house designers as well as to influence archaic laws that restrict tiny houses. If tiny house inhabitants truly do live more sustainably, towns and cities should be encouraging residents to make the move. Related: 7 tips for decorating a tiny home Architects and designers of the little abodes can also use the results of the research to integrate designs that address the prohibitive factors causing that 13 percent shift to less sustainable behaviors. For example — how can the kitchens be larger and more functional? How can trash and recycling storage be expanded to accommodate proper sorting of recyclable materials? Despite the tiny trend, housing is growing in size and destruction In 1973, the average house was 1,660 square feet, but by 2017, the average house sold was 2,631 square feet . This represents a 63 percent increase in the average size of a house in just 45 years. Although the tiny house trend skyrocketed among a niche corner of the population in over-industrialized countries, the majority of people still think bigger is better, which comes at a cost to the environment . The construction of oversized houses means loss of natural habitat and biodiversity , including the fragmentation of ecosystems to clear the way for new housing developments. In addition, the carbon footprint of the materials and construction industry is enormous. Commercial and residential buildings together contribute 39 percent of the U.S.’s total carbon emissions. This includes the transportation and sourcing of the building materials, the energy needed for construction and the environmental cost of maintenance. Maybe they are just another trend, but maybe tiny houses can be a small solution to global warming on an individual and community level. At the very least, the research concludes that cities and towns should re-examine existing laws that discourage tiny house dwellers from owning land or remove the wheels to at least allow residents to feel a sense of permanence. One town, Spur, Texas, adjusted its laws and sells itself as the first tiny home town in America. As the trend continues, other towns and cities would be wise to follow suit. Via The Conversation Images via Paul VanDerWerf , Christoph Scholz and Nicolás Boullosa ( 1 , 2 )

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Do people in tiny houses live more sustainably?

Energy-efficient greenhouses surround the new French Open tennis court

August 2, 2019 by  
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Plants from around the world are flourishing in four curved greenhouses in an unexpected place — directly behind the spectator stands of the new Simonne Mathieu tennis court at Roland-Garros, home of the French Open. Designed by the Paris-based studio Marc Mimram Architecture & Associés , the 5,000-seat sunken tennis court not only offers a strikingly modern space for the annual tournament but also offers a visual extension of the Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil botanical garden, where the stadium is located. The steel-and-glass greenhouses were built to reference the historical hothouses of the 19th century but feature a modern, energy-efficient design built to the highest technical specifications. Named after the famous tennis player who played at the Roland-Garros in the 1930s, the Simonne Mathieu tennis court is a new venue for hosting the international tennis championships hosted every year in Paris. Taking inspiration from Auteuil’s greenhouses designed by Jean Camille Formige in 1898, Marc Mimram Architecture & Associés introduced new public space around the partially sunken tennis court in the form of four modern, steel-and-glass greenhouses that are visible from the spectator stands. Related: Solar-powered aquaponic greenhouses grow up to 880 lbs of produce each year “These new greenhouses form a glass backdrop, a case within which plants from four continents can flourish,” the architects explained. “They refer to the design of the nearby hothouses and are inspired by, without imitating, architecture in metal that, since the construction of the Crystal Palace in London in 1851, still stands, with its delicate relationship between light and structure, as the perfect model of airiness and economy.” Sheathed in double-pane glass for superior insulation, these curved greenhouses feature flora from the Americas, Asia, Africa and Oceania. A meandering paved pathway traverses each greenhouse. Because the greenhouses are a new addition of public space, they will be accessible to visitors throughout the year, even outside of the two-week French Open tournament. + Marc Mimram Architecture & Associés Via ArchDaily Photography by Erieta Attali via Marc Mimram Architecture & Associés

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Energy-efficient greenhouses surround the new French Open tennis court

