Who doesn't like the idea of a tiny house? They're adorable. And you can probably build one out of palettes or milk crates and have no energy bills, right?

The interior of the UC Santa Clara tiny house. Joanne H. Lee/Santa Clara University.

The interior of the Santa Clara University tiny house. Photo: Joanne H. Lee/Santa Clara University

Well, not exactly. For as romanticized as small dwellings have become (and don’t get us wrong, a lot of them are cool as hell) there’s a good amount of thought that goes into them besides what color petunias to plant in those tiny flower boxes.

Of course, creativity is the draw here, but there’s also a lot of science that goes into building little homes, things like energy efficiency, engineering and architecture.

In order to determine who could be best suited to build the tiny houses of the future, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District held a contest for California colleges to determine just who is building the best in teeny residence and Santa Clara University proved to be the big winner.

UC Santa Clara, with their winning home at the Sacramento Municipal Utilities District Tiny Home Competition. Photo: Courtesy: Santa Clara Tiny House.

Santa Clara University, with their winning home at the Sacramento Municipal Utilities District Tiny Home Competition. Photo: Courtesy of Santa Clara Tiny House

“One of the biggest philosophies that the team decided on was to find a real purpose for the house. We saw that in the competition rules there was a large emphasis on the story behind the tiny house and we wanted to be able to design around a client.

“Partnering with Operation Freedom Paws (organization that works with service dogs and veterans) in summer of 2015 was exactly what we were looking for and allowed us to design specifically towards them. I believe that because we were able to work with such an incredible organization and have motivation beyond the competition, we designed the best house,”  JJ Galvin, project manager of the rEvolve program at Santa Clara University, told GrindTV.

“Build small and win big,” was the cry of this competition that had students and faculty across their curriculum build net-zero homes of 400 square feet or smaller. 

Making a tiny place that’s also livable takes some planning and skill, so the participating schools were given two years and a stipend (from $3,000 to $8,000) to design and build the best tiny house they could.

Santa Clara's roof and solar panels. Photo: Joanne H. Lee/Santa Clara University.

Santa Clara’s roof and solar panels. Photo: Joanne H. Lee/Santa Clara University

“The students involved in the project gained so much experience in areas that are not always touched on in classes or labs. Everyone on the team learned how to design a system after receiving constraints and criteria from a client instead of having a structured assignment. We also all learned how to effectively communicate our technical engineering decisions to an audience of the general public, which is an invaluable skill that many engineers do not get to develop until they are in the workforce,” Galvin added.

The judges looked for ideas that could make it realistic for people to live in smaller homes and use less energy, taking into account things like affordability, energy efficiency, mechanical systems and sustainability.

But of course, there has to be a certain amount of comfort and esthetic, so architectural design and livability played into the decision.

Laney College's The Wedge House. Photo: Courtesy Laney College.

Laney College’s The Wedge House won “Best Architecture.” Photo: Courtesy Laney College

In addition to overall first place taken by Santa Clara University, Laney College boasted the Best Architecture Award and UC Berkeley pulled down the Home Life Award.

Santa Clara University also won Communications Award and Energy Award. There were additional awards as well to give nods for aspects like curb appeal, furnishings, technology, sleeping area, etc.

“While our house was not made to work for every person looking to live in a tiny house since it is specifically made for Operation Freedom Paws, I think that showing people that tiny houses can be comfortable and livable is a great step. Hopefully, people are inspired to ‘go tiny’ and create living spaces that are sustainable and affordable,” Glavin explained.

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