Tasmanian tiny house movement dreams big

Gone are the days when a sustainable home was equated with mudbricks and limited electricity functions.

The sustainable homes of today are intelligent, innovative, and attractive.

Sustainable House Day has been run nationally since 2001, and invites the interested public to step inside these environmentally friendly homes to discover more about the new age of building practices.

In Tasmania, five properties will take part in the day on Sunday, September 17.

Some have been renovated to incorporate sustainable aspects, others have been purpose-built to function in harmony with the environment.

The Bell sisters have brought an international sustainable house concept to Tasmania – the tiny house movement.

The tiny house movement, the details of which are exactly as the name suggests, began in the United States and quickly spread across Europe, and into the Southern Hemisphere.

Katie and Tamika Bell began Wagonhaus last year, and on Sunday, will open their tiny doors into big ideas, at Forth.

Since launching, Katie said the business, which operates out of the North-West, has been flooded with interest, and is booked out into next year.

Katie attributes it to a fast-growing level of engagement with environmental awareness and sustainability.

“More and more people are becoming excited by eco-tourism, farm-to-plate food systems, permaculture and thermally efficient design,” she said.

“I think it is, in part, a reaction to the perception that government and big business are failing in their role as responsible environmental custodians.

“Increasingly, everyday Australian families want to take back control over their environmental future.”

The smallest Wagonhaus build is less than one-tenth of the size of the average Australian house, at 2.4 metres by 3.5 metres.

The largest, the family model, is 2.4 metres by nine metres. They still include bathrooms, bedrooms, kitchens, and lounges.

“I think the most surprising thing people find is just how spacious it feels,” Katie said.

Katie studied at the University of Tasmania’s School of Architecture in Launceston, and said she and her sister were inspired by the movement’s success overseas, coupled with Tasmania’s fostering attitude towards innovation.

“My sister and I thought to ourselves, ‘the tiny house movement might have started overseas, but it is here, in our incredible Tassie backyard, that we can take it to the next level’,” Katie said.

“As young entrepreneurs, both Tamika and I know just how difficult it can be for young people in Tasmania.”

Katie said the sisters were inspired by their own circumstances: “We did not have access to secure, affordable housing, let alone the freedom to travel, to live debt-free, to live in harmony with nature and to protect the environment.”

They further saw the challenges that faced community members in Northern and North-West Tasmania – housing affordability, the cost of education and transport, and workforce changes.

“Wagonhaus Tiny Homes is the vehicle helping us face that challenge head-on,” Katie said.

“Our tiny homes are going to drive change (both literally and metaphorically) for our communities, by creating more green jobs, more sustainable development and encouraging a shift towards green living at home and in our community. I believe in thinking globally and acting locally.”

As well as their size and ethos, the compact homes incorporate eco-friendly architectural design to boost their sustainability factor.

They use passive solar gain, double-glazing, universal insulation, and cross ventilation for starters, and then there’s the off-grid extras of solar power and composting toilets.

“While rapid technological development such as solar panels, lithium batteries and composting toilets have certainly made the dream of building green homes easier, much of our work still lies in harnessing old wisdom,” Katie said.

“Technological fixes can improve things, but more important is thorough planning in the design and construction phase. 

“Attention to detail, correct positioning of the building envelope and the use of thermally appropriate materials is the main game when it comes to designing an eco-friendly home.”

The Wagonhaus tiny homes will be on display at Forth, from 10am to 4pm.

Other homes taking part in Sustainable House Day in Tasmania are:

  • “Our retirement home”, Evandale: A renovated 1970s house that has been built to sustain its “elderly” residents into the future. It includes recycled timber and stained glass, and a drip-irrigation garden with vegetable patches and a healthy mix of flora.
  • “Renovation”, Westbury: Five years on from its initial renovations, the owners of this property are inviting the public to see how its updates have aged. Its attributes include bamboo flooring, a greywater system, a low-emission woodfire, and outside, a composite wooden deck and a cob pizza oven.
  • “Organic living”, Sheffield: This house is an owner designed and built, solid timber construction. It was designed to be a self-performing passive house, which utilises a range of timbers to maximises their best assets. 
  • “Andrew’s House”, Devonport: This home scores an 8.1 rating for passive solar, and has been designed to be energy efficient. The owners brag that with their solar power system, they haven’t paid a power bill since they moved in 12 months ago.

All properties will be open from 10am to 4pm on Sunday.

To find out more about Sustainable House Day, and to register to view a house, visit sustainablehouseday.com

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