Iceland will unveil monument for the first glacier lost to climate change

July 24, 2019 by  
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Scientists and local Icelanders will unveil a monument next month that memorializes the first glacier out of the country’s 400 glaciers to be lost to climate change. The Okjokull glacier, nicknamed “Ok”, no longer qualifies as a glacier, given that it is melting at a faster rate than it can expand. When this happens, glaciers become known as “dead ice”. Scientists in Iceland and Texas’ Rice University believe that this will be the fate of all Icelandic glaciers by year 2200— unless the world takes drastic action to curb climate change . “By marking Ok’s passing, we hope to draw attention to what is being lost as Earth’s glaciers expire. These bodies of ice are the largest freshwater reserves on the planet and frozen within them are histories of the atmosphere. They are also often important cultural forms that are full of significance,” said Cymene Howe, a professor at Rice University. Related:Earliest human air pollution detected in glaciers The unveiling celebration will be held on August 18 and attended by scientists, locals, media and Hiking Society members. Just 100 years ago, the glacier covered nearly six square miles and was over 150 feet thick. The plaque, located at a site where the glacier once covered, will read: “Ok is the first Icelandic glacier to lose its status as a glacier. In the next 200 years all our glaciers are expected to follow the same path. This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and what needs to be done. Only you know if we did it.” The plaque is in both Icelandic and English. The plaque also monumentalizes the current count of carbon parts per million in the atmosphere, which reaches a record breaking 415 parts per million in May. “An Icelandic colleague said: ‘Memorials are not for the dead; they are for the living,’” Howe said. “We want to underscore that it is up to us, the living, to respond to the rapid loss of glaciers and the ongoing impacts of climate change. For Ok glacier it is already too late.” The Guardian Image via RICE University

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Iceland will unveil monument for the first glacier lost to climate change

This gorgeous tiny home features a greenhouse and wooden pergola

July 24, 2019 by  
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From climbing walls to a baker’s kitchen , tiny homes nowadays can be outfitted with any number of bespoke features. Now, those with a green thumb can enjoy a cabin-style tiny home with a detachable greenhouse. Designed by Olive Nest Tiny Homes , the Elsa is a gorgeous, pitched-roof home with an interior that opens up to a spacious greenhouse via a breezy pergola with a porch swing. The Elsa is a tiny home on wheels with an enviable design on its own. The exterior is clad in warm cedar shiplap siding and topped with an attractive dark gray standing seam metal pitched roof. Fourteen large windows and a glass front door provide plenty of natural light for the interior living space. Related: Dunkin’ Donuts unveils a tiny home powered by recycled coffee grounds The entrance to the home is via a wooden pergola, complete with a charming porch swing. Walking into the interior, guests will find the living space to be incredibly bright with modern decor. White shiplap walls , light-hued wooden trim and recessed lighting open up the space. Measuring just 323 square feet, the home includes a quaint living room that opens up to the full-sized kitchen with a dining counter. A narrow staircase, which pulls double duty as storage, leads up to the sleeping loft . Opposed to the oppressive loft spaces often seen in tiny homes, the bedroom is made larger thanks to the vaulted ceiling. In fact, there’s not only enough space for a queen-sized bed, but there is more than enough room for residents to stand up. The loft features original artwork by MSusan. Of course, at heart of this tiny home is the fabulous greenhouse that mounts onto the tiny home, both of which are built on trailers. Connected to the residence by the pergola, the greenhouse is surprisingly spacious with enough room to grow all kinds of fruits, herbs and veggies. + Olive Nest Tiny Homes Via Good Home Design Photography by Calvin Hanson via Olive Nest Tiny Homes

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This gorgeous tiny home features a greenhouse and wooden pergola

