Wohnwagon: Stylish and self-sufficient living in a caravan
The idea of a well-kept detached house in the suburbs including the obligatory nosy neighbors and high utility bills doesn’t sound attractive to you? You’d rather live a self-sufficient life surrounded by nature? Entrepreneur Theresa Steininger explains how Wohnwagons represent a viable alternative: off the grid, not dependent on the electrical or water network, minus the campground atmosphere and equipped with all the luxuries of a tiny home. Read More
How can environmental consciousness be implemented from an architectural standpoint? And how can efficiency be integrated into the day-to-day? Austrians Theresa Steininger and Christian Frantal have developed a residential concept that looks somewhat like a caravan, but incorporates all the advantages of and meets the building codes for a small house. Their Wohnwagons offers comfort in a minimal space and complete off-the-grid living: Solar panels and wind power provide electricity, a green water treatment plant on the roof processes the water needed for daily life. For anyone looking to purchase a home in the country, the Wohnwagon is a viable alternative to the classic cottage. It provides an environmentally friendly way to live in harmony with nature.
Theresa and Christian have also set up a webshop with products that help consumers conserve resources in their daily lives – such as an espresso machine powered by hand. To finance their Wohnwagon idea, they started a crowdinvesting campaign in 2013 and succeeded in bringing over 100 small investors on board, raising over 70,000 euros to pay for the first prototype. A second round in 2015 brought in an addition 144,000 euros. The project has since turned into a small company and Wohnwagon number 5 and 6 are currently under construction.
We talked to company founder Theresa Steininger about the caravan’s purpose – and why less is sometimes more.
Theresa, when we hear the word caravan, camping comes immediately to mind. But the look and interior really aren’t like a traditional camper at all.
Right, because that wasn’t our goal; we didn’t design it to be like a caravan. We wanted to create a real house – small though it may be. Mobility is the one thing it does have in common with a mobile home, since it can be hitched like a trailer to a powerful car or truck and moved to a different location.
So this is a caravan intended to replace a single-family home? That would mean living in a very limited space – not just on holiday, but year round. Is that really a desirable goal?
Large apartments and houses have outlived their utility – if we look at it rationally, we use just a small part of the space, such as the kitchen, where we cook and chat or the living room where we like to chill out and reed a book, the bathroom,… The rest is often just a lot of empty space. So we designed intelligent furnishings to ensure there is always enough breathing space for a comfortable life.
And the Wohnwagon is completely self-sufficient?
Basically, yes. The solar cells require a certain amount of sunshine and the water treatment system needs a certain amount of rain, but both should work fine in most regions. We have included some backup options too: If there is not enough sunshine, a wind turbine can be added.
So a combination of technologies is available to solve any issue?
Exactly. Either way, choosing what you want to expend electricity for should be carefully considered – a lot of things work just fine with no electricity. For example, you can cook with no electricity