There is more to the tiny house movement than just living with less. It can also be a story about resilience, sustainability and adaptablility.
Tiny houses have evolved over the years, from a barely legal form of low-cost living under the radar, to an established alternative to traditional and expensive housing. One of the most interesting and sophisticated approaches I have seen is from Fred's Tiny Houses in Australia. Fred Schultz says, “It’s really about living in a way that’s consistent with my values… Peak oil, climate change, and just the unsustainability around the model that we have.”
It values a kind of simplicity in life that leads to greater happiness. How many times do you hear the story where the person says, ‘You know the happiest we were was when we lived in that place that had nothing, it was small and it was tiny.’ Even just going camping and they’re reduced to just the essential stuff and they’re outside. People are like, ‘Hey, this is great, let’s do this again next year.’ Well, why not make that your life?”
Fred's Tiny Houses are also really interesting technically. Most tiny houses are built on standard trailer bases, but Fred has designed and patented a whole system, the Unified Construction Method, which is designed around the fact that tiny houses really are not buildings, but vehicles. There are significant, hurricane-force wind loads pushing the front, suction loads on the rear, lifting loads on the roof, and vibration that have to be considered. "Everyone who builds a tiny house vehicle carries the responsibility of the tiny house movement on their shoulders. When you build a strong, vibration resistant tiny house vehicle, you are acting responsibly on behalf of yourself, others around you and the whole tiny house community."
They are designed to be fossil-fuel free, with an alcohol stove, solar panels and batteries. They are also designed for the Australian climate, which is a lot sunnier and hotter than most of North America. That's why I was surprised to see they had sleeping lofts; I have found these uncomfortably hot even in a Canadian summer. Fred notes that this leads to a lot of energy use for cooling in Australia.
The sunshine that we get presents a problem, and my designs all include a radiant barrier in the roof and verandas to help shade the tiny house from the extreme sunshine. In a tiny house design it is really handy to be able to live in the loft but if the internal cladding is getting hot because of the roof that is just on the other side, well that is not a viable design for Australia.
Fred adds a radiant barrier which is he claims locks out 97 percent of the sun's radiant heat. "It feels like you are parked under a tree instead of being parked under the blazing sun."
Looking up the information on the Ametalin ThermalBreak 7 seen in the photo, it is a sandwich of foam and foil, 7.8 mm or about 3/8 of an inch thick, with an R value of about 2.0 (R12 in the USA). I personally have always been dubious about radiant barriers, but have never been to Australia with their extreme sun. And even when parked under a tree, it gets hot, and heat still rises; that's why I am no fan of lofts, but if Fred can make them work with radiant barriers then we should all check this stuff out.
Fred's Tiny Houses just won the "the 2019 Flourish Prize for business as an agent of world benefit for Sustainable Cities and Communities" because they do a lot more than just sell tiny houses; they run courses, they advocate for change in laws, they provide free online information and are trying to build a community. They see tiny houses as a way of increasing density, of providing safer housing for the vulnerable. According to the Flourish Prize documentation,
Obviously the tiny house movement is focused around reducing carbon emissions and the unsustainable consumerist lifestyle lived by so many. But there are many less obvious applications for tiny houses. For Australians in particular having a home on wheels could reduce the damage caused to communities during fire season or to adjust to rising sea levels. Off-grid tiny houses on wheels provide a practical solution to the changing environment due to climate change. They also have the potential to solve the large homelessness problem experienced around the world.
This is an aspect of tiny houses that not many have talked about before; in a time of climate crisis it may be very handy, having a house that you can move to higher, drier, or cooler ground. An off-grid capable, sustainable and moveable house may become a hot commodity.
More at Fred's Tiny Houses.