When communications design professor Rebecca Kelly and her husband Kevin bought a coastal property outside the small fishing town of Lubec, Maine, ten years ago, they always dreamed of building a home for their family. Last summer, their design for an eco-smart tiny home became a reality—as well as the subject of a recent episode of “Building Off the Grid” on the DIY Network.
“Building Off the Grid” documents teams and families who are constructing off-grid cabin projects in challenging backwoods locations. Rebecca, who teaches in the College of Visual and Performing Arts’ School of Design, and Kevin, a graphic designer, proposed a 16’ x 24’ tiny solar-powered home with three floors, two upper decks, and 640 square feet of living space. Their design included solar panels on the roof, energy efficient doors and windows and a wood stove, as well as such unique features as a trap door for entry and a “drawbridge” ladder to move from the second-floor living space to the third-floor bedrooms.
Building in Lubec, the easternmost town in the contiguous United States, presented numerous weather challenges, including wind and rain. The Kellys were also challenged by a tight building timeline (three months), a limited budget ($60,000) and a lack of construction experience. With the help of a local contractor and friends, they were able to complete the home on deadline.
According to Rebecca, design thinking played a large role in the project.
“This was the perfect opportunity to test my research focus on the integrated designer of the future—the idea that we need to apply our own skill sets across disciplines in order to reach ‘design sustainability,’” she says. “Using the creative process, I approached each challenge by asking questions, prototyping solutions over and over again, prioritizing the key issues of going off-grid in an unusual location and ultimately designed a home with creative solutions to address the issues aesthetically and efficiently. Yes, it was scary to try this on national TV! But it allowed me to go outside of my comfort zone and bring the whole experience into the classroom and research.”
The Kellys’ next project will be to install a wind turbine as an additional source of power for their tiny home.