Construction is underway for a net zero energy and water Tiny House designed and being built by the Northern Nomad group, a team made up of Carleton’s engineering students and an architecture student, Brigitte Martins, currently in her 4th year of the Bachelor of Architecture, Design stream.

Brigitte shares her experience working on this interdisciplinary project:

There is a lot to be gained through hands-on learning and participating in design-builds. Despite the home’s small footprint, the challenges are not diminished. As much as the team planned before construction, there were still unanticipated issues that arose as building commenced. The most interesting yet challenging part was learning how to problem solve quickly and efficiently when these complications presented themselves. Although I am entering my fourth year in the Design stream, I have gained a lot of knowledge this summer that I am eager to share and develop further in my last year of undergraduate studies.

Net zero energy and water tiny house by Northern Nomads, 2017

Exterior render: tiny house living takes advantage of outdoor space

The conceptualization of the Northern Nomad project began as the fourth-year capstone project of five Architectural Conservation and Sustainability Engineering students in the fall of 2016, under the supervision of Scott Bucking, Assistant Professor cross-appointed in both the Department of Civil Engineering and Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism,. The current team consists of nine students, each with their own focusses and skills, that have made the project become reality this summer.

Despite its small footprint of 220 square feet, the tiny house will achieve net-zero energy. On site, the home will generate enough renewable energy annually to meet or even exceed its energy needs by using roof-mounted solar panels, Tesla lithium ion batteries, and a heat pump to provide heating and cooling to the interior spaces. Surplus energy will be used for water collection and treatment or will be stored in the batteries for later use during periods of lower energy generation. The house will collect water by dehumidifying the outside air; the pure water harvested from the air will be stored in rain water tanks concealed under a raised floor and will satisfy potable water needs. The Northern Nomad’s focus on energy and water is a unique feature in cold-climate applications.

As of September 2017, the house nears the end of its construction phase and moves towards its instrumentation phase. It will remain on Carleton’s campus for a period of one year and be open for public viewing at Green Energy Doors Open Ottawa ( from September 30 to October 1, 2017. Furthermore, it will be used by engineering students to experimentally validate if the home will achieve its net-zero energy goals in Ottawa’s climate. It will also allow students to apply and develop skills learned in the classroom to an urgent real-world matter.

As the only architecture student on the team, my role has largely centred around the design of the house. I started developing preliminary ideas at the end of last summer, exploring potential concepts by drafting floor plans and elevations. This summer, I translated the design from an abstract idea into a technical, thoughtful design that could be constructed. During this process, I worked the design through roughly fifteen iterations, exploring different ideas and courses of action to properly utilize the minimal space.

With such a small footprint, one is always acting within constraints. The house sits upon a 24’ trailer, which has its own dimensional and weight restrictions. Additionally, if this house will travel, it must conform to highway acts that dictate the maximum height and width of a towable object. These rules determine the tiny house’s design from the very beginning and continue to influence one’s choices throughout the build. In turn, the rules ultimately influence the interior space.

The Northern Nomad’s design began with these regulations in mind, yet the desire to utilize solar panels for aesthetic and energy purposes also greatly influenced the design. The solar panels became our main roofing material, maximizing the amount of renewable energy generated on site. It was determined that a 42-degree gable roof would prove most efficient for use of the interior space and energy collection. The roof is a crucial element of the house; its importance is celebrated as an architectural feature by extending the roof out over the hitch. This cantilever is structurally supported by a handcrafted timber arch that becomes a focal point of the home while meeting structural demands.

Timber truss of the Net Sero Energy and Water Tiny House

The timber truss adds a warm touch to the home’s aesthetic while also supporting the cantilevered roof

The design was then worked downward into the living space. The resulting process follows a domino effect: as soon as one element of the design changes, whether it be a minor or major alteration, it sets off a chain of events in other areas of the house. Integrative design requires finding a happy medium and making compromises in order to find outcomes that most effectively use the space.

Inside, the different living spaces are delineated by a split level floor. The overhead loft bed slides on horizontal tracks to allow the space to become adaptable to changing needs — when additional headspace is desired, the bed can simply glide over to the other side of the house. The sliding door acts as a secondary means of ingress while encouraging the living space to spill out into the outdoors during the warmer months. The home is constructed largely with locally sourced materials to support local Canadian businesses.

Interior render: the overhead loft can slide along horizontal tracks to adapt to different uses of the interior space

I decided to use Revit to efficiently adapt and change the design as it was developed. The interface allows one to visualize the space both two- and three-dimensionally with great ease. Revit has often been my program of choice in school; it was introduced to me in one of my second year classes and while this course laid the fundamental ground work, I am largely self-taught. Given my past experience with Revit, it was interesting to apply it to a real design-build project. The house was detailed as much as possible in the drawing sets before construction, and while the physical construction has been taking place, I continually update the computer model to reflect the changes made during construction. Many of the construction challenges originated from default conventions used in the digital model that caused comprehension issues during construction. For example, when creating the construction drawings, Revit defaults in using measurements from the finishes rather than from the structural studs which a carpenter requires to lay out walls. It is typical industry practice to have certain dimensioning standards and because of this misunderstanding, several errors were introduced into the build that could have been easily avoided if identified earlier.

Plan measurements of the Net Sero Energy and Water Tiny House by the Northern Nomad Team, 2017

The 7 3/8” dimension accounts for the entire wall assembly, from interior to exterior finish, rather than simply measuring the structural studs

In summary, the Northern Nomad is an innovative project which aims to achieve net-zero energy and water. This technically ambitious project was challenging due to the interconnected trade-offs between form and function. We aimed to create an attractive and usable space within a reduced footprint. Personally, seeing concepts presented in studio and the classroom being applied in real life has exceptionally reinforced my learning. A tiny house is an ideal first design-build for an architecture undergraduate; tiny homes are exciting means for students to gain hands-on experience, witness the manifestation of an architectural design, and showcase new and interesting micro-housing features and technologies.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2017 in , , ,
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