Tiny flat-packed off-grid homes aim to be bridge between renting and owning

Big World Homes rendering
© Big World Homes

The Big World Homes project aims to be a new model of affordable housing, and its modular mobile design could make it a good fit for 'pop-up' communities on unused land.

Australia's Big World Homes, led by architect Alexander Symes, is taking on expensive city housing with its design for tiny modular homes that are shipped flat-packed, and can be set up in just a few days, with no other tools than a drill and a hammer, and are just a fraction of the cost of most of the homes currently on the market. It's like tiny homes meets single-wide mobile homes meets IKEA, and although the project is still in its infancy, the idea has the potential to help overcome one of the barriers to home ownership, which is the incredibly high cost, especially in cities.

Not only are these tiny homes designed to be simple and quick to build, but they're also intended to be relatively self-sufficient, thanks to solar panels and a rain catchment system, which can allow them to bypass the need to be connected into city infrastructure, which can add to the cost and complexity of building a home. One of the other aspects of current home ownership costs is the value of the land beneath the home (and the labor costs), which is considered in the price of housing, and which this project intends to circumvent by placing the off-grid homes in communities on unused land.

"A Big World Home is a modular, mobile, off-grid housing system made from structural-thermal-waterproof integrated panels. For just 65K [AUD], it offers a new kind of asset rung for those who are finding it difficult to enter the market. It’s ordered online, arrives flat-packed and can be built by two people over a few days using simple tools, making incredible savings on labour."

While the project website is short on details (such as the size of the solar array and the batteries, and the type of toilet and greywater systems being used, and how the rainwater tanks will be filled in the dry season, etc.), I'm a fan of what I've read about the idea so far. However, even once those details are worked out, there seems to be quite a few challenges that will have to be overcome for the full vision of building small off-grid communities within cities, ranging from basic code compliance for such things as utilities and plumbing to negotiating affordable rates for places to put the homes and communities, while also considering the locations where people want to live (there are probably quite a few unused parcels of land in locations where you'd be hard pressed to get anyone to want to live, and desirable locations are usually not full of cheap unused lots).

One of the unique angles that Big World Homes will be using to raise awareness of not only its own tiny homes, but housing affordability as well, is through an ambassador, Ella Colley, who will live for four months in the first home and "develop an experimental journalism project" to highlight the issues.

"As I grew up, the cost of living in Sydney soared, and I became increasingly aware that that my chances of home ownership were slim. This is the case for much of my generation, who’ve been priced out of the places they once called home. The implications of this go well beyond the individual – they matter for critical urban issues like diversity, sustainability and community." - Ella Colley

The team is working to fund the very first of the homes, which will be built and displayed at the Sydney Architecture Festival at the end of September, giving the public (and those in the building and architecture trades) the opportunity to explore the features and benefits of this modular tiny home. More information is available at Big World Homes and at the crowdfunding campaign page at Chuffed.