Tiny House in My Backyard (THIMBY)

Project Lead: Ian Bolliger, Oriya Cohen, Kit Elsworth, Zach Gima, Kenny Gotlieb, Laney Siegner, Roopika Subramanian, David Rothblum, Imran Sheikh, Emily Woods

Sponsor: THIMBY

TGIF Grant:$25,932

Project Theme: Transportation and Urban Development 

Project Location: UC Berkeley Global Campus 

2015 Application Submission

Status: In Progress

Project Description: The THIMBY project consists of an interdisciplinary team of graduate and undergraduate students seeking to use the design and construction of a net-zero-energy tiny house as an interactive educational opportunity for UC Berkeley students and faculty and the surrounding community. Their goal is to design a living-lab that demonstrates the union between affordable and sustainable housing, and serves as academic living and working space for visiting students and faculty. Throughout the planning, design, and construction phases they will share their experiences with the community through workshops, course field trips, and new DeCal classes. Although they will build one unit to start with, the tiny house will be a model for future THIMBY teams and other interested parties to continue to develop sustainable and affordable design projects. Their long-term goal is for THIMBY teams in future years to generate a community of innovative, carbon-neutral housing to serve as a living lab for the student body.

Goals: THIMBY's objective is to design an innovative affordable and sustainable tiny house that can serve as a seed for a neighborhood of similarly minded design and build projects from UC Berkeley and the surrounding community. In doing so, they will address the following goals:
  • Interdisciplinary collaboration: Creating an opportunity for students in diverse graduate and undergraduate programs to collaborate on a sustainable campus housing project.
  • Behavior change: Improving the knowledge and commitment of students to sustainable living, so that UC Berkeley’s culture of sustainability goes beyond the campus boundaries to the surrounding student residential community.
  • Hands-on education: Constructing a tiny house to serve as a living lab for students and professors across campus to engage in green building design and construction.
  • Innovation: Creating a model for affordable and sustainable student living, and record best practices.
  • Energy self-sufficiency: Designing an energy system that reduces emissions associated with residential electricity consumption through rooftop solar energy generation, efficient appliances, and innovative construction and energy management techniques.
2015 Poster



Expected or Actual Completion Date

Trailer purchase


Plumbing schematics


Electrical schematics


Structural schematics


SMUD video update


50% design drawings


DeCal spring course prep


Assess legality of various tiny house components


Construction: prototyping and systems integration


Construction: systems testing (energy, water, full-house tests)


Host workshops and field trips for undergrads and specific courses


Materials procurement


Construction manual documentation


Prepare printed materials for competition


Project completion, submit final project docs to TGIF


New Timeline: 


Original, Approved Completion Date

New, Proposed Completion Date

Electrical/Mechanical Schematic Drawings



Plumbing Schematic Drawings



Structural Schematic Drawings



DeCal Course



  • Solar system components purchase: 6 285-W Solar World panels (1.7 kW total) and associated racking, charge controller, and other balance of system items. The purchase was made by June 30 to take advantage of a Department of Energy Grant available to SMUD Tiny House Competition participants.
  • Trailer purchase: An 8’ by 24’ trailer @ 14,000 Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) was purchased on August 31, meeting the SMUD trailer purchase deadline for a $1000 reimbursement.
  • Accepted to present at the AASHE conference: We were notified in June that our proposal for a presentation/case study was accepted for the Association for Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) conference, taking place in Minneapolis, MN in October 2015.
  • Recruiting new team members: Since returning to campus for the fall semester, we have been actively recruiting new team members to assist with creating design drawings and communications documents necessary for continued progress and outreach as we prepare to start building in the spring semester. New team members include an experienced architect who is taking charge of the 50% construction drawings due to SMUD in November, a contractor with  years of professional experience, and an undergraduate Environmental Economics and Policy major who is in charge of public relations and outreach.
  • Sustainability Involvement Expo: Several team members participated in the Sustainability Involvement Expo as part of the effort to recruit new team members and spread the word about the project across campus.
  • Meetings to figure out logistics, liability/insurance, and secure access to build site: Team members have been meeting with campus officials and ERG advisors to determine appropriate protocol for tiny house construction. The team has also visited the Berkeley Global Campus site to receive keys/gate card access and examine the storage and build sites for the project.
  • Meeting with Professor Moura and undergraduate leaders of the Cal Solar Decathlon team to discuss collaboration and merging some mutually beneficial group activities.
  • Media coverage: See education/outreach section.

