Tiny house on wheels will generate own power, store water

Can they build it? Carleton University students take up the challenge to build a tiny house with an even tinier environmental impact.

Carleton University students challenged to build net-zero tiny house

The house is just 220 square feet, and sits on a wheeled trailer bed. (David Richard/CBC)

Right now it looks more like a shed than a house.

But when it's finished, the Northern Nomad could be one of the first tiny houses built in Canada to achieve net-zero energy.

"So the first thing was the challenge, can you do it?" says Scott Bucking, an associate engineering professor at Carleton University. 

"Is it possible, in this footprint, to collect and store all the energy systems you will need in a given year?"

Is it possible, in this footprint, to collect and store all the energy systems you will need in a given year?- Scott Bucking, associate professor

Bucking says most tiny houses are designed to have an electrical hookup, and what makes this project unique is that it's designed to go on and off the grid while also being mobile.

Carleton professor Scott Bucking created the project as a challenge for five of his engineering students. (David Richard/CBC)

The house will be able to generate and store enough power to operate its systems for one full year. It will also be able to store 700 litres of water — enough to last for about eight days.

The design the students came up with is just 220 square feet with a large sliding glass door and a peaked roof.  

Architecture student Brigette Martins says even the smallest change has a 'domino effect' on the house plans. (CBC Ottawa)

No real guidelines

Student Sandra Lunn says the lack of building codes for tiny houses made the planning tough.

"There are no real guidelines on how to build them," says Lunn.

"They don't meet any codes … it's not quite an RV, it is not quite a house, it is somewhere in-between. So we are just framing it like a house and going from there."

They don't meet any codes … it's not quite an RV, it is not quite a house, it is somewhere in-between.- Sandra Lunn, student

The house is also being used as a test-site for sustainable building technologies.

Vacuum-insulated panels, similar ones used in refrigerators, are insulating the house and sensors have been installed to test how well the panels perform.

Eric Ho is working on the home's mechanical systems. The engineering student is helping wire the home to be automated; doors can be locked remotely, using a smart phone, heating and cooling systems are controlled by sensors.

"I think I have one of the coolest jobs on the project," says Ho.

Brigitte Martins is an architecture student who drew up some early plans for the tiny house.

"By designing something that's then built, I get to see the practical side, which I feel like I have been lacking a bit," says Martins.

'Crunching against time'

While a professional carpenter has been hired to help out with the build, the students are all pitching in to swing hammers.

"Some of the other students have no background in construction. But everyone is welcome. We had an anthropology student come out and help us out," says Seungyeon Hong, a graduate of the civil engineering program.

"Right now we are crunching against time, because we want to finish this before school picks up."

Eric Ho works to help frame the house. (CBC Ottawa)

Bucking says the team hopes to finish the Northern Nomad by late September, in time to display it at Green Energy Doors Open at Lansdowne Park. 

He has also been in talks with a local women's shelter about eventually donating the house.

But some of the students say they would happily call it home.

"For sure, because I absolutely love the idea of a tiny house, and I don't think I'll ever have the money to live in a regular house," says Yeon.