Yale Grad Student’s Off-Grid Tiny House

Yale Tiny House

Elizabeth Turnbull was planning for Yale grad school and started estimating her future living expenses.  As an incoming Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies student, Elizabeth calculated that she would spend ~$14,000 over two years of school and wanted to do something effective with that money.  So she channeled a little inspiration from Tumbleweed Tiny House and decided to build her own tiny home as economically as possible.

So far, she’s made incredible progress building the 8′ x 18′ modish home on a flatbed trailer.  By the time she’s done, the off-grid home will price out just over $11,000 or so.  And it’s surprisingly spacious inside, too.


Elizabeth’s Tiny House will have a sleeping loft, storage loft, study nook, kitchen area, living area, and a bathroom.  When complete, she’ll tow the entire home to New Haven for the start of the academic year.

You’ll notice the simple passive design.  During the winter, the side with all the windows will gather sunlight.  During the summer, she’ll turn the trailer around and leave the slanted roof facing the sun.  Three solar panels will power her computer, lights, and other electronics in the home.  The tiny house has a small shower, composting toilet, and propane to heat the home when necessary.

[+] Yale Student to Bring Tiny House to Campus by Hartford Courant.



Photo credits: Stephen Dunn.

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  • http://dcgreenum.blogspot.com/ dcgreen

    Absolutely brilliant. Kudos for a really neat project.

    Two questions:

    Is she going off pipe as well? If not where is she going to get the water from?

    Where is she going to keep the place?

    • http://www.jetsongreen.com Preston

      The Courant article linked to above says she’s talking with both the city and university to find a safe and suitable site.

  • Tish

    Can’t wait to see the finished project.

  • Mad Jayhawk

    This has already been invented. It is called an RV. They come in all shapes and sizes with price tags from $2 million on down. John Madden, Justice Clarence Thomas, most of the NASCAR drivers, and Dolly Parton all have one. She could park it at the nearest RV park or in a Wal-Mart parking lot which is where mine winds up 25% of the time when we are on the road.

    • http://www.jetsongreen.com Preston

      Mad, you’re right, I mean it isn’t necessarily a new concept, but we’re talking about a grad student building her own mini-house to be self-sustaining and affordable and stylish. She’s breaking the trend and making a go at the status quo. Plus, how many RVs cost $11k, are passively designed, and off-grid?

      • Anonymous

        I can’t imagine that an RV would be this green, power-wise.

  • wowthatsdumb01

    hope she enjoys that composting toilet….and how her home will smell like her own shit. yummy.

    • http://www.jetsongreen.com Preston

      What’s your problem wowthatsdumb01? If you’re going to be offensive, you might as well leave your real name.

      • Jimi Killz

        It’s okay, He’ll get hit by a bus someday and the world will be a better place.

    • girlinflux

      Composting toilets actual don’t smell. So you can save the snark.

      • chancee

        …and if she finds a boyfriend or girlfriend she can build a matching addition, how cute!

    • Humanure Handbook

      I have a simple bucket composting toilet in my workshop near my garden (ala Humanure Handbook http://www.jenkinspublishing.com/garden_gallery.html) and it doesn’t smell at all. It’s lined with twice-shredded dried leaves and they’re better than kitty litter at drying all the moisture out of everything. The most it smells like is like the forest floor (minus the bears).

    • Ginonfrater

      You are trolling….go read a book !!

  • http://www.djc.com/blogs/BuildingGreen Katie

    Referenced your post on my site here http://www.djc.com/blogs/BuildingGreen/tag/gerding-edlen/. It sounds like quite a project, no matter how you frame it. I am interested in where she would locate it……..

  • mattnnz

    This has all the markings of some rich white kid playing at being poor. I agree with the commenter above about an RV. She could get a pretty nice RV for 11,000 dollars. For the same price a mobile home could also be found. I’m not sure that she will find a place for this because zoning laws in most populated parts of the country are pretty clear about what is required for human-occupied dwellings. Building codes etc. Maybe it could be put in a trailer park.

