Think Small: Students Design and Build a (Very, Very) Tiny House

Over the last decade, the idea of tiny houses has gradually gained adherents. At less than 1,000 square feet and often much smaller, these homes help their inhabitants to consume less energy, own fewer things, and generally lead simpler lives.

Now, students and recent graduates of Northwestern University are building a home that takes the tiny house concept one step further: a 128-square foot house that is totally off the grid, equipped with solar panels for energy, a battery bank that can store power for times when no solar power is available, and a system for harvesting rain water. The home is designed for the Chicago-area climate. When it is completed in September, it will have a loft for sleeping, a kitchen, living area, bathroom, and lots of natural light. The project's coordinators estimate that the costs of the tiny house come to about $50,000.

Story continues after the gallery.

The Tiny House Movement began in its current incarnation with the publication of architect Sarah Susanka's 1998 book, The Not So Big House. But as Tiny House Project team member William Fan says in an interview with Northwestern's science and engineering editor Megan Fellman, resistance to materialism and consumption is really nothing new. "You can trace [the idea's] history to Walden Pond, the 1960s counterculture, or really any of the major religions," he says.

For those interested in building their own tiny home, The Tumbleweed Tiny House Company sells building plans for houses ranging from 65 to 874 square feet. Its owner, Jay Shafer, was profiled in this week's New Yorker (subscribers only).

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Rebecca J. Rosen is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Business Channel. She was previously an associate editor at The Wilson Quarterly.

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