Home Designing Service, Ltd

Residential Design Specialists serving Connecticut and beyond

Tiny Homes: Part 3

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No, no, come back! It’s ok, I promise. And, yeah, I know I promised the second part would be good times and it wasn’t, not entirely, but this one is totally a barefoot walk through soft grass and sweet-smelling wildflowers. Or whatever personal equivalent makes your day. When you get through all the flaming circus hoops (these aren’t in a field of flowers, that would be a fire hazard), the rest is a blast. It’s picking out just that right shade of [insert specific thing you want here] and being really, really picky about the kind of message your home says about you.

You see, maybe you don’t have the money for an authentic Tudor-revival filled with handcrafted everything and tile specially imported from Italy. Maybe you have the artistic sensibilities of Warhol or Frank Lloyd Wright, but the budget of your friends the Schmermans with only one income and three kids. You want unique, but you’d like to keep your family and not gain a bankruptcy. In this story, it also helps if you absolutely refuse to settle for anything less than the best materials available.
Best, in this case, is absolutely dependent on what you want, but green tends to be the way to go with tiny homes. Green can mean anything from reclaimed to new-age materials. People automatically think solar panels, experimental structural components and super great insulation, and, yeah, solar energy is pretty ubiquitous, but there’s a lot of play in the other two.
If you can imagine a benign waste product, they probably make bricks out of it. Hemp, sawdust, the ash from smoke stacks, straw, steel dust. All bricks now. All green. But my personal favorite is a thing called Mycelium. It’s a fungus, or, more specifically, the material that makes up the tough stalk of mushrooms. It can be persuaded to grow around cores of straw and then air dried. The resulting bricks are fire, water and, oddly enough, mold resistant. It’s a better insulation than fiberglass and it’s stronger than concrete. Mushroom houses. What a time to be alive, right? A new but trending material is rammed earth. It is exactly what it sounds like. They take wet earth and then they use these machines that look like a forced union between a jackhammer and an immersion blender to tamp or “ram” it down as hard as it will go. The frame holding it up is then taken away and it leaves behind this hard, incredibly insulating wall with a cool, ripply, sedimentary rock appearance. There’s even a company called Dwell that makes, you guessed it, bricks of the stuff.
And then there’s always reclaimed material. It’s often not possible or affordable to make an entire house from eclectic stuff you find in scrap yards or antique shops. But a tiny home? Definitely. Walls in those old windows that used to be above doors in schools, the siding of barns that have gone silver with time and decades of rain and wind, pre-rusted corrugated metal, an entire train car, floorboards of sanded and polished train ties. Anything. And because it’s reclaimed, it’s green. There are all sorts of grants, government and otherwise, you can look into before you start building your tiny, green home. I’m not going to go into the specifics, because there are A LOT of them, but a simple Google search will put you on the right track. Just this year in Quebec, a cabin was made by Canadian firm Architecture Casa that was rated LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold. They used reclaimed materials, flawless insulation, a design that minimized its impact on the surrounding environment (it was built to allow a natural stream to run under it), passive solar panels, radiant heating concrete floors and windows placed to capture the most sunlight possible. It’s a touch bigger than a normal tiny home (small or below average, maybe), but the point is it was built intelligently and now has an energy consumption approaching 0. It only uses what it produces itself.
Now, a lot of this hinges on the fact that you want to have a tiny home and not a mobile tiny home. A lot of these materials aren’t meant to move. Or are too heavy to be cheap on travel costs. But there are things you can do for the kind of tiny home with get-up-and-go. Recycled cotton insulation, there’s always the solar panels, you basically want to go as light as possible to reduce the gas cost. And you should still find a way to use those Mycelium blocks, because those are really cool. And honestly, if you can’t say you live in a house made of mushroom, why even do it? I appreciate you sticking with me in the ups and downs of this tiny house series. Home Designing Service is more than qualified to put together the plans of your next dream, tiny or otherwise. Next up, we’re going to be looking at the opposite end of the housing spectrum. Mansions, castles big enough to be sovereign nations unto themselves, and the like. Can’t wait to see you there.

Evolution of the House: Part 4 – Where No Walls Have Gone Before

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Over the last few weeks, we’ve taken a look at the history of housing, where it originated, the path it took through the centuries and where it is, more or less, today. It’s been a long, bumpy ride with many cool discoveries (like indoor plumbing, that was neat), but the houses being built now, some of them on the very edge of new technology, are the craziest things yet.

 

But before we get into that, how about a look at slightly more regular improvements with today’s houses. Sustainable and zero energy houses are becoming more and more popular, with systems like LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and Energy Star in place to rate how effective they are.

Neat!

First LEED Platinum class house in East Asia. Completely self sufficient.