Stunning solar-powered home in Singapore melds with adjacent botanic gardens

July 18, 2019 by  
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When charged with creating a new family home just steps away from Singapore’s Botanic Gardens, the Singapore and U.K.-based firm Guz Architects was compelled to use the amazingly lush surroundings as inspiration for the design. Located on top of a hill overlooking the incredible gardens, the solar-powered Botanica House boasts an open layout heavily influenced by a soothing combination of Feng Shui and sustainability. Spanning more than 14,000 square feet, the Botanica House manages to blend into its idyllic setting through the use of local building techniques that include natural materials , as well as the use of clean energy via solar panels installed on the roof. Perched on top of a hill overlooking the botanical gardens, the home is comprised of three levels with large cantilevers that give the structure the appearance of “floating” over the hilltop. Related: Solar-powered prefab home in Texas features a whimsical pop art water catchment system The home’s entryway is marked by a landscaped pond and waterfall that lead up to the front door. Following a sunken courtyard , the interior space features several connections to the outdoor areas. Although the natural setting and nearby gardens drove the design, the beautiful home was also based on various principles of Feng Shui , such as the round lift and angling of the front door. Water also plays a strong role with a soothing river-like pool that wraps around the exterior and winds its way through the interior. The home has a strong connection to the natural setting thanks to floor-to-ceiling windows and sliding doors that lead out to the outdoor spaces. Throughout the home, natural light is also diffused through various skylights. + Guz Architects Via ArchDaily Photography by Patrick Bingham-Hall via Guz Architects

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Stunning solar-powered home in Singapore melds with adjacent botanic gardens

Glenwood Springs, Colorado set to run on 100 percent renewable energy

May 30, 2019 by  
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Like many cities around the world, Glenwood Springs, Colorado has set a goal to run on renewable energy . But instead of picking a date a year or two ahead, they’re going renewable now. As of June 1, Glenwood Springs is the seventh U.S. city to run on 100 percent renewable electricity. “Many cities and towns across the country have set aggressive targets, and we are doing our part now — our future is now,” Glenwood Springs Mayor Jonathan Godes told the Post Independent . Related: India will surpass Paris Agreement pledges with renewable energy investment In April, the Glenwood Springs City Council resolved to move entirely to wind power supplied by Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska (MEAN). They’ve since modified this commitment to include seven percent hydroelectric renewable power. Signing a contract is not usually a public event, however, the city decided to celebrate the move to renewable energy by signing the contract at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, a theme park perched atop Iron Mountain with an elevation of more than 7,000 feet. Since Glenwood Caverns is a city electric customer, it will be the one of the country’s first amusement parks to be powered by 100 percent renewable energy. “Protecting the environment and natural resources has been our primary goal since we gave our first cave tour in May 1999,” Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park owner Steve Beckley told the Post Independent. “Sustainable tourism is an important issue these days and this move is a huge step in the right direction for Glenwood Springs as a whole.” To celebrate the signing, the park gave free gondola rides to visitors and the first 50 attendees received free LED light bulbs. The city will save money with the new contract, dropping the per-megawatt hour cost from $51 to $46 and saving Glenwood Springs a half million dollars per year. However, the city will be constructing a new electrical substation that will cost approximately $2.5 million. The other six cities that are already running on 100 percent renewable energy are Aspen, Colorado, Burlington, Vermont, Georgetown, Texas, Greensburg, Kansas, Rock Port, Missouri and Kodiak Island, Alaska. Via The Hill Image via inkknife_2000

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Glenwood Springs, Colorado set to run on 100 percent renewable energy

Solar-powered prefab home in Texas features a whimsical pop art water catchment system

