Many people dream of downsizing into a tiny house or off-grid cabin to reduce their expenses and simplify their lives. But the process of making that dream a reality can be both tricky and expensive, especially if you aren’t an experienced builder. Czech company Pin-Up Houses hopes to reduce some of those obstacles with Gaia, a tiny sustainable home that transforms an ordinary shipping container into a portable dwelling powered by solar panels and a wind turbine.
The biggest draw of the off-grid Gaia house is its price tag, which Pin-Up Houses estimates at $21,000. It’s also easy for novices to build in as little as three months. It’s definitely diminutive at a mere 20 x 8 feet, but it’s packed with just about everything the average person needs, including a bathroom with a shower and compost toilet, a kitchen with a refrigerator and propane-powered stove, a wood-burning stove for warmth, and plenty of storage space.
The light-colored plywood interior features a plethora of drawers and cabinets, with a sofa that folds down into a bed after dark. You can open both the double sliding glass doors and the huge side doors to open the interiors to fresh air and sunlight, and the outdoor terrace folds up and down using a winch to extend your living space in nice weather or protect the giant glass wall while on the road. Unlike a tiny house on wheels, you can’t just hook it up to a truck and motor down the highway to move it, but like all shipping containers, it can be transported on the back of a truck.
Since steel conducts a lot of heat and cold, one of the biggest issues with converting a shipping container to a home is insulation. The Gaia features spray insulation between the outer steel walls, wooden studs, and spruce plywood interior walls to create a cozy envelope. A 264-gallon water tank on the side of the unit services the home’s two sinks and shower, with a filter for potable water. The three 165-watt rooftop solar panels and 400W wind turbine supply plenty of power to the home’s battery system, which can be monitored using a dedicated app.
“It’s necessary to look for alternative forms of housing that will have a less negative impact on the environment, as well as complement traditional approaches to housing,” the company explains. “We have decided to repurpose a discarded shipping container and fit it out with the most available building materials and latest technology to design a unique independent housing unit.”
You really have to be a fan of the industrial aesthetic to enjoy the Gaia house, since there’s no disguising the look of the shipping container on the outside. But if you’re into the look and willing to put in the work to make it livable, it can offer an accessible way to gain a vacation house, income-generating rental, or backyard office, and it might work for some full-time off-gridders, too.
Pin-Up Houses has already built a prototype of the Gaia, and if the design generates enough interest from the public, they might consider manufacturing and selling more of them. In the meantime, you can buy a complete set of plans along with material lists, tool lists, and an eBook about building tiny houses for just $190 from the Pin-Up Houses website.