An Off-Grid Tiny Home Experiment Puts a Group of Students to the Test

A class at the University of Coburg tries out a pint-size solution to the building sector’s big carbon emissions problem.
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Project Details:

Location: University of Coburg, Germany

Year Built: 2022

Architect: Professor Dr. Rainer Hirth, LBA MA Architecture, Anders Macht, and students

Footprint: 206 square feet

From the Architect: "The project started with a number of seminars created to address problems in the building sector. According to an UN report from 2020, the construction sector is responsible for 38 percent of all CO2 emissions globally; for an immense and constantly growing consumption of resources, and, in Germany, for around 55 percent of all waste. The constantly increasing demand for living space per capita—the average is currently 48 square meters (516 square feet) in Germany— eliminates all progress in sustainability through a rebound effect.

"So, the idea came about to design and build an alternative research building and monitor its performance with one or two inhabitants over a period of five years. The goal was to create an experimental building based on the cradle-to-cradle principle, a building that would be CO2-neutral, off-grid, and operated by only solar power. The building would be made exclusively from reused and renewable materials.

"The project began with an urban planning analysis and it soon became very clear that tiny houses only make sense for re-densification in inner cities on leftover plots, on top of buildings, or in carparks. Under no circumstances should they consume new land in the outskirts of a city. The prototype house we’ve created occupies a parking lot and is thus also a statement on the need for less car traffic.

"We asked ourselves, what do people need for an acceptable level of comfort? We need a bed for two, a wardrobe, a laptop working space, a micro bathroom, and a small optimized kitchen in a light, open, and architecturally sophisticated building. And surely, we also need a sofa and flexible furniture to host at least four people.

"In following the cradle-to-cradle principle, the house had to be sustainable, inexpensive, and easy to build and dismantle. The Circular Tiny House CTH*1 team avoided CO2 emissions and materials/mineral binders, such as concrete, lime plaster, etc. It is almost exclusively made from renewable materials such as straw, timber, and clay. All building materials came were sourced locally, including the timber, the lightly damaged bark beetle. The clay, chalk, and reused building components such as the windows were sourced from nearby demolished buildings.

"The application of the cradle-to-cradle principle was also specified—there are no nails. The building can be completely dismantled with a battery screwdriver when monitoring process is over. There will be neither a demolition hammer nor a rubbish container, and the straw and the clay will be plowed. Timber, windows, and doors will be donated back to the building sector.

"The CTH*1 on the campus of Coburg University will be used as a guest flat for the faculty of design with a semester-related period of use from March 15 to December 1. It will be fully autonomous for 10-and-a-half months by roof integrated photovoltaic modules and a large battery. Rain water will be collected, purified, and used for all purposes. These efforts will be monitored and verified over a period of five years."

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