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The Big Question

My original question was "How can I build a tiny home?" which may continue to be my (rather big-picture) question.

I guess my role in this project, however, will have to do with managing all of the different people and ideas, and finding ways to make connections between them.

I've also been done a great deal of general background research, trying to come up with a set of criteria for the design of a tiny home.


So far, I've engaged in experiments to explore: water conservation, energy conservation and furniture layout.

Water Conservation

For our classroom project in Ecological Perspectives in Design, we decided that a good way to start developing a body of research would be for each of us to do a lifestyle experiment, so that we can see in-depth what kind of design elements contribute to certain lifestyle choices. I decided to find ways to save water in the bathroom- while bathing and brushing teeth. I've also taken a look into composting toilets, and am reading the Humanure book to learn more about.. well, humanure. It's a bit nasty, and people are rarely thrilled to hear about my research, but it's also a vital part of our input/output cycle as animals within an ecosystem. It's also a big chunk of our waste, and discarding it in the way that we do is impeding out ability to compost other waste products effectively. But more on that later.

We all know that showering (for reasonable amounts of time) uses less water than bathing. But is showering the ideal method of bathing? When I visited Japan last summer, one of the major differences I noted (taking into account of course that I spent most of my stay in hotels) was the alternative design surrounding water use and bathing. Each room we stayed in had a wet bathroom, one which was designed to cope with being fully soaked. A half-sized tub filled one half of the bathroom, while the other was occupied by the small toilet, which had a complicated control panel mounted on its side. The sink was mounted on the wall above and between the toilet and the tub. The shower head and sink faucet were on the same control, a small temperature knob which you could set before you turned on the water. Each tub came with a small stool and bucket.

There is a similar system in place to prepare for entering a bathhouse. Here's an excerpt from an article written by Allison Browning about her first experience at a Korean bathhouse:

"I recall wandering into the bath area and planting my lily-white bottom on a small plastic stool in front of the row of hand-held shower heads. I sat and used the cheap shampoo and conditioner while taking this new place in. I scrubbed myself all over and I still have the tiny washable scrubbing mitt from way back then.

I looked around the large room at all the different nude bodies feeling relaxed and liberated. I was proud that I had found my calling and I made a pact with myself- to bathe and frolic nude at any chance given! My prudish western approach to nudity was deflowered in a cloud of steam and warm water."

You can read the rest of the article here:

I firmly believe that one of the major barriers to Western culture accepting new lifestyles is our fear of looking stupid. It is also this fear which keeps us from seeing that we are often surrounded by others who are also afraid of looking stupid. It keeps us from trying new things, making changes that would better as people, and adopting lifestyles that others are quick to condemn because they've already got one system figured out.

This excerpt from an article by Katherine Ashenburg further explores the cultural limitations we have come to accept. Questioning these norms is a vital part of the tiny home project.

"...hygiene has always been a convenient stick with which to beat other peoples, who never seem to get it right. The outsiders usually err on the side of dirtiness. The ancient Egyptians thought that sitting a dusty body in still water, as the Greeks did, was a foul idea. Late 19th-century Americans were scandalised by the dirtiness of Europeans; the Nazis promoted the idea of Jewish uncleanliness. At least since the Middle Ages, European travellers have enjoyed nominating the continent's grubbiest country - the laurels usually went to France or Spain. Sometimes the other is, suspiciously, too clean, which is how the Muslims, who scoured their bodies and washed their genitals, struck Europeans for centuries. The Muslims returned the compliment, regarding Europeans as downright filthy. "

Bearing that in mind, I'm going to tell you all about the pleasures of bathing experiments. I'm fortunate to have a partner who is usually as in for my crazy experiments as I am, so it was him who helped me bring a stool and bucket into the bathroom, and unscrew the tube that led to our shower head. We now have a hose which we can fill the bucket with. For the last few days we've been using this system to bathe. It's actually quite pleasant, as long as the room is fairly warm, and you know exactly how much water you've used. We tended to use between 4 and 8 litres per wash. The major factor was rarely whether we needed to wash our hair or shave, it was more commonly the temperature of the room that determined how much water was used.

