Moving Into Green: Net-Zero Housing and Living Tiny

Tiny house Portland, photo by Tammy Strobel via FlickrDo you know what a net-zero energy building is? Here’s a quick definition. It is a building that supplies its own energy using renewable sources, like sun and wind, in combination with energy-conserving design. I know folks here in Columbia who outfitted their house with solar panels and now actually create surplus electricity and donate the extra back to the grid. I aspire to follow in their footsteps, which are leaving a lighter footprint on the planet. On July 8 at 7 p.m., the Columbia Public Library is offering a program on this topic, Building an Affordable, Net-Zero Home, so please join us to learn about the technologies and building designs used to achieve this net-zero goal.

Do you ever dream of simplifying your life by letting go of unused possessions that clutter your home and moving into a smaller abode?  Less house maintenance and stuff to manage means more time for other pursuits such as drawing, painting, playing a musical instrument or a studying a foreign language (state your preferences now and daydream about those possibilities that await you), as well as having more time for the important people in your life. I have such fantasies about living tiny, and they have been stoked lately since a friend started to seriously consider building a tiny house (100 to 130 square feet is typical for a tiny house versus the 2,100 square feet of the average American home). He’s shared some of his design ideas with me and what he’ll include in his little dream house. He wants to build it on a trailer, adding the option of mobility to his scheme.

The tiny house movement is growing bigger for many good reasons. Less time managing “stuff” is only one of the reasons a tiny house appeals.  Others include:

1)    It is more affordable than a larger home, providing more economic freedom.

2)    It is a means to owning a house without paying property taxes or rent (potentially, if you have a place to park it rent-free).

3)    It is eco-friendly.

4)    It is cost-effective.

Whole communities of tiny houses have begun to form in some parts of the country.  Apparently this movement draws from a diverse crowd which includes retirees, 20- and 30-somethings, singles, couples—even a few brave ones with young children! After perusing websites and books about tiny houses, I discovered there is no shortage of variety in style and creativity in the building of these diminutive shelters. Jay Shafer, a tiny house movement pioneer, designs amazingly beautiful structures based on classical elements of form and proportion; they are stunning! Tiny houses often include a kitchen, bathroom, living room and loft bedroom. Some even have a tiny front porch!

Is tiny not room enough for you? Then you could consider buying or building a small house. Sarah Susanka’s book, “The Not So Big House,” helped get the smaller house counter movement started. DBRL has a series of her “Not So Big” books for you to pore over if you’d like some downsizing ideas.

One last thing I’d like to mention about this movement that is improving the quality of life for many and is sustainable for our planet-home: living smaller and more intimately has the outcome of reducing loneliness, a state to which Americans are prone. Shay Solomon devotes a chapter to this (“Give Up Your Loneliness”) in her book, “Little House on a Small Planet.

So “green” is clean and serene!  If you are seeking a means to greener living consider opening the door to these sustainable housing options.

About Larkspur

Larkspur prefers biking to work and enjoys 3-4 car-free days per week (a car-free day is a carefree day!). Favorite hotspots are farmers markets and wooden dance floors.
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