    • m french

      Plus look at all the WOOD this thing is using up for housing. Trailers use recyclable aluminum and other recycled materials like fiberboard etc. As it stands this ‘house’ doesn’t seem to be an ideal use of ‘green’ materials like trees, whether she obtained the wood as scrap or not, it could have been used for something else and the floor and walls made of much more recycling-oriented materials. More of an exercise on minimizing space and being on the cheap, not being totally green.

      • Aokbigslick

        Wood is the most environmentally friendly material. Especially where Im from in BC Canada. Wood grows very quickly. Last I checked they blow up mountain tops for metals and drill far below the earth for oil to make plastics. Both very energy intensif endeavors that consume materials that took thousands and even millions of years to become what they are. Trees grow to a harvestable size in far less time.

      • Jimi Killz

        Seriously? Wood is fare more renewable than aluminum…. Think before you speak.

    • Animalandbitch

      uhmm.. she may be able to get a mobile home for under $11,000 but, a trailer park in New Haven, she’d have to spend a lot more than 11k on firearms, kevlar, and security systems.

    • Jimi Killz

      Rv’s are NOT the same.

  • Robert

    Interesting and symbolic model, but I can’t help but wonder what she’ll do with the home after graduation. Hopefully she’ll either continue to live in it or ensure that it will continue to be a home for another. Otherwise, this would be an unnecessary waste of the building materials.

    • http://www.jetsongreen.com Preston

      Common, someone will use it. She’s going into forestry and environmental studies, of course she’ll use. But if she doesn’t, she can sell it, etc. — there’s no waste here. There’s more waste in the southwestern U.S. with all the foreclosures.

  • thay

    could you tell us how can i have one?????

    • Jimi Killz

      Step 1. Go to home depot.
      Step 2. Buy wood.
      Step 3. Build it.

  • Roger in pa

    you go girl !!!!! GO GREEN , We all need a lesson in humble. for it is not what we TAKE from the land. Its what we GIVE……..

    • Jake

      It’s SO Green!!! We all loves it! Oh yeah, what is she going to tow it around with? Sure as hell not a bicycle….she’s gonna need a villainous gas guzzler to get it around….

  • Pencils

    I went to grad school at Yale, and I’m wondering where she could possibly park it. Parking is murder in New Haven. Maybe the University will let her get away with parking it in one of the department lots. However, I’d also worry a lot about security. The campus and surrounding area is not terribly safe, and I would think especially for a woman living alone in a parking lot.

    • alum

      I also attended grad school at Yale for 3 years and paid $10,800 for THREE years. I don’t really understand the $14K estimate for 2 years. By the way, I share the same parking concern – I lived 2 blocks away from my department building and still took the school shuttle in the evenings. I hope she considers her safety before taking this mini-home out there. It sounds dangerous.

      • nina from yale

        The prices for all universities have been brought up. It’s not the same as when we went to school and i only graduated three years ago!

        I think this was a great idea and a good statement more on how it is possible to live off the grid. I wonder if she ever got it finished?

  • gretchen212

    neat, but how will she get to campus? I lived in new haven, too, and didn’t have a car, but I was close enough to bike. I’m not sure where she can park this thing and still ride a bike through rain, snow, slush, and the general winter funk that is N.H. I second the safety concerns, too.

  • http://web.me.com/cjanebuy/Site/Blog/Blog.html Jane

    Who would think something so tiny could also be termed “fabulous”? But, in my eyes it is. Brava!

  • 3200

    Actually, this is the same size as a Containerized Housing Unit, in which most of us Soldiers here in Iraq live. Granted, most of us don’t have a toilet in them. Still, this seems much more livable than renting. Personally, I think this is a far better idea than a RV, but that’s just me.