From this, conclusions can be drawn about designing a bathroom which uses less resources, and better cycles them back into the system. Considerations might include creating smaller basins to hold the water, which make evident to the user exactly how much water is being used. In a concrete sense- this may mean a half-sized bathtub with a seat in it, and a much smaller sink to brush your teeth in. (Question: why do we brush our teeth in the bathroom sink? Why not a different sink?) Temperature is also a pretty vital aspect of the design. When we're working out air and heat-flow in the house, we'll work to make the bathroom the warmest in the house. It will also be helpful to have lots of control over the temperature of the water.

Energy Conservation

I'm starting another experiment today, to do with the amount and type of energy used in a home. I plan to start by listing all of the energy consuming appliances in the household (excluding human powered) in order to determine a baseline. Then we will see which ones we can eliminate the use of by completing tasks in other ways, or by not doing certain things. Devices with an indicative letter P are always or often plugged in, devices with a letter O are always or usually on.

Here is my list:

  • Laptops (2) PO
  • Desktop (1) PO
  • TV P
  • VCR PO
  • DVD player PO
  • Playstation P
  • Cell phone chargers (2) P
  • Lamps (3)
  • Overhead lights (6)
  • Digital clock PO
  • Battery charger (AA batteries)
  • Soldering iron, hot glue guns and electric drill (these items are occasional use)
  • Microwave PO
  • Oven P
  • Toaster P
  • Refrigerator PO
  • Dehydrator
  • Blender
  • Kettle P

Many of these devices are also constantly consuming what is known as "vampire power," which is the energy which is consumed by appliances when they are not in use, but plugged in. From wikipedia:

Devices and functions that can consume standby power

  • Power supplies, transformers and inefficient electronic devices.
  • VCRs, DVD players and some audio systems.
  • TVs and Set-top boxes
  • Microwave ovens
  • Computers, digital monitors and printers
  • Air conditioning systems with remote control.
  • Devices with "Instant on" functions, with remote control receivers, or waiting for the user to interact.
  • Devices with a stand-by light or clock.
  • Power adapters (such as wall warts), whether they are powering a device or not.
  • Some home video game consoles (e.g. Nintendo Wii, Microsoft Xbox 360 & Sony PlayStation 3)

The purpose of this experiment is to streamline electrical use (eg, eliminate sources of waste.) One quick way to do this is to lessen the number of appliances needed for tasks UNLESS it's evident that a particular appliance is significantly more efficient than a likely alternative method.

For a week, we're going to try replacing the tv/vcr/dvd with laptop-based entertainment like DVDs, downloads and the Internet. Also, things like leaving our house or reading.. gasp! books may be considered. (We're very committed designers.)

I'll continue to make updates over the course of the week as appliances are eliminated, replaced with alternative methods, and deemed vital to our survival.

Furniture and Us

How we engage with a space based on furniture- a few experiments:

These are just some tests Zack and I have been engaging in at our house, to see how the space affects our behavior. We are our own guinea pigs, it has been interesting. If you have any more ideas for ways we can alter our space, let us know.

  • lowering the level of our furniture (living room)

This was an experiment, partially conceived as part of my deep seated desire to rid myself of as many possessions as possible. So we put away our futon frame, use a trunk as a table, and generally set things on the floor.

A couple of results I have noticed: We tend to tidy up more regularly, instead of having things accumulate on tables and other horizontal surfaces. Using the trunk instead of a table is useful, because we have to keep it clean to access the games inside. Usually, my laptop sits on it. I like sitting on the ground to use my laptop, it's a little better for my posture. More fiddling around will help me figure out the most ergonomic way of going about it. Of course- laptops are pretty ergonomically unfriendly, but I'm very attached.

  • creating a multi-configuration layout for the tables in the kitchen

This was something Zack did over the summer, which has been very successful in our opinion. We have 2 tables and an assortment of chairs in the kitchen. One of the tables is extendable. They can be moved to create a large seating space, or a basic workspace. We end up moving them around lots for different reasons (usually either projects or large groups of people for dinner.) It's been very effective.

  • milk-crate clothing storage

As every college student knows, this makes it exceptionally efficient to move. You just cut the zipties, and you're all packed up.