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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Western students constructing tiny homes

By Zoe Buchli

Five Western students have started a project that will bring more tiny houses to Bellingham.

Project Zero Net Energy Tiny House (ZeNETH) will be the first tiny house project at Western, and is a student-led venture to create a home with a special feature not many houses have: It will be zero net energy.

ZeNETH has a project manager, policy lead and faculty adviser. There is also a separate design team with three students.

Senior Kellen Lynch is a Fairhaven Student and is the project manager of ZeNETH.

“Net-zero houses are homes that produce as much energy over a year’s time as they use in regard to electricity,” Lynch said.

One of the key components of ZeNETH’s zero-net-energy strategy is its use of solar panels, which will be the home’s main source of electricity, Lynch said.

While solar panels cost more upfront, they save more money and are more efficient in the long run, Lynch said.

ZeNETH project manager Kellen Lynch discusses plans for the zero net energy house at a table for the project at the Maker’s Market downtown on Friday, March 2.// Photo by Taylor Nichols

“The name of the project alludes to sun angles, because a sun’s zenith is an important factor when you’re designing a house,” Lynch said.

Right now, ZeNETH is in its design phase. Construction is scheduled to begin in January 2019, according to the project’s timeline.

The house will be 200 square feet with space for one person, Lynch said.

Lynch said it will include a kitchen, lofted bedroom, a separate room for a bathroom and a washer/dryer unit.

Senior Dylan Fischer is a Fairhaven student and a member of ZeNETH’s design team.

“When designing and building a tiny home, there’s a lot of details that really need to be touched upon in order to make your experience enjoyable,” Fischer said. “This will show people that this is a way to live, and it doesn’t suck, and you can have a net-zero home and it can be affordable.”

Lynch said the team plans on building the house at the Technology Development Center at the Port of Bellingham, which Western is a co-owner of, along with Bellingham Technical College.

Senior Noah Lanphear is an industrial design major and ZeNETH design team member.

“It’s about thinking holistically,” Lanphear said. “Thinking not just about what the exterior and interior are going to look like, but how are those components going to create an experience that’s not just habitable, but also interacts with the environment around it.”

“It’s not going to be a conventional American house but built smaller. We’re designing something that’s more efficient and representative of our environment here in the Pacific Northwest.”


Lynch said the team is applying for a Sustainable Action Fund grant with hopes to have it fund the project.  

The Sustainable Action Fund is intended for projects like ZeNETH, that can help promote sustainability in Western’s community, and is a student-funded program that all students pay into quarterly, Lynch said.

“It’s not going to be a conventional American house but built smaller. We’re designing something that’s more efficient and representative of our environment here in the Pacific Northwest,” Lynch said.

The end goal for the project is to make sure potential buyers of the house know that this project’s design can be manipulated to fit their aesthetic and that this tiny home is meant to be customizable, Lanphear said.

“We would like it just to be a model for people to look at, and know that they can design something like [this] as well,” Lynch said. “We want to advance the design of tiny houses, but we also want it to be replicable.”

ZeNETH was created fall quarter of 2017, when Lynch was in a design class through the Institute for Energy Studies and was assigned a project of designing a net-zero house.

Environmental Sciences Professor Imran Sheikh is the faculty adviser for the project, and has had experience working with tiny houses from his time at UC Berkeley.

“Students will be more invested in it if they’re the ones that are in charge,” Sheikh said. “They’re going to get a lot more out of the experience if they’re empowered to make a lot of these decisions.”

Design team member Lance Slyman (center) talks with Patrick Shive, the policy lead for the project at the Maker’s Market, an event held downtown on Friday, March 2. // Photo by Taylor Nichols

Lynch said the project’s main objective is to provide actionable learning for students. It will incorporate students from several departments on campus, including urban planning, industrial design, art and biology.

ZeNETH comes at a time when the demand for tiny homes, accessory dwelling units, and other new models of homes is increasing.

Bellingham’s planning commission voted 4-2 to recommend the city council allow leasing of detached ADUs in early February.

“Housing one person in a tiny house does little to nothing to solve [the issue of affordable housing],” Lynch said. “The point of this project is to show people that you can design a sustainable house that is also affordable.”

Lynch said if the project is something the city likes, they can take the design of ZeNETH and invest in making scalable tiny homes, that could address part of Bellingham’s housing issue.


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