The Ecological Footprints of Tiny Home Downsizers: An Exploratory Study

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Virginia Tech

With our country's unsustainable building practices in the residential sector, there is a need to explore new types of housing to mitigate the negative environmental impacts of current building customs. Recently, there has been a surge of interest in tiny homes characterized as livable dwelling units typically under 400 square feet. However, there is a gap in scholarly knowledge that formally examines how the environmental impact and behaviors of tiny home occupants change after downsizing from a larger home.

The purpose of this study was to provide measurable evidence to explore the relationship between downsizing to a tiny home and the corresponding environmental impact. This study, which employed an exploratory sequential mixed design approach, was conducted to measure the ecological footprints of tiny home downsizers. Eighty individuals who have lived in their tiny homes for at least a year volunteered to take an online survey used to calculate their ecological footprints in prior larger homes and current tiny homes. Following the survey, nine interviews were conducted to create an inventory of noteworthy behaviors in each participant's lifestyles that potentially influence ecological footprint changes. Data collected from the survey and interviews were analyzed separately and then comparatively to explore relationships between tiny home living and environmental impacts.

This study found that among 80 tiny home downsizers located across the United States, the average ecological footprint was 3.9 global hectares (gha). This footprint was substantially less than the average previous ecological footprint of 7.0 gha and the national average of 8.4 gha. All five footprint components were positively influenced, showing that downsizing can influence many parts of one's lifestyle. Over 100 behaviors were identified that could contribute to ecological footprint changes.

The overall insights derived from this study indicate that positive environmental impact behaviors outweigh negative ones by approximately six to one when downsizing to a tiny home. In addition, 100% of participants demonstrated an overall positive ecological footprint. The findings and conclusions of this study provide important insights for the sustainable housing industry that can inform policy and practice, with implications for future research in the sustainable residential field.

Tiny Homes, Sustainable Housing, Ecological Footprints, Environmental Behaviors, Mixed Methods