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Tiny houses are a green building alternative for Washington DC

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A tiny house is the product of a movement to ditch huge suburban homes and average-sized apartments in favor of smaller living spaces, often under 150 square feet. Some DC residents are overlooking the size limits and other practical issues and buying tiny houses, or promoting tiny house ownership, or both.

Green options in tiny houses abound. Aside from the obvious savings in materials and energy use that a tiny little house would imply, there are other ways to make the houses even easier on the environment. Some homes can be powered by a solar panel on the roof for example. A 150 square foot home for one could use a rainwater collection system to get water. A couple of solar panels on the roof could provide much of the home's power.

The tiny house movement also raises a concern related to social sustainability. The houses could become a way for landlords to stuff more people into an area without an apartment building . The lack of built-in plumbing, hookups for smoke detectors, or other design features might make these little houses less safe than conventional homes and apartments. Privacy might be an issue for some people. Still, those are minor problems. Anyone interested in buying a tiny house for practical purposes, or to help protect the environment might not be put off.

How much does it cost? That depends on your ability to DIY and scavenge for supplies, as well as your other requirements. How much does this cost? As little as $10,000 according to a recent NPR story. The cost can go up rapidly from there. Buying used fixtures and appliances can control costs. Used interior fixtures, including sinks and doors can be bought in many locations. Used appliances and furniture are easy to find.

The high-cost of residential land in DC is another consideration. A small, oddly-shaped lot that isn't good for much could be reasonable, but a lot zoned for housing will be expensive. A lot designated for apartment or condominium construction would be at least as expensive.

One more downside to these houses is evident: They can replace replace high-density apartment buildings and condo buildings.This would somewhat offset the environmental benefits of living in a tiny house. Zoning regulations might keep tiny houses out of some neighborhoods. Tiny house advocates are trying to overcome some of the issues with public education and advocacy.

Boneyard Studios is a DC advocate for tiny houses, on wheels in the case of the models they showcase in their Alley Lot in Northeast DC. The four under-200 square foot homes sit in a fenced lot that features a community garden, tiny orchard, and open space. The tiny homes use various resource conserving technologies and building techniques, including some reclaimed materials.

How much interest is there in this sort of housing? How many tiny houses are there now? How many places could they realistically be placed - tiny, vacant pieces of land, and small lots with buildings slated for demolition? Those are two options. Washington, DC would have few locations suitable for a tiny house. A bigger constraint might be the tiny potential market here for tiny houses. Most buyers want living space, secure parking, a gym, a Metro stop around the corner, space for guests and so forth.

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