Inside Northwestern's Off-the-Grid Tiny House

© Ramon Gonzalez

My lottery fantasy consists of buying a large empty lot and building a completely off-the-grid tiny house-with an expansive garden, of course. This past weekend while on a visit to the Museum of Science and Industry I got a chance to see a tiny house in person.

On display at the museum is the Northwestern Tiny House Project. A 128-square-foot, zero-net-energy house designed by a team of Northwestern University students and recent alumni.

The roofing material, a composite blend of post industrial plastic, recycled rubber elastomers and cellulosic fiber materials, is composed of 95% recovered plastic. Using this material facilitates rainwater harvesting and installation of solar panels to power the tiny house.

© Ramon Gonzalez

While the tiny house's frame is FSC wood, the interior flooring is bamboo which is more sustainable than timber. Icynene spray foam insulation maintains a livable temperature inside such a small space.

Generously used Low-E windows provide amble light, and a feeling of openness as well as ventilation. A NOVA KOOL R-4500 refrigerator was chosen for its space and energy saving properties. A small wood-burning fireplace provides heat during the cold months.

© Ramon Gonzalez

The interior is actually very spacious. When I toured the tiny house, four of the students involved in the project where inside creating pamphlets for visitors and it didn’t feel cramped at all. They told me that up to seven people can fit comfortably. An expandable cardboard sofa is used to provide seating when the built-in tables are not in use.

© Ramon Gonzalez

A loft provides storage and an area for sleeping is accessible with the use of a telescoping ladder.

© Ramon Gonzalez

There’s even room for a standing shower and composting toilet.

© Ramon Gonzalez

Outside, the University of Illinois Extension Master Gardeners provided a vegetable garden using self-watering planters. A gravity fed rain water collection system harvests water for showering and the kitchen. The gravity fed gutter system routes water from the roof and awnings into a water storage pillow below the house. A small pump is used to push water through a four stage filtration system before it is used.

While tinier than my dream tiny house, it certainly seemed like a livable option. One of the students who I spoke with mentioned that a lot of the material used for the build was donated to them, but a similar tiny house would cost about $38,000.00.

The Northwestern Tiny House Project will be on display through June 7th after which it will be on display at the university and tour the area.

Do dream of living in a tiny house?

Tags: Architecture | Chicago | Gardening | Green Building | Renewable Energy | Small Spaces | Solar Power | Toilets