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home : art & life : art & life April 29, 2016

3/14/2012 2:21:00 PM
Northwestern's 'Tiny House' Promotes Sustainability Awareness

The large awnings add 200 square-feet of surface area to collect rain water, help promote snow melt and prevent direct sunlight from entering the house to keep cool during the summer.

Photos by
Cassandra Clegg

The large awnings add 200 square-feet of surface area to collect rain water, help promote snow melt and prevent direct sunlight from entering the house to keep cool during the summer.

Photos by

Cassandra Clegg


Northwestern engineering students and house tour guides show the DC powered NOVAKOOL refrigerator, second level loft space, bamboo flooring, cardboard accordion couch, fold-down tables and a water filtration system.

Northwestern engineering students and house tour guides show the DC powered NOVAKOOL refrigerator, second level loft space, bamboo flooring, cardboard accordion couch, fold-down tables and a water filtration system.

By Cassandra Clegg


A 128-square-foot self-sufficient Tiny House stationed on the Northwestern University campus along Sheridan Road opened its door to the public during the week of March 5. The house was inspired by the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company and created by engineering students from the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science for a class project. The house is a physical model of sustainable, energy-efficient and simplistic living.

Resembling a mobile home with exaggerated awnings and solar panels, the Tiny House sits on top of a trailer outsized by the buildings of Northwestern. Engineering students involved in the development of the Tiny House were available to give tours and inform visitors about sustainability and how space can be used creatively for simplistic living.

Andrea Morgan is an engineering student who was involved in the construction and design of the house and served as a Tiny House tour guide for the week. Ms. Morgan says the house operates entirely independent and off the grid with zero net-energy. The house produces all of its own electricity using solar power and collects rain water for self-contained plumbing.

The environmentally friendly materials used to build the house are listed on the house’s website http://www.tinyurl.com/nutinyhouse.

These include, FSC wood, a roofing material composed of 95% recovered plastic called Enviroshake, LED lighting, bamboo flooring, low-emittance (low-E) coating windows and Icynene spray foam insulation.

Notable features of the house are the oversized awnings for more rain collection, a 12V battery bank, a wood-burning fireplace, a second level loft space, recycled cabinets, a 400 gallon water pillow and wet room with a low-flow shower and composting toilet.

Ms. Morgan says the house demonstrates how people can live more sustainably. "In the United States many people tend to live in mansions or houses that are a lot bigger than they actually need," said Ms. Morgan. "This is a rather dramatic example, but it goes to show that if you are living in a smaller space you are using less energy."

At only 128 square feet, the resident of a tiny house can decrease their ecological footprint by accumulating less waste and utilizing less gas and heat said Ms. Morgan.

According to the Northwestern Tiny House website, the class project was inspired by the Tiny House movement, specifically the designs of the movement’s leading advocate and founder of the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company Jay Schafer. Ms. Morgan said that after student read about Mr. Schafer’s designs in a New York Times article they petitioned to professors to create one as part of a class project.

The class project began in 2010 as a Segal Design Institute course with Jay Schafer acting as the students’ potential client. Ms. Morgan said Mr. Schafer was like a mentor throughout the entire design and construction of the house.

The Northwestern’s Tiny House mission is stated on their website as "To build a sustainable home by improving upon the Tumbleweed Tiny Houses’ efficient use of space with innovations in the areas of materials, electricity, and plumbing."

Ms. Morgan said there are plans to open the Tiny House’s door in the future as the team is exploring locations in both Evanston and Chicago where it can be displayed as an educational tool.







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