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Natural Awakenings Metro Phoenix & Northern Arizona

Tiny Structures with Big Ideas: Natalia Trulsson investigates the tiny housing movement in the Valley and its impact on sustainability

May 02, 2015 10:59PM ● By Natalia Trulsson

Sustainability can be adapted by many different avenues; sustainable development and housing is probably one of the more applicable ways to help lower our carbon footprint on a much grander scale. The tiny housing movement has been trending for a long time now, especially in Europe. There are lots of different versions of tiny houses made out of a plethora of materials, from adobe to shipping crates, and these creations are appearing in the Valley.

LifeBox 2.0 is a 10-by-10-by-10-foot structure used as an apartment in downtown Phoenix. Visionary Vincent Saccento says that it is built without any nails or screws. It has “magic box”-type material on the outside that keeps it insulated, making it much cooler than other types of modular building structures. In its revolutionary form, the building holds all the gadgets and amenities needed for daily life. The kitchen has an induction stove, meaning no heat is released from the cooktop, keeping the space safe and cool. There is one washing machine that both washes and dries clothing in order to save space, while the A/C hangs on the wall. There is also a little enclosed patio in-between the living and sleeping quarters to relax and grow potted plants. The building can be assembled in three days, meaning it is easy to construct, and can be built anywhere in the world.

Shipping containers are being used in downtown Phoenix as art galleries on Roosevelt Row and are soon to become apartments on Grand Avenue. They are popular for their cheap building costs and recycling benefits. The average cost of a shipping container ranges from $2,500 to $4,000, according to Jetson Green. Building with a shipping container is also a great form of upcycling, which means that a product or material is reused for a new/different purpose. Shipping containers are known for their very strong steel structure, which make them perfect for stacking for multi-family housing, office buildings, shopping centers and who knows... maybe municipal buildings. Although there is a lot praise for these structures, there are also cons; without the right type of heating and cooling systems, shipping containers absorb a lot of heat and could be difficult to maintain, temperature-wise, on the inside, possibly not a good idea for a desert environment.

Alternative housing has its benefits and quirks. An eco-friendly home can help lower our carbon footprint, but it might also be a task to manage cooling-wise. There are plenty of reasons to build or buy a more sustainable home; if done right, we can live off the grid without any monthly costs or fees to power and energy companies, a healthy dose of freedom by itself.

Natalia Trulsson is a graduate of the Arizona State University School of Sustainability. Contact her at

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