Peter King owns Vermont Tiny Houses, a company that builds custom homes and runs workshops to teach carpentry. King is a lifelong Vermonter and a longtime carpenter and teacher.
In a recent Burlington Free Press article, King admits he anticipated his workshops would draw a community of extreme environmentalists. He has since relaxed that vision, and aims primarily to teach carpentry skills and systems integration (plumbing, septic, electrical) that one could apply to any house. As King says, “A tiny house has all the foibles of a real house, just less of it.” He then imparts his philosophy to his classes, seeing small living as the answer to many of America’s problems including fossil-fuel reliance, severe debt, and lost interpersonal relations.
I applaud King’s business model: he finds landowners looking to build a tiny house, then plans his workshops around the construction of those houses, saving substantial labor costs to the owner. He is currently seeking projects for 2018. Check out his website to learn more.
We’re checking in on the latest project by Graham Hill and his architecture/lifestyle consulting company, LifeEdited. This beautiful, resourceful Maui home is nearing completion and receiving lots of press. An HGTV special is forthcoming.
In a previous post, I questioned the decision for someone who has repeatedly remarked on the economic and environmental benefits of urban life to build a house in a rural location. How does LifeEdited Maui reflect these values? Short answer: it’s off-grid. The Maui climate is near perfect for human habitation, a quality this house exploits to the fullest. Not only is there plenty of sunlight and plenty of rain, but the temperature is basically 80 degrees year round. Between solar power, rainwater capture, and agriculture, it’s easy to live off the land.
About 700 of the 1000 square feet of indoor space are claimed by four generous bedrooms, enabling the house to sleep eight comfortably. The bedrooms contain a variety of wall beds to give the rooms multiple purposes: one is a desk, another hides a sofa, a third converts into an informal dining/craft table. The rest of the house consists of an open kitchen/dining room (“large enough to host a dinner party for 20”), a hallway, one full bathroom, and two half baths.
Kitchen and hallway.
This climate lends itself to outdoor living. HVAC is unnecessary when the ambient air never falls below room temperature, and ceiling fans provide ample air movement when it gets hot. The kitchen opens onto a huge covered lanai that serves as an all-purpose living space. The lanai has modular furniture that can be rearranged for conversation, activities, or dining; the coffee tables convert into dining-height tables. There’s also an outdoor bath. None of these spaces count towards the 1000-square-foot number, nor do the garage and utility room on the lower level.
The house is powered by solar panels on the roof, and captures rainwater from the roof to store in 20,000 gallons worth of holding tanks. Instead of gutters, innovative “rain chains” in the four look gorgeous and apparently sound nice too. The water is then purified and used for sinks and showers throughout the house. The composting toilets avoid the need for a septic system… and with a little dirty work, they provide fertilizer for the gardens.
Read more about the project here. No word yet on structural design or the final price tag.
Martin Holladay has been building houses on the cutting edge of energy efficiency since 1974. A Vermont native, he’s now a senior editor at Fine Homebuilding Magazine and Green Building Advisor. Holladay records his latest thoughts in a weekly blog titled Musings of an Energy Nerd.
A reoccurring theme in Holladay’s work is his conviction that Passive House principles are overkill for most homeowners. Holladay argues quite convincingly that a small house will burn far less energy (and money) than a big house even if the latter has R-60 walls with triple-glazed windows and an HRV. He advocates for what he calls a “Pretty Good House,” which focuses on air tightness and mindful energy use, eschewing other Passive House standards like 14-inch-thick insulation under the floor slab. He has a special disdain for huge south-facing windows, which leak far more heat than they gain through the passive solar mechanism.
On the other hand, Holladay is a fan of minimizing embodied energy (plastics and foams are popular but their manufacturing carries a lot of hidden environmental costs), maximizing onsite energy production (especially PV panels), and designing footprints and roofs as simple as possible to save construction costs and problem spots. In so choosing his battles, he has made the “Pretty Good House” a mashup between a passive house and a net-zero house. The emphasis is on keeping money in your pocket. I think a lot of homeowners could get behind that.