A trip to South Africa, new book, ‘Tiny House’ movement sparks an idea
What has Seth Godin's new book "Tribes," a visit to South Africa and the Tiny House movement got to do with energy conservation in the home? The short answer is everything.
I recently visited South Africa on business and took the opportunity to add on some needed R&R. We stayed at a variety of lodgings including game lodges, hotels and B&Bs, and we also visited the homes of some business acquaintances. They all had one thing in common: none of the doors and windows fit (it was not even close in most cases), and there was no sign of any sort of seal. Also, all the windows were single-glazed and the walls single-brick with no insulation.
We visited during their winter, and near Johannesburg the temperature often drops to below freezing at night. In the summer, temperatures often rise into the 90s, so you might jump to the conclusion that they must have very sophisticated HVAC systems. In fact we did not find a centralized system in any of the places we stayed at or saw; they all utilized either single-room solutions or portable systems such as the small electric heater we had at the B&B we stayed at in Cape Town. This establishment could accommodate 17 people in a dedicated building that had no permanent heating system in any of the bedrooms or communal areas such as the TV lounge. The proprietor just gave out these portable heaters as requested.
So what do they do? Well it is quite simple, they just wear extra layers of clothes and in the evening congregate in one or two rooms. Why worry about the rest of the house, and when you go to bed, just put an extra blanket on the bed or use a hot water bottle. In the summer the high ceilings and fans do the trick when they are in the house, which is not often. Remember how as kids you stayed out all day playing when not in school? Well they still do that. There seems to be a lot more emphasis on family life and friends with the barbeque (they call it a braai) usually at the center of proceedings.
In fact on Sept 24 there is a national Braai day, and it is so important in the social calendar that it has Rev. Desmond Tutu as a national spokesman. I am not being patronizing about life in South Africa. In fact I am in many ways envious of their lifestyle and the air of optimism I found. It reminded me very much how I felt about life in the ‘60s.
Since coming home I have been working with a company in the tiny home arena. What is a tiny home you might ask? Well it is a mobile trailer often only 120 square feet but up to 400 square feet that can be used as an office, a recreational area or to live in (type in Tiny Homes on YouTube and see some amazing homes).
They are often found in the back yards of rural properties, and although they are small, the amenities are full scale. I was working in one recently at a full size desk, sitting on a full size chair, and there was a full bathroom. The tiny home is solar powered, and as it is run on 12v, no inverters are needed. Technically speaking they should not be used as a home, but the point is that whereas a conventional home costs hundreds of thousands and takes several years to build, you can have a tiny home in a few months and for the cost of an average permit.