Sustainable and small: The tiny house movement

Tiny homes in Central Washington

These two sheds showcase the outdoor beauty of Ellensburg, Washington. The shed on the left serves as a bedroom and the one on the right is a living room, both designed by Modern Shed.

As the trend to downsize picks up speed, vertical and lap siding from AIA partner James Hardie has the look, efficiency, and durability to fit right into a tiny design

After years of buying bigger homes, the trend to downsize is picking up speed. You can see it in the tiny house communities across the United States, the slew of reality TV shows on the subject, and an increase in the number of architects specializing in tiny living spaces.

In 2013, the average new house size was 2,598 square feet, 41 percent larger than the average new house size in 1973—and those homes were filled with more family members. Just four years later, the zeitgeist steers toward scaling down on square footage, which includes benefits such as reduced cost and environmental impact. Tiny homes, which typically range from 100-400 square feet, produce about 2,000 pounds of CO2 emissions each year as compared to the 28,000 pounds produced by an average-sized home.  

Architects designing for small living spaces, including Ryan Smith of Modern Shed, focus on creating a mixed-use space with a stripped back aesthetic that relates to its surroundings in a big way.

“We design to solve needs for space,” Smith says. “Sometimes singular use, sometimes a full home.” Smith has designed hundreds of customizable sheds that have served as summer homes, winter cabins, offices, meditation rooms, a Seattle Seahawks-colored man-cave, even a sound-resistant recording studio and a sauna.

His structures are panelized and completely adaptable for the client’s needs. All components—the doors, windows and roofing—are all designed and made under one roof, as part of a streamlined and efficient system. Any leftover materials roll into the next shed, which means hardly any scraps, Smith says.  Everything else is used as firewood to heat the space.

“There’s a wonderful modularity and flexibility around the structure itself,” Smith says.

The panels can be carried into and around tight spaces, like between your house and your fence, for fast backyard assembly, or can be completely dismantled and reassembled in a new location.  

“You can literally take it apart. So if you wanted to make modifications to it, you can pull the puzzle pieces off,” Smith says.

Smith uses HardiePanel vertical siding and HardiePlank lap siding because they feels right for the design of the structure, and they’re durable and energy conscious, he says.

When it comes to designing sustainably, modular construction is an interesting way to save it and use it again, Smith says. Small structures like these can have a different lifespan than a larger home.

One project in Central Washington [pictured above] combined two Modern Sheds to create one summer compound for working farmers. The space on the left side—tucked into the hillside with a wall of windows—is the bedroom, and the structure on the right—with a standout water view—is a living space with an office and a living/dining room. The center of the home is the outdoor kitchen, connected and covered by a pergola with a sky-view polycarbonate protection but wall-less and open to interact with the outdoors. Because the spaces are so small, the windows help to heat and light the indoor rooms, which makes having a tiny footprint simple.

“Living small doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice,” Smith adds. “Quite the opposite, if you do it right. Living small could mean what’s left is the most important part of the experience.”  

The AIA does not sponsor or endorse any enterprise, whether public or private, operated for profit. Further, no AIA officer, director, committee member, or employee, or any of its component organizations in his or her official capacity, is permitted to approve, sponsor, endorse, or do anything that may be deemed or construed to be an approval, sponsorship, or endorsement of any material of construction or any method or manner of handling, using, distributing, or dealing in any material or product.

Image credits

Tiny homes in Central Washington

Dominic Bonuccelli

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