Wide copper coil drain pipe affixed to a wall

Lofty Energy Saving and Eco Design Goals

A building project is a long series of design choices. Some are prescribed and imposed by regulations but many come down to personal preference and often a little bit of off-the-beaten path exploration.

A key component of a community for tiny houses on wheels, perhaps ironically, is the presence of a structural dwelling on foundation. For Big Calm, this is the completion of a pre-existing, unfinished post-and-beam barn-loft we call the Shangri-loft.

In restoring it, we’ve been mindful to use safe materials (like low VOC paints) and to integrate several generally-available eco-friendly or energy-saving innovations. Here are some of them:

Handful of washed sand

Septic System

Behold the elusive Type 2 septic field special sand blend! We never thought we would be so happy to see sand but after a months-long delay it finally arrived just before winter! We chose to build a Type 2 community septic system because it takes up half the footprint and produces much cleaner effluent, compared with standard (Type 1) systems.

White spray foam insulation in a barn ceiling


It may not look like much – just spray foam on a ceiling – but we waited for this spray foam for months. What a relief to finally complete the Shangri-loft’s insulation in the midst of supply chain delays!

The barn ceiling required spray foam, rather than the R50 rock wool batt insulation we used for the rest of the building. Always trying to make the best choice for our community members’ health as well as the health of the environment, we opted for a spray foam with an environmental product declaration demonstrating it has one of the lowest global warming potential impacts of any insulation product. It is low VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) and contains 22% recycled plastic and renewable soya oil. Worth the wait. 🙂🌎

Heat pump unit on stand outside

Heat Pump

We’ve built the Shangri-loft to meet the BC Energy Step Code level 4, meaning the Shangri-loft will be 40% more efficient than the EnerGuide Rating System’s reference house. We’ll be heating (and cooling) the Shangri-loft with an Energy Star-rated Bosch heat pump, which can transfer 2-3 times the energy it consumes!

Cide copper coil drain pipe affixed to a wall

Drain Pipe

This shiny coil is a ThermoDrain, an ingenious heat recovery pipe made by Canadian company EcoInnovation. Installed in the mechanical room beneath the Shangri-loft’s bathroom, it uses the heat from wastewater to de-cool the fresh mountain water coming in to the hot water heater. The overall saving is up to 40% on the cost of heating water.

(Also built into this mechanical room is a connection for a Portable Electric 2k or 5k Voltstack battery generator, a backup for power outages.)

A tile of black Marmoleum Click flooring


We agonized over what flooring to put in the Shangri-loft. We wanted something durable, easy to clean, and of course, environmentally friendly. Enter Forbo Flooring System’s Marmoleum Click (it’s the new linoleum): made from 97% natural materials, 70% of which are rapidly renewable, and made of 43% of recycled content. It’s also carbon neutral. And it doesn’t look to shabby either! 😉

A tiny wood stove with a big black heat shield above it

Stove Shield

Lastly, some of the simplest things anyone can do is to buy local (as we’re doing with the baseboards and window/door casing) and to re-use materials. Perhaps our sentimental favourite item was to salvage a big steel heat shield from the original homesteader cabin on-site and place it above a cute new TN10 wood stove. Old and new together.

Check out The Bigger Picture on Tiny Homesteads to learn about the positive environmental impact of tiny houses versus regular houses.