  1. Meeting materials procurement “deadlines” and informing appropriate funding channels in a timely fashion to ensure payment approval and access to funds. We will continue to work with ERG staff to assure that future  payments are scheduled and approved well in advance.
  2. Materials procurement research and decision-making between options: taking into account financial cost as well as material sustainability, weight considerations, and transportation is a challenge area for our team which we are working to overcome by gathering as much information as possible about each material option and deciding based on as objective a cost-benefit analysis as possible across multiple parameters (environment, economics, occupant comfort, etc).
  3. Coordinating activities across different “working groups” within the team: Systems integration is especially important at this stage in creating the house design drawings, and so it is very important for the energy systems, plumbing systems, and design/structural systems teams to be able to both conduct research independently AND meet regularly to put ideas together in a way that is integrated across (limited) space and, where possible, allows for multiple uses across each system.
  4. Figuring out how best to partner with the Cal Solar Decathlon team is both a challenge and an opportunity to leverage more students’ energy and passions into two projects with overlapping goals and themes.
  5. Progressing along many dimensions of the project over the summer proved more difficult than expected given team members' various summer work and research responsibilities, as well as those of faculty and staff with whom we needed to coordinate. One result of this challenge was the postponement of our DeCal course to the spring semester. We determined it would make for a better-run course if we were able to secure a suitable space and host multiple planning sessions well in advance of the course.
Timeline Progress:
  • Setting internal deadlines for Schematic Design (SD), Design Development (DD) in order to meet the official deadline of 50% construction drawing by November 15, 2015.
  • SD (ongoing and scheduled until the second week of october) is the most critical and longest phase of our design. During this period, we need to make key decisions regarding the envelope and the energy/electrical and water related systems.
  • Designers are simultaneously working on the envelope (insulation, percent of glazing) and on the structural systems of the tiny house. We are looking for a system that would help to mitigate heat bridges to the exterior and bring enough insulation to minimize heating/cooling needs.
  • Different working groups are focusing on energy/electrical and plumbing schematics. First draft have been issued mid-september, meeting the original timeline. The groups now need to coordinate to integrate their ideas within the same overall concept. We want to meet this milestone by the end of SD.
  • From an architectural standpoint, a series of updated plans, section and elevations (that integrate the latest energy and plumbing systems) will be issued by the end of SD.
  • DD will be about confirming our choices and getting into more details for all systems involved. We will be refining our plans, sections and elevations.
  • We are currently organizing weekly design charrettes to gather all the working groups involved in energy systems, plumbing and overall architectural design.
  • This internal design schedule should help us meet the deadline of 50% construction drawing by November 15, 2015.
  • As mentioned in the Challenges section, we have moved our DeCal course to the Spring Semester.
Budget Update/Expenditures to Date:
  • We have not yet made any purchases using TGIF funds as we are still in the design phase. However, we will likely begin procuring materials soon to begin experimentation with system elements, such as agricultural water filtration.
  • Additionally, we procured solar panels using funds available from a DOE grant. As noted in the Budget Adjustment Form submitted 8/28 and approved 8/31, we reallocated funds from the solar panel line item to a new trailer line item to account for this procurement and a lower expected cost for solar panels. We received an invoice from the trailer, but due to complications arising when transferring funds to a UC account for liability reasons, no funds have yet been dispersed. The cost of the trailer is larger than initially expected, but since it will serve as the structural underpinning of the project, we felt it important to purchase one that would be sturdy and allow for ease of construction. We expect to make a payment on the trailer in the next couple of weeks, and will take delivery of it 6-8 weeks thereafter.
  • Also, in the same Budget Adjustment, we reallocated funds from the member training line to the trailer. Planned training sessions have proven to be logistically difficult to schedule. Additionally, we have supplemented some of the know-how we expected to glean from these sessions by bringing on new student team members who have extensive construction experience. However, we have left money in this line item to account for expected  safety training costs as we move into the construction phase. 
Qualitative and/or Quantitative Metrics:
  • At this stage in the project, there is not a significant update in our qualitative or quantitative metrics; however, we beginning to make progress on some of them. The beginning of the school year brought us closer to our goals for Media Outreach with two articles published in the Berkeley Alumni Magazine and The Daily Californian. This publicity, combined with our other outreach programs, created further interest in our project among the campus community. Responding to this interest, we are comfortably growing as we bring on new team members, advisors, and sponsors. As we finalize our design, we will further update metrics to account for our progress.
Education and Outreach:
  1. We attended and are scheduled to attend several conferences around student sustainability.  During the spring we participated in CACS and over the summer, we presented at CHESC in San Francisco.  This semester we are scheduled to present at the AASHE conference in Minneapolis, and we have applied to take part in the December Global University Climate Forum in Paris.
  2. We took part in the Sustainability Involvement Expo where we recruited for new positions and gauged interest for our Spring Decal. 
  3. We postponed our planned DeCal course until the spring for reasons described in the Challenges section
  4. We continued to increase our social media coverage by adding a Twitter account, updating our website, developing a more consistent Facebook presence and participating in Murmur, a new app that gives location based updates on campus about student groups/projects.  
  5. Media coverage:  Articles appeared about our project and the progress we have made in California Magazine and the Daily Cal.  
  6. We developed a tentative schedule for continued blog posts from THIMBY members that can also be cross-posted via TGIF and/or SERC social media outlets

Mission Statement

The Green Initiative Fund (TGIF) provides funding for projects that reduce UC Berkeley's negative impact on the environment and make UC Berkeley more sustainable. TGIF will allocate funds to projects that promote sustainable modes of transportation, increase energy and water efficiency, restore habitat, promote environmental and food justice, and reduce the amount of waste created by UC Berkeley. Portions of the fund also support education and behavior change initiatives, student aid (via return to aid), and internships. TGIF is supported by student fees and administered through a student-majority committee and a program coordinator.