A Tiny Slice of Life: Pi Homes and the Sustainability of Downsizing Luxury
July 7, 2022
Tiny Home Movement
There is an estimated 10,000 people living in Tiny Homes in the US alone. Their reach has grown rapidly amongst downsizing retirees, starter home-seeking couples and minimalist young people. Tiny homes are great for those looking to get out of the bustling and congested cities and get back in touch with nature and more rural areas.
Additionally, the sustainable living homes are beneficial for their lower price points, lower construction material waste production, reduction of carbon footprint, and a significant reduced energy consumption. With an estimated 40% of harmful emissions coming from buildings, these sustainable living spaces are just what the world needs right now.
The 2013 Netflix documentary Tiny and the subsequent 2014 series Tiny House Nation spread awareness of these small dwellings and the positive environmental impact they can have. It gave people insight on the benefits of the tiny house lifestyle and how downsizing and decluttering can possibly lead to a happier life, while ultimately leading to a better environment. However, even further back we’ve had media and cultural outlets discussing Tiny Homes, such as Jay Shafer (The Godfather of Tiny Houses)’s 1999 book The Small House Book. Shafer would later go on to found the Tumbleweed Tiny House company and focus on social justice and housing rights. Even earlier, some trace the idea of the Tiny House back to 19th Century US naturalist and essayist Henry David Thoreau’s 1854 book Walden, which was a meditation on simple living in natural surroundings.
With the Tiny House movement’s popularity on the rise, it has been championed by the likes of Tesla chief and multi-billionaire, Elon Musk, when he rented one in Boca Chica, Texas while working on his SpaceX Venture. This is just one example of the many sustainable lifestyles birthed from the Tiny Home movement.
Living large comes at a big price. Despite efforts made to recycle scraps and materials, building a traditional home is just an unfeasible detriment to the environment. Construction waste contributes to 40% of the solid waste found in the US, according to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). Extra materials are ordered, weathered materials are thrown out, plans change and construction has to adapt and completely change a fixture that was already built. An immeasurable number of factors contribute to construction costs rising and the amount of waste growing.
A study by the National Association of Home Builders has found that an estimated 8,000lbs of waste material can be sent to a landfill from building a single 2,000 square foot home. Construction of the home is already a dauntingly time-consuming task, and recycling, while necessary, can be impractical and time consuming considering the number of materials that would need to be sifted through and disposed of properly.
So how do we cut these costs and do better by our world? How do we diminish our carbon footprint to live a more sustainable lifestyle?
Sustainability is the idea that everything we need for survival and our well-being depends, in some way, shape or form, on our natural environment. We live on this planet as extensions of it, yet have been treating it as if it is a renewable entity that can be hard reset anytime we like. Instead, we have a planet that is rapidly decaying by the actions we take to live comfortably. What we really need is to create an environment where humans and nature can exist in harmony and be preserved for future generations to come.
On January 1st, 1970, the National Environmental Policy Act was signed. Under this new law, federal agencies would be required to assess the environmental effects of their proposed actions prior to making decisions. This national policy was declared, “to create and maintain conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations.”
NEPA and sustainable efforts are spearheaded by citizens of sustainable communities across the US, as well as stakeholders in the fight for sustainability and energy consciousness.
A sustainable lifestyle is a necessary element of our progression forward because of energy, food and man-made resources we utilize every day. This, combined with rapid population growth is leading to the steady decline of the environment.
Economic Sustainability and Environmental Sustainability
When looking at sustainability, we are able to break down this idea into factions, two of which are economic sustainability and environmental sustainably.
Economic sustainability is the practice of developing long-term economic growth, that won’t negatively impact social, environmental and cultural aspects of society. This includes economic growth that doesn’t negatively impact cultural elements. Some ways businesses contribute to climate change and bars them from reaching economic sustainability is by burning fossil fuels, creating food waste or by leveraging harmful manufacturing methods.
A lot of businesses attempt to make things easier for the consumer and fulfill product demands by making the production of goods cheaper; which in turn is actually a worse environmental impact. This is why material selection is so crucial in the process of fabricating homes.
Environmental sustainability is about creating a more equal and harmonized way of life for humans as well as the environment. This sustainable lifestyle requires of us to live without unnecessarily depleting natural resources, and that starts at home.
The Modular Home
The architecture industry has been working profusely to combat the environmental effects of home construction with a prefabricated home called a modular system. This cheaper, more environmentally friendly solution is built in a factory, and assembled at the construction site. The packaged home is ready to assemble with walls, panels, doors, windows and flooring, all constructed onto a pre-built foundation.
