Photo: Brigitte Martins, Carleton Engineering + Architecture net zero energy tiny house project (

Architecture + Engineering: Design A Sustainable Tiny Home


The Design Challenge

Collect Info

Collect information about tiny home living and design.

Tiny home living is not just about downsizing and minimalism, it can also have a big positive impact on the environment. Research on the topic is still emerging as the trend grows, yet studies have found that upon downsizing, tiny homes use significantly less energy to maintain, use less building materials, and residents have less waste-producing stuff. All of this contributing to a smaller ecological footprint. Check out Florida's "LEEDing Tiny" program.

Find and upload designs that inspire you.

Research LEED and other local sustainable policies in your area.

As an example, the Chicago Sustainable Development Policy provides a menu of sustainable strategies which includes the following categories:

Health                   Energy                         Stormwater                 Landscapes                 Green Roofs

Water                    Transportation             Solid Waste                 Workforce                   Wildlife

Architects’ designs should include solutions across these categories and are scored according to the point system specified in the Sustainable Strategies Menu. Each category is worth a set number of points. Combined category points should equal 100 in order to meet the requirements. Why 100? Planned Development Projects for New Construction require a combined total of 100 points from multiple categories in order to qualify for city approval. Will your design meet the required 100 points?

Make a list of possible sustainable solutions you want to incorporate. Find images or sketch ideas.

Brainstorm Ideas

What kinds of things should I consider for a sustainable tiny home?

Tiny home design requires creativity to fit basic home amenities into such a small space. Consider how spaces can serve multiple functions and/or transform in some way, while still being practical and easy to use on a daily basis. How might you use every little nook and cranny productively?

What sustainable solutions are you planning to incorporate? Sketch out what they might look like in use on a tiny home.

Create and upload some initial sketches or bubble diagrams showing possible tiny home layouts. Sketch where and how you envision the sustainable solutions to be incorporated.

Clearly show and explain the selected sustainable strategies and demonstrate creative design choices to incorporate all necessary spaces, furniture and daily functions of the tiny home

Develop Solutions

Combine your research, inspirations, and brainstorm ideas to develop solutions.

Upload your best floor plan or bubble diagram, sketches or notes about the 3 sustainable solutions you are going to stick to, and save any initial designs here.

What is required for my design?

This challenge requires a design of one sustainable tiny home, no more than 350 square feet. The tiny home, and any exterior and/or supporting landscape design should fit within a single 25’x125’ lot.

As you develop final solutions, make sure your design does the following:

  • Clearly demonstrates application of at least 3 LEED sustainability requirements, local requirements, or you can use Chicago’s Sustainable Policies
  • Includes space for the following basic home amenities:
    • Bathroom: shower, toilet and sink
    • Kitchen: refrigerator, microwave or stove, and sink (full size appliances are not required)
    • Seating area
    • Eating area
    • Twin bed
    • Storage space
    • Secure door and window(s)
  • Includes the following renderings:
    • Building Section
    • Building Elevations
    • Building Floor Plan
    • Relevant technical drawings
    • Relevant detail images
    • Image/rendering of building/unit exterior on site
    • Image/rendering of interior
  • Indicates and is designed to scale, includes scale figures, trees, etc.
  • Identifies and thoughtfully considers the overall needs of the resident/client

Upload your developing design and write about areas you plan to keep, change, or completely reconsider for your final design. Share any thoughts or feedback you may receive from others.


Final Design

Share your final design! Be sure to:

  • Show your process. Include 3-6 images of any initial sketches, ideas, or early designs with short explanations to help others understand your design process.
  • Share your site plan and any image/rendering of building/unit exterior on site.
  • Upload images/renderings of your tiny home (Interior views, section, elevations, floor plans, etc.)
  • Include additional images as needed to best explain your thinking and design.
  • Write about your thinking: Describe how you incorporated three (or more) sustainable strategies into your tiny home design and whether or not you think everyone could or should consider incorporating these sustainable strategies into their homes.