This article appeared in the January/February 2014 issue of Organic Hudson Valley. (A direct link is under Links to Articles).
Annette Lindbergh and her husband, Lars, began Tiny Houses, Inc. to build and restore homes that function in a manner that is ecologically friendly, designing more efficient methods to construct smaller homes that provide the same everyday utilization people require as part of their everyday routine. The homes are designed to utilize space in the best way possible, giving homes the same amount of function, but taking up less space and leaving a much smaller footprint on the planet.
The philosophy behind Tiny Houses is “to develop a space that’s intimate and going against bigger is better,” Annette Lindbergh said, describing the thought that goes into each project. She notes how much of the new home construction being built today focuses on a bigger is better mentality. At Tiny Houses, they want to redirect towards better use of space rather than bigger use by building homes that are based on a philosophy that is the polar opposite, focusing instead on utilizing space based on individual need. “These are tailor made to each person, where rooms start to have multiple uses. The overall idea that it’s a smaller footprint and that really translates out to smaller in terms of the actual material, the less one needs to fill the house with, the less energy is expended to heat and cool the house,” Lindbergh said. Most people are out of their house during the day, using it only during the evenings and on weekends, so why waste energy heating an empty space all day? “The idea of a master bedroom, really? When all you do is sleep in there?”
Instead, Tiny Houses focuses on a different lifestyle, where things are integrated and utilized in a way that brings people together with but doesn’t take away their options. Lindbergh describes it as “getting back to what it was like in the 50’s – where people shared the bathroom. Now, we get so spoiled that no one can wait for the other person to get done taking a shower. Life sped up so fast that we don’t even have patience with the people we live with.” The solution they provide is to utilize the space in the home to its maximum efficiency. An example Lindbergh gave was a dining room that is only used on special occasions. Tiny Houses might design that dining room to also be a living room, finding “a way to integrate it without being a specific room for that rare occasion.”
New construction allows for the design process to take advantage of the ecological elements to create energy savings homes that are affordable. “With new construction, I encourage people to keep their footprint down. Typically, people’s ideas grow on the [architectural] plan and when you go to price it, it can be much more inflated than what they wanted to do,” Lindbergh said. “I work from start to finish so I’m intimately aware of incurring costs, so I encourage people to keep it down, to pull back. Somehow, we end up with what they desire but we’re still able to build it because it’s still in their budget.”
Lindbergh plans to move Tiny Houses toward the use of passive design, which uses virtually no energy for heating or cooling, allowing for homeowners to live almost entirely off the grid. The direction a house faces has large implications on its energy consumption, and Tiny Houses places homes so they absorb the most natural energy by orienting homes with windows facing the south side and limiting exposure on the north side. “Locating the house on the south facing side is best for the lighting. Bedrooms on the east side are important because you’re getting that morning light, which naturally wakes you up,” Lindbergh said.
Furnishing the interior brings another set of opportunities to save energy and maximize both space and utility function for the most ecologically friendly bang for your buck. Lindbergh encourages people to buy current appliances rather than rely on older ones, as the new designs use significantly less energy to run. She also looks for opportunities for built-in or open cabinetry. “It’s about how we occupy the space and how it influences unconsciously,” she said, citing Christopher Alexander, an architect known for relying on the users or residents of a building to know more about what they need than any architect could, as a great influence. He created a term, pattern language, that is a structured method of describing good design practices, something Tiny Houses aims for with ecological construction.