 

The most used process is good insulation, or building in a way that maximizes surrounding features to hold onto or shed heat faster, such as wind currents, positioning of the sun and shade and building layout that either increases or minimizes surface area. Past that, though, is energy reclamation, passive and active solar power, wind turbines and heat pumps among other things.

 

Existing homes can be modified to function at or near sustainable levels, but zero energy or energy-plus houses depart significantly from traditional construction practice, so must be created new. Zero energy homes use all the features previously mentioned but to a higher degree and contain superinsulation techniques. Energy-plus homes are actually constructed in such a way that they generate more energy than they use, benefitting the local community.

 

But who cares about all that, right? Bring on the high-tech gadgets. Like that $13 million home in Telluride where you can control temp and humidity, multi-room audio-visual systems, alarms and outdoor video monitoring from an iPad. Or the house in Portugal that makes the most out of its smaller space by being able to actually move its walls and produce hideaway flatscreen tvs with a touch of a button. Better yet is a Los Angeles home that incorporates the iPad control from the first home with the ability to also use it to change the colors of interior and exterior walls.

 

And let’s not leave out the possibility of living off-earth. In a few years, maybe the cutting edge of housing includes geodesic domes on the moon or Mars, maybe they’re little space stations orbiting Earth or large ships making use of breakthroughs in physics to seek out other planets like ours. Seems pretty hard to believe, but fifty years ago, changing the colors of all the walls in your house with a magic sheet of metal and plastic probably seemed far-fetched too.

Space Ship

Welcome mat not included.

 

So if you’re looking for something, whether it’s a well-appointed tent in up-state New York or a gigantic mansion that runs on classified technology and doubles as a generator for the surrounding city, Home Designing Service is where it’s at. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, we are no longer able to design space ships. We offer our sincere apologies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Evolution of the House: Part 1 – Before Walls Were Walls

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Chances are, if you’re reading this blog, you have a home. You may not have a house, per se, but you have a place where you go to be warm, to sleep, to take your clothes off without risk of being jailed for public indecency. A structure you can, in one way or another, call your own. If you do not fit into this category, if you are, in fact, homeless, then you should stop reading. I believe in visualizing your goals, but reading a blog about home designing in the hopes that you will someday get a home is, perhaps, putting the cart before the horse. So to speak.

Anyway, with that disclaimer out of the way, I’d like to give you another. This won’t be a philosophical discussion on the difference between House and Home. Just assume that if I use either of those words, unless I say otherwise or context leans heavily in the other direction, what I mean is a building or something like it.

What this article will be about, however, is the house itself. Where it came from, where it is now, where it’s going. And like other great stories, I’ll start at the beginning. Or as near the beginning as is possible. The introduction of housing isn’t exactly a known occurrence to historians. Obviously being sheltered from the elements was as important then as it is now, we just don’t know when people started thinking about it officially.

With that ambiguity in mind, most of these early examples will be lacking in hard dates and solid facts. Some of it is historical conjecture, based on a look at the society as a whole, not necessarily archaeological findings.

Earliest forms of housing were likely as simple as trees with dense foliage or caves, especially in warmer climates. Provided those living outdoors like that didn’t have to contend with hostile animals or nasty weather, they worked fine. But in those early years, farming wasn’t really what it is today, and to survive, people needed to be close to animals. Unless trees and caves underwent a serious evolution lately, they were as immovable then as they are now.

So it wasn’t a gigantic leap of logic that brought people to the idea of tents. Small, light structures comprised of a frame of wooden poles and animal skins, they went up fast, they kept out the rain and they were easy to travel with. This allowed early humans to protect themselves as they followed migrating herds of animals. This was also the beginning of the concept of architecture.

 

Luxury Living

2 bedroom, 1 1/2 bath, large backyard, low taxes.

It might not seem like much, but it wasn’t long before people were trying to make their tents bigger, trying to understand how to structure the frame in a way that it would accept a heavier load, etc. Within a handful of years, those tents started looking a lot like what we would consider houses, with multiple rooms, some of them even had multiple stories. Yet they were still easy enough to break down if everyone needed to pick up and move. And, as such, there was a definite lack of permanence. But that would change.

The start to housing was, I think we can all agree, pretty boring. I mean, there’s really only so much interior decorating you can do with a tent. There are no Victorian inspired tents, or Tudor Revival tents. But next week, we’ll get into where REAL houses started to take off, with walls and roofs and everything.

For those interested in Home Designing Service-created tents, I regret to inform you that a recent stampede of angry pickles destroyed the warehouse where we kept them. We can, however, whip up one of those fancy houses for you, if you want. I might even throw in a drawing of a tent. These deals don’t come along every day. Call now.

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