ThinKing May 2018 – Mini houses on wheels

14.05.2018

 

By using lightweight materials throughout the construction, the houses cut weight by a third compared to comparable models – all while increasing living space by 50 percent.

Tiny houses (small living spaces on wheels) have been around in the USA since the mid-1920s and have allowed free spirits to combine the mobility of an automobile with the comfort of a home. The idea is still a bit of a novelty in Europe. Tiny houses are regarded as an ideal way of living a simple no-frills lifestyle. The tiny houses from Stuttgart offer more than 20 square meters of living space, but still include everything one needs to live – including a living area, small kitchenette, bathroom with a shower and toilet and a sleeping loft. The startup company TechTinyHouse in Stuttgart-Plieningen is taking the challenge of making consequent use of lightweight materials to conquer the growing niche market for tiny houses.

The State Agency for Lightweighting Baden-Württemberg is presenting this innovation as its ThinKing for May 2018. Leichtbau BW GmbH awards this distinction each month to offer a platform to innovative products and services in the Baden-Württemberg lightweighting sector.

A tiny house is a mobile home that is built to be towed as a car trailer. The total weight is limited to 3.5 tons. This is where the main idea behind the startup TechTinyHouse comes into play. The lighter the materials used in construction, the more usable space can be designed into the house – providing a significant increase in comfort. The tiny houses made in Stuttgart feature up to 10.5 meters of interior length with up to 30 square meters of residential space, making them more spacious than many of the comparable models currently available on the European market.

Larger living space through lightweight offers a competitive advantage

Provisionally, the startup aims to produce two tiny houses a month to be sold for a price between 30,000 and 60,000 euros. Now that the first prototype has been completed, the marketing rush has begun. The company has already started presenting at industry exhibitions. Brendan Thorne, managing director of TechTinyHouse, said: “We see lightweighting as a decisive competitive advantage since it allows a significantly larger living space and a range of additional elements such as photovoltaic systems and water processing facilities. This will make tiny houses attractive to a wider consumer segment as a mobile living solution and the market can emerge from its current niche position. Customers are not asking for lightweighting solutions per se, but the larger living space made possible by lightweighting is in demand. Lightweighting gives our company the chance to get the tiny house market rolling.”

Dr. Wolfgang Seeliger, managing director of Leichtbau BW GmbH, is clearly impressed. “TechTinyHouse is a very interesting example of how the consequent integration of lightweight materials can lead to a completely new overall solution. Of course tiny houses are currently a niche market in a country with a tradition of home building. There is now a growing market potential and this young company has excellent potential to accomplish a breakthrough with the keywords weight reduction, increased living space and low energy requirements.”

Replacing standard building materials allows for 50 percent larger houses

All previous solutions in the tiny house market segment have been based on standard components and materials such as regular trailer frames, wood facades, standard glass panes and plywood panels. The new mobile houses from Stuttgart implement lightweight materials throughout the construction. This allows them to be built up to 50 percent larger with the same amount of weight. Starting from the product specifications as determined by stability calculations and simulations of the undercarriage, the steel for the undercarriage is laser formed and welded together to form the base of the trailer. This process requires about forty percent less steel than typical solutions. A joinery center produces the wooden stud that is optimized in terms of its weight and meets the Eurocode requirements. The facade integrates light elements with 30 percent translucency which insulate just as well as triple glazed windows but weigh only one sixth as much. Lightweight glass is used in the windows. The floor plate is manufactured out of a composite material with higher density in certain points to give the floor the necessary stability.

Stuttgart built tiny houses can withstand gale storms

The differences to the other comparable tiny houses on the market starts with the trailer. It is the foundation of a tiny house. It is often overlooked, since the residents do not necessarily see it every day and it may seem like a peripheral accessory. In fact, the weakest link in the building substance of many tiny houses is in the foundation. The trailer model of the tiny houses developed by the Stuttgart team was conceived specially for supporting tiny houses and takes into account their special inversed load distribution. It was designed to fit optimally with the studding to make the tiny house a stable solid unit. A strong attachment between the trailer and the house is critical to ensure that the trailer performs safely in all traffic situations. The unit is so stable that it can even withstand gale force storms.

Tires with the smallest possible radius are ideal for tiny house trailers in order to allow the trailer to ride as close to the ground as possible. At the same time, TechTinyHouse takes the road construction standards into careful consideration to prevent the trailer from hitting the ground while being transported. The steel used in the construction is also of central importance. Usually trailers are built using S235 grade steel. The Stuttgart startup uses a higher quality S355 grade steel for its undercarriages. S355 steel has a higher yield strength than an equivalent mass of S235 steel allowing it to withstand greater force before it is permanently deformed. The yield strength is in fact about 50 percent greater which allows for a significant weight reduction.

The studding on top of the chassis provides attachment points for all of the other building elements in order to form the complete shell. TechTinyHouse studding structures are tested for structural stability and conform to the standards of the German building code. The house envelope sections (floor, roof, facade) attach to the studding and provide private space and shelter from the elements. Since the envelope can be custom designed to individual specifications, specific aspects of the interior residential space can be factored in. More information under www.techtinyhouse.de

About TechTinyHouse
TechTinyHouse is a small startup company based in Stuttgart-Plieningen. In May of last year, the young company won first place at the regional competition Elevator Pitch Baden-Württemberg. The vision behind the company is to be the first producer in Germany of small mobile homes with calculated static engineering and a full system of undercarriage and building envelope that fulfills the standards of the German building code. By using lightweight materials throughout their construction, larger and more comfortable mobile homes can be produced. In addition to building components and complete tiny houses, the company now also offers workshops for the DIY sector.