A big motivating factor when people choose to downsize and start living in tiny houses is the environmental consideration.
Small spaces have been advertised as good for the environment. Most of it is self explanatory; the smaller the space, the less energy you consume.
Indeed, many builders and sellers of such dwellings emphasize on the environmental impact of downsizing.
The prospect is attractive and easily digestible by millennials who are more conscious of climate change, but a lot of people still need extra convincing to get on board the ‘eco-friendliness’ of tiny homes.
So, Why are Tiny Houses Eco-friendly?
It is good to first understand that before this ‘tiny house movement’, the concept was not seen by many as a possible permanent dwelling. They were treated as camping vans, or just RVs to be rented out and used once in a while. Or just an addition you can have in your backyard to free up space in the main house.
It is just in the past few years that the movement has grown so much, that tiny living is now considered by thousands as a way of life. Not something you run to when you want to catch a break, but your entire life.
The intial concept of tiny houses was obviously not eco-friendly because it meant more. More space, more construction, more energy. It was simply an addition not an alternative.
But when people in the tens of thousands started moving away from large houses altogether and opting for small spaces, this became a viable green movement.
For context, building materials and construction contributes 11% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Building operations contribute a further 28%.
In total, the construction and operation of buildings, contribute nearly 40% of greenhouse gas emissions. This is larger than both industrial and transportation. Yes, heating your house in winter and keeping that light bulb on does a lot of harm.
Is Construction of Tiny Houses Better for the Environment?
Let’s talk about construction first.
A typical tiny house is usually between 60 and 400 square feet. This means significantly less construction material compared to a normal house. From wall timber to the floor choice, you will be using less of everything.
Also at this small scale, it becomes practical to use sustainable building material. For example, using sheep’s wool for insulation is possible for a small space, but may not work or will be too expensive for a mammoth house.
Hempcrete – a bio-composite made of the inner woody core of the hemp plant mixed with a lime-based binder, is also more practical on a small scale. It’s not only a strong bulding material, but perfect for insulation.
Other materials like bamboo and recycled plastic also start to sound attractive at this scale. In short, your choices are much more compared to traditional house construction.
Even the design of the house can have a huge impact. For instance, having large floor to ceiling windows in your tiny house will save you a lot on lighting. Yes this is possible in a grand house, but the cost of implementing it can be prohibitively high for many. No so much in a tiny houses.
Is Living in a Tiny House Better for the Environment?
As we had mentioned, the operation of buildings contributes nearly a third of all greenhouse gas emissions.
Estimates are varied, but it is generally agreed that downsizing can easily cut your energy consumption by more than half. This is helpful when you are connected to the grid, but is even more helpful if you are operating off-grid.
Indeed, many tiny house owners have gone out of their way to rely completely on solar energy. Compared to the general housing market, the number of tiny houses relying on solar energy is disproportionately higher.
This is expected considering many of the takers in this space are first and foremost environmentalists at heart.
Energy consumption aside, the mere amount of resources required to sustain a normal household in a large house vs a tiny house are miles apart.
Maria Saxton, a PhD candidate in environmental planning and design at Virginia Tech, spent a year studying the environmental impact of people who moved into tiny homes.
This was part of her findings as reported by theconversation.com.
To do this, I calculated their spatial footprints in terms of global hectares, considering housing, transportation, food, goods, and services. For reference, one global hectare is equivalent to about 2.5 acres, or about the size of a single soccer field.
I found that among 80 tiny home downsizers located across the United States, the average ecological footprint was 3.87 global hectares, or about 9.5 acres. This means that it would require 9.5 acres to support that person’s lifestyle for one year. Before moving into tiny homes, these respondents’ average footprint was 7.01 global hectares (17.3 acres). For comparison, the average American’s footprint is 8.4 global hectares, or 20.8 acres.
In short, those living in tiny houses consume half the resources of those living in a normal house. And here we are talking of everything from water to cleaning detergent to energy.
So in conclusion, tiny houses are to a very large part environmentally friendly.