Imagine living in a moveable house the size of one parking lot. You have electricity, but are not connected to any power cables; you have water, but get nothing from main pipes; you have a toilet, but no sewerage – you live without utility bills!
If you want to cut your cost of living, relocate without much commitments, and live a carbon neutral lifestyle, then you might want to knock on the doors of The Tiny Home.
At only 11sq m or 120sq ft, the mobile unit is reputedly the only transportable, completely off-grid home in Malaysia. It is also the country’s first zero energy and carbon neutral house, featuring its own rainwater harvesting system, solar power and bacterial toilet.
This “green” house is the brainchild of sustainable advocate Matthias Gelber – also known as The Green Man – who has lived in Malaysia for some 13 years.
“After 10 years of being here, I asked myself what have I achieved to help make Malaysia greener,” said Gelber when we recently met at the Kuala Lumpur Craft Complex in Kuala Lumpur (KL), where the GreenMan Tiny Home was stationed for public viewing.
He had read an article in The Economist at the end of 2015 about the tiny home movement being one of the major global trends and felt strongly that Malaysia needed something like that.
“It has bothered me that modern homes are hot like saunas and that the use of air conditioning has become the norm,” he explained.
“Most people think green living is expensive but I want to prove that using natural resources like solar power can be cost effective, provided that items that consume a lot of electricity (like water heaters and air conditioners) are completely avoided,” said Gelber, who used to live in an apartment in Mont'Kiara, KL, with a monthly electricity bill of only RM30 a month.
The design of the GreenMan Tiny Home is inspired by traditional kampung-style houses built using eco-friendly materials and raised above the ground to keep the interior cool in the tropical heat.
“The Malay kampung house is designed to be appropriate for the local climate. So I wanted to create something which is more modern, maybe more sexy, but with the same principle that it should be cool enough (by itself), because without an air cond, we don’t need an expensive solar system,” said Gelber.
He wanted the home to be independent of the grid and not require external electricity, coping only with a small, affordable solar system to power everything within.
As we entered the house, on the left were wall cabinets and a small counter top that could serve as the kitchen or pantry area. Straight ahead was the shower and waterless toilet, which does not need a sewerage system because it contains bacteria that turns waste into fertiliser.
The right portion of the home was basically the room, which held a single bed, a shelve or wardrobe space, and a foldable table.
Here, Gelber and his team have built a skylight, which included cut soda bottles. A special coating will be added over the skylight – and also windows – to allow sunlight in, but not the heat. The skylight also had recycled cooling fans (from old computer notebooks) to promote air circulation.
The Tiny Home’s rainwater harvesting system has a sloped roof to collect rainwater, which is then filtered using a sand, ceramic and stone filtration system. The current unit stores up to 75 litres of water to be used for showers and washing. Later, the plan is to add a membrane filter to produce some drinkable water.
The mobile home is also equipped with USB chargers for phones and tablets, and for those who need a refrigerator, Gelber suggested small USB-based fridges.
Wood wool cement
Construction of the prototype began in September last year at the Construction Research Institute of Malaysia (CREAM) – the research and testing arm of the Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB) Malaysia – and was completed in February this year.
According to Dr Paul D’Arcy, GreenMan Tiny Home’s architect and engineer, a lot of effort went into the selection of construction materials.
“We chose recycled, upcycled, locally-manufactured and sustainable materials whenever possible in an effort to provide a carbon neutral structure,” he said.
Recycled steel was used for the frame, while the walls were constructed using a lightweight, insulated material called wood wool cement, a sustainably-planted wood manufactured in Malaysia. Some of the wood materials used inside the home was recovered from exhibition booths, and eco-friendly paint was used to paint the walls.
Being a mobile unit, the Tiny Home offers the flexibility of living in different places with ease.
“You can design your lifestyle in a much more effective way where the house can move with you. It’s a different philosophy of life. The message of this Tiny Home is, ‘Less is More’, and that you don’t need a big car or big house to be ‘somebody’,” emphasised Gelber.
He feels that the idea of the Tiny home will appeal to both the young and old who are keen to go back to the kampung style of living. It is also a very affordable option, with no rent or bills to worry about.
The home also serves as an attractive extension to one’s existing house – it can be an independent space for a family member.
“My main agenda is to inspire young Malaysians to live green, and to say that green living is real, it’s sexy and it’s fun. It does not cost a bomb and we can make it happen today,” he said, adding that users can scale up the current model to double or even triple the size.
“The GreenMan Tiny Home project is an educational experiment and I hope that many Malaysians, especially the young generation of students, will learn from it and be inspired,” said Gelber, adding that he hopes to do a nationwide roadshow this year to reach out to them.
For more information, visit www.greenmantinyhome.com or follow the project’s official Facebook page at fb.com/GreenManTinyHome.
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