Are tiny homes actually higher for the setting?, research asks

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Curiosity is surging in tiny properties—livable dwelling items that sometimes measure below 400 sq. ft. A lot of this curiosity is pushed by media protection that claims that residing in tiny properties is nice for the planet.

It might appear intuitively apparent that downsizing to a tiny residence would scale back one’s environmental influence, because it means occupying a a lot smaller house and consuming fewer assets. However little analysis has been finished to really measure how individuals’s environmental behaviors change once they make this drastic transfer.

For my doctorate in environmental design and planning, I sought to fill this hole in data by growing a research that might present measurable proof on how downsizing influences environmental impacts. First I surveyed 80 downsizers who had lived in tiny properties for a 12 months 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 find out about behaviors that modified after downsizing.

I discovered that amongst 80 tiny residence downsizers positioned throughout the USA, ecological footprints had been diminished by about 45% on common. Surprisingly, I discovered that downsizing can affect many elements of 1’s way of life and cut back impacts on the setting in surprising methods.

The unsustainable U.S. housing mannequin

In current many years, the constructing pattern has been to “go massive.” Newly constructed properties in the USA usually have a bigger common sq. footage than in another nation on the planet.

In 1973, the typical newly constructed U.S. residence measured 1,660 sq. ft. By 2017, that common had elevated to 2,631 sq. ft—a 63% improve. This development has harmed the setting in some ways, together with lack of inexperienced house, elevated air air pollution and vitality consumption, and ecosystem fragmentation, which might cut back biodiversity.

The idea of minimalist residing has existed for hundreds of years, however the trendy tiny home motion turned a pattern solely within the early 2000s, when one of many first tiny residence constructing corporations was based. Tiny properties are an modern housing strategy that may cut back constructing materials waste and extreme consumption. There is no such thing as a common definition for a tiny residence, however they typically are small, environment friendly areas that worth high quality over amount.

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Individuals select to downsize to tiny properties for a lot of causes. They could embrace residing a extra environmentally pleasant way of life, simplifying their lives and possessions, turning into extra cellular, or reaching monetary freedom, since tiny properties sometimes value considerably much less than the typical American residence.

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— Tumbleweed (@tumbleweedhouse) March 20, 2019

Many assessments of the tiny-house motion have asserted with out quantitative proof that people who downsize to tiny properties could have a considerably decrease environmental influence. Alternatively, some critiques trace that tiny residence residing might lend itself to unsustainable practices.

Understanding footprint adjustments after downsizing

This research 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 when it comes to 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 positioned throughout the USA, the typical ecological footprint was three.87 world hectares, or about 9.5 acres. Which means that it could require 9.5 acres to help that particular person’s way of life for one 12 months. Earlier than transferring into tiny properties, these respondents’ common footprint was 7.01 world hectares (17.three acres). For comparability, the typical American’s footprint is eight.four world hectares, or 20.eight acres.

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My most fascinating discovering was that housing was not the one element of contributors’ ecological footprints that modified. On common, each main element of downsizers’ life, together with meals, transportation, and consumption of products and companies, was positively influenced.

As an entire, I discovered that after downsizing, individuals had been extra more likely to eat much less energy-intensive meals merchandise and undertake extra environmentally acutely aware consuming habits, reminiscent of consuming extra domestically and rising extra of their very own meals. Contributors traveled much less by automobile, motorbike, bus, prepare, 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 vital step towards lowering ecological footprints and inspiring pro-environmental behaviors.

To take these findings a step farther, I used to be in a position to make use of footprint information to calculate what number of assets might probably be saved if a small portion of People downsized. I discovered that about 366 million acres of biologically productive land might be saved if simply 10% of People downsized to a tiny residence.

[Image: courtesy of the author]

Positive-tuning footprint analyses

My analysis recognized greater than 100 behaviors that modified after downsizing to a tiny residence. Roughly 86% had a optimistic influence, whereas the remainder had been destructive.

Some decisions, reminiscent of harvesting rainwater, adopting a capsule wardrobe strategy, and carpooling, diminished particular person environmental impacts. Others might probably broaden individuals’s footprints—for instance, touring extra and consuming out extra usually.

A handful of destructive behaviors weren’t consultant of all contributors within the research however nonetheless are vital to debate. As an example, some contributors drove longer distances after transferring to rural areas the place their tiny properties might 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.

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It is very important determine these behaviors with the intention to perceive potential destructive implications of tiny residence residing and allow designers to deal with them. Additionally it is vital to notice that some behaviors I recorded might have been influenced by elements apart from downsizing to a tiny residence. As an example, some individuals may need diminished their automobile journey as a result of they’d not too long ago retired.

Nonetheless, all contributors on this research diminished their footprints by downsizing to tiny properties, even when they didn’t downsize for environmental causes. This means that downsizing leads individuals to undertake behaviors which might be higher for the setting. These findings present vital insights for the sustainable housing business and implications for future analysis on tiny properties.

As an example, somebody could possibly current this research to a planning fee workplace of their city to indicate how and why tiny properties are a sustainable housing strategy. These outcomes have the potential to additionally help tiny residence builders and designers, individuals who wish to create tiny residence communities, and others attempting to alter zoning ordinances of their cities to help tiny properties. I hope this work will spur extra analysis that produces extra reasonably priced and sustainable housing decisions for extra People.

Maria Saxton is a PhD Candidate in Environmental Planning and Design at Virginia Tech. This put up initially appeared on The Dialog.

 

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