Tiny home models efficiency and performance

Sep 13, 2016

People line up for a tour of the TinyLab in Carbondale this week.
Credit Elizabeth Stewart-Severy/Aspen Public Radio News

Corbett and Grace Lunsford have been on the road for six months, without ever leaving their home. Their mobile living space serves as a model for efficient and sustainable buildings. This week, they parked their home in Carbondale to give tours.


The Lunsfords make a big claim with their tiny home.

“Our house - even though it’s 200 square feet - is the best performing house in Colorado,” Corbett Lunsford said.  “And we can say that every place we go on this U.S. tour.”

The Lunsfords explain that they can boast in this way because, unlike most homeowners, they know and measure how well the house performs in air quality, energy efficiency, environmental sustainability and more.

The Lunsfords’ household includes their six-month old daughter and two cats.

Grace Lunsford starts most tours of their “TinyLab” the same way: Asking visitors to listen carefully, and to take a deep breath. It sounds and smells like … nothing.  

This, despite the composting toilet, the diaper genie and the litter box contained in the 210 square feet. It’s a lesson in air quality and air sealing, and most homeowners have a lot to learn.

Gerald Espinosa works in the solar industry and made the drive over from Paonia in hopes of picking up some tips for building his own home.

“I hear a lot about energy efficiency in solar, but not the whole building envelope and how it all comes together,” Espinosa said. “Especially living in small quarters, trying to make something healthy is something I’m really interested in when I do my tiny home.”

Many visitors, like Espinosa, are drawn to the romanticism in downsizing, mobilizing and joining the tiny home movement, but the lessons in efficiency and performance are intended for homes of any size.

Grace Lunsford leads a tour of her tiny home.
Credit Elizabeth Stewart-Severy/Aspen Public Radio News

The inside of the Lunsfords’ house looks like a studio apartment, complete with a dining loft above the sleeping area. It’s also filled with museum-style placards that explain how each system works, from the water heater to the exhaust hood above the stove.

Each choice during the construction process was deliberate, and air quality is particularly important.

“For example formaldehyde, radon, carbon monoxide — there’s all kinds of things that you can actually generate inside of a house to poison your family without even talking about energy efficiency or saving the planet,” Corbett Lunsford said. “Let’s first focus on saving your family and making sure that you’re as comfortable and healthy and safe as possible.”

The Lunsfords did most of the construction on their own for about $125,000, and they say the real benefit of this do-it-yourself building is in actually knowing how it works.

Property values, permit fees and high construction costs make home performance in the Roaring Fork Valley particularly important.  

“It’s really expensive,” said Mona Newton, executive director of the Community Office for Resource Efficiency. “That’s why we encourage people to build better. Because if you’re going to spend that much, you should do something that’s going to have some payoff in the long term.”

Payoffs can come in the form of environmental benefits and lower utility bills.

The Lunsfords have capitalized on the popularity of tiny homes, to bring attention to the importance of home assessments. They encourage homeowners to get an audit and test those complex systems that run a house, and the novelty of their small space gets people in the door.

There are some other benefits to going smaller.  

“We don’t have to take a bunch of toys for our daughter. She’s perfectly happy to play with like a spoon or a napkin,” Corbett Lunsford said. “So that’s a really nice excuse to have — uh, tiny house, we can’t take that.”

Next up for the Lunsfords and the TinyLab are stops in California.