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GOING OFF-GRID IN A TINY HOME IN MALAYSIA


The GreenMan Tiny Home is the embodiment of the ideal ‘green lifestyle’ when it comes to a roof over our heads.
Text and Photography by Jan Yong.
A home for RM50,000? Yes, some may say, that was the price of a low-cost home in Malaysia many years ago. Today, it doesn’t seem possible. But reality or rather people’s ingenuity has a way of surprising us. Such a home is now possible in Malaysia thanks to Matthias Gelber, aka the ‘Green Man’ internationally. The best thing is – it is possibly the ‘greenest’ tiny house in the world – it is zero-energy, carbon neutral and completely off-grid.
Tiny homes have been around for decades in America and Europe; in Asia, it is manifested in traditional dwellings such as the kampong house seen in Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia and other Asian countries.
The design of the GreenMan Tiny Home (its current name) was inspired by traditional kampongstyle houses which were built using eco-friendly materials and raised above the ground to keep the interior cool in the tropical heat.
What Gelber does which is unique is to pack the Asian traditional dwelling with almost 100% sustainable features within a compact space – 150 sq ft (the size of a large parking lot).
“It has bothered me that modern homes are hot like saunas and that the use of air-conditioning has become the norm. We went back to the original structure of kampong houses and made urban living comfortable without the need for an external electricity source and water supply. Most people think green living is expensive but I want to prove that using natural resources like solar power can be cost effective, provided items that consume a lot of electricity are completely avoided. The GreenMan Tiny Home project is an educational experiment and I hope that many Malaysians will learn from it and be inspired,” explains Matthias.

MALAYSIAN GENESIS

Construction of the prototype began in September 2016 at the Construction Research Institute of Malaysia (CREAM), which is the research and testing arm of the Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB) Malaysia; and was completed in February 2017. The green studio apartment was a crowd-sourced effort by several Malaysian construction industry players who all share a commitment to promote an eco-friendly lifestyle in Malaysia. “Many of the materials were donated to us. We even have people offering to let us park the tiny studio apartment on their land,” Gelber reveals.
About the only non-‘green’ item is the aluminum linings for the door and windows. “This is because wood-based linings will expand or contract, hence is not the ideal material to be used while aluminum is light, cheap and stable,” says Adam Kiss, the coordinator for the Green Man Tiny Home project. Both men, while hailing from Europe, Germany and Hungary respectively, have strong ties with Malaysia, hence its Malaysian genesis.
All materials are sourced from Malaysia with some using overseas technology such as the ‘EcoLoo’ which uses bacterial culture to treat the waste and create organic fertilizer that is pathogen free yet rich with nutrition. The patented toilet system renders the waste odourless, waterless, sewage-free, energy-free, and maintenance free.
The other two must-haves to make this a truly selfsustaining off-grid home are the solar panels and the rainwater harvesting system. The latter has been designed by Kiss using three different types of filters which makes it drinkable.
For the bath, be surprised to find a bathtub and a shower head right above it. Kiss designed the bathtub to fit into the tiny house and got it made by a factory. However, the bath can be customised with several options available for buyers.
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A small refrigerator is included in the price although a bigger one can be custom ordered. Other electrical equipment include two fans and lightings.

FOCUSED ON SUSTAINABILITY 

The GreenMan Tiny Home is a brainchild project of Gelber and “Green Professor” Dr Paul D’Arcy. The duo collaborates with local experts to bring forth this unique home space that not only generates zero energy and zero waste but is also exclusively made from sustainable materials and carries a small space footprint.
“The GreenMan Tiny Home prototype will hopefully be a game changer in the local housing development industry. Our experience will be shared with the public and we hope that developers will incorporate our ideas to build a genuinely ecofriendly building,” says Gelber.
According to Dr Paul D’Arcy, GreenMan Tiny Home’s architect and engineer, an enormous amount of effort has gone into the selection of construction materials. “Mindful of the embodied carbon content of most construction materials, we have chosen recycled, upcycled, locally manufactured and sustainable materials whenever possible in an effort to provide a carbon neutral structure,” he says.
In other words, the house utilizes biodegradable products, waste management through composting and recycling, and building materials using reclaimed waste.
For example, discarded computer fans and even a car water pump has been collected and repaired. These items make up the components of the Tiny Home’s ventilation and water distribution systems.
At the time of writing, the prototype (which has a side profile of Gelber) has been superseded by a newer iteration, Version 2, which has improved functionalities such as better ventilation and lighting, and installation of a large Murphy (pull down) bed plus a roll out extra bed. “This is new for all of us and we are improving each new version as we go along,” says Gelber, adding that in future, there are plans to incorporate the Internet of Things (IoT) features into the Tiny Home.

COMMERCIALLY VIABLE 

Orders have already poured in from as far as New Zealand, says Kiss. Most enquiries are from buyers interested to rent it out through AirBnb in an exotic setting within Malaysia. In fact, by March, 2018, 200 units would have been installed in Taman Negara, Kiss reveals.
The second version of the home is trailer-ready and can be installed with wheels – for an additional RM10,000,” says Kiss. “You can thus drive it anywhere without loading it up onto a lorry.” He adds that the house is scalable and can be built up to 4 storeys high. “Our mass-produced houses, which will be built at a factory in Ipoh, will all have a 10-year warranty period. We can also customize to whatever requirements the buyer wants. For export purpose, all the materials can be flat-packed similar to Ikea’s products.”
Gelber is focused on the Education Programme on the GreenMan Tiny Home because he wants Malaysians to learn from the tiny home – the principles, the materials and the design – and change the way that we live. “With the right infrastructure and mind-set, we at Tiny Home hope that this educational process will inspire greater innovations and measures to preserve our Mother Earth,” he says.
Not content to just talk, Gelber will be walking the talk by staying in Version 2 GreenMan Tiny Home during his planned nationwide roadshows starting before the end of 2017. The Tiny Home is certainly the embodiment of his ideals when it comes to a roof over our heads.
           
 
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