As I watch the promotion of the Tiny Houses on Wheels novelty grow in popularity I am continually amazed by the way the industry keeps ignoring the problems with the way they are building and promoting them. Besides the issues that I have already brought up in past articles on this subject, Noted at the end of this one), there is another consideration that will affect the health of anyone who chooses to live in one full-time. One would think with the TV shows on this subject, and with the articles I have written and passed along to many of the people seeking to make great profits from this new industry, some of the health issues would be getting brought up but instead, profit is still the king, even with THOWs it seems and conscience be damned. I am fine if the seller discloses the issues and the buyer then makes a decision based on the facts and not just some ruse about living cheaper, getting out of the system, and being able to move around the country at will. These make great bait on the hook but the price that many will pay will be their health, or more importantly, the health of their kids. Let us suppose you build a Tiny House on Wheels that is 8’x 20′ x 9-10′ tall inside and you manage to do it without any toxic materials what so ever so as to have the quality of the air be very good to start. Then let us say you build it like most of these with relatively air tight windows and doors so as to heat and cool them efficiently. To begin with, no one really does that, but if they did, let us go to the next part of the analysis which is what this article is about. How much fresh air do you have inside when you close the door and do you have an air exchanger pumping in fresh air and exhausting the spent air, meaning the air you breath, cook with, and if not, what happen?
First we need to clarify that the reason one can suffocate with their head inside of a plastic bag is the fact that they run out of air to breath. Not in the first breath or two for they breath out some of the air that is not yet converted into CO2, or Carbon Dioxide. We can not live by breathing only CO2 but trees and plants do very well with it, as do bugs of many types. Humans slowly lose their senses, get groggy, and eventually pass out or suffer from oxogen starvation which then shows up as headaches, nausea and other symptoms. They will not sleep as well, nor feel as well as when they have ample oxygen in the air thus it is important to keep in flowing, either by having your windows open, which is a problem in the winter or heat of summer if you use an AC. Winter is the bigger problem as most do not want cold air from outside leaking in but let us consider that in either case, there are problems with a THOW if you are having more than one person inside a typical size such as the one I used above, 8′ x 20′ x 9′ tall inside. Want to know why? Probably not if you already own one of these but just for your information if you are considering building or buying a THOW, here is the issue and what happens when you live in one or worse, have company over to visit and possibly stay the night.
I am going to run the actual numbers to prove it but if you do not know, a person breathes a 1/2 gallon or more of air per breath cycle so we can calculate what they will consume and how much CO2 they will use if they built one as air tight as most are due to the windows and doors that are relatively sealed to meet high thermal insulation requirements. There is only 1,260 cubic feet of air in a THOW that is 7’x9’x20 (with nothing in there) so that after taking into consideration materials, clothes, fridge, and other structures you have less than 9,420 gallons of air to use and share, before you deduct a bit for what is trapped in cabinets and displaced by beds and other stuff. Healthy people breath at 12-20 breaths per minute (sleeping versus up and operating or talking). So given a group of 4 or five people talking and spending an evening together, the consumption rate is 6-10 gallons per minute per person means that in an evening (6,700 gallons approximately with 4 people) and them spending the night (13,440 gal. of air) will be breathed in and out. In other words, you will use up much more of the air than is inside the THOW so you will be rebreathing each others used air which turns into CO2 at a rate of 528-2,100 gallons per hour per person depending on their size, excitement, and other variables. In other words, one person can basically convert all of the fresh oxygenated air in the THOW into carbon dioxide in one night, so 4 people will then be breathing CO2, not oxygen filled air for most of the night. Flames will not burn as well on a stove in that environment so more unburned propane will be left inside the house to breath as part of the equation, so air exchangers are a big concern that is getting overlooked, particularly in houses with toxins from materials that add greatly to the problem as they contaminate the limited air inside.
Regardless of how good the THOW might look, it is still only able to hold a limited amount of air so this detail is important to consider if you are thinking of living in one full time.
If you are using salvaged doors and windows, with some weather stripping but not air tight, then these numbers change radically as you will have leakage of air which will offset the problem and you can simply insulate better, like with Icynene instead of fibreglass and more than offset the difference in temperature so as to justify the fresh air leaking in and out or being pumped in with your air exchanger.
Bet you had not thought of this yet. Your thoughts? Now imagine if you have materials that are outgassing formaldehyde, plasticizers, phalates (chemicals that mimic hormones), latex paint fumes, cleaners with chlorine or ammonia, and pesticides. You will certainly be breathing them in as well and the consequences are much worse than CO2. Please give this thought before you buy or build your THOW and you will be better off in many ways for it down the road.
Let us build using the principles of the Pure Salvage Living Renaissance and reduce the cost to our planet and health as we transition into Tiny Living so that we can also make it healthy living too.
Tiny Texas Houses
Other Articles on issues with Tiny Houses and how they affect health.
The lack of whistleblowers about the toxicity of tiny houses at the Tiny House Jamborees around the country.