photos by Lloyd Alter
When Andy Thomson designed the first MiniHome, I was in love. So in love that I bought it, thinking that I could build a business out of it pre-TreeHugger. That never quite worked out, and the design was not without its problems. Sustain, which is now part of Altius Architecture, has built a second prototype, the Trio, that addresses most of the problems with the Solo, and it has a lot to offer. I visited it at Timber House Resort in Brighton, Ontario and checked it out.
The Solo miniHome was built under Recreational Vehicle standards, which have a maximum width of 8'-6". The Trio is built to Park Model standards, which allow for 12' of width. This makes all the difference; Cheaper and thicker wall construction can be used, and the rooms are BIG.
The plan is roomy enough to have a vestibule entry, with a large room on either side.
And storage! There is a ton of it, including both this wall storage system from Urban Mode,
And a full hanging closet.
Dining is a big part of life, and both Minihomes had terrific kitchens with lots of counterspace and storage. I am not certain about their decision to put in a full size fridge and stove, both of which take a lot of energy, but it would be easy to cook in.
Lots of room to sit and even more counterspace. The big patio door windows are designed for passive solar gain; aluminum louvres are mounted on the outside to keep the high summer sun out while letting the winter sun in. Sustain explains:
All services and storage / cabinetry are loaded on to the north side of the unit to allow for all the larger, flexible and 'lived in' spaces to open up towards large expanses of glass on the south side. This allows heat from the sun to warm the space in winter while operable windows on both sides of the unit allow fresh air in for passive cooling and ventilation in summer.
The louvres have not been installed, and with that much glass they will make a big difference.
I did not have a wide enough lens to take a decent picture of the very comfortable bathroom, lined with cedar.
Some technical details from Sustain:
The 12X36 TRIO is completed with all Millwork/Cabinets, Plumbing Fixtures and Appliances. The 12X36 features 12VDC Lighting Circuits, and a AC/DC Power Center for 'plug-and-play' connection to renewable power sources, such as Solar (PV) and wind. The HVAC system is comprised of an integrated, tankless domestic-hot-water system and air-handler that has a total annual carbon footprint of less than 0.5 Metric Tons annually (almost 20 times less than a conventional home). All woods are FSC certified and formaldehyde-free. The Western Red Cedar used for the exterior cladding and interior finish in the washroom is both aesthetically pleasing and has a natural resistance to mold and rot.
I am not without quibbles. The ceiling height is dramatic, but the unit only sleeps two. I would have preferred to see a loft over the kitchen do that guests or kids could be accommodated within the unit. I wonder if both spaces should be the same size at 160 square feet so that the entertaining area was a little larger and the bedroom a little smaller.
But there are a lot of things that it gets right. The original Solo didn't quite know what it was, built to recreational vehicle rules with a lot of investment in mobile plumbing systems and off-grid electricals, when in fact it was too heavy to tow without a Class A special driving licence. The Trio is designed for parks, and is built with less expensive materials, so it will cost a lot less per square foot. (Sustain is looking at a basic version of this prototype selling for around $100K)
A lot of people would love to downsize to a unit like this, but the problem is always where it goes. The trailer park model of ownership, where people own their unit but rent serviced land, has a lot of advantages, most notably that it is cheaper. The Trio is designed for that environment; the first person to actually open a park for high end modern, year round designs is going to do very well.