PassivDom: Mobile Homes for Millenials

In many parts of the world, living in a trailer has gained a social stigma. We’re talking about a rectangular building placed on three wheels and towed to your preferred plot of land. It’s going to take a lot to break that social stigma, but this is a pretty sweet attempt.

PassivDom is an off-grid home. It sidesteps the electrical grid as well as water and sewer service. It’s marketed as utilizing revolutionary breakthrough in wall insulation which they claim makes it very easy to heat and cool. In addition to this self-sustaining angle, it taps into the tiny home movement with a footprint of just 36 m2 (4 m by 9 m; about 118 390 ft2 or 13′ by 30′).

For this to make sense you really need to get the “Autonomous” model, the only one that is designed for “off-grid” living and comes with solar panels and battery storage plus water storage and purification. That’ll set you back 59,900 € (about $63,461 USD) but hey, it does come with “high quality minimalistic furniture” which the best way we can think of to serve Ikea nesting instinct without saying the brand name. Yep, this ticks all the “marketing to millennials” boxes. We’re kind of surprised it’s not doing crowdfunding.

So where’s the hack? Obviously this is a hard sell at 1,664 €/m($538 $163/ft2). A project of this size and scope is well within the purview of a single, motivated hacker, and arguably a weekend project for a well-skilled team from a hackerspace. Tiny Houses started as a build-it yourself so that’s already solved. We’ve seen what it takes for hackers to add solar to their RVs, and experiments in home-built power walls. Water storage and purification is already solved and quite affordable at the home store.

Has anyone built their own off-grid tiny house? If so, let us know what went into it. If not, what are you waiting for?

77 thoughts on “PassivDom: Mobile Homes for Millenials

    1. My first apartment was almost twice that in sq ft — I’m in 1400sq ft now and don’t have enough space. I don’t get these people that want to live that cramped. Hell, my computer room is about 110sqft alone (and that’s cramped a bit for me even while retired!)

      1. Have plenty of space only means that you fill up your space with un-necessary crap. I have now existed on both sides of the have/have not coin and am quite content in the knowledge that I can do with far less than I once thought necessary for a comfortable existence.

      1. The irony is “millennials” are perceived to prefer cities. Don’t need cars, more “hook up” opportunities (it way why I preferred urban areas when i was young, but most Air Force bases were in small towns). Of course, that don’t speak for everyone.

        1. I grew up in small town suburbs and hated both the suburbs and denser city areas.
          I spent three days in San Francisco for a trade show, and it was awful. The hotel room was smaller than my old bedroom at my parents’ house but still cost $2,000 for the 3 days, and I was just in “Little Hanoi” not in any of the upper-scale areas. Everyone was pushing and shoving down the sidewalks like herds of cattle, and worst of all the whole city smells of urine and marijuana, even indoors. Horrible place.

          I’ll take the countryside, when I’ve saved up enough to afford a house. At what I’m making with my MS and industry job, minus 10% to subsidize Medicare and Social Security that will be gone before I qualify but benefits the “Me Generation” so they can retire early and live off the government, I should be able to afford my own house by age 40.

      2. Agreed. As a “millennial” all I really want is a decent 3-bed house with a yard within 90mi. (my current daily commute) of my workplace for under $100k. Out in the country with no barking dogs where I can hammer at my forge every night after work would be a plus, but I’m not so greedy.

        I think people tend to confuse “people born between the years 1989 and 1999” with “people who use Macbooks and think Che Guevara was cool.”

        1. Yeah, literally my life goal is “feel like I have my shit together, life wise, in a garage / workshop.” I was recently ready to try and rent a storage unit to use as one, only to be disheartened by the fact that there are no storage facilities with a power outlet in them within 40 minutes.

  1. Digging into the details on their site, they’re not using standard construction materials. They say they’re 3D printing the frame of the house with carbon and fibreglass. All the windows are tempered glass with aluminum frames. Using the correct square footage calculation from above, the pricing actually come in around $164/sq ft. That’s not bad, actually, especially since they appear to be using some nice quality materials and it includes all the IoT monitoring and control of the house via mobile internet (service included for 12 months.)