In addition to their cost-efficient production, modular homes are highly customizable, allowing a homeowner to use similar styled blocks of home to add in multiple configurations, crafting their own unique abode.
Some benefits of constructing a modular home:
- Because the home is built in a factory, the process is significantly faster due to construction never having to halt due to poor weather.
- Limits amount of waste by constructing multiple projects at once, therefore any excess waste from one project can easily be applied to another.
- Due to indoor labor, factory fabricated homes can be worked on around the clock, unlike onsite construction that must halt after dark or due to inclement weather.
Not That Kind of Pi
Where an energy efficient solution meets a sleek, luxurious and space saving design—you’ll find the Pi Home. Mexican Modern architecture professor, Miguel Angel Aragonés, and Taller Aragonés debuted the prototype of a luxury modular home in the wooded hillside of Mexico City, called “Casa Pi”. The translated acronym is short for “Intelligent Prefabricated”. The goal was to transform the housing model in search of a more pro-active home solution with a greater concentration on its environmental impact. The design stems from the idea of creating a modular constructive system that was sustainable, high in quality, would accelerate construction times and improve acoustic and thermal performance as well as reducing construction costs and waste.
The Pi home, while taking up a small amount of space is great for single family home. The consolidated building combines the structure with the furniture and is a “piece of furniture you can live in—a livable object”.
The Pi home is fabricated from lightweight extrusion-die aluminum framing. Aluminum rapidly gained popularity when it showed up at the beginning of the 20th century. It is one of the most widely recyclable metals and chosen for its lightness and durability; and this Swiss patented design has been praised for the first-of-its-kind aluminum structure.
The home’s walls and joists thermal and waffle insulation system meets California’s high R22 sustainability standard, offering complete thermal break to prevent leakage of heat through the structure. The walls and floors are fabricated from MDF (medium density fiberboard) and the insulation between the exterior cladding and interior walls ensures a high energy efficient rating. The Thermal-acoustic system reduces energy consumption to achieve your desired comfort level, whether or not a central AC is used.
At the exterior of the structure is a rear curtain wall system that opens to an outdoor patio raised above the surrounding landscape—a perfect place to install a Panda HSW system or TS.X0 for an uninterrupted view of the nature you’ve been looking to get in touch with.
This ultralight, adjustable, innovative, low maintenance build has comprehensive quality and is perfect for your next home away from home, or forever home. These units start at about $30,000 for a 55 sqm house.
Built from a Box
A part of the Pi Home’s inexpensive appeal is are the shipping and assembly. Thanks to the lightweight aluminum used to craft the home, the pieces are able to be built in a factory, then laid flat and shipped to your build site. The structure can be configured to the site’s topography and anchored with rebar to the ground or a concrete foundation.
Most of the pieces used to construct the Pi system are less than 78 kilos, and can be assembled by two or more people without the use of heavy machinery. Therefore, with a crew of 6-8 people, your Pi Home can be assembled in less than 50 days.
Customizing Your Pi Home
This prepackaged home can be configured in a number of ways: vertically, horizontally in a chain configuration, or as a combination resulting in a hybrid final configuration. Then, the Pi Home prefab comes move in ready with appliances, furniture and finishes chosen by you, the owner, and does not require painting, waterproofing or anti-corrosion coatings. The fully customizable interior, furniture, fabrics and wall panel veneers are sure to make you feel at home in your desired aesthetic. But that’s not where the customization has to stop.
With Panda’s window and door systems, you have even more choices when it comes to your Pi. Bring a sleek, modern or elegant twist to your modular home, with one of our pivot doors, sliding doors or any of our other state of the art systems. Panda offers 13 pivot doors on our Voyage Select line inspired by exotic locations around the world. Sustainability and design can work sympatico in this customizable home. A pivot door would make a great front door addition to add a bit a flare to your Pi home. Or possibly, open up the view on the back of your Pi home with a Panda Multi-Slide door. These doors can be pocketed and open up your space while adding a near lightweight aluminum fixture. With our Thermally broken systems such as the TS.83, this door will help aid in keeping cold air out and warm air in and vice-versa.
Luxury For Less
It’s no secret that the state of the housing market is in flux, with a majority of the time it going on prolonged upward hikes. To make matters worse, the availability of affordable housing options is scarce. One solution homebuyers have been looking into is Tiny Homes. These cost-efficient and design streamlined little houses are giving potential buyers a bit of ease.