May 27, 2019 by  
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It’s always interesting to see the homes of architectural professionals, but one Texas home builder is blowing our minds with his custom-made design. When builder Jeff Derebery and his wife Janice Fischer were ready to build their own house just outside of Austin, they reached out to OM Studio Design and Lindal Cedar Homes to bring their dream to fruition. The result is a gorgeous prefab home  that features a substantial number of sustainable features such as solar power and LED lights, as well as whimsical touches that reflect the homeowners’ personalities such as a water catchment system concealed under the guise of pop art. The design for the 3,000-square-foot, single-story home is filled with features that show off the homeowner’s fun personality as well as building knowledge. Clad in an unusual blend of Shou Sugi Ban charred siding and cedar planks with an entryway made out of turquoise copper panels, the home boasts a unique charm. Related: A prefabricated timber facade envelops a gorgeous glass home on a Norwegian island Stepping into the interior of the four bedroom and two-and-a-half bath home, an open layout that houses the living room, dining area and kitchen welcomes visitors. The space is incredibly bright and airy thanks to a series of clerestory windows and floor-to-ceiling glazed walls that both stream in natural light and provide unobstructed views of the river and rolling landscape. There is also a spacious 350-square-foot screened porch that is the perfect spot for dining with a view. But without a doubt, the heart of the home is an exterior open-air courtyard that separates the private spaces from the social areas. An idyllic space for reading in solitude or entertaining, the courtyard is decorated with furniture made out of recycled plastic . The beautiful design conceals a vast array of sustainable features. The roof of the structure is covered in commercial-grade foam panels in a solar-reflecting white that provides a tight thermal envelope for the home. Additionally, the house generates its own energy thanks to the rooftop solar array of 36 panels that was installed on the adjacent carport. According to the architects, the family has a negative electric bill in both winter and summer and are often able to sell energy back to the local grid. Texas builders have a lot of experience in dealing with the state’s drought issues, so Jeff and Janice were careful to integrate a water-conserving strategy into the home as well. An on-site well with a 2,500-gallon holding tank meets their personal water needs, and two additional tanks, one by the carport and another by the horse barn, collect and store rainwater that is used for various tasks such as taking care of the horses and dogs, cleaning and irrigating. Then, there is the fun artwork hidden throughout the home and the landscape. As lovers of art, Jeff and Janice wanted to incorporate a few unique but functional pieces on their property. First there is Cubie, a 12-foot storage cube made of polycarbonate panels that conceals a well holding tank as well as the water softener and a UV filtration system. There is a fun pop art propane tank shaped like a yellow submarine with the faces of the members of The Beatles painted in the windows. Finally, a pop art collection wouldn’t be complete without a little Andy Warhol, so a deer feeder tower was painted as an oversized can of Campbell’s soup. + OM Studio Design + Lindal Cedar Homes Images via Lindal Cedar Homes

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Solar-powered prefab home in Texas features a whimsical pop art water catchment system

Penalties for protesting pipelines increase in 15 states

May 16, 2019 by  
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At least 15 states have passed or proposed bills that further criminalize trespassing on fossil fuel infrastructure, a trend that environmental and free speech advocates argue unnecessarily targets pipeline protesters and indigenous leaders. In 2018, Louisiana passed a bill that makes trespassing on so-called “critical infrastructure” a more serious offense than existing trespassing laws. While trespassing has long been considered a misdemeanor, the law now specifies that the same act on particular private property is now a felony. Throughout the country, trespassing laws have been edited to define ‘critical infrastructure’ as fossil fuel facilities, including proposed pipeline routes where there is no existing infrastructure yet. Related: For the first time in 86 years, environmental activists in the UK sentenced to jail “These are people saying, ‘let’s make sure we have something left for future generations’ … and for that we were charged with felonies, we were beaten, we were stepped on, I was choked,” Cherri Foytlin, a pipeline protester in Louisiana,  told the press . Similar laws have passed in Oklahoma, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Indiana and Iowa. The backlash is largely due to the massive 2017 protest of a pipeline at Standing Rock , led by the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe. Bi-partisan supporters of the states’ new legislation argue that the intent is to dissuade acts of terrorism; however, many opponents feel the existing trespassing laws were sufficient. For many environmental activists, these new laws are further proof of the government’s allegiance to the fossil fuel industry, and they believe threats of felonies, jail time and high fines will discourage other activists from voicing their opinions against pipeline development. Across 15 states, possible consequences include 10 years in prison and up to $100,000 in fines. Those who do not trespass themselves but merely support activists verbally or financially are also liable before the law. This month, the Natural Resources Defense Council published an alarming blog post inquiring if merely “liking” a Facebook post about a pipeline protest could be considered illegal under South Dakota’s newest legislation. In Indiana’s Bill 471 , so-called “conspirators” can also be fined up to $100,000. Via Grist Image via Luke Jones

