3 Tiny Houses That Let You Live Green—and off the Grid

Equipped with solar panels, wind turbines, and rainwater tanks, these micro-dwellings are designed for independent living.
(Photo: EcoCapsule)
Jun 24, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Melanie Haiken is a San Francisco Bay Area–based health, science, and travel writer who contributes regularly to Forbes.com and numerous national magazines.

The tiny-house fad appears to be here to stay, fetishized in a stream of articles and fueled by a fascination with living a less materialistic lifestyle. Companies like Tumbleweed Tiny Houses, Sprout, and Wheelhaus are more than happy to make this downsizing dream a reality, offering a myriad of micro-models that provide fodder for get-away-from-it-all fantasies.

So, Why You Should Care? Delve a little deeper and you’ll see that all too often, the cost of these inspiring designs doesn’t figure in the need for water, plumbing, and electrical hookups.

With many areas limiting water permits or requiring owners to adhere to complex waste-disposal regulations, the need to connect to these grids makes many sites off-limits for building.

Visit New Mexico’s flagship Earthship visitor’s center, as I did last year, and you’re likely to be impressed and overwhelmed; this type of biotecture is a major endeavor.

Such necessities are often the strongest inspiration for invention. Hence the recent unveiling of three energy-independent prefab “pod” houses, the creations of designers determined to show that a future of self-sustaining green living is here.


(Photo: zeroHouse)

Also in the prototype phase is zeroHouse, the brainchild of design firm Specht Harpman, based in New York City and Austin, Texas. The über-modern designers, known for their TED Talk “Size Matters,” seem to have thought of everything, from solar panels and a 2,700-gallon rainwater-collection cistern to a below-deck waste digester that produces a dry form of compost that you remove and dispose of a couple times a year. Much larger at 650 square feet than any of the other self-standing dwellings, it can house up to four people and has two bedrooms, full-size appliances, and a separate living room and kitchen. There are plenty of windows and two decks to extend the space. It’s also by far the most high-tech micro-house, regulated by sensors that can be controlled from a laptop.


(Photo: EcoCapsule)

Cross a space capsule with an Airstream and you have some idea of the EcoCapsule, a turbine-topped, egg-shaped pod introduced at Venice’s high-tech DIY Pioneers Festival a few weeks ago. Conceived by its makers, Bratislava-based Nice Architects, as emergency housing as well as a long-term living space, the EcoCapsule can fit in a standard shipping container for transport. It lives up to its name, equipped with solar panels and a wind turbine to supply electricity that is stored in an onboard battery. Plans include a camper version, which makes sense, because the EcoCapsule is laid out much like a Volkswagen Westfalia. A loft bed sits above a small dining and workspace, and there’s lots of clever storage tucked away around the house. But forget the Indian-print bedspreads; the curved white walls and chrome exterior could frame a scene from Interstellar. Still in development, the EcoCapsule has not been priced, but buyers can start placing orders in the fall, with production to start in early 2016.


(Photo: Vitra)

Visit the sprawling campus of design museum Vitra in Weil am Rhein, Germany, and you might walk right by Diogene, tucked as it is behind Buckminster Fuller’s seminal 1975 geodesic dome. At just 81 square feet (approximately eight by 10 feet), the brushed aluminum cabin looks like a futuristic reimagining of a garden shed. A peek at its features, however, reveals it to be anything but. Topped with solar panels and a rooftop boiler that heats rainwater, the modular structure is the ultimate in minimalist dwelling, complete with a kitchen, a shower and bio-toilet, and a bed tucked cunningly under the roof, with a skylight view.

Architect Renzo Piano conceived of his high-style pod house as a personal project, but when European design magazines like Abitaire and Domus began covering it, financers came out of the woodwork. It’s not clear that Diogene, 10 years in the design stage, will ever be commercially available, despite an early estimated arrival date of 2016. Still, like its namesake, the barrel-dwelling Greek philosopher Diogenes, who eschewed worldly possessions, it stands as fitting inspiration for those similarly inclined.