    • $p00k

      I’ve lived in the “boxes” across SouthWest Asia on military installations, and would have LOVED to have a little house like this instead. In her case, the main concern would be her security…are you allowed to have firearms there? If so, she should have no worries…

  • mark

    This is just a trailer or caravan. “off grid” – not unless she doesn’t get it registered so that she can tow it on the road

    silly cow

  • none

    You can get an old trailer or RV for WELL under $11,000.

    Safety in this thing? None. Smell of shit? Plenty. Nasty.

    • m french

      Heck, I just bought a brand NEW Thor travel trailer, 19 foot, queen bed, fridge, oven, stove, a/c, furnace, rollup awning, dining table turns into another bed, separate bathroom with a door with toilet and shower… for 10,300. I could easily live in it if I had to… but two people would be another story!

  • http://www.greenbydesign.com greenerguy

    Kudos to Elizabeth for taking on a project of this sort and as a bonus getting the PR for it. Though if I was looking at doing this I would recondition an RV / 5th wheel with green features. Recycling your neighbors used trailer.

  • http://realtaiji.com Steven

    Building! I hope she used her own sweat and bloody thumbs. Too many times folks in those collared neighborhoods say BUILDING when they meant DESIGNED. Architects are notorious for that.

  • troll

    She is hot

    • whatchucare


  • 400sf_orLess

    Disheartening to find that there are ignorant trolls of all *stripes – in this one post alone, more than just this ‘mark’ – even on wonderful sites like this. I guess the dream of a better world will always be hindered by people like this who insist upon spreading their ugliness everywhere they go. As for $p00k, I plan to build one myself, and there will be a shotgun in my loft and a sidearm on the lower level – and yes, I’m a Democrat. (*made me think of that gum with the Zebra…)

  • Anonymous

    It seems people are missing the point, in terms of the good and the bad. I myself was skeptical, jumped to conclusions, but then thought more about it, looked into other small houses, and looked more into(googled) Elizabeth herself.
    It seems a good intention, to re-coup rent expenses, by creating a reusable, sustainable, low impact home. One big issues with me is that, thought a responsible source, this house is made of new sawn lumber and many other environmentally unfriendly items. Which I find ghastly ironic for a forestry grad candidate. As opposed to readily available composite materials(made from industrial wood scraps and sawdust glued together) and certified by the national forestry council(her lumber also is certified), recycled aluminum studs, reclaimed lumber. Let’s just admit, “new” lumber is cheaper. However, she did put a lot of effrot into making the building process as green as possible. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LW4zx5zDuCo So, you don’t need to get started on toxic insulation/paint/trimboards/siding/flooring. She has it covered and it’s fairly environmentally friendly. It’s amazing how little the environmental there is to being effective. So, please forgo your ideas that she’s just trying to do good for her own pocket book!

    Serisously, would an intelligent(presumed from her admittance to Yale) person, sacrifice “comfort” just to save a buck. I’m going to have to go with a resounding, “No!” There has to be a point. Doesn’t there? Just what is her point? If it’s to save the environment in the short haul, she’s doing it. That shouuld be clear to us. For arguments sake, let’s go back and say the points not even to make an instant “lack” of impact on the environment, but is a pocket book issue. I’m from the area, and if her intent is solely to re-coup what she would have spent in 2 years(clearly living in “fancy” Yale on campus housing as opposed to an apartment off campus, as a large # of grads and undergrads do), shehasn’t succeeded. Mainly, as you all have pointed out, because of parking the home. Forget about finding a land lot in New Haven with her remaining 3k (14k-11k). She might be able to get a spot on the top of one of the city’s parking garages for that cost, if she’s lucky, forgoing all sanity in city zoning. Clearly, she’s missing out on the actual cost of real-estate. Or that fact that there are numerous rent to own homes in the New Haven area, that she could have invested her 14k into renting to own/fixing up, and selling off the improved home in two years, making a long term impact on the area. However, she has the city of New Haven, the State of CT, and Yale University contemplating where to put this environmentally friendly home. Kudos. You should be starting to see, and I may be wrong here. The point of this seems clear. There is a very strong intent here, and the intent is long term.