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Penalties for protesting pipelines increase in 15 states

Major utility company Xcel Energy commits to go carbon-free by 2050

December 13, 2018 by  
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A major utility company is making history. Xcel Energy, Colorado’s largest utility company, has pledged to go completely carbon-free by 2050. The company serves eight states, and its ambitious new carbon reduction goal far exceeds its current target of a 60 percent reduction in Colorado by 2026. “Our biggest energy source in a few short years is going to be renewable energy . We’re going to absolutely integrate as much of that as we can into the grid,” said Xcel CEO Ben Fowke. The company said that it will be 80 percent carbon-free by 2030 before reaching the goal of 100 percent carbon reduction in 2050. These changes should mean more solar and wind energy  along with a reduction of coal. Fowke said that there will also be other technologies needed to meet the 100 percent carbon goal, including battery storage technology and maybe even carbon sequestration. Related: Blue dye could be the next key to harnessing renewable energy Xcel serves 3.6 million people in Colorado, Minnesota, Michigan, New Mexico, Texas, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota. For years, those customers have been demanding that the company make some changes. The utility company said that it really does listen to its customers, and with citizens of cities all over Colorado deciding that they want 100 percent renewable energy, Xcel decided it would be in its best interest to give the customers what they have asked for. Xcel’s commitment is the latest in announcements by large utility companies regarding huge new carbon reduction goals. Indiana’s NIPSCO sped up the retirement of multiple coal plants in favor of renewable energy, and Midwestern Utility MidAmerican announced that it would reach its 100 percent renewable energy goal by 2020. With companies turning away from fossil fuels in favor of renewables like wind and solar, the U.S. Energy Information Administration expects America’s coal consumption to soon be at its lowest level in four decades. Via CPR Image via Laura Lee Dooley

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Major utility company Xcel Energy commits to go carbon-free by 2050

Gorgeous, low-maintenance home comprised of dual farmhouse-style buildings

November 22, 2018 by  
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When architect Tim Sharpe and his wife Rani Blancpai decided to build their own home, they knew they wanted a design that would be low-maintenance in terms of energy and upkeep for years to come. To create their ultra-durable and low-energy home, they combined two extended barn-like volumes, clad in both galvanized steel and Australian spotted gum wood, to create a modern farmhouse installed with various passive features . Located in Byron Bay, Australia, on a large lot surrounded by hoop pines, the two farmhouse-style buildings make up the main four-bedroom home and a “granny flat”. Both structures have large gabled roofs, covered in a bright galvanized steel, which will patine over time. The rest of the structures are clad in a Australian spotted gum wood that contrasts nicely with the steel roofs. Not only were these two materials chosen to give the home a modern farmhouse aesthetic, but they are also known for their low-maintenance qualities. Related: A net-zero modern farmhouse kicks off a sustainable community in Texas The main home is a massive 3,600-square-foot space with four bedrooms. With its large steep-pitched gable ceiling, the interior is spacious and inviting throughout. To make the most out of natural light and solar gains , the main living space and bedrooms in the home were oriented to the north and east, “This results in minimal need for summer cooling and winter heating, and assures a pleasant, light-filled, comfortable space,” says Sharpe. Indeed, the interior living space is bright and modern, flooded with natural light thanks to an abundance of large windows and a few strategically-placed skylights. A simple, neutral color scheme and natural materials give the space a contemporary, yet homey and aesthetic. Sharp designed a lot of the furniture himself, including the dining table and chairs. To create a comfortable and cost-effective temperature control year round on the interior, hydronic heating and cooling systems, sustained by a 23 KW solar PV system , were installed underneath the polished concrete floors. There are also multiple fans to enhance natural ventilation throughout the home. + Sharpe Design Construct Via Dwell Photography via Andy Macpherson via Sharp Design Construct  

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