Tiny Home Environmental Design
As you can see, this blog series is growing from something about minimal environmental footprint residences into an extended discussion of the elements of the entire ecosystem to support this emerging lifestyle.
This blog focuses on the environment. But not the environment we typically think about. It’s much more extensive. It’s not just minimal carbon footprint, clean water, and clean air. Yes, those are important, but I’d like to extend your thinking into areas not often dealt with: solid waste and wastewater management and O2 generation and biodiversity. A hat tip to mia amiga Sara Bixby who kindly pointed me in the direction for a lot of the background research here.
I’ve talked about environmentally friendly energy production and use before. You also may want to review my discussion on localized food production or agriculture and context-setting pieces. Now, let’s jump into the deep end of the thought pool.
- Solid Waste
This refers to organic waste – Human, animal, and even some industrial waste products. This is beyond residential septic and composting. Technically it is ‘anaerobic digestion.’ Fancy word, but the technology is already here and in economic use in Asia and Africa.
“ Anaerobic digestion (AD) can convert animal manure, food waste, human waste, organic industrial wastes, and sewage sludge into usable resources. The biogas produced through anaerobic digestion can be used for heat and electrical generation. The digestate can be used as a fertilizer. AD diverts bio-waste to the production of renewable energy and so helps to reduce greenhouse gases. As research continues, the technology has the potential to play a pivotal role in the future of sustainable waste management.”
And as an added note, these units fit well with a tiny community aesthetic.
Curbside residential recycling was quite an innovation. But what’s next? I’m guessing it will be a neighborhood collection and a sorting point. We’ve become accustomed to trucks rumbling through our neighborhoods and picking up our bins every week like clockwork. What if there were a central collection point that enlisted your support to do pre-sorting? Sure now you have to walk a block with your recycled material. But if this was combined with the idea of ‘microcars’ we talked about in the last blog – problem solved. I have to drive 1.5 miles every other week to recycle glass and cardboard. A weekly trip down the street two or three blocks in my ‘microcar’? Not a problem. Oh hey, a garden wagon and the dog gets a walk also.
This is about de-centralized wastewater treatment. If individual housing units are plumbed to separate ‘gray water’ from the system, the wastewater load becomes locally manageable. The fundamental tradeoff is between cost and convenience. The tradeoff shifts downward if the residential cluster is designed with this infrastructure in mind.
The bonus is that the treated effluent can be used for food production.
Instead of looking at how we take excess CO2 out of the air, let’s look at how to put more O2 into the air. You get a two-for-one here. CO2 is absorbed and stored in trees while producing more life-giving oxygen, not to mention shade and homes for our wildlife. Here are the top 10 reasons to plant trees around tiny communities:
- Trees clean the air
- Trees provide oxygen
- Trees cool the streets and the City
- Trees Conserve energy
- Trees save water
- Trees Help Prevent Water Pollution
- Trees Help Prevent Soil Erosion
- Treess Shield Children from Ultra-Violet Rays
- Trees Provide Foodombat the Greenhouse Effect
So, why would you not do this?
What does biodiversity have to do with intentionally designed communities? Good question. Let’s look at what it means in action.
“Biodiversity is essential for the processes that support all life on Earth, including humans. Without a wide range of animals, plants, and microorganisms, we cannot have the healthy ecosystems we rely on to provide us with the air we breathe and the food we eat. And people also value nature of itself.”
This could be whole blog series in its own right. But in the interests of brevity, I’m going to focus on the role of pollinators which can amplify my discussion of local agriculture. Essentially, the design action here is to build an environment that attracts and provides stability for little creatures like butterflies and bees. Here are some sites where your master gardener can get marching orders.
Getting Future Ready
The main message here is that perhaps we should re-visit our thinking about environmental issues in terms of ‘bigger is better’ and industrial economies of scale. They have their place. But I’d like to suggest if we, in our ‘tiny communities,’ could reduce our solid and liquid waste production by 50%, naturally produce clean air, and promote organic ecosystem maintenance, then perhaps the need for regional systems would not be as great.
And people are living these ideas out right now. Unfortunately, not in the US, but (you guessed it) Northern Europe. I may be stretching the limits to fair use here, but sit back and let their statement of purpose sink in.
“ReGen Villages is a new visionary model for the development of off-grid, integrated and resilient eco-villages that can power and feed self-reliant families around the world.
ReGen stands for regenerative, where the outputs of one system are the inputs of another. The concept has a holistic approach and combines a variety of innovative technologies, such as energy positive homes, renewable energy, energy storage, door-step high-yield organic food production, vertical farming aquaponics/aeroponics, water management and waste-to-resource systems”.
One last thought. Perhaps you are starting to understand that this is a force towards ‘de-urbanization.’ You would be correct. E.F. Schumacher had it right back in the before times of 1973. The forces that have driven human evolution towards mass urbanization, like centralized industrial employment, electrification, and transportation, are now being supplanted by ubiquitous technology and household-level closed ecosystems.
Yes, radical and intentionally so. The Talking Heads had the idea.