    This house, that may just be a slightly more glorified and homey version of a trailerhome or RV was built by her, with her hands, in an environmentally clean manner, to house her, to be mobile, to be low impact/off grid, and be permanent housing(for her or whomever). Are you all missing the amazing significance of that. This is a theory, an idealization, an example, and to me a huge success. This is a dream that has reached fruition. Dare I juxtapose this to the dreams of Martin Luther King, for peace and equality amongst all men. That too was and is a road full of toils, tribulations, setbacks, and potholes. Yet, it is a dream that was and is desperately needed. In a world, that is dieing, overpopulated, where people’s physical and environmental footprints are becoming too strenuous for the planet to handle, this little idea is big, and it’s needed now. The dream of sustainable, low impact, long term, mobile housing is beyond worthy. It’s noble, it’s needed, it’s admirable, and it puts those great legs to good use. Legs, fit, like her mind and spirit. That show, unlike so many of you to comment, that she’s not lazy, she’s being active, she’s thinking in a productive inter and extrospective manner. She’s looking at the world around her, and at herself, and doing something to change both for the better. Most importantly, despite any faults in the specific’s of her plan, she’s got all of you thinking. Not only her allies, but her cynics. So, not for her looks, but for her character, intellect, heart, and ability to draw attention to an issue through action, through example, she is indeed, hot.

    One last comment. The best of your arguments seem to be that the city is not set up to accomidate small, sustainable, green living, and this is going to be difficult. Maybe that’s just what she wanted? Can you imagine a future where there may still be high rises, but they are solar powered, both passively(sun heats and wind cools) and actively(solar electricity). Where you have a well designed, envionmentally friendly materials and living spaces. Well, it doens’t take much imagination, it just takes a few people starting the ball rolling.
    Elizabeth, you’re awesome. And for those of you that think I’m nuts, please check out this link… it’s not exactly a high rise, but isn’t that even better.


    • Franklin

      I came across this lovely article while browsing the internet at work. First off I’d like to say I’m glad to see more people actually thinking about their living conditions. That this discussion is even happening is a good step in the right direction.

      I would also like to respond to the following quote, posted by JayLiptak.

      Seriously, would an intelligent (presumed from her admittance to Yale) person, sacrifice “comfort” just to save a buck. I’m going to have to go with a resounding, “No!”

      I have “sacrificed ‘comfort'” for quite a while and I have plans to continue to do so as I build my own house in the upcoming months. It will be built from all natural and renewable sources I have gathered myself. No electricity, no fossil fuels burned, gravity fed spring water. I have lived in similar facilities for extended periods in the past and let me inform you it is incredibly liberating. I have never had to worry about bad weather putting out my electricity, for they have all been built not to have it. I have never had to worry about running out of fuel and freezing in the winter because I gather all the wood myself. (You’d be surprised how many trees go down and how willing people are to have someone take them away for free.) I have never had to worry about gas leaks or explosions. The plumbing is so rudimentary that I can handle all the maintenance myself with almost no tools. The structures themselves require almost no upkeep on my part other than keeping them clean and the wear and tear of time and the weather, and I can fix 100% of everything about my house on my own.

      Guests, colleagues, and friends are often surprised to hear how I live until they come to visit. Then they have called the places I have lived, “beautifully rustic”, “charming”, and “surprisingly comfortably”. I am not saying this to be pretentious, or to put myself on a pedestal. I realize not everyone can be in the position to live as I do, and I count myself lucky to be in that position.

      The point I am trying to make is that the things most people equate with comfort in the home are not necessary to be comfortable. We do not need large amounts of square footage, absurd numbers of appliance, or electric gadgets that frankly aren’t that useful to be happy.

