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Posts Tagged sustainability

Tiny House Construction Waste

In an effort to tell the whole story about tiny houses I felt it necessary to show the not so pretty side of tiny houses.  Namely, how much waste a tiny house generates in its construction.  The reality of how much waste I have created in building my home really shocked me when I saw all the scraps loaded up onto a single trailer, ready to be hauled away to the dump.

photo

This was a real reality check that even tiny houses have an impact, which of course I knew, but knowing something  and facing the reality in the face are two different things.

A parallel for me personally – which may seem odd and obviously a much greater moral implication – was the first time I personally participated in “processing” a chicken.  To be standing there, a knife in my hand with a live chicken before me, there was real coming to terms with what I was about to do.  As a meat eater, it was the first time I personally had to grapple with the reality of eating meat.

I had a very similar experience when I stood in front of that trailer and was processing the fact this trailer was going to be taken to a dump and I was the cause of it.  That I was creating a large amount of trash that later generations would have to contend with.  Do I have that right?  Am I okay with that?

So the above shot is pretty much all of the waste that my tiny house created.  In this trash there is all the scraps from the framing, sheathing, roofing, siding, etc.  Also here you’ll see the packaging that comes with some building products, along with some plastic sheeting that I used to cover materials that has since been torn or degraded to a point that I can’t use it any more.  In total it’s about 400 lbs, it looks like a lot more, but it isn’t stacked very efficiently.

I also wanted to provide another side of this story by comparing how much waste I created to that of a traditional home.  The typical home in America is about 2,600 square feet and in its construction generates about 2.5 tons  (5,000 lbs) of garbage.  It’s important to note that this is the onsite trash only, components like trusses and roof farmings are built elsewhere, but not accounted for.   You can read about these statistics in this study.

Now I think its also important to talk about how I could have done better, while I need to come to terms with this amount of waste, hopefully I can help others reduce their waste.

First off it is important to note that it honestly is impossible to not have waste.  We can also use reclaimed materials, which can help us reduce our waste and even offset the waste we create; the ultimate would be to have a net negative impact, but I think that would be tough.  There is also a strong argument for inhabiting houses that are already built or could be rehabbed with less impact.

Our writer here on The Tiny Life, Andrea, told me once that she thought it would be impossible to have a house built of more than 95% reclaimed materials.  Her house was about 80-90% reclaimed, but she had one huge advantage: She built her tiny house in a warehouse that was a building materials reclaiming company!  That’s all they did, was reclaim materials and even with that, she was not able to achieve more than 80%.

Other things that might help you reduce your impact is being more efficient with materials.  I think it would be tough to improve upon how I utilized my materials, but I figure I could have been better at it with enough practice.  I also think that if I had a good storage space, I could better save and organize the scraps so I can keep the quality up and utilize them better.  There were some pieces of wood that got damaged by rain after a tarp blew off in a storm, leaving the wood exposed to the elements and water pooling on it.

Finally, if I had chosen all my materials to be chemical free (no glues, resins, treatments) I could at the very least used the scraps to burn for heating or campfires.  But in some cases I opted for treated lumber (which I still feel like was the right choice), but it meant that I shouldn’t burn it.

Your Turn!

  • How would you go about reducing your waste?
  • What are some tips to reduce waste during construction?

 

Fitting More People In Cities

Right now the majority of people on this earth live in cities and the number of people is growing.  We have arrived at the point where we must grapple with the fact that people want to live in these areas and that they must be able to house them all.  Many argue that a city is a more sustainable pathway for us, but we still need to balance that with quality of life.  I know for me living in a dense urban area I personally find it difficult because the lack of nature, even with great green spaces, I find a need to connect with the woods.  So how can we balance the demands of humans with the needs of the earth and do it in  small space?  This video I found is really interesting and answers many of these points.

Your Turn!

  • How can we take these ideas and concepts of Tiny House to make awesome cities?

Forget Sustainability

That’s right, I said it!  Sustainability is a thing of the past, not to mention a huge marketing buzz-word.  We need to move on, grow up, and realize we need to see sustainability as a failure.  What is better than sustainable?  Regenerative of course!

If you think about sustainability, what does it mean?  It means that we achieve an approach that allows us to continue on our current path indefinitely.  It is to maintain the status quo, it is to do no more harm, but make no improvements. It is helpful to think of this on a continuum, currently we are operating in a destructive pattern, we are striving for a sustainable one, but ultimately we need to be regenerative existence.  When we think about this, we quickly realize that to maintain our current way of life is actually a failure, because I think we can all agree… we can do better.  So what does regenerative even mean?  Essentially what we are gunning for here is to move beyond sustainability on the continuum, to encourage a positive impact, one where the earth begins to heal.  It means that how we live will allow the earth to start to heal the damage we have inflicted upon it.  This means reforestation, reduction of green house gases, allowing endangered species to return to normal, the end of producing waste/smog/trash/etc.  Think of it like this, if humans disappeared tomorrow, the earth would begin to revert back to its natural state, we should pursue initiatives to promote that restoration.

By setting our sites on regenerative approaches, we not only allow us to continue humanity indefinitely, but we improve the quality of our life and the earth.  By doing this we are able to ensure a future for generations, we realize our full potential, we live fuller and happier lives in connection with nature, not working against it.

I know I have had a difficult time changing my vernacular to that of a regenerative approach, but I think it is something we need to start doing.  Heck it might be useful to copy right it now so marketers can’t get a hold of it.

At this point a lot of you are likely thinking “that’s swell Ryan, it sounds good on paper, but how do we go about achieving it?”  Glad you asked!

There are two major things that I see as a barrier to achieving a regenerative society.  Population size and life style.  Both need to change in a dramatic way and I know it isn’t a popular notion.

The point is our world population is too large, true there are many who feel that we can actually handle more if we have our ducks in a row, but we don’t.  Those studies are also going for sustainability, not regrowth.  In reality we need to drop the world population below a billion, ideally a lot less.  We want to make sure to preserve cultural heritage, genetic diversity, knowledge and other key aspects, but in the end, we need a smaller population.

How do we get to this lower population?  A good first step is controlling the population growth now through sex education, availability of contraceptives and programs like that.  But that will only level off population growth, we need to reduce it.  The scary fact is that people of this world (maybe not those in super power nations) are at some point in the future are going to have food shortages.  Our food system is not sustainable and it is also very weak to shocks.  Another factor that could come into play is a large scale pandemic.  This is Mother Earth’s way of maintaining populations and we have been able to stay ahead of the curve for a long time now.  In the end, we can’t out innovate Mother Nature and she will come back with a vengeance.

The next thing is life style, we do need to adjust how we live, how we consume, change our expectations, and yes, make sacrifices.  Many people are quick to say “do you want us to revert back to the stone age”  or “an agrarian life” and in part, yes we do.  However, it is a much more advanced version of these lives.  One that marries technology where appropriate, where we leverage knowledge and information freely and expertly, where the bottom line includes externalities.  This is very difficult to swallow, people are often very against this notion, hostile even.  But it is a reality.

Once we get past these two hurtles there are some other higher level things we can do.

  • Approach things from a holistic standpoint
  • Remove materialism; focus on what is truly important
  • Evaluate our success by our least fortunate members
  • View nature as an ally; work with her, not against her
  • Be accountable to your fellow man
  • Become a citizen, not a consumer
  • Value the resources you have
  • View recycling as a failure, waste as a travesty
  • Integrate systems rather than segregate
  • Value and embrace diversity
  • Take only your fair share
  • Seek resiliency

 

Sustainable Prisons Project

I found this interesting link about the sustainable initiatives that are happening in one prison.  It struck a cord with me because I have a friend who work at a local minimum security prison where he and the inmates grow food for a local non-profit.  The benefits are interesting because the inmates learn a marketable skill, the non profit gets the food and what is more, it doesn’t cost the jail anything, in fact now that they compost their food scraps they have reduced their costs because they don’t have to pay to dump 500 lbs of food waste a day!

Backyard Sufficiency

Found this great video about growing 100% of your own food and how difficult it is.  An interesting point that he talks about is how to achieve this, you cannot do it independently, you must work with a community to be successful.  I will warn you that at certain points he starts talking in a very “new age” type of vernacular, running from point to point, but I gleaned some interesting things regardless.