Maybe the future can fit in a small package.
Maybe, soon, there will be a traveling display showing that future in things built behind a Mixon Town salvage shop. Maybe it will eventually become someone’s home in a community meant for veterans.
But before anyone can take the tiniest step toward those possibilities, Jon Cooper and his team have a deadline to hit.
They have until Tuesday to finish building the country’s first-ever LEED-certified tiny house.
The job has been painstaking even if, obviously, it wasn’t a big project.
The building that was assembled on a trailer behind Eco Relics, the hip salvage and antiques business on Jacksonville’s Stockton Street, is only 192 square feet. Every foot of space is accounted for in a building made with used material that’s just large enough for a modest room and a closet, a bathroom, a kitchen and a loft built to hold a queen-sized bed you reach by climbing a rolling ladder.
It’s a natural fit for the store, said Cooper, an Eco Relics manager who got some volunteer help just because the business mentioned it in an email to customers. The project is his boss’s idea.
A team started construction in August with a tiny house contractor overseeing the work, but cleanup after Hurricane Irma cut down the time people could devote to the project.
The deadline remained, though. Inspections have to be passed and documentation needs to be completed to show the house meets Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) criteria before it goes on display Nov. 17-19 at the Florida Tiny House Festival at the St. Johns County Fairgrounds.
If it gets certification, the house will be an intersection of two forward-thinking trends people hear about on TV or the internet but might not really understand.
Tiny houses have become fascinations for people who want to simplify their lives by fitting their worldly goods into something the size of a college dorm room. There’s no universal standard, but some people consider anything less than 500 square feet tiny.
LEED has become an environmental seal of approval in the building industry, a set of sustainability standards that also show that people creating a building gave real thought to how it was put together, and with what. There’s an elaborate system for scoring points toward LEED approval, with special designations of silver, gold and platinum LEED for overachievers.
“We’re between gold and platinum, and right now we’re clawing for every credit we can get,” said Sarah Boren, director of policy and programs at the U.S. Green Building Council Florida, which hatched the project with Eco Relics and Norsk Tiny Houses, an Atlantic Beach contracting company.
Some parts of the project have been natural choices. LEED values recycling or reusing material to avoid waste, for example, so using the maple flooring Eco Relics retrieved after it was pulled from a Daytona high school gym was an easy decision.
But because there’s never been a tiny house with LEED credentials, how to score parts of the project has been an ongoing question.
For example, LEED asks builders to show how each project manages, and hopefully catches and reuses, rainwater running off the building. Boren said the Jacksonville team assumed the house had to handle rainfall levels that are normal at Eco Relics, but pointed out to people handling the scoring that the house is on a trailer, and might be hauled anywhere from a rain forest to the desert.
Being a tiny house on wheels – that’s an actual term in the industry – carries its own complications.
Plans to mount solar panels on top of the loft, good for LEED points, were dropped because the building’s height without them was just two inches below the 13-foot-6 clearance that’s standard for many highway overpasses.
There are still four panels on the main roof. That’s enough to power the house without any outside electric service, Cooper said, but not enough for air conditioning.
There are also surprising good sides to being built on wheels.
The house had to be built more carefully than conventional homes, Cooper said, so it should last a long time. Over and over, he said, pieces were secured to each other with Liquid Nails adhesive before ring shank nails (designed to stay firmly embedded in wood) were used to fasten boards together.
While standard homes stay in one spot for decades, the one behind Eco Relics might be hauled down a highway at 70 mph for hours at a time, bouncing when the trailer bounced and being constantly swept by wind. All-thread rods run up from the trailer through the house to lock everything in place.
Being ready to travel the highway will help the house on its first mission, crisscrossing the state as a rolling exhibit for the curious and for building code officials in towns where development rules require new homes to be much larger.
Local officials usually aren’t hostile to tiny houses, Boren said, but often don’t understand the point. or how they’re put together. She said she wants the Green Building Council to move the house from town to town for about a year, talking to building officials and showing it at events where ordinary people can walk through and learn.
How large the audience would be isn’t clear, but Clay County commissioners — whose development code doesn’t allow tiny homes except as planned unit developments — asked for information on tiny houses in August after a booster group urged them to change local rules. The county’s planning director said later his office gets a couple of calls a month from people interested in setting up tiny houses in the county.
After the tiny house travels the state, Boren said she wants to eventually see development of a community of tiny homes aimed at Jacksonville-area veterans. That vision is still pretty fuzzy, and might change before the first dirt is shoveled, but Boren said there have already been people offering land.
For now, there are still details to double-check before the final inspections happen. Once the interior is finished, Boren said tradespeople will come back to complete the home’s electrical and heating and air systems.
The finished building will need some last inspections by NOAH, the National Organization of Alternative Housing, a group that certifies tiny home construction. The Eco Relics house has no city-issued building permits or inspections, but NOAH inspects tiny house foundations and trailers, framing, insulation, and trades work before performing a final inspection.
There are another three levels of evaluation needed for the LEED certification, with online folders of documentation collected for each category of LEED inspection.
When the project’s done, there will be a template anyone else can learn from, said Dolly Johnson, an Eco Relics customer rolling paint onto the bottom corners of the house.
That could be the case by next month.
But already, the idea of building green and small seems to have found a permanent tiny home.
Steve Patterson: (904) 359-4263