      Does one really need the 15 function electronic coffee maker that you can program a week in advance? Sure your coffee can be ready for you when you jump out of your shower so you can swoop out the door without having to pause. But is that really so wonderful? What if instead you took the time to wake up 20 minutes early to make that cup of coffee fresh, and enjoy it instead of drinking it in the car. That’s 20 minutes that could be shared with your significant other, your children, or even 20 minutes of quiet time to reflect alone. What about the factory workers that made that coffee maker? What if it was made, as so many of our electronics are, in some factory in a third world country by people that breathe solder fumes all day and never make enough to even buy one of the thousands of units they help make and ship a day?

      I am not saying you should give up all these things. What I am saying is you should seriously consider the way you live, the things you own, the things you buy, and the things you use. Are they truly necessary? Are they truly helpful in your life? Are they actually convenient? And the most important question, are they helping, or hindering your happiness, and the happiness of others? Please, just be thoughtful and respectful in your life choices.

      Oh, and by living the way I do I can bank nearly double the amount of money that I could before I chose this lifestyle, and spend that money on many more things that I enjoy. For all these reasons I have never felt as though I have given up anything with my decision to live the way I do. I have done nothing but gain.

      • JayLiptak

        Some us need those gadgets to make a living… like doctors who have to answer pages, research new techniques online, and need thier coffee to be hot and ready to go in the morning when they have 7 pro-bono surgeries lined up that day. Sorry for my other response, but you pissed me off with your arrogance. No one says you need those things to be happy, happines is a way of traveling, I always travel that way. You, however, seem like you’re still getting there

  • jacob
    • http://www.trustworthytemps.com Donna F.

      Any place that sells flat bed trailers. That is all that it is…a flat bed trailer…do a google search and find a dealer near you…you could also find them in the papers, etc.

  • http://greensboring.com/ Liv

    Love it!

  • GodHatesMe

    Where did she get eleven grand?
    How is she planning on moving it?

  • rander

    Who cares shes well fit

  • Spuffler

    Hmm. This is too big for a Toyota Prius and why drag it around with a fuel inefficient truck/SUV/Xover? Why not put it on a foundation and just call it ‘home’? Hmmm? Yah, I know: they have laws, and code requirements, and whatnot….

    I saw the Tumbleweed collection a few months back and it helped me realized just how much crap I really DO possess. I believe I actually COULD do a more minimalist house thing (I have a 2100 sq ft Split/Ranch right now, and am SO hating it).

  • eric

    Someone warn her about people stealing those Solar panels (sadly, it happens…)

  • Willis

    You’d think there’d be smart people hanging around here. How did you slip through the cracks?

    • fleants

      stumbleupon helps.

  • jmc

    What about local building permits?

  • CK

    why didn’t she just buy a used large 5th wheel? More space, same idea, same or less cost, and already built.

    • m french

      I hope this isn’t going to be Obama’s House of the Future for America. My travel trailer has more room than this thing and better equipped. One good thing is that she wouldn’t be able to have a huge family of kids living in this tiny box, so that would help the environment by itself. I suppose it’s a nice experiment for different technologies but it had better not be a view of our future – the little old (you) that lived in a shoe.

      • V. B. Smith

        How on earth did Obama get dragged into this conversation? And I’m highly skeptical that this woman’s house represents the home of the future!

  • http://www.lacrosseownerwillfinance.com rent to own homes in

    Seems like all the great plans have been worked out. congrats

  • Deann

    I have been looking for a small (ca. 500 sq.ft.) home to build for my retirement years. It must be off the grid, and as self sufficient as possible. And of course very affordable.
    Here, I like that she turns her home around to maximize the effects of the seasons. Could this be done on a slab foundation as well…I am thinking a rotating ring of some sorts? She still needs to buy gas and water? What if we had a well on the land, could a pump/filtration system be integrated?
    Btw, I am wondering…why are the solar panels on the floor and not on the roof?


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  • http://www.facebook.com/wayne.knight.16 Wayne Knight

    excellent creativity!…..but, will it survive being towed in 1 piece??…..i’d have real concerns about movement and windows breaking…..hope thats been considered?

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