The team from University of California, Berkeley utilized different Viega products and finished second in the competition, pulling in some other awards as well.
Viega is a member of the Center for the Built Environment (CBE), a UC Berkeley-sponsored scientific research partner, so the collaboration on the tiny house grew from that relationship. Students from the CBE formed a team to compete in the tiny-house building competition, and Viega came on board as a sponsor of the entry, providing products, loaning tools and giving some advice to what became a very successful venture.
Other awards the Berkeley entry garnered were for sustainability, water conservation, home life and best craftsmanship. The tiny home used some unique and efficient ways to save or reuse water, and that came with the help of Viega products.
Building a tiny house
Sponsored by SMUD (Sacramento Municipal Utility District), the Tiny House Competition initially began in 2014, when colleges and universities across California were encouraged to field teams and submit initial plans. There was a two-year time frame for the competition, with judging in late 2016.
Given the focus of the CBE – where teams research things like mechanical systems for commercial buildings – it made sense for the organization to put together a team when the tiny house competition was announced. After Fred Bauman, a project scientist at CBE, had some initial meetings with the team, he contacted his friend Michael Sullivan, a Viega radiant sales manager.
“They’re such a strong research team there. When I heard what they were doing (the tiny house), I met with the team that had several students involved and they went over the project and their needs. I was fascinated with it!” Sullivan said. “I looked at their drawings, and I contacted my boss and gave him the overview and asked if we could help out.”
Laney Siegner, in her third year of the Energy and Resources group PhD program at Berkeley, was one of the project managers and led the design of the water and wastewater systems. She said that coordinating with Sullivan and having Viega’s help was great.
“We did a lot of outreach for materials procurement,” she said. “We had a limited budget, and we wanted to be off-grid and do a lot of innovative water and efficiency technologies. When we got in touch with Michael, he was totally amazing. He came through with a delivery of supplies, a bunch of things he thought we might need, and was very on the mark. We didn’t know exactly what we needed, and it was amazing, a much greater amount than we ended up needing in the end.”
The team made good use of the Viega PureFlow system, installing PureFlow PEX in red and blue for hot and cold potable water, and also purple for reclaimed water, as well as polymer PureFlow Press Fittings. The PEX in ½” and ¾” was utilized on the project, and the team was also able to use a ManaBloc in the mechanical room. They chose to cover it with clear plastic, so the plumbing is still visible in the completed home.
Sullivan loaned the team a Rigid 210 tool for pressing and showed the group how to use hand PEX Press tools.
Siegner said the use of PureFlow PEX products was perfect for a tiny-house setup.
“We were able to easily fit the product within our wall and floor cavities, and the ManaBloc fit into our little mechanical room nicely,” she explained. “It all worked really well. The plumbing system looked really elegant.”
Using Viega products for innovative ideas
Sullivan said part of the reason he was eager to have Viega work with the tiny-house crew was the innovative ideas the group had for the small living space. He called the ingenuity “fascinating” and was excited to see how it turned out.
The Berkeley team wanted their tiny house to be completely off the grid, able to produce its own energy and use as little water as possible. Caroline Karmann, a PhD candidate at Berkeley who served as architect for the tiny house, had a big job. She designed the entire draft, which Sullivan said in the end led to a design that was “very clean, elegant and truly fulfilled what was needed” to make the idea a reality.
With the high aspirations of energy efficiency in mind, the team worked to create a system to recycle as much water as they could for a second use.
“Our concept was to pump the greywater to planter boxes on the back end of the trailer/house and then filter it through the planter boxes, through a UV disinfection light, and then recollect it as filtered greywater,” Siegner said. “We recycled greywater from the kitchen sink and shower.
“Our highly ambitious goal was to get the water back to potable, but we couldn’t quite achieve that. We did a lot of testing on it, and there was still a little turbidity, but we determined it was okay for several uses.”
The recycled and filtered water is mostly used for watering plants and for landscaping. Siegner said after the competition was complete, some of the team members worked to redesign the planter boxes so the UV light could function more effectively and hopefully remove even more bacteria.
The tiny house has a low-flow showerhead and sink, so on a day that the house is “well-used,” meaning two showers and dishwashing, there are only about 15 gallons of greywater collected.
“The goal was to make it a proof of concept of how little water you can use within a residence and still be comfortable,” Siegner said. “We were going for this low-tech meets high-tech thing. Our energy system is very high-tech with solar panels, but the water system is more appropriate technology for a variety of contexts, including other countries where water infrastructure isn’t as present.”
The PureFlow PEX products played a big role in the whole water system, with lots of tubing used not only for hot and cold water output, but to move the greywater through the recycling system.
“It really fascinated me that they were going to recycle the greywater through a system on board, basically channeling it through a series of plants that eat the bacteria,” Sullivan said. “I’ve seen homes in the past do this and it’s quite challenging, even in a standard lot, and they were going to do it on the back end of a tiny house, so that really intrigued me!”
The idea impressed the judges of the competition, too, since Berkeley’s team won the award for water conservation, as well as for overall sustainability.
“Viega’s support was essential and extremely important for the success of our project,” said Karmann. “The high quality of Viega’s products has been a key aspect in the functionality of our water systems, which is unusual and complex since we are off-grid. We were profoundly lucky to have this collaboration with Viega.”