Tiny home lab stops Carbondale
September 13, 2016
A new kind of tiny home rolled into Carbondale on Monday, drawing energy-efficiency professionals from around the region to check out what was billed as the cutting edge of high-performance housing.
This tiny house, which the owners prefer to call a "tiny lab," is designed for a strictly controlled internal environment.
Corbett and Grace Lunsford, a Florida couple and owners of the Building Performance Workshop, have an advanced system for maintaining their tiny home's internal environment: it's moisture, heat flow, air pressure and air quality.
To take these concepts on tour and spread the "high-performance home" gospel, Corbett, a home-diagnostics expert, custom built a tiny home and, with a newborn and two cats in tow, they hit the road April 1 for a tour of 20 cities across the country.
Recently that tour took them to Denver, and the small family stopped off in Carbondale for a bonus day.
Their tour is not about tiny homes per se, but about the concepts for regulating a home's internal environment. The tiny lab was a means for letting people see their techniques first hand.
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It's not even about energy efficiency, sustainability or saving the world — though energy efficiency is a great byproduct, Corbett said. The real goal of the high-performance home is control, he said.
The Lunsfords tour is about designing a house in a way that allows as much control as possible over the internal elements of a home, treating the components of a house as a whole system.
Inviting small groups of people into their small space, Grace first points out how shielded the home is from noise, despite the passing traffic and her husband giving his presentation just outside.
They've achieved this not through heavy-duty insulation but through sealing the home up as air tight as possible — twice as airtight in fact as Colorado building codes are ever going to require, said Corbett.
Everything special about the tiny lab starts with its airtightness, he said.
Ventilation is an important system in their home, which manages to keep a neutral smell despite their composting toilet and litter box for two cats.
An air conditioner and heating unit has a rotating infrared scanner that detects warm spots in the house and reacts by directing streams of cool or hot air in that direction.
Their kitchen is fitted with an exhaust hood to pull out carbon monoxide from the stove-top and an air intake below that exchanges the air.
The house has temperature and air-pressure monitors, which can indicate if a house is developing a moisture problem or possibly sucking exhaust from an attached garage.
Other monitors measure volatile organic compounds, carbon dioxide, temperature, humidity, particulates and radon gas.
A table with seating is positioned in a loft above the bed so the kitchen could remain in an open section of the tiny home. Cork wood floor helps with noise dampening. The tiny home operates completely off the grid, using three moveable solar panels.
High-efficiency LED lighting uses less than 100 watts.
The wood in the house is made from PureBond, which is the only brand of plywood that's made without formaldehyde, said Corbett.
At the heart of these concepts is the ability to test them and provide the homeowner with metrics, Corbett said.
The pair are self-proclaimed "testing nerds," as Grace puts it.
Corbett uses the example of Fitbits.
"What does everyone with a Fitbit always want to tell you? How many steps they've taken," he said.
"Metrics are important to people. They just don't know that these types of metrics are possible in their homes."
In 10 to 20 years, all construction will involve these concepts, Corbett said.
Denver was city 14 of 20 for the small family. Their next stops will put them in San Diego and San Francisco.