A Northwestern student-designed sustainable home, barely large enough to house a couple, has been on display on Sheridan Road all week, but will be moving to its more permanent location at Foster Street and Maple Avenue after public viewing ends Saturday.

Viewing hours are from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday and noon to 3 p.m. Saturday. It is located outside the Ford Motor Company Engineering Design Center at 2133 Sheridan Road, Students are on hand to answer questions.

Inspired by the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, which builds one-person homes on a commercial basis, the six-student engineering design class at Northwestern put their collective heads together to construct a small home that was “completely off the grid,” according to William Fan, one of the class members. That is, it has no external source of energy or water.

The class designed the house as a project for the campus-based Engineers for a Sustainable World. It includes solar panels to provide all the electrical power needed to accommodate everyday living, including cooking, heating, and refrigeration. It also collects its own rainwater for various uses, including a lavatory.

Largely paid for by contributions from individuals and corporations, the student-built home cost the students about $38,000 to build, not including their own student labor.  Fan estimates that on a commercial basis, the home would run about $90,000. The main level area is about 128 square feet, while a sleeping loft adds another 80 square feet to the livable area.

The Engineers for a Sustainable World website describes the tiny house project as “an ongoing student collaboration to bring sustainability awareness to the Northwestern community and beyond. What had started as an ambitious class project has now become a passionate mission to inspire future endeavors towards improving sustainable living.”

It describes the Tiny House Movement as “a response to the growing desire of smaller and simpler living spaces for those who feel concerned about the environment and the negative impact of excessive resource consumption.”

Top: Engineering design student William Fan stands at the entrance to the “Tiny House” on display through Saturday at Northwestern.

Charles Bartling

A resident of Evanston since 1975, Chuck Bartling holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has extensive experience as a reporter and editor for daily newspapers, radio...

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  1. Highly Recommended

    I saw this on 3/5/12 and I really enjoyed it. The house is on wheels like a trailer and was designed to be occupied by one person. It is powered by solar panels that can power a hot plate, led lighting, and a low energy using appliance. The little house is well insolated and is heated with propane. It has a shower with a small water tank. Any way, they did a good job building the little house but there are a lot of changes or improvements they clearly should make. It also shows what everybody knows, that solar panels are not at a point where the power produced is not cost effective and sufficient to support a living space for one human. The small house really needs an assist from Comed to make it liveable in our climate.

    But is really a cool thing to tour and see something that might be just 5 – 10 years from now.

  2. Electric

    They have a battery that stores power for three days.  Even in Evanston we see the sun more often than that.

    1. They have 3 batteries`

      on board. In the winter they may need 5 days to fully charge the batteries and on top of that batteries lose power in cold weather, as they are finding out with the Chevy Volt. Some drivers are not even getting 20 miles off a full charge and it take a minimum of 13 hours to fully charge the batteries.

      As I said, they did a good job on an unfinished project but the solar power needed is 5 to 10 years away, longer if more electric products are added, like a radio.

      I applaud them for their effort.

  3. Smaller footprints are the future

    I also applaud this effort by these NU students!  It is a welcome direction that inspires us to use less of everything, including our literal footprints.  I hope that the City Council, long with the Planning and Zoning staff of the City toured this Tiny House.  Of course, our current zoning laws would never allow anything of this sort within the boundaries of Evanston.  Heaven forbid!  A toilet that you don't have to pay a plumber to install piping for – imagine!  More than one "household" on a single family lot of 7500 SF is blasphemy in this area. Using less water contradicts the City selling water as a profit center, so why would they permit such a thing as water collection for all of your personal use?

    What needs to change is the outdated thinking in this City.  We need to not "zone out" everything that makes sense about new ways that people are going to be living…and getting around.  We need to encourage more multi-family living near transit with fewer cars than units to encourage transit use and less congestion.  We need safer bike lanes and fewer parking spots.  And we need to allow housing once again above garages, in-law type apartments, and yes, even TINY houses parked in back yards for returning college students and other family members that need/want a place to live with a much smaller foot print.

    We love to think of ourselves here in Evanston as being progressive, but the truth is that the zoning ordinance and the building codes, which encourage more water and electricity use, in Evanston are the biggest impediments toward progress.  We had better get with the program or we will continue to be part of the problem.

    1. No building code

      The builders of little house told me that it did not violate any Evanston building codes, partially because it is on wheels. It just needs some private property to park on. 

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