Zack Giffin is big on tiny houses; see his handiwork at California Science Center
By Michael Darling December 12, 2015
The tiny house movement shows no signs of slowing down. Anyone who wants to immerse himself or herself in the phenomenon can opt for magazines, books, websites or the FYI network’s “Tiny House Nation,” co-hosted by Zack Giffin. Or they can visit the California Science Center, where they can inspect a 170-square-foot tiny house for themselves.
Giffin worked with Plastics Make It Possible, a division of the American Chemistry Council, to design the structure, which is made mostly of energy-efficient plastic materials. The exhibit “A Tiny House That’s Big on Energy Efficiency” will be on view through Feb. 16.
Before the exhibit opened, we sat down with Giffin, a skier and contractor who moves his own tiny house to slopes around the U.S. each winter, to talk about the tiny trend.
Why do you think there’s such an interest in tiny houses?
In my mind [the interest] can be divided into three categories. No. 1 is economics. The process of obtaining wealth through real estate is not a sure [thing] anymore in a lot of people’s minds. Another big piece is environmental, and the third piece is the desire to be close within a community.
How did you get involved in the tiny house movement?
I just wanted someplace that was my own. I had rented for long enough and I traveled quite a bit, but I needed that grounded feeling that comes with having a place of my own. It didn’t need to be a really big place, but it needed to be mine. I’m a carpenter, so I appreciate the workmanship that goes into these houses.
How did you get involved in designing this house?
[Plastics Make It Possible] commissioned me to build a house showcasing the most advanced plastic building materials … and really do it with a focus on energy efficiency throughout the house.
How did you incorporate plastics into the design?
We used the plastics for the functional aspects and wood for the aesthetics. The idea that I was trying to get out was that it doesn’t feel like you’re living in a plastic water bottle.
Do you think tiny houses could be used for low-income housing?
The thing that’s missing from a lot of lower-income housing options [is that] people have that space, but they don’t have pride in it or a personal stake in it. But tiny homes are custom-built, and that process can make the homeowner feel like someone has paid attention to their needs. It means that when you get into that space, you can feel a personal pride in ownership. What I’m trying to do with these homes is show that even though it’s lower-cost, you don’t have to sacrifice your dignity.
How else can tiny houses play a role in going green?
We have to be careful as Americans of what we’re projecting, that the only way to be happy is to have a 3,000-square-foot home. The world can’t afford to have all 8 billion people living in 3,000 square feet. When we’re addressing climate change and carbon footprints, I think that there’s been [too much] conversation about transportation. Our housing accounts for 40% of our country’s energy use. What I’m here to say is that [big] isn’t what’s required to be happy.