When you think of energy efficiency in building materials, whale expeditions and wildlife biologists don’t typically come to mind. However, this summer may change all of that.During the summer of 2015, whale researchers Katy Gavrilchuk and David Gaspard were frustrated with time and money spent on travel and lodging during their annual research expedition and began looking for novel solutions to allow them to better focus on their research going forward. Acutely aware of the effects of climate change, they were committed to maintaining a small carbon footprint and decided to construct a mobile, energy-efficient tiny house to help support their 2016 expedition.
After learning about innovative building products that could deliver energy efficiency in limited parameters, Katy and David sought help from PIMA member Atlas Roofing to find the right products for their unique application. Their tiny house was built with polyiso rigid foam insulation boards installed in the walls and the roof of the house. It features a high R-value and Class A durable aluminum facer that also serves as a water resistive barrier—delivering needed features without taking up space or adding much weight.
In June, these marine biologists set off from Montreal to study whale and dolphin species migrating through the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Canada. During the 670-mile journey to their research base in Mingan, they will make several stop-overs to scope for whales and talk to people interested in their tiny house and minimal/ecological living. It is a first for many people to see a tiny house on the road, they are even asked if they are part of the circus!
Throughout the expedition, Katy and David will be traveling through relatively mild summer temperatures ranging from 73 F to 47 F, despite the fact that hurricane season in the North Atlantic lasts from May 15 to Nov. 30. While the temperatures are ideal to study migrating whales, the average 13 days of rain per month may be less than desirable!
By using a tiny home as their mobile research base, Katy and David hope to accomplish several goals. First, they want to raise awareness of the consequences of global consumption while reducing their own carbon footprint. In addition, they aim to build something that can lead by example and show others what can be accomplished with a small budget and a strong motivation.
Although the market for tiny houses is limited, the lessons these researchers have learned in terms of thermal efficiency and product selection have larger application in the wider construction market. As global interest in energy independence grows, products and processes that reduce heating and cooling demands for structures big and small are finding wider acceptance. New construction and retrofitting provide opportunities for builders to reduce the energy requirements of buildings and invest in products that will deliver long-term savings.
Watching these principles writ small in the tiny house adventures of two marine biologists chasing migrating whales in Canada gives us a glimpse of how savings can be magnified in larger projects with the same commitment to conservation.