    Now, I’d question their claims about “you can put this anywhere without a permit”. That’s going to be up to the jurisdiction where you want to plant it. I also think that while a foundation is not required, you’re probably going to at least want some concrete pylons to set it on for stability and levelness.

    1. This varies greatly, but for most of EU, if it has a foundation – you need a building permit. These cost money and time, also the authorities can refuse to grant one if they don’t like something – like not being in a zone designated for living quarters.
      No foundation – no permit needed. All you need is land. This has the same status as a shipping container or a mobile home or a garden shed.

      1. The UK had ‘pre-fab’ housing for years and this is the same only with modern, more energy efficient materials and construction. It would be an irony if a local authority declined to allow one of these when, in the same district, they had some existing structures only decades older.

      2. i don’t know what parallel universe you live, but in most of the EU that I know, the criterion for requiring a building permit is NOT the foundation, and you definitely do need a building permit if you leave one of those things for a longer amount of time, e.g. months as opposed to days, and live in there – EXCEPT on a certified camping place, but then the rent costs you as much as renting an apartment. And the thing is: you won’t get any building permit for one of those trailers, at least not in Germany or France. People try it all the time, with tiny houses mounted on a trailer or with camping trailers, and they all fail and find out the hard way that the reality of regulations and requirements is quite different from what they dreamed of.

    2. Note: plopping a box wherever without mooring it to a foundation is not a great idea in certain parts of the world, where local weather events make mobile homes into God’s dice.

  2. I particularly liked the feature line saying “A mobile house can be carried to any corner of *a* planet.”

    Think about it :)

    Beyond that, 60k Euro seems to be a pretty reasonably price for what you’d get.
    I’ll be stashing my pennies.

    1. It depends on your perspective if 60k euros is reasonable!
      Around this part of rural France (indre), 4-50k will buy you a pretty little self contained stone house, with wood fuelled heating and a lot with tree’s on it to harvest, mains water and usually a self contained fosse septique system to deal with the outflow unless you live somewhere in a town with mains sewerage connections. Its not beyond the job of a tinkerer to hack in a water pv system to heat the existing water based radiators running from a back boiler on the wood fire some have too. And if not, the old furnace/water systems are on the small ad’s for peanuts as everybody has fell for the “electric is the modern way” marketing.
      Add the costs of a PV setup if you want to avoid the prices of electricity which is rather expensive, and the price of a glammed up mobile home you still have to buy a plot and get permission to set it up as a residence on suddenly doesn’t look quite so attractive. And real houses never really fall in value…

      1. I see your point, but still, including solar panels, batteries, water purification and some furniture still isn’t bad at 60k.

        Your comparison lacks some of the costs already included, as with the 60k mobile home you wouldn’t have to pay further fees for e.g. using the mains water and all the other “extras” you listed.

        And in the end, this home would be still movable after initial deployment – in spite of me having learned to love the south of France, Marseilles, to be specific, after being there for some business trips, I would still be able to get my home somewhere else if needed.

        But I fear getting a suitable lot for my future mobile home at Cassis, France or something the like would cost me a lot more than tthe 60k we’re arguing about here ;)

    1. Speaks to the lower quality of a lot of mobile homes, compared to regular. The kind that’s two halves joined together does better, but not by much. The manufactured, kit home are probably the best even if variety isn’t always there.

      Nice thing about the small-homes is it fits in with social changes: perfect for downsizers.

      1. The mobile home industry has changed greatly in the past couple decades. They are built like “real” houses now. My last one had triple pane windows, tile back splashes, crown moulding, baseboard, etc. It was also more energy efficient than a lot of those cookie cutter neighborhood house they also up daily around me.

        1. I just don’t get the whole “small house” thing. Many seem to be on wheels for mobility and or to get around permitting. So why not buy a mobile home or even a used camping trailer? They are cheaper than the small homes I have seen. Isn’t moving into cities where you can walk everywhere the big thing? The tiny home thing seems like hyper-spawl to me.

