This Tiny Solar House Made of Legos Is a Lesson in Sustainable Design

Would Lego Group ever approve this or is it too political?

overall view

Alexis Issaharoff

Dutch Legos fan Marcel Steeman, a regional councilor in the Netherlands, describes his struggle to get a bike lane into Lego City in a hilarious episode of "The War on Cars" podcast. The company rejected the idea five times, finally saying: “You cannot have a political statement in Lego.” In a later response, Lego Group said, "There are no bike lanes on the road plates because we are not an ideological company.” In Lego City, as in real cities, bike lanes are political and ideological.

So it is likely we will never see this Sustainable Solar House in Lego City. Alexis Issaharoff, CEO of renewable energy company Antah Solar, spent 11 months designing and building this house which he says "will help kids and adults learn about renewable energy and sustainability in a fun way."

view from street

Alexis Issaharoff

But it is very ideological. It has a properly separated bike lane and no private cars. According to Issaharoff: "In the next decade we expect cars to be self-driven, so you could choose not to have your own vehicle (they will be available 24/7 on the road, as the red car in the image)." It also has a self-driving bus.

rear view of house

Alexis Issaharoff

Then there is the house itself. It has solar panels everywhere, with tracking bifacial panels on the roof, building-integrated panels in the sloping roof section, and a solar tree.

It wouldn't be Treehugger if I didn't complain about something, so I asked why there was the tree and why the panels were tracking—technology that dramatically increases the price of solar. Issaharoff told Treehugger the tracking panels were more fun to play with and the tree also provided shade in the garden.

biodigester and recycling
Biodigester, recycling, and heat pump.

Alexis Issaharoff

The house is all white to reflect heat and has a heat pump powered by solar panels and battery storage, rainwater collection, and a biodigester to deal with waste. Issaharoff tells Treehugger it is designed to Passive House principles, but I worry it has way too much glass that is broken up with too many thermal-bridging mullions, and that shading of some kind is required on all those windows. I would also complain urban wind turbines rarely do anything and are more performative than productive.


Alexis Issaharoff

The house is designed to produce its own food, water, and energy. Regenerative agriculture is practiced on the ground, the living wall, and the roof.

We do have a few issues. It is built out of acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plastic when we have a bias toward natural materials. It's relatively low-density single-family housing, although we do appreciate the zero setbacks to the bike lane. And the solar drones raise privacy concerns.

gizmo green stuff on roof
A solar tree, wind turbine, and solar thermal collector made of Legos.

Alexis Issaharoff

There is also the question of "gizmo green," the tendency to pay more attention to adding stuff than to the invisible fabric of the building that reduces energy requirements; this house has every gizmo going. This is often the result of what is known as "conspicuous conservation" where "the status conferred upon demonstration of one's contribution to environmental protection is sufficiently prized that some homeowners who purchase energy-efficient home heating and cooling technologies display them prominently in their homes." All the gizmos on this house are spectacularly conspicuous. I imagine the Lego City Homeowners Association (LCHOA) will have something to say about this.

Other than that, it pushes every Treehugger button.

But is it too ideological for Lego? Back at "The War on Cars," Dutch journalist Thalia Verkade sees a lot of similarities between Lego cities and real cities. She tells Doug Gordon that "it's the change in the status quo" that is the problem. She adds: "But then it’s a very interesting question, of course, is not having a bike bicycle lane, isn’t that also a political statement? It was a political choice to have the kind of streets we have, to put the car as central. It’s what we’re doing now."

But it's not just the bike lanes, this entire house is ideological. The whole concept of being independent of big utilities, growing your own food, and managing your own waste is a challenge to the status quo. And as for not owning cars? The owner of Lego Group has one of the world's most valuable collections of classic cars, and he is unlikely to give them up.

Over on the Lego Ideas site, the Sustainable Solar House has 378 supporters. Issaharoff needs 10,000 for Lego Group to consider making it a real kit—and there are no guarantees that they will, especially if they think it is too political.

A treehugger at work.

Alexis Issaharoff

But I would buy it, especially since it apparently involves treehugging (to connect with nature).

View Article Sources
  1. "Materials in LEGO elements." LEGO.

  2. Sexton, Steven E. and Alison L. Sexton. "Conspicuous conservation: The Prius halo and willingness to pay for environmental bona fides." Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, vol. 63, no. 3, May 2014, pp. 303-317. doi:10.1016/j.jeem.2013.11.004