In the US and UK Tiny Homes are going for a fraction of the cost of traditional homes, which, let’s be honest, aren’t always getting you the most space for your dollar. In the UK, a standard model Tiny Home can run about €50,000; while in the US these DIY configurations can be as cheap as $30,000 with companies like the Durango, Colorado based entity, Rocky Mountain Tiny Houses.
While companies like this and others are working to make affordable housing solutions, they are most certainly not leaving luxury behind. The Following companies are just a few that specialize in making Tiny Homes with a high-end feel to them:
- Timbercraft Tiny Homes (Alabama)
- Zyl Vardos (Washington)
- Wheelhaus (Wyoming)
- Texzen (Texas)
- Greenpod (Washington)
Here at Panda Windows and Doors we offer a line of budget friendly window and door options with our Panda Select line. Add a touch of elegance with one of our Multi Slide doors on your modular home; or perhaps a Lift and Slide system that’s perfect for keeping nature outside where it belongs; or maybe, you’re a traditionalist when it comes to design and would like to keep it simple with one of our modern French Door systems. With this line of doors, you can forgo a few extra design options to keep your Tiny Home budget affordable and worthwhile.
Community at Home
In addition to its economic benefits, Tiny Homes are also great community builders. Several Tiny Home communities across the country have come to be. These communities act as a collective of like-minded individuals looking to foster an environment with minimal carbon emissions and environmental impacts all with the goal of creating a sustainable lifestyle.
In Mt. Laguna, California, a community has emerged called Tiny House Block. The sustainable living environment was founded by brother-sister duo Melissa and Jon Block. Jon is a music festival producer and Melissa owns and operates multi-unit properties. This energy efficient commune is Southern California’s first Tiny House village and offers short term leases of 1-night to 3-month leases with available options of buying. The village is built on 3.5 acres of nature near numerous hiking/ walking trails and there is an on-site café and tavern.
In La Junta, Colorado, Sprout Tiny Homes is spearheading a project to build a development of 200 rental little houses. It would be the largest tiny home community in the US. The homes range in size from 260-760 square feet.
Shared Energy: Node Homes
While not necessarily an official Tiny House community, a Seattle-based startup is crafting a Tiny Home collection with big hopes of revolutionizing the energy use of our homes. Node is a brand of Modern Prefabs built for radical sustainability—which is perfect for Seattle, a state that is known for its efforts towards a greener way of life.
Much like the Pi home, these carbon negative homes are assembled straight out of the box onto a low impact foundation system. The customizable little house offers mix-and-match configurations that includes solar panels for energy efficient fixtures, rainwater collection system to give your home an efficient way to conserve water, composting toilets and storage. With these sustainability features, the Node home helps its homeowner go off-grid and offsets carbon cost of home’s materials.
The Node home follows Passivhaus design principles of energy efficiency, and additional efforts to decrease the carbon emissions includes the utilization of supplies from non-toxic materials like recycled denim are used for wall insulation and recycled glass for ceiling insulation. The designs of Node homes range from small geometric cabins to modular designs of larger family homes.
It is of worth to note that all of these state-of-the-art design features don’t complicate the assembly of this tiny home. The Node is referred to as the “IKEA of houses” because in can be built and ready to move into in 3 to 8 months post permitting approval.
To top off all of these forward-thinking sustainable lifestyle hacks, the Node company hopes to eventually have homes linked up and sharing power between them. This Tiny House startup is most certainly looking towards a brighter and long-lasting future.
And why not do energy efficiency in style. With one of our budget-friendly Panda Select doors, you can limit your energy use with our thermally broken sliding door options. Our Thermally Broken Aluminum Wood LTS.31 system. Or perhaps our All aluminum Thermally Broken LTS.30 system. These lightweight sliding doors are sure to give your space an open feel with plenty of natural light, while simultaneously standing up to cold, heat, inclement weather and corrosion for those Tiny Homes in the most extreme weather environment. With this feature, you can keep your heating and cooling appliance use at a minimum and let our affordable sliding doors do the work. These brilliant systems are sure to be a wonderful addition to your energy efficient home.
A Soft Place to Land
So where can you put your tiny home? Currently a few select states have made it legal to own and live in a Tiny House on Wheels (THOW), including Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, Florida, Texas, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and North Carolina. However, most cities have only made the little homes legal as an accessory dwelling unit; meaning they can be on your property, but cannot act as your primary residence long-term. Additional city guidelines are in effect as well, such as not being able to park your home in your front yard.
Because of these regulations many Tiny Homes have settled on camping sites or specific rental properties geared towards a commune style village; so we have small collectives of individuals utilizing more sustainable methods to better the environment, even if they are not backed by federal law.
According to David Latimer, CEO and founder of New Frontier Design, “There’s no official legal government regulated body…and no credit facility for tiny homes. And as we know, it’s also very prohibitive where you can place them legally.” While, this is true, there is an entity championing the fight for Tiny House development. The Tiny Home Industry Association is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to, “advocate for regulation changes, develop industry best practices and construction standards, all to increase widespread use of tiny homes as permissible and permanent housing.”
A Little Space, A Lot of Options
Those looking to purchase a Tiny Home have many choices when perusing sustainable living homes. Whether you’re looking for a more high-end home, or something more rustic, or even searching for specific environmental impact free factors, there is a Tiny Home for you. The following are a few our favorites:
Founded in 2015, this Quebec-based Tiny Home company specializes in sustainable Tiny Homes on wheels that allow the homeowner to live off-grid with a myriad of selections when it comes to utility hookups.
Rocky Mountain Tiny Houses
These budget friendly tiny home range from 12-foot trailers to 37-foot goosenecks. They also offer DIY plans for sale if you’d like to be involved in the process from start to finish.
Custom Container Living
These high-quality little houses are built from used shipping containers shifting their environmental impact from the waste of a traditional home to be a more eco-friendly, resilient and versatile modular home.
Tumbleweed Tiny House Company
These fully customizable DIY Tiny Homes allow buyers to customize the inside and outside of their home, to install the perfect roofs, windows and finishes, including those from our Panda line of windows and doors. They offer prefab options or plans to craft a DIY sustainable living structure.
New Frontier Tiny Homes
These little luxury homes come designed with unique exteriors that are sure to dazzle, while remaining eco-friendly. Its largest model includes two-bedrooms, a walk-in closet and a chef’s kitchen.
This family-owned company offers pre-owned energy efficient compounds making home ownership way more affordable. These “pre-loved” tiny houses come in eight different models.
Questions About Tiny Home Living
How much does the Pi Home cost?
The energy efficient Pi home prefab starts at around $30,000 for a 55 square foot modular home.
How Much Do Node Homes cost?
The base price for a Node home starts off at about $250-350 per square foot.
Is It Cheaper to buy or build a Tiny House?
While some Tiny Home companies start at around $30,000-50,000 to buy a home, several companies including Tumbleweed Tiny House Company and Rocky Mountain Tiny Houses offer DIY plans as low as $79-249. From there, the budgeting and materials are based on your own design choices.
Can You Permanently Live in a Tiny Home?
While Tiny Homes are great for lowering carbon emissions and living a more energy efficient and sustainable lifestyle, it is not always practical to live in one full time. Tiny homes don’t have key building elements in them, allowing them to maintain their size, making them a mostly temporary living situation. Some laws make it difficult to even have the choice to live in them permanently. Chris March founder of Eco Homes states that it is “virtually impossible [in the UK] to get full planning permission to live in [a tiny house] full-time and site it on a permanent basis.”
In Which States are Tiny Houses Legal?
Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, Florida, Texas, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and North Carolina have made it legal to own a Tiny House on Wheels (THOW).
Are Tiny Houses Actually Cheaper?
A traditional home can easily cost $200,000 or more to build, while a Tiny Home can be as low as $30,000. Where the Tiny Home is placed should also be considered in your budget. Some campsites offer rental space for about $500 a month.
What is Meant by Sustainable Living?
Sustainable living is a conscientious way of doing life where you focus your efforts on limiting your energy use and reducing your carbon footprint to create a thriving environment for future generations to come.
What Are Some Examples of Sustainable Living?
There are countless was to live a more sustainable lifestyle starting with your home and even the way you do life at work, school or on your commute. Here are a few sustainable methods to consider:
- Energy-Efficient Appliances
- With energy efficient appliances you can reduce your energy use and even conserve water to create a more sustainable home environment.
- Adding a recycling bin and properly disposing of glass, paper and plastic items can help reduce carbon emissions at landfills.
- This is hands on creative method of recycling by repurposing trash or waste into art or purposeful objects.
- Buying an indoor or outdoor compost bin can help to repurpose food and biodegradable waste in your home and also help eliminate the smell of your trash.
- Use car alternatives
- Alternate methods of transportation including biking, walking, taking the bus as a means to conserve energy.
Contact us today to learn more about how we can help add to the build of the tiny home of your dreams.
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