          1. Imagine American style of 200-300 m2 houses in China or India. Not enough space, not enough heat, not enough power for those monstrosities. USA lifestyle is unsustainable even in the USA, which uses about 25% of world resources, with less than 5% of population. So if USA consumption levels were to be present everywhere, this would require 5x more resources than now. Our planet is already at the breaking point.

          2. Miroslav: ” […] the USA, which uses about 25% of world resources, with less than 5% of population […]”
            This is an inapt comparison. The US produces 22% of world GDP. That makes the 25% share of resources seem much less gluttonous. Not that we couldn’t do better, but it’s just not that bad.

          3. @Miroslav ut seems like not enough only because of false scarcity in those locations… the same goes for people that live in the city in the USA, they think there is nothing better out there for them so they stay in the city…

            You can make sensational claims of doom all you like but they’ve always been wrong… if you have more people you have more people to worth to support themselves, and there are more than one ways to skin that cat.. in some places geothermal, wind, solar plenty of power is available, and plenty of land as well. In brazil for instance they have a similar population to the USA, except they live on 1% of the land… for no reason other than an economy that stores it’s wealth mainly in the land due to unstable currency… but that is changing.

            Also, I’d say moving into the city is a good way to distance yourself from the problems of the real world… it blunts your sense of reality and of the size and nature of the world… while an Indian from 400 years ago here in the Americas might think similarly of me as I do of city dwellers … it is something worth considering and reflecting on how much mega-cities that we have now remove us from nature.

            Living in the city makes you dependent on it’s infrastructure… and when if fails or does not support you as well everyone cries foul…. for those that do not live in the city it’s no big deal we just take things in stride and deal with it by adapting to new methods (or reverting to old well know methods).

          4. *touches finger to nose
            You are correct about hypersprawl and the new youngstas. They think it is fun until the internet goes out and they cannot brag about their “sustainable” lifestyle which usually consists of 4 chickens and a patch of microgreens that the deer eat the second week. I would guess that probably 5% of em can cut it more than a year. A lot of it will depend on how you were raised and whether your partner can get by without Target or 2 day Amazon Prime or being able to reliably run your budding etsy business of macrame socks.. That seemed to be the biggest dealbreaker that I saw. The other factor was having a baby while out in the middle of no-goshdarn-where.

    1. I would like to see your house against a tornado. As to straight line winds as long as it’s leveled, strapped, and closed​ in underneath the is nothing to worry about. They are no longer those 1970’s metal cans, they are the same as a modular home and are built in a more climate controlled environment than a house is.

  3. Great idea! Wouldn’t work in the UK as nowhere to put them. Tight restrictions on planning make it impossible. Stigma in UK towards trailers is very. Very high. Shame when there is a shortage of affordable homes

    1. This is just an idea with no hardware yet. For in city affordable housing Tiny apartments would seem a better choice. Today a single person really does not need as much stuff as I did when I left home. You can keep all your books and videos on your tablet and can use your tablet as your TV. Most people can use a laptop as their computer, and they us their phone for their camera. Most young people don’t have tons of books, music, and videos today. Take a tiny house floor plan and convert it into an apartment. Put solar panels on the roof of the building and you should be good to go.

      1. We have lots of tiny apartments here in Seattle. They’re generally known as aPodments, but that’s the name of one company[1] that was a pioneer in them here. They’re built in popular “urban village” neighborhoods and the rooms are between 180-300 ft^2 (17-28 m^2).

        [1] https://apodment.com/

  4. I find that mobile home thing realy compelling. I just don’t see a good solution for the water/wastewater problem. I don’t want to have complex, high maintenance technology (like a closed water cycle thing) to rely on for the most basic things in life.

    1. Well…. maybe you want simple low maintenance technology for household waste and sewage. A barrel, an inner tube around the barrel, some hose, waste breaks down to methane for the stove and fertilizer for the garden. From an ancient and well proven Mother Earth News article. Large community versions are currently being used successfully in less developed nations to supply whole villages, and have been for many years.

      Farming country here. There are several companies selling systems turning farm waste to electrical generation at several different levels of scale. I believe Indiana has the lead in these right now.

      For potable water, solar distillation is a nice passive friend.

      For refrigeration, clay pots cooled by evaporation suffice in many parts of the world.

      For zero maintenance though, just remain on the grid.

          1. o.k. in a tight spot, if you have to, but not over time.
            Same for RO/DI water.
            Too pure. Good for cleaning, not for consuming.
            The opposite of mineral water. Instead of providing trace minerals, it absorbs them.
            Google provides the range from ‘oblivious’ through to ‘you are screwed/evil if you drink it’.

        1. haha! thats because the guy/gal always leave at the last minute while feeling the urge to record the tornado on video.

          Nah In my case, I leave the day i get the warning…48Hrs before the Tornado reaches the shores or earlier. And yeah I ain’t gonna try to record it and upload to youtube either.

          1. Do they call tornadoes hurricanes in your part of the world? Because in the US, tornadoes are those things that touch down with little to no warning, wreck a neighborhood or two, then disperse. There’s time to pick up and leave, just enough to herd pets and children into the basement and hold onto your butts.

    1. Hey Millenials! Your poor as poop and will never be able to own a real house! How about we sell you a tiny dog kennel…. fill it tech that you probably don’t really need and still sell it to you at a price that you can barely afford. And yeah think of the environment! you hipster suckers!

    2. Marketing? I think you got something severely mixed up here.

      Marketing is that which makes one feel like they have to own a larger and larger home, have a car, get a pool, obtain a microwave… spend, spend, spend! And it was marketing that attached the idea of interest payments so they get you twice! Marketing is that which came up with the phrase “Keeping up with the Jones’s.” to give you guilt that you’re not doing what you should for your family, and they can provide the solutions and while doing it help themselves to your pockets again, and again. Newer! Bigger! Better! 2x strength, 3x strength… nevermind that physician’s warning….

      I mean, really, the only reason we don’t still live in caves is cause they’re too few of them and too hard to move around… hence the tent and teepee came along. No marketer involved there…

      This is anti-marketing. It’s people deciding THIS is all I need, the rest of my money is needed elsewhere.

      1. It’s still marketing….genius marketing that is…fewer and fewer people especially of the newer generations can afford the classical suburban house. This is being offered as an alternative to that. The marketers are now trying to sell people what they can afford.

        The problem is that a tiny house like can never be enough for a family of 4 or even 3 (including parents), so it isn’t practical unless you want to stay single for the rest of your life or not have kids.

        The other problems include finding a decent plot of land and meeting all the zoning e.t.c. By the time your done with that you’ve easily spent $80K in addition to another $65K and what you have is a tiny house that can barely meet the needs of a couple for about 150K.

        If you can afford a mortgage for 150K ….you probably can get one for $200-$250K and actually buy a decent downsized house with like 1200-1300 sqft of livable space instead of 390sqft.

        1. Considering the decreasing birth rate in a lot of countries, that is probably what a lot of them are doing. Single and no kids is the only way they can afford to live.

          1. Well… if the they live by credit card and taking out loans, yes, that’s the result. Paying out a significant portion of their paycheck to cover interest every month quickly diminishes their life and future after even just a few years. Plus the “convenience” of giving interest away to their credit card company… LOL 21%. This is why it is important to see the kids actually learn and pass algebra in high school. Problem is…. most of the parent’s didn’t either!

        2. I appreciate your predicament then, and the lack of value to your locality.

          The link I provided above is to a currently working example of tiny homes that has existed in this city for several years now. It was controversial at it’s inception and met considerable resistance, but once established quickly became accepted as a successful experiment of value to this city and matches it’s progressive reputation. It’s still there, I drive past it most every day of the week, and regularly use the store that’s right across the street, (good rotisserie chicken). Offhand and from fading memory, even the 65K you mention is greater than the cost of the whole group of units. “These aren’t the homes you are looking for…” They’re just homes letting people live reasonably and with comfort.

          1. To me that is what tiny homes ‘should’ be. Yes you take a hit on livable space but it costs less..significantly less to purchase and maintain a tiny home hence justifying the purchase. Total cost should be 15K-50K including zoning, lot, blah blah blah….I imagine that some of those tiny homes can cost as little as 7-10K if you just go with the bare essentials.

          2. @ Halherta: another knock-on effect is that it makes one think more carefully about possessions, both kind, and amount. No episode of Hoarders here.

  5. I built a small summer cottage deep in our woods. It is off grid, and built well, but very inexpensively. Almost everything I build is built using as much self made or raw material as possible.

    The cottage is roughly 7×9. It has two stories, the first story has a couch to kick back in and a large window that takes up most one of the wide walls. It has a 10K BTU vent free propane heater on the first floor, and a pair of nice wrought iron candelabras. No power on the first floor. There is a ladder and a trap door up to the sleeping loft on the second floor. There is a single bed, another big window that overlooks the creek and the woods. There is a small solar power system, a car radio, some 12V CFL lamps, and a small inverter for small things that require 120 VAC.

    There is running water outside provided by a spiral pump in the creek around the bend so you don’t have to see or hear it. The spiral pump also seasonally waters our edible mushroom garden and keeps an old hot tub full, as a cold tub for hopping into after getting out of our sweat lodge that is also located out in the woods.

    For bathroom facilities we built a very simple composting toilet. I got an old crate that made a perfect outhouse structure at work, and simply bent a piece to tin roofing in an arch and nailed it over the top. It keeps water out and lets air flow through. There is a small compost bed on the other side of the property for the output from the toilet.

    About the only thing that is lacking is WiFi. At first I liked that as it was a place to get away from being networked, but over the years I have started to want WiFi out there, so one of these days I plan on building a solar powered WiFi repeater someplace between the house and the woods.

    FWIW, the little cottage was build from scavenged materials. Doors and windows, insulation, siding etc, from CL and Freecycle, I have a small sawmill and all of the indoor walls are rough cut and hand milled. The roof is a truck cap or camper top someone gave me for getting it out of their yard.

    We had to hump the material through the woods. I heard a lot of flack about that from my helpers over the span we built it. For actual construction I used a small 1.2KW 2 cycle generator to alternately power a circular saw and small air compressor for my nail gun. I also have a home built gizmo that uses a 24 oz paintball tank to power my air nailer. I can get roughly 200 framing nails in with one charge, and I recharge the 24 Oz tank myself.

  6. Living in a 35m2 is a shitty life, i know because most Departments (or condos i guess) in my country are about that size, and cost between 55.000usd to 75.000usd, crazy expensive for that shitty little house.
    if i wanted to live in the middle of nowhere i probably can build something better with far less money.

  7. the problem here is that manufacturers or people trying to sell the “tiny home” are somehow neglecting to mention the real cost..as in Real Estate. Ive seen some of the “look at how small our home is, we built it from recycled Whole Foods bags!” people sitting on near million dollar parcels of land. The whole “mcMansion” thing in the Bay Area comes from this-the cost of the home is practically insignificant, so people demolish nice older places to stuff every square foot of their half million dollar parcel with a house, and it doesn’t do all that much for overall property value.

    So instead of living in an apartment of similar size, most of these things have a huge investment in land that is beyond most “hackers” reach. Hell, if you got land and decent weather, there’s no sacrifice having a small house. And no real savings.

    A spinoff of this marketing trend, now we’re seeing travel trailers, replica Airstreams going for over 40 Thousand dollars- and they’re not really even custom units. ! and tiny teardrops for near 20K USD!

    Apparently “millenials” have a sh*tton of cash or credit balance to play with, if this marketing strategy is actually working.

    But

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