Sustainability & Tiny Houses

Recently we’ve received a few questions regarding small houses and sustainability. Essentially the question bogs down to this – how can small homes be sustainable?


Unfortunately there’s no straight-cut answer to this question, so today we’re going to take a little time to discuss the possible merits of small houses and why they could be efficient, sustainable homes.

But first, just what the heck is sustainability?! The Brundtland report published in 1987 defines sustainability as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs“. So essentially, we’re talking about the circle of life (note to self: cite The Lion King as a reference).


Sustainability is often cited as having three main aspects to it: social, economic and environmental (often called the tipple bottom line [TBL]). Now we’re beginning to see just how all encompassing sustainability is. Yikes. So how can small or tiny houses contribute to fulfilling these three criteria?


In terms of environmental sustainability there are five main points to consider:


  • The size of the home leads to less materials being required for its construction, and therefore should have a reduced ‘embodied energy’ compared to your McMansions.
  • The physical footprint of the foundation is also a lot smaller (trailer or concrete foundation) reducing the volume of earth that has to be disturbed and possibly the amount of machinery used to create it.
  • Reduced heating and cooling requirements. Smaller space = less energy required to maintain that nice cosy or cool temperature.
  • Typically small and tiny house owners have a reduced electrical usage. Often their entire electrical needs can be met through the use of solar panels, further reducing environmental impact.
  • The amount a person consumes, be it physical products or other, is reduced. You’ve only got so much space to work with after all.


In terms of economic sustainability we’ve decided to focus on the end user and why it’s economical for an individual (as opposed to society at large). Small houses may be economically sustainable, for you, due to:

  • Reduced size = less materials required for construction = less labour required = less cost.
  • Reduced energy consumption leading to smaller bills (yippee!). In fact, some tiny house owners claim to have a yearly utility bill of less than $100.

But what about the resale value of a small house? Is it a financially viable option for those who view the house as an investment? Overall, it seems a little unclear – some sources report an appreciation in value, while others state the resale value is more-or-less the same. Either way, at least it’s not depreciating like the majority of the housing market.

Regardless of resale value, small houses can still be seen as an investment – if you were to live in a small house for a period of 5 – 10 years the savings generated due the reduced construction and maintenance costs, and reduced monthly bills could easily be as much as £100,000 (and that’s a very conservative estimate!). So you can start saving plenty of money for retirement, or your first ‘real’ home, or a second-hand Ferrari (personally I’d go with the last option).


Lifestyle and small house living are usually inter-related – people who choose to live in a small (or tiny) home are often seeking a slower pace of life, allowing you to focus on what really matters. Whether you’re looking to get out of the rat race or live with less debt, choosing to live in a small home affords you the opportunity to do so.

Another point to note regarding lifestyle is that a smaller home needs less time. Whether it’s routine maintenance, or household chores like cleaning, the smaller the space the less time it takes to get the job done – giving you more time to indulge in… Whatever it is you like to indulge in.

And so to conclude, just how sustainably successful a small home can become is ultimately up to its owner. If you decide to build your home on a trailer and go on a world tour, it’s obviously not as sustainable as staying at a single location permanently. While building a small home, and reducing the amount you consume helps, just how efficient you make it is up to you and your lifestyle choices.

We hope this brief and simplified explanation has helped to enlighten some of the curious minds.

Via The Lion King

Niall Burke

Structural engineer by day, tiny house designer by night. Niall has a keen interest in small spaces, green design, and sustainability. He started developing Humble Homes while studying for his masters degree in engineering. He is the founder and managing editor of Humble Homes.