Amid a bursting housing bubble and evidence of changing climate, some families have looked to their housing as a means to reduce, reuse and recycle.
This has spawned a growing group of builders who are going “tiny” to reduce their carbon footprints. Thousands are opting to build entire houses sized to fit in a typical living room.
Byfield resident Vera Struck is one of these pioneers. Since June 2013, she has been designing and single-handedly constructing a tiny house on wheels in her driveway.
Named the Silver Bullet, the tiny house will be completed this June and tour the country as a sustainability education exhibit.
Next Sunday afternoon, the public can tour the house to discover the reclaimed, recycled, net-zero and nontoxic products used in its construction. The tour includes a workshop on the tiny house-building journey, and Struck will offer tips on how to transition into “a tiny sustainable life” of low-carbon impact.
Struck brings to her tiny house an impressive resume, which includes a Bachelor of Arts degree from Tufts University and a fifth-year studio art degree from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. She has served as a certified public accountant, reclamation artist, “serial entrepreneur,” college professor and philanthropist. So it was only natural for her to found a sustainability nonprofit, TerraBluTeams, and turn to this project as an educational vehicle for sustainable living.
“The tiny house movement attracts everyone, from millennials to retirees,” Struck says. “The desire to live with less stuff means less debt, less expense and more free time, enabling them to redesign their lifestyles.”
The average size of a new American home has grown from 1,725 square feet in 1983 to 2,598 square feet in 2013. Downsizing into a 146-square-foot area is the culmination of a five-year plan for Struck.
She began after relocating from Asheville, North Carolina, to Massachusetts in 2010. She has reduced her footprint of 300,000 possessions, including a business, a rental unit and a residence, to 2,300. When she moves into her tiny house, she hopes to take that number down to 400.
“As you start the transition into a tiny sustainable lifestyle, you learn you aren’t really sacrificing anything,” Struck said. “It’s just quality over quantity.”
Struck says that devotees of tiny homes want to have a smaller footprint, seek a more sustainable lifestyle and have higher aesthetic standards requiring architectural excellence and style.
A simpler life
In downsizing, Struck did not just chuck things out. As a lifelong environmental activist and a recent graduate of the world’s first sustainability graduate program, Presidio Graduate School of San Francisco, she required everything to have a life after her use.
“As a resource steward, you know there is a life cycle to everything,” she said. “Every asset I owned had to have an end life.”
To this goal, she has recycled, reclaimed, repurposed, bartered, sold and given away her possessions. Some precious items have landed in the Silver Bullet, including Venetian glass and four vintage wine crates made into drawers. Sixty percent of her interior materials are recycled from her history or scavenging.
The floor plan for her tiny house includes a kitchen with a refrigerator, cook stove and sink; a shower and compost toilet; and a living room with double French doors leading to a 16-square-foot porch. There are also two sleeping lofts with pet windows for a snoozing feline.
All is attached to an 18-foot trailer. Her tiny house on wheels must be pulled by a truck, but it can be permanently parked anywhere with proper permits.
The RV is the tiny house on wheel’s closest cousin, with some fundamental differences in intention, design and build. The Silver Bullet, and most tiny houses, prefers green design with off-grid capabilities through solar and renewable energy. The Silver Bullet will use renewables for its energy needs and employ a water catchment system.
Struck extensively researched all materials, applying a rigorous checklist that demanded they be nontoxic, built to code — if not above — and that all manufacturers had to pay employees a living wage and use recycled materials in producing their products.
The cost of a tiny home can vary from $50 to $300 per square foot, depending on size, use of found materials, energy systems, etc. The average tiny house runs between $15,000 and $30,000, depending on labor costs.
Struck has a history of biting off massive building projects. In the early 1980s, she served as the treasurer of the 249 A St. Cooperative Corp. in South Boston, her first reclamation project as part of the redevelopment of the Boston waterfront area. The project won an architectural award from President Ronald Reagan.
Struck’s tiny house and her determination to take her education on the road has personal benefits, as well. She regards the tiny house movement as a means to get closer to the nature she loves.
“Living tiny enables you to be in nature, up close and personal,” she said. “It is not for everyone.”
If you go
What: “The Tiny House Journey”
When: Sunday, March 29, noon to 4 p.m.
Where: Silver Bullet tiny house, Byfield
How much: $75. Space is limited; register at http://bit.ly/196shNC.
More information: www.silverbullettinyhouse.com