Piqued by an interest in smart home technology and the tiny house movement, we’ve been following a local Bay Area initiative called “Tiny House in My Backyard(THIMBY) here on California Home. This is the final installment in a three part series.

The Tiny House Competition on October 15 marked the end of the two-year journey that the UC Berkeley initiative, THIMBY, embarked on in building an affordable, 100% solar-powered tiny house from scratch. The competition showcased THIMBY’s creation along with eight other net-zero, tiny solar houses built by collegiate teams throughout the Northern California region.


Hosted by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, the Tiny House Competition consisted of each competing team opening the door to their homes and inviting judges and members of the public to tour and explore the small living spaces.


For THIMBY, the glass sliding door that welcomed visitors in was donated by the Coldwell Banker Berkeley and Oakland offices in an effort to support the local Bay Area initiative’s mission of promoting the idea of smart living.

THIMBY took second place in the competition overall and won specific awards for water conservation, sustainability and home life. The tiny homes were judged based on architectural design, livability, communication, affordability, energy efficiency and balance, appliance load, technology/electrical and mechanical systems, transportation, sustainability and documentation. Winning schools were awarded trophies and monetary prizes for their successful efforts.


We caught up with THIMBY’s Communications Director, Sabrina Werts, to get the lowdown on the Tiny House Competition and THIMBY’s plans for the future.


Congrats on THIMBY’s success in the Tiny House Competition! What set the THIMBY house apart from the other tiny homes?
Thank you! Our attention to both sustainability and affordability. From the beginning, we made sustainability our priority. We wanted to build a truly 100% solar powered, off-grid tiny house that made no compromises on sustainability. Then, we made cost-conscious choices to keep the house as affordable as possible. It can be difficult to find the right balance between sustainability and affordability, two concepts which are often placed at odds. But they don’t have to be! While THIMBY isn’t necessarily the perfect example of this, we certainly put a lot of effort into achieving a harmony between sustainability and affordability, and I think that showed.

What was the common trend of all the tiny homes in the competition?

What was so great about the competition was that every team took a unique approach on SMUD’s prompt to design and build a tiny home under 400 square feet. Some teams took affordability very seriously and built homes for under $30K. Other teams prioritized architecture and craftsmanship. So if I had to identify a common trend among all the tiny homes in the competition, I’d say that every house presented extremely creative solutions to what the team had identified as a central issue to tackle.

What takeaways did THIMBY take from this competition?

The power of a committed team is incredible. Nothing demonstrates this better than watching a house with no interior and no functioning electrical system turn into a fully furnished, solar-powered home in less than 5 weeks. If you drew a graph representing the progress made on THIMBY over the past five months, you’d see a gentle incline from June through August. Come September, the line would be practically vertical. The dedication of our team (and our friends and family) in the month leading up to the competition was awe-inspiring.

What do you plan to do with the house post-competition?

Right now, THIMBY is back at the Richmond Field Station (where it was built). We’ll be doing systems testing for a few months before more permanent plans are made. THIMBY’s final resting place is still to be determined, but there are a few exciting possibilities. We’ve been in talks with the City of Richmond about using the home as a residence for a park caretaker, but there’s also potential for THIMBY to become the first unit in a carbon-neutral community of tiny homes.

The tiny house trend is gaining momentum. Why do you think this is? 

Tiny houses are answering questions that people have had to start asking themselves. How will I be able to afford my own home? How can I live more sustainably? It’s great that people are interested in leading more environmentally friendly, simplified lifestyles. The tiny house “trend” is helping to expose the need for alternative housing options, and is giving cities around the world something to think about when addressing our growing population’s increased need for affordable, sustainable housing.

What do you expect to see in the future for tiny homes?

Tiny homes have great potential as urban infill and living labs. There’s also a number of niche applications for tiny houses that make a lot of sense — like providing on-site housing for a park caretaker. If the interest in tiny homes continues, we may even start to see the formation of carbon-neutral communities of these homes. A few projects like this are in the works, but ultimately cities will need to make legal provisions for communities like this to form. It’ll be interesting to see how tiny house policy will shake out in the coming years.

Anything else we should know?

You can keep up with THIMBY by liking our Facebook page, following us on Twitter, or visiting our website.