LOS ANGELES — For house hunters a bit on the nonconventional side, here’s an edgy idea:
A new off-the-grid home comes with a kitchen, shower, bed and sitting area. But it’s only 86 square feet — smaller than a tiny house — and can be towed behind a car. If you happen to drive an electric vehicle, it’ll even charge the car for you.
The Ecocapsule, designed by a Slovakian architectural studio, is an egg-shaped abode for a single person or a snug residence for a small family. Powered by solar and wind energy, it’s completely mobile: no water or power hookup needed.
A filtration unit collects rainwater and stores purified water. With a 750-watt wind turbine that pops up, it looks as futuristic as it sounds — ideal for adventure-seekers with a nomadic lifestyle, families looking for life beyond the suburbs or millennials and empty-nesters seeking attention-grabbing affordable housing options.
It’s currently available for pre-order in limited quantities for a little more than $90,000 (shipping from Slovakia not included). Since revealing the design at last year’s Pioneers Festival in Vienna, the design team says it has received more than 50,000 inquiries.
“It’s too much email to read,” Tomas Zacek, one of the designers at the Bratislava-based Nice Architects, said, joking. “A good problem to have, though.”
The United States, the European Union and Australia are the three target markets for Ecocapsule — with the United States being the largest, at about 60 percent, Zacek estimates. While he has interested buyers in Texas, Arizona and New York, the majority are from California.
“I think the lifestyle and values really align there,” he said in a Skype interview from Slovakia.
Those values — namely a love for the outdoors and sustainable living — are embodied in the Ecocapsule. Onboard batteries are charged by a wind turbine, which pops in and out, and 600-watt solar panels are embedded in the roof. The combination can yield electricity for 24 hours. The current prototype consists of a polycarbonate fiberglass outer layer, a steel frame and wood furnishings — all of which is customizable. The add-ons, Zacek said, could also make it even more ecological. For instance, the fiberglass outer layer could be swapped with a hemp-based material that is biodegradable.
Beyond sustainability, the Ecocapsule delivers a stylish residence with the basic necessities — a folding bed, two windows, a work/dining table, a kitchenette and a toilet with a shower. Strategically placed cabinets even offer storage.
The first 50 Ecocapsules will be made to order, most likely in Slovakia. The architects are keen to send the first batch of capsules to various geographies to test out how the design performs in different climates and landscapes.
“We’re talking to families in California but also hoteliers in Bali, Indonesia. We may even have bloggers drive it around the U.S. and catalogue the experience,” Zacek said.
The Ecocapsule is not limited to one purpose: In the United States, he notes, they’re getting more requests about its serving as a tiny home for a couple or small family. But in Europe, it’s seen largely as a caravan, suitable for trips.
“It’s multi-purpose and really up to the customer on how they want to use it,” Zacek said. “In the U.S., the tiny-house movement is already popular, and this could be a good option for a ready-built small home.”
The pods are a mere 86 square feet. That’s smaller than most tiny houses, which are defined as anything less than 500 square feet.
The Nice Architects team first crafted a prototype in 2008 for a competition. The architects proposed to create an off-the-grid temporary residence for artists and travelers, not a permanent home. They didn’t win the prize but garnered a fair amount of media for their construction. The team, which then consisted of three designers including Zacek, put the project on the back burner.
“The technology wasn’t ready then for this kind of house,” he said. “In 2015, everything changed. We realized it was feasible. It wouldn’t be perfect, but this is a very good prototype.”
Rick Fedrizzi, chief executive officer of the U.S. Green Business Council, said he is thrilled with the invention.
“It’s ideas like this that start in whimsy that are most likely to drive the kind of innovation we need that leads to greener classrooms, healthier hospital rooms and sustainable homes and offices,” Fedrizzi said.
But before that can happen, the price has to come down, said Travis Price, a Washington-based architect who specializes in eco-friendly structures. He broke down the costs:
“At $1,265 per square foot, it belongs in a protective garage more than outside. A great modern eco house is somewhere between $250 and $300 per square foot.”
“Well, it’s cute,” Price added. “And much like buying a solid-gold Apple watch, it’s truly a boutique green bling item at best.”
Zacek said he is aware of the problem. “As we make more of them and the volumes increase, we can bring the prices down,” he said.
In fact, the designers hope to bring down the price with their next prototype, set to debut in 2017, which will include improvements in energy storage and will be available in larger quantities for sale.