Curiosity is surging in tiny houses – livable dwelling models that sometimes measure below 400 sq. ft (37 sq. meters). A lot of this curiosity is pushed by media protection that claims that dwelling in tiny houses is nice for the planet.
It might appear intuitively apparent that downsizing to a tiny residence would scale back one’s environmental affect, because it means occupying a a lot smaller house and consuming fewer assets.
However little analysis has been performed to really measure how folks’s environmental behaviors change after they make this drastic transfer.
For my doctorate in environmental design and planning, I sought to fill this hole in information by creating a examine that might present measurable proof on how downsizing influences environmental impacts.
First I surveyed 80 downsizers who had lived in tiny houses for a yr or extra, to calculate their ecological footprints in prior housing and present ecological footprints of their tiny homes. Then I performed 9 in-depth interviews to study behaviors that modified after downsizing.
I discovered that amongst 80 tiny residence downsizers situated throughout the USA, ecological footprints have been decreased by about 45 p.c on common. Surprisingly, I discovered that downsizing can affect many components of 1’s way of life and cut back impacts on the setting in surprising methods.
The unsustainable US housing mannequin
In latest a long time, the constructing development has been to “go huge”. Newly constructed houses in the USA typically have a bigger common sq. footage than in every other nation on this planet.
In 1973 the common newly constructed US residence measured 1,660 sq. ft (154 sq. meters). By 2017 that common had elevated to 2,631 sq. ft (244 sq. meters) – a 63 p.c enhance.
This progress has harmed the setting in some ways, together with lack of inexperienced house, elevated air air pollution and power consumption, and ecosystem fragmentation, which may cut back biodiversity.
The idea of minimalist dwelling has existed for hundreds of years, however the trendy tiny home motion turned a development solely within the early 2000s, when one of many first tiny residence constructing firms was based.
Tiny houses are an revolutionary housing strategy that may cut back constructing materials waste and extreme consumption. There isn’t a common definition for a tiny residence, however they typically are small, environment friendly areas that worth high quality over amount.
Folks select to downsize to tiny houses for a lot of causes. They might embrace dwelling a extra environmentally pleasant way of life, simplifying their lives and possessions, changing into extra cell or attaining monetary freedom, since tiny houses sometimes value considerably lower than the common American residence.
Many assessments of the tiny-house motion have asserted with out quantitative proof that people who downsize to tiny houses can have a considerably decrease environmental affect.
Then again, some critiques trace that tiny residence dwelling might lend itself to unsustainable practices.
Understanding footprint modifications after downsizing
This examine examined tiny residence downsizers’ environmental impacts by measuring their particular person ecological footprints. This metric calculates human demand on nature by offering a measurement of land wanted to maintain present consumption behaviors.
To do that, I calculated their spatial footprints by way of world hectares, contemplating housing, transportation, meals, items and companies.
For reference, one world hectare is equal to about 2.5 acres, or in regards to the dimension of a single soccer subject.
I discovered that amongst 80 tiny residence downsizers situated throughout the USA, the common ecological footprint was three.87 world hectares, or about 9.5 acres.
Because of this it will require 9.5 acres to assist that individual’s way of life for one yr. Earlier than transferring into tiny houses, these respondents’ common footprint was 7.01 world hectares (17.three acres). For comparability, the common American’s footprint is eight.four world hectares, or 20.eight acres.
My most attention-grabbing discovering was that housing was not the one element of contributors’ ecological footprints that modified. On common, each main element of downsizers’ existence, together with meals, transportation and consumption of products and companies, was positively influenced.
As a complete, I discovered that after downsizing folks have been extra more likely to eat much less energy-intensive meals merchandise and undertake extra environmentally acutely aware consuming habits, equivalent to consuming extra domestically and rising extra of their very own meals. Individuals traveled much less by automobile, bike, bus, practice and airplane, and drove extra fuel-efficient automobiles than they did earlier than downsizing.
Additionally they bought considerably fewer gadgets, recycled extra plastic and paper, and generated much less trash. In sum, I discovered that downsizing was an necessary step towards lowering ecological footprints and inspiring pro-environmental behaviors.
To take these findings a step farther, I used to be ready to make use of footprint knowledge to calculate what number of assets might doubtlessly be saved if a small portion of People downsized. I discovered that about 366 million acres of biologically productive land may very well be saved if simply 10 p.c of People downsized to a tiny residence.
Positive-tuning footprint analyses
My analysis recognized greater than 100 behaviors that modified after downsizing to a tiny residence. Roughly 86 p.c had a optimistic affect, whereas the remaining have been unfavorable.
Some selections, equivalent to harvesting rainwater, adopting a capsule wardrobe strategy and carpooling, decreased particular person environmental impacts. Others might doubtlessly increase folks’s footprints – for instance, touring extra and consuming out extra typically.
A handful of unfavorable behaviors weren’t consultant of all contributors within the examine, however nonetheless are necessary to debate. As an illustration, some contributors drove longer distances after transferring to rural areas the place their tiny houses may very well be parked.
Others ate out extra actually because they’d smaller kitchens, or recycled much less as a result of they lacked house to retailer recyclables and had much less entry to curbside recycling companies.
You will need to determine these behaviors with the intention to perceive potential unfavorable implications of tiny residence dwelling and allow designers to handle them.
It is usually necessary to notice that some behaviors I recorded might have been influenced by elements aside from downsizing to a tiny residence. As an illustration, some folks may need decreased their automobile journey as a result of they’d just lately retired.
Nonetheless, all contributors on this examine decreased their footprints by downsizing to tiny houses, even when they didn’t downsize for environmental causes.
This means that downsizing leads folks to undertake behaviors which can be higher for the setting. These findings present necessary insights for the sustainable housing trade and implications for future analysis on tiny houses.
As an illustration, somebody might be able to current this examine to a planning fee workplace of their city to point out how and why tiny houses are a sustainable housing strategy.
These outcomes have the potential to additionally assist tiny residence builders and designers, individuals who need to create tiny residence communities and others attempting to vary zoning ordinances of their cities to assist tiny houses. I hope this work will spur further analysis that produces extra reasonably priced and sustainable housing selections for extra People.
Maria Saxton, Ph.D. Candidate in Environmental Planning and Design, Virginia Tech.
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