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Technology has often been the catalyst for positive change. Some technology has made small, but meaningful, changes for many, such as those supporting the elderly and vulnerable among us. Other technology, however, is aimed squarely at huge, often overwhelming problems — ensuring community sustainability, and preventing the damaging effects of climate change.
One emerging trend that is utilizing various forms of tech to provide solutions to those large societal issues is the tiny house movement. It advocates a simpler way of life, shirking the excesses of consumerism, while also accepting that technology has a place in keeping our lives sustainable. Tiny houses are generally between 60 and 400 square feet, and designed to ensure they, and the people living within them, put minimal pressure on the local environment.
It’s worth looking a little closer at where we are with this technology. What can make this approach more energy efficient? How can we expect it to make a difference in sustainability in the future?
Working Alongside Nature
The technologies used to build, support, and maintain tiny houses tend to be designed to work in conjunction with the environment. As we move toward the future, we are likely to see more examples of this, and tiny homes are the ideal testing ground. We can experiment on a small scale before applying the principles to larger structures and cities.
One of the most popular resources to utilize is solar power. Small structures — even treehouses — can be made more energy-efficient by connecting a car battery to a solar trickle charger. However, this isn’t always the most reliable approach, as your energy intake is limited if you live in an area that doesn’t get a lot of sunshine. As a result, there is an increasing demand for a combination of natural energy-producing technologies. Alongside solar panels, natural energy systems can include:
- Pico Hydro Systems. For those who situate their tiny house near a reliable running water source, with the source elevation above 1 meter, combining their solar power with water power can be a clean, efficient option. Pico turbines are designed to be used in minimal space and generally provide enough continuous power for a single small home. The technology is relatively inexpensive and is even currently being trialed in rural areas of Rwanda that don’t have access to the national grid.
- Wind Systems. For most tiny house owners, wind turbines are an accessible source of energy-efficient technology. However, fluctuations in weather has made manufacturers turn to a combination of solar panels and wind turbines. This combination is designed to function in even low wind conditions, and often provides modifiable solar arrays and hybrid controllers.
With plenty of alternative energy options, tiny houses are ideal for temperate weather. However, it can be a bit more complicated to create tiny houses with net-zero emissions, especially in harsh weather conditions.
Designed for Net Zero
Heating a tiny home can be tricky, and environmentally fraught. While you can use traditional heaters, this is certainly not energy efficient. However, there are greener alternatives to heat a tiny house like radiant floor heaters, which are hooked up to renewable energy generators. That said, in some ways, the tiny house itself can be a piece of energy-efficient and sustainable technology. When efficiency components are built into the design, there is an opportunity to create a home that takes a holistic approach to sustainability, rather than using technology as add-on components. As we move toward the future, tiny house manufacturers are putting more emphasis on net-zero emissions in newer models.
One such approach is using technology to alter the materials used in construction. In Norway, a cladding company called Kebony is producing modified wood for use in tiny houses. The process permanently alters the cell structure of the wood to increase dimensional stability and cell wall thickness. As a result, fewer materials are needed to provide not just structural integrity, but also robust insulation that prevents wasteful energy leakage.
Construction for Commerce and Community
When tiny houses utilize technology that is energy efficient and sustainable, they have the potential to make a significant impact on the planet. This isn’t just in terms of direct reduction of carbon emissions or expending resources, either. There are far-reaching social and economic positives to embracing this approach to housing.
In areas that have housing shortages, tiny houses represent a potential solution. In Nigeria, it is estimated that investment of up to $175b is needed to bridge the housing deficit. One of the attempts to address the issue is the Family Homes Fund, which has committed to supply 500,000 homes to low-income workers by 2023. Even with such schemes in place, citizens must take out mortgages to own their own homes. Tiny houses address this problem with their affordability. Not only are they more affordable to build; they also take up less land, resulting in lower mortgages. When coupled with energy-efficient technology, utility expenses also go down, meaning that low-income workers are better able to make payments, and maintain a better work-life balance.
As we push toward the future, tiny houses can also be a sustainable business opportunity. Energy-efficient smart technology like smart thermostats, self-shading windows, and adaptive lighting are all also becoming more cost-effective. This, alongside generally lower construction costs, means that eco tiny house construction can be more accessible to entrepreneurs across the planet with lower start-up capital. We are already seeing that a commitment to sustainability has become a priority for consumers and employees alike. Tiny home construction business leaders are also likely to immediately benefit from more than the competitive edge this gives over larger, more polluting firms. It can also result in an improved reputation, and the ability to forge more meaningful connections with their communities.
Technology can have a positive impact on society — from offering business opportunities to improving sustainability. Tiny homes represent a great potential to reduce human impact on resources, which can be more effective when a tech approach is taken. Gadgets can harness natural forms of power, and engineers can produce materials that support efficiency. Above all else, the more efficient and affordable we make tiny houses, the better chance we have of using them to address housing shortages across the planet.