Tiny Tuesday: The Perils of Efficiency

As another new feature, I’d like to share a link each week about smarter homebuilding. By that I mean dwellings that are easier on the wallet, the environment, and the occupants. The ultimate example is the “tiny house”, which shoehorns all a home’s functions into a footprint not much bigger than the average closet. Tiny houses have gained some traction in popular culture, and while most people would never dream of living in such a small space (OK, maybe they dream of it, but they’d never do it), the lessons can be applied to a house of any size.

Today’s topic is the twin goals of low-energy and low-maintenance. A tiny house by nature requires minimal energy (you don’t need much fuel to light and heat a couple hundred square feet) and is easy to keep up (small surface area of the floor, walls, and roof means less material to maintain). For a more conventional house, it’s hard to achieve the energy goal without sacrificing the ease-of-use goal. Why? Because aggressive energy-saving measures often require constant upkeep. In this New York Times article, a Vermont couple laments that their single-minded quest for efficiency has left them with a house they can never leave alone.

"Exhausted by a House That Saves Energy" (click link in the above paragraph for NYT article)

“Exhausted by a House That Saves Energy” (click link in the above paragraph for NYT article)

Colin on the other hand designed his house to balance the two goals, and he did a pretty amazing job. 12-inch-thick insulating walls and detached sun-tracking solar panels save on energy bills with virtually no upkeep, so Colin won’t sacrifice time and attention to keep down his environmental impact. He also picked engineered-hardwood floors that wear nicely, as well as maintenance-free vinyl siding and composite decking. An air-source heat pump harnesses his “free” electricity efficiently, and when grid power goes out a transfer switch turns on his generator automatically.

Few would call Colin’s new house a tiny house but, as far as freeing up the owners’ lives while still being almost net-zero, it achieves the same result.

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2 thoughts on “Tiny Tuesday: The Perils of Efficiency

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