The tiny home trend doesn’t seem to be going anywhere any time soon, especially as the idea of minimalism becomes more popular. Currently, there are about 10,000 tiny homes in North America, with about 700 new homes built each year.
There are many reasons why people are drawn to tiny houses. Many of them are in more rural areas, which can create a more peaceful and relaxing environment. Other people want to downsize or reduce stress by having less stuff. Tiny homes can also be more economical, ranging anywhere from about $10,000-$180,000 to construct or buy.
But one of the biggest reasons why people are more drawn to tiny houses than ever before is due to the idea of them being better for the environment. On paper, it makes sense; less house equals less energy used, right? Technically, yes. In fact, according to a study performed by environmental design researcher Maria Saxton, people who live in tiny homes reduce their energy consumption by about 45 percent.
Does it stop at less energy consumption? Are tiny homes really that much better for the environment than traditionally-constructed houses? Are there any environmental drawbacks?
Let’s take a closer look at some of the environmental benefits and potential “cons” of tiny house living, and what you can do to make the most of the experience. We’ll also cover how you can reduce your carbon footprint in a tiny home (or in general!).
Environmental Benefits of Tiny Home Living
Can living in a tiny house reduce the amount of energy you use on a regular basis? Yes. But it still requires a conscious effort to make smarter, more sustainable choices. It starts with construction.
With hundreds of new tiny houses being constructed each year, choosing materials that are sustainable, or reusing materials can help to cut down on cost while also helping with issues like deforestation or carbon emissions from heavy machinery. Some people are even turning existing constructions into tiny homes, like RVs or cabins in the woods. When you can purchase a tiny house instead of building one from scratch, you’re already creating less of an environmental impact.
But if you do decide to build, make sure you go with a contractor who uses sustainable practices, and re-use as many things as possible.
You’ll also need to choose the right building materials for your home. Using efficient materials, again, will help to cut costs and cut down on energy consumption. Some of the most environmentally-friendly materials for home construction include:
- Recycled steel
- Sheep’s wool (for insulation)
- Precast concrete
Using materials that are more environmentally friendly reduces the dependence on nonrenewable resources, like natural gas and oil. Using natural materials for insulation will also help to lower your energy bills each month.
Once your home is constructed, whether it’s truly “environmentally friendly” will still depend on the choices you make. That includes choosing energy-efficient appliances for the home itself. You’ll naturally use less energy because of the size of the home (most tiny homes are anywhere from 60-400 square feet).
But choosing the right refrigerator and other appliances to cook and clean can make a big difference. Look for appliances with an EnergyStar logo on them to know you’re getting the most efficient products. You can also calculate an appliance’s energy consumption using a simple formula based on the wattage of the appliance and how many hours you use it each day.
Are There Any Drawbacks for the Planet?
Tiny house living sounds clean and green, especially if you’re committed to making sustainable living choices. Again, it’s all about the choices you make no matter the size of your house. One potential drawback to having a tiny home, though, is that you might have to purge more belongings than you originally thought.
Such little space might mean you use less heating, cooling, and water. But it also means you have less room for your stuff. When you first move into a tiny house, you’ll likely either have to get rid of a lot of your belongings (including clothes and personal items) or rent out a storage unit. The U.S. contributes 21 billion tons of textiles/clothing to landfills each year, so throwing out your clothes and other belongings isn’t exactly beneficial to the planet. Yes, you can always donate your items, but even then there is no guarantee as to whether they’ll be utilized or where they will end up.
Even things like recycling in a tiny house can become difficult due to space restrictions. Having a recycling bin within the house can take up a lot of room. When you run out of room for your recyclables, you might turn to throwing things in the trash anyway.
The same goes for food waste. Because most tiny homes have smaller refrigerators, you won’t be able to store as much food at any given time, including leftover meals. So, it’s more likely that food will get tossed out before it has a chance to be eaten. About 30-40 percent of the food supply in the United States is wasted. Not having the space to store it (and eventually eat it) can contribute more to the waste problem than having a larger refrigerator.
Reducing Your Carbon Footprint in a Tiny House
As you can see, whether or not a tiny home is environmentally friendly greatly depends on the effort you put into reducing your carbon footprint. So if you’re set on tiny house living, what can you do to live more sustainably?
First, invest in water conservation. You’ll likely be using less water because of the size of the house, but there are other habits you can start that will help you to conserve even more water on a daily basis, including:
- Replacing old showerheads
- Installing WaterSense or “low-flow” toilets
- Fixing any leaky faucets or toilets
- Installing energy-efficient appliances, like a washing machine and dishwasher
Since you might run the risk of producing more waste in a tiny house, it’s also a good idea to figure out how you can reuse or recycle some of your belongings, including electronics. By 2021, the world could be discarding 60 million tons of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices each year. Recycling these items or donating them to schools and libraries can give them a second life and keep them out of landfills. Have you been collecting music for years and have a substantial CD collection? It’s time to take another page from the RV living that often influences tiny home life and digitize all that music and recycle your CDs. You save space in your home and reduce more waste.
Finally, get creative with different ways you can conserve energy around your home. One of the most popular areas of any house — big or small — is the kitchen. Unfortunately, it’s also where a lot of energy is typically used. By keeping your refrigerator clean and well-ventilated, you can help it to run more efficiently. When it comes to your stovetop, make sure your burners are clean so they don’t use as much power to heat up. If you have a dishwasher, fill it up and use it! It typically uses less water and energy to heat that water than it does to wash dishes by hand. Finding ways to conserve energy in the kitchen is a great way to inspire you to live more sustainably in every room of the house.
So, are tiny homes environmentally friendly? That answer largely depends on you. While they provide great living options for those wishing to downsize and they do tend to use less energy overall, the choices you make within your home will have the biggest impact on whether it’s better for the environment than a traditionally-constructed house.