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Student Builds Tiny House With Big Sustainability

Think your apartment is small? Don't try to tell that to Elizabeth Turnbull.

While studying for her master's in urban ecology and environmental design, the 24-year-old graduate student at Yale University is living in a truly tiny house.

It measures just 8 1/2 feet wide by 18 1/2 feet long, for a cozy total of 144 square feet.

The goal? Limiting her impact on the environment.

"I've always been interested in environmental solutions and thinking creatively about spaces," she says. "And so my thoughts turned to where I was going to live."

• Click here to see more photos of the tiny house.

Instead of paying rent in a traditional apartment month in and month out, Turnbull calculated how much it would cost for her to live in New Haven for the two years she is working on her degree.

She then took that money, about $14,000, and invested in her sustainable house.

"I wanted to see, well, could I build this thing, a comparable thing, for about what it would cost" to live in a traditional house, she said.

It didn't take long, either. She started building last summer and finished in October. The key to keeping costs low was reusing and recycling materials.

The floor, the windows, even the ceilings were all donated by contractors and others looking to lend a hand.

"It was incredible, I couldn't have built it by myself," Turnbull said. "I kind of put feelers out and was like, 'Hey, I'm building this thing, and if you have cast-off stuff I'd love to use it.'

"I ended up having building parties, where we would say, 'Hey! If you want to come and pick up a hammer or paintbrush, awesome, great. We'll have burgers,'" she said.

The house is powered by three solar cells that Turnbull adjusts throughout the year to maximize the collection of sunlight.

The cells connect to a couple of batteries inside the house, where they provide enough energy for a handful of lights and a heater. She cooks on a small propane stove.

The tiny house is missing a bathroom, but just as during the construction of the house, she's still able to rely on the kindness of others.

She uses the bathroom of a neighbor who has also allowed her to keep the micro-dwelling based in the backyard.

After she gets her master's degree, Turnbull is not sure what she'll do with the house. But for now, she says she has high hopes for its future.

"I'd like for it to continue to function ... as a kind of education piece," she explains. "Just something to get people to think and talk and wonder."

This story was filed by UWIRE, which offers reporting from more than 800 colleges and universities worldwide. Read more at www.uwire.com.