Everyone knows that tiny houses can help you downsize your life, but did you know that they can also help you downsize your environmental footprint?
We often focus on the small steps to becoming more eco friendly like reducing, reusing, and recycling. These are great habits to implement in daily life, but how can we make a difference through other, bigger, decisions. Buying a house, choosing a car, and deciding where to live have a huge impact on the environment.
The building and construction industry is responsible for roughly 35% of global carbon emissions. One of the ways we can help mitigate this issue is by choosing to be more thoughtful of how much space is truly necessary and building smaller.
What is an Environmental Footprint and Why is it Important?
Our environmental footprint is simply the supply and demand of nature: how much of nature is available for us to use and how much we take from nature. Things like eating meat, buying lumber, and driving a car all contribute to our environmental footprint.
The Global Footprint Network measures our environmental footprint, or ecological footprint, in something called global hectares, or gha. The higher a region’s or person’s gha, the more resources they’re using—often faster than the Earth can provide them.
The average ecological footprint in the United States is currently about 8.01 gha. If everyone in the world was to consume resources at the same rate as the U.S., we would need 5 Earths just to sustain us.
Large amounts of natural resources like sand, stone, marble, and timber are used to build and remodel traditional homes and apartment buildings. Each year we continue to consume more natural resources for building projects than can be replaced or replenished.
Our environmental footprint is important to consider, as well as the steps we can take to help create a more sustainable life for our planet.
How can Tiny Living reduce our Environmental Footprint?
There are many environmental benefits of tiny house living. One of the tiny house movement’s biggest contributions to lowering our ecological footprint is the fact that humans are inhabiting a smaller space than the average size home.
By definition, Tiny Homes on Wheels are no greater than 400 square feet on the main level. This means that simply by design, tiny homes require fewer building materials and less energy compared to a typical home in the U.S., which averages 2,500 square feet. The smaller footprint also inherently lowers energy requirements for heating and cooling.
Good insulation and strategic window placements can help to further lower the cost of heating and cooling as well, and tiny house owners can use nature to their advantage by adjusting their home placement for sun or shade depending on the season. There are other tricks you can use to your advantage as well. For example, did you know a well placed mirror can make a noticeable change in the interior temperature?
Electricity is an important factor for lowering your environmental impact. Because of the smaller space and intentional design, tiny homes require not only less heating and cooling (responsible for almost half of your home’s energy use), but also tend to include more energy efficient appliances, water heaters, and lighting. All together, these things contribute to significantly reducing your energy use (and bill). Tiny homes are also compatible with solar energy products. And with the passing of the Inflation Reduction Act in 2022, the Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit means you can save 30% on systems costs for things like solar and Energy Star appliances.
What Sustainable Options should I consider when Buying a Tiny Home?
Sustainability starts at the beginning of the design process. When choosing a tiny home, it’s important to consider not only what is sustainable for the environment, but also for you. Downsizing can be a great opportunity, and determining how much space is necessary for your life is highly important if you’re transitioning to full-time tiny living. With that being said, most tiny home owners would agree that they’re still able to live a large life in their smaller home.
Building a tiny home right the first time is crucial to reduce its ecological footprint. If you’re having to remodel or repair your tiny home often, you’re using more natural resources every time you do so. When considering materials to use in the build, be mindful of “green” marketing—Not only is there very little regulation for some “green” labels, make sure you understand if there are trade-offs in quality that would require more frequent touch-ups.
Take a mental inventory of how you’re using the space in your home. If you don’t cook often, choose energy efficient appliances with easy-to-reach shut off switches for when they’re not in use. Turning off breakers that you use infrequently can reduce your overall electric draw. If you plan to work from home, consider propane heating and natural lighting to reduce your daily energy use.
The choice to live tiny is no small feat. However, it can benefit the environment—and your life—in more ways than one. Consider the idea, and even if tiny living isn’t in your plans, continue to find ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle!