Net-zero solar powered tiny house could help ease city's affordable housing crisis (Video)

Laney College
© Laney College

The lack of affordable housing is a dire problem in many major metropolitan areas. It is a complex issue, brought about by increased demand, falling home ownership rates among millennials, real estate speculation, and gentrification. Aiming to suggest one possible solution to a growing affordable housing crisis in Oakland, California, students from Laney College built this net-zero, solar-powered tiny home as part of a competition organized by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) last year.

Laney College© Laney College
Laney College© Laney College

Dubbed The Wedge, this economical, 200-square-foot home on a 20-foot trailer is designed for local residents who have been priced out of traditionally blue-collar neighbourhoods. The house has been designed with a "balanced energy system" that keeps maintenance costs low. The team explains some of the details of this net-zero energy building:

The Wedge is designed and built to produce as much energy is consumed. The Wedge generates its own power via an array of solar panels installed on the roof and is designed to run solely on its own generated power. Power from the solar panels is used to charge a bank of batteries so that there is enough power at all times to run lights, cook and use other devices within the home that consume electricity even when the sun’s not shining. An inverter is used to convert power from the 24 volt DC bank of batteries to standard household power of 120 volts AC for a limited number of devices requiring AC power. In general though, most of the lighting and other devices in the house are powered directly from DC power.

The Wedge gets its name from its distinct, jutting shape, which informs the sitting area on the interior, offering a sloping surface to lean against. There is built-in storage in the L-shaped seating, as well as the stairs leading up to the main sleeping loft.

Laney College© Laney College
Laney College© Laney College

It is also flexible in terms of occupancy, as it features two lofted beds -- one fitting a queen-sized bed, the other for a single bed -- meaning that the home is not designed just for singles and couples, but potentially for families too.

Laney College© Laney College
Laney College© Laney College

To keep the kitchen streamlined, everything is incorporated into the large counter, including a smaller-sized refrigerator, pantry and two-burner induction stovetop.

Laney College© Laney College

The dining and work surface has customized furniture that can tuck underneath.

Laney College© Laney College

To keep water usage low in a state that's been experiencing water scarcity for some time, a composting toilet is used in the bathroom. Greywater is reused for watering farm produce, after being filtered by a natural gravel and wetland plant based filtration system. The hope is that tiny houses like The Wedge can be incorporated somehow into a development plan that includes urban farming initiatives.

Laney College© Laney College

The team explains their electrical system further, which includes a solar panel array, as well as a battery bank to store surplus power. While there is an inverter to convert the 24 volt DC current into 120 volt AC, the design tries to eliminate the loss of power through conversion:

In general, we tried to power most of the lighting and other devices in the house directly from DC power so as to avoid the overhead of perhaps 10 to 10 percent that is incurred when converting power from the the 24 volt DC battery bank to 120 volt AC.

This approach has some trade-offs, though:

Our hot water will be heated with electricity and once again we chose to do that using 24 volts DC so as not to incur a power conversion overhead. We replaced the 120 volt 1650 watt heating element in a conventional 10 gallon electric water heater with a 24 volt 600 watt heating element and as a result it will take longer to heat our water. We have attempted to address this issue by setting a higher temperature on the water heater and using a thermostatic mixing valve.

Laney College© Laney College

The affordable housing crisis is a complex one indeed, one that will require not just the construction of smaller, cheaper homes. It'll require a sea change in policy, bylaws, building codes and how our social and economic systems work -- but certainly, smaller, more energy-efficient homes can be part of a bigger solution. Having won a bunch of accolades for the SMUD competition, including "Best Architecture" and "Best Design", The Wedge is now on sale for USD $55,000. For more information, visit The Wedge and Tiny House Listings.

[Via: Tiny House Swoon]

Tags: California | Less Is More | Living With Less | Small Spaces

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