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This is the story of Derek and Hannah‘s passive solar design home that they are building in Arizona. It’s not a tiny house, it’s more of a small house, but you can also use the same principles when building your own tiny, small, or even large house.

Anyway, before all of this, they started out with a tiny house. And now several years later they’re getting to design and build their dream home with passive solar design that will save them thousands and thousands of dollars on utility bills every single year. All because of a well-thought design! See and learn how they did it in the video explanation below.

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How They’re House Design Will Save Them Thousands of Dollars per Year

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This tiny cob and straw bale cabin was built by local artisans as a vacation rental at the Terra Perma eco-resort and village in Harrington, Quebec, Canada.

The thick walls are insulated with straw bales and covered with cob (a mixture of clay, sand, straw, and water) and a natural limestone plaster.

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Tiny Straw Bale Cabin with Passive Solar Green Roof

Image © Exploring Alternatives

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This is Rob’s off-grid, passive solar tiny cabin in New Mexico.

It’s a 12′ by 48′ cabin including the porches. From the outside, you’ll notice it has a slanted shed-style roof with rainwater collection. Inside, you’ll find a living area, dining, kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom. All designed and built with passive solar in mind to conserve energy on cooling. What do you think?

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Off-Grid, Passive Solar Tiny Cabin in New Mexico

Off-Grid Tiny Cabin in New Mexico 001

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This 90 sq. ft. micro cabin is really more like a DIY passive solar cabana. It’s a 7′ x 9′ structure with redwood bark clad from a local sawmill. All but one of the walls open for ventilation (passive cooling).

And a living roof up top to make it even greener. The cabana cabin is named the Hawk House and is designed by architect Alex Wyndham.

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90-sq.-ft. Micro Cabin with Passive/Solar Design


Let me open it up for you and give you a peek below:

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Doug built his own 8’x20′ Tumbleweed Cypress 20 Overlook tiny house on a trailer. He started building it almost 3 years ago and has been living in it while finishing it.

All while also keeping a job. But now he’s finished and has invited us to come to get the tour thanks to Deek. Doug used glass storm doors to create one of the world’s tiniest sunrooms at the entrance instead of the usual porch. With this design idea he’s been able to generate solar heat using the sunroom and what he does is simply open his front door to let some of the heat into the cabin for passive solar gain.

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Teacher Builds a Tiny House w/ Passive Solar Heat

Doug doesn’t spend more than $104 per year to heat his tiny house and just $176 per year on energy total. That’s a total of just $14.66 per month on utilities!

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Many people are aware of the concept of passive solar design, but it’s such a big and potentially complex subject that it’s easy to get overwhelmed or lost in a few details that are only part of the whole picture.

In this article, I’ll walk through some basic steps for applying passive heating and cooling principles to a tiny house design. As always, you’ll get the best results by doing as much research as possible and/or working with an architect or designer familiar with the principles of passive solar design (all architects should be, because passive solar principles can and should be incorporated into every building built!)

Let’s define what we’re talking about: Passive solar building design involves using windows, walls, and floors to collect solar heat energy when it is needed (usually in winter) and reject it when it is not needed (usually in summer).

Here are the basic steps to take when thinking about passive solar design:

Know your location

Step 1 is already difficult for some tiny houses—what if you decide you pick up and move your tiny house a thousand miles away? To design your tiny house, you’ll need to pick a location to design for, and know a couple basic things: your latitude (which determines the sun angles) and your climate region (which determines your passive solar design priorities).

Luckily, there is some good information on climate available online. The map below comes from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Building America Best Practices program, which also offers climate-specific building advice.

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