Altius Architecture and Sustain Design Studios have developed the ecologically friendly, self-contained miniHome SOLO SE 2008 trailer house unit. Completely grid-independent, the miniHome collects its own energy in the form of solar and wind electricity while reducing the amount of energy wasted from thermal bridging.
The key efficiency feature of the miniHome is in its name. “The easiest way to reduce operating energy is to make something smaller,” says Andy Thomson, designer of the miniHome. “Then you are heating less, you’re cooling less and you’re lighting less.”
The miniHome is not exclusively electric; it’s actually a hybrid system that uses solar and wind energy as well as a fuel source (typically propane, though biodiesel is an option). “You’ll never run an electric stove off of solar panels,” says Thomson. “That would be crazy.”
The energy collected from the wind and sun is stored in a 400 A-hr battery bank and is then redistributed to the house as 12V DC power to all electricity consuming features, including pumps, fans and lights, with the exception of the microwave oven and the outlets (both utilize an inverter to run on AC power). Since the inverter uses energy itself, the goal of the design is to only use it when needed.
The lighting in the house is composed entirely of LEDs, which use significantly less energy than other light sources including CFLs and especially incandescent bulbs. “The combined aggregate electrical load for lighting is only 100W with all the lights on,” says Thomson.
The house is a lumber-framed, thermally broken structural system that prevents cold spots from developing. All wood used in the structure is sustainably harvested and FSC certified. There is no formaldehyde or vinyl in the miniHome, and every surface has an all-natural finish; there are no VOC finishes and no solvents, allowing for good indoor air quality.
The miniHome is not very customizable, though aesthetic features like color and flooring can be changed. “We wanted to offer a lot of flexibility, but people were configuring them in ways that didn’t really make sense,” says Thomson. Customizable options include a choice of a standard flush toilet or composting toilet. The composting toilet comes as either an internal or external system; the external system allows a greater flushing volume.
miniHome designers used a lineup of software tools to get it to its current state of distribution. Software includes ArchiCAD by Graphisoft and Artlantis Studio for the design and rendering of the project and EcoTect by Square One Research for the energy analysis of the house.
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