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Just how eco-friendly are tiny homes? Very, according to new research

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Maria Saxton studied the habits of 80 recent tiny home buyers

Wooden pitch-roofed tiny house with porch on a verdant site. Shutterstock

Tiny house proponents have long lauded the compact dwellings as an environmental savior. The smaller the home, the smaller the footprint, right? That argument has helped boost the popularity of tiny homes, but until now, there wasn’t much in the way of actual research on the topic.

Maria Saxton, a PhD Candidate in environmental planning and design at Virginia Tech, spent a year studying the environmental impact of people who moved into tiny homes, and she found that most tiny home dwellers reduced their energy consumption by 45 percent upon downsizing.

How did she get to this number? Saxton lays out her methodology in The Conversation:

To do this, I calculated their spatial footprints in terms of global hectares, considering housing, transportation, food, goods, and services. For reference, one global hectare is equivalent to about 2.5 acres, or about the size of a single soccer field.

I found that among 80 tiny home downsizers located across the United States, the average ecological footprint was 3.87 global hectares, or about 9.5 acres. This means that it would require 9.5 acres to support that person’s lifestyle for one year. Before moving into tiny homes, these respondents’ average footprint was 7.01 global hectares (17.3 acres). For comparison, the average American’s footprint is 8.4 global hectares, or 20.8 acres.

After surveying 80 downsizers, she learned that a change in square footage often leads to a change in lifestyle habits. People living in tiny homes were more likely to grow their own food, buy less stuff, recycle more, and generate less trash. On the flip side, some tiny dwellers traveled more often and ate more meals out due to the constraints of the tiny home lifestyle.

Saxton hopes that the information will be useful to cities considering how to zone for tiny homes. It’s also a wealth of information for tiny home designers, who can start to think about how to build a kitchen that inspires downsizers to cook their own meals.