Tiny house is almost passive, clad in shou-sugi-ban

We love tiny houses, promote the Passive House standard and recently fell in love all over again with shou-sugi-ban siding. And here they are, all together in Alex Malamed's Walnut Street Tiny House.

The 300 square foot dwelling really feels like a big comfortable country kitchen with the counter running the full length of one wall. There is a sleeping loft with a high enough ceiling that you can sit up throughout, with a full bathroom underneath.

Fair Companies/Screen capture

The box is dressed in a rain screen made of shou shugi ban, charred cedar, that has a good natural finish and corrugated metal. The aesthetic borrows from the language of agricultural structures in the area, like the black barns in the Louisville, KY and the adjacent light industrial buildings. The house is efficient in more than its size. Two by six framing, triple pane glass, and a heat pump for space conditioning make this a comfortable house all year. It’s been surprisingly comfortable and accommodating in the year we have lived here, it doesn’t feel radical at all.

Kirsten Dirksen's description accompanying the Fair Companies video says that it meets Passive House standards "relying on “primo” insulation, passive solar and a heat pump when necessary. “Our electric bill was $36 last month,” explains Melamed." But the Passive House standard is extremely hard to do on a tiny house because of their limit on energy use per square foot, with just a 2x6 wall filled with dense-pack cellulose. It is even harder with a 12' ceiling, creating more surface area for a given square foot of floor. It's complicated.

Alex actually never mentions the Passive House standard in the video. But it's a great target to aim for, and the basic principles are followed even if it isn't certified Passive. Alex notes that good insulation and windows are particularly important in a tiny house; you don't want to be too close to cold walls and windows. (Even the front door is R-11.) People come to Passive House levels of insulation and window quality for the energy savings, but they stay for the comfort.

© Alex Malamed via Archtype

The tiny house is actually temporary accommodation, occupied while a new, larger house is built, at which time it will become a rental unit or home office. Filmmaker Johnny Sanphillippo notes that "They’ve actually built with their future children and grandchildren in mind"- Planning ahead for long term use and aging in place is important, although I don't think as grandparents they will be taking a ladder to the loft.

On his own site, Granola Shotgun, Sanphillippo notes that small units work a lot better when you have community resources.

The town of Yellow Springs itself is a large part of why an accessory dwelling unit works. It’s a walkable, bikeable town where a car is just one of several transportation options. Commerce and conviviality are a couple of blocks away along the traditional Main Street. Children can walk to school. Many people can walk to work. Older people have access to their daily needs on foot. Nature, parks, and productive farmland are also within a reasonable walk or short bike ride from every home in town.

In nice towns or big cities, it is much easier to live in small spaces when the community is your living room and larder.

Tags: Less Is More | Living With Less | passive house | Small Spaces


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