Tiny House Goes Back to the Basics

The Japanese firm Muji has recently unveiled a their first offering in the tiny home sphere. The so-called Muji Hut is a minimalist tiny home, equipped with just the basic necessities, but it also looks very cozy and inviting. It would work great as a vacation cabin, a home office or a guesthouse, but might not work so well as a permanent home.

The Muji Hut measures 97 sq ft (9.1 sq m), but the exterior deck adds an additional 32 sq ft (3 sq m) to the floorspace. The exterior is made of cedar wood and was treated with the all-natural preserving method called Shou Sugi Ban. The interior cladding is unfinished Japanese cypress plywood, while they used polystyrene foam for insulation, and it appears that only the ceiling is insulated. That, together with the fact that the windows are only single pane, it seems that the Muji Hut is only suitable for mild climates, though it does have a fairly large wood-burning stove installed for heating. The Muji Hut also needs a reinforced concrete foundation, and has no electric power or plumbing installed.

The interior is comprised of a single room, which the owners can furnish according to their wishes. It would be easy to add a small kitchenette and maybe a composting toilet, as well as solar panels to the roof. This tiny home may not have a whole lot of extra features, but it does exactly what it is meant to do: it provides an affordable way to build a cozy dwelling anywhere you want to be.

The Muji Hut will be available in mid-2017 and will cost around $27,000 including construction. At this time, it can only be shipped in Japan.

Shape-Shifting Solar Cells

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The wider adoption of solar cells is largely being stalled by their cost. That’s why a lot of new research in this field has been focused on making solar cells more affordable. And now a group of engineers at MIT and Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) have made a breakthrough.

They’ve created a 3D printed material, which is able to change shape when heated or cooled, and then return to it’s original form on it’s own. Among the many applications of such a material it could also be used as the turning mechanism for solar cells, which would allow them to effortlessly capture more solar energy.

The 3D printed material they created is capable of remembering its original shape, and always returning to it when certain key conditions are met. In other words, it can be bent, twisted, stretched and used to build complex shapes (such as a replica of a flower or the Eiffel Tower). These structures bend and stay in the new form until they are heated to between 104 to 356 degrees Fahrenheit when the material becomes rubbery and once again assumes its original shape.

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To create these structures, they used a special 3D printing method called microstereolithography, which etches patterns onto the polymers using light as they are layered. The thinner the structure the faster it reacts to temperature changes and they are actually calling this new tech 4D printing, since the changing of shape happens across the fourth dimension of time.

Designing an effective way of combining this new tech with PV cells would make them much more efficient at harvesting solar power, as well as make it possible to use solar cells in a lot more places. More efficient solar cells would also lessen the need for large battery banks.

Affordable Tiny Off-The-Grid Weekend Retreat

The firm Modern Tiny Living just unveiled a tiny home, which makes other tiny homes appear like mansions in comparison. The aptly named Nugget comes fully equipped with everything you need for a cozy weekend retreat.

The Nugget rests atop a single-axle 12 ft (3.6 m)-long trailer, and weighs 4,500 lbs (2,040 kg). It’s floorspace is just 102 sq ft (9.4 sq m), which is tinier then even the tiniest competition. However, the Nugget has all one needs, including a kitchenette, a bathroom and a comfy sleeping area. They are marketing this one as a weekend retreat, which is quite accurate, since it is probably too small to be used as a full time home.

That said, they did maximize on the available space. There is a large sink in the kitchen, complete with a copper faucet, while the countertop is actually a hickory butcher block. There is a small fridge, but no stove, since the owner plans to use one of the portable camping ones. The bathroom is separated from the main living area by a pocket door, and is equipped with a composting toilet and a shower. The sleeping area doubles as the lounge, and features a good-sized bed.

The Nugget is completely independent of the grid, and is fitted with a rooftop mounted solar power array, which is connected to an inverter and a battery system. They also installed a 100 gal (378 l) fresh water tank and pump, which provides all the necessary water. A propane heater is used to heat both the interior as well as the water.

The home is also reasonably well insulated, with the ceiling and floors having an insulation rating of R-28, and the walls a rating of R-21, but the home is not really suitable for use in extreme climates.

To go with it’s size, the Nugget’s price is also small. It is currently being sold for $36,000.

Koda Tiny Home Now Available Outside Estonia

When it comes to tiny homes, a clever and space-saving interior layout is an absolute must. And the Koda micro home definitely has that covered. The home was created by the Estonian firm Kodasema, an it is a modern home with a very small footprint, while also being prefabricated off-site and very easy to assemble.

The Koda has a very modest floorspace of just 284 sq ft (26.4 sq m), yet it appears much more spacious than that. It is made out of concrete, which is an interesting choice as far as prefab homes go. It arrives in sections that can be assembled, or disassembled, in one working day. The home also does not require a foundation and can be built on a wide array of surfaces.

Koda is a two-story home, with the living room, kitchen, bathroom (with toilet and bath/shower), on the lower level and the bedroom and laundry room on the upper level. The home can be fitted with a solar power system, programmable LED lighting, and a digital door lock.

In addition to the Koda home, Kodasema also offers versions that can be used as a café, office, workshop/studio, store, or a classroom. These have slightly different interior layouts, and do not all cost the same. The firm is currently also working on a stackable version of the Koda, and is planning on building a village of Koda homes in Tallinn, Estonia to be completed this August. This is part of their vision that the Koda home be used as an affordable housing solution.

The company ships to the UK, but not to North America, which it hopefully will in the near future. The home is quite pricy though, since the fully equipped version costs around $194,000.

Sustainable Airport Terminal Built in Norway

There is nothing very sustainable about air travel, but the airport terminals can be, as has now been proven by the architects of Nordic – Office of Architecture who designed and built a new terminal at Norway’s Oslo Airport. The new terminal is equipped with many sustainable and energy-efficient features and was built using recycled materials.

The new extension to the airport is basically a 984 ft (300 m)-long structure and it provides an additional floorspace of 1,237,849 sq ft (115,000 sq m). It was built using primarily recycled and natural materials, such as recycled steel, curved glulam beams, as well as concrete mixed with volcanic ash. The latter is thought to be more sustainable than regular cement, since lower temperatures are needed to mix it, and it is said to have a longer expected lifespan. The cladding and flooring is mostly oak.

The terminal is insulated to Passive House standards, while they also achieved the BREEAM “Excellent” sustainability rating, which is a first for an airport building. They will also be storing the snow collected off the runways in winter and using it to cool the building in the summer. The curved shape of the terminal also maximizes solar heat gain, while the generous glazing lets in ample amounts of natural daylight and eliminates the need for artificial lighting. Oslo only gets about 6 hours of daylight in the winter months, so I suppose artificial lighting will be needed then. As for heating, the terminal utilizes low-carbon technologies like district heating and natural thermal energy.

Overall, this is a great example of large scale sustainable architecture, which needs to become the norm going forward if we wish to preserve the planet.