If you believe that big things come in small packages, then look no further than a local Bay Area initiative called “Tiny House in My Backyard” (THIMBY).

Headed up by an interdisciplinary team of about 25 UC Berkeley graduate and undergraduate students, the project revolves around building an affordable, 100% solar-powered tiny house on the site of the Berkeley Global Campus in Richmond. The idea, says spokesperson Sabrina Werts, is to tackle the very real challenges facing urban communities today, such as providing housing for a growing population as the size, cost and carbon footprint of homes continue to rise.

“Thanks to their small size, tiny houses are more affordable and more sustainable than traditional homes,” she says. “Our tiny house in particular will be off-grid, waste-recycling and 100% solar-powered. And we’re keeping costs down by choosing affordable building materials.”

Recognizing the potential to be a part of a cool home cause, Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Northern California contributed funds towards the house’s door — a Pella ProLine sliding door.

“It made perfect sense to donate the door to this wonderful social initiative,” says Kacie Ricker, regional vice president of marketing for Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage’s Western Region. “It was a symbolic gesture for us too. Coldwell Banker opens doors for people every day. The door is the entrance into the home, where life’s greatest memories are made. It’s very much in line with who our sales associates are and what they do.”

California Home recently caught up with Werts to tell us more about the tiny house, or as the Richmond Confidential called it “a cabin mounted on a trailer.”

Tell us a little more about THIMBY and its mission.

We’re a group of undergraduate and graduate students that came together to design a 100% solar powered house for a tiny house competition run by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, which is set for this October. But it’s not just about the competition for us — we want to create the most innovative and most affordable house possible. What we’re really aiming for is creating a house that is affordable and sustainable. You see a lot of eco-friendly houses that are very expensive, but we wanted to see if we could do it on a smaller scale and keep it affordable. It’s a grand experiment.

A grand experiment? Interest piqued!

We’re using a lot of new technology, and since it’s such a small space – we have to utilize the square footage wisely. We’re experimenting with filtering greywater and we’re using a showerhead for the faucet sink. And we’re installing a Tesla power wall — which wasn’t really designed for off-grid use. There isn’t really a precedent for what we’re doing. We’re pretty sure it’s going to work…but we don’t have concrete proof yet!

You’ve called the house “a living lab.”

Yes, we’ll be monitoring and testing the systems even after the competition, and plan for THIMBY to remain a resource for other student groups and researchers.

If you had to describe the house in an MLS listing, how would you describe it?

THIMBY is one bedroom, one bathroom, 170 sq. ft. home for two. Open plan and environmentally friendly, it’s perfect for those looking to simplify their lifestyle and reduce their carbon footprint. If you’re facing the front of the house, on your left would be the bedroom and if you move towards the right, you would be in the kitchen and living area.

What are some of the most important reductions in emissions in the house?

Our team estimated electricity/gas usage-related emissions for a low-income 2-person household in Richmond, CA at 100 tons CO2e over a 20-year lifetime. These emissions are avoided with an off-grid system. We estimate that THIMBY has a two-year relative emissions payback period and a four-year total payback period, or full offset of embodied emissions. There are other areas of energy savings too, due to greywater recycling.

Can you tell us more about the smart home systems in the house?

THIMBY will have a few smart home features, including a Home Energy Management System that takes advantage of week-ahead weather forecasts to optimally control heating loads. We’ll also have carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide detectors, and an inverter that will continuously collect data.

What are the future plans for THIMBY?

We foresee a few possibilities. After the competition, we are going to take the tiny house back to the Berkeley’s Global Campus in Richmond. We’ll continue to do testing to keep track of how the systems are performing. After that, we hope that THIMBY will find a permanent home somewhere in the city of Richmond. We’ve met with a few city officials, and there are a few interesting ways THIMBY could be used. One scenario involves THIMBY serving as a home for a park caretaker along the Ohlone Greenway, a pedestrian and bicycle path that begins in Berkeley and ends in El Cerrito. But nothing’s 100% settled!

To read more about THIMBY’s smart home technology — a continued passion and focus for the Coldwell Banker brand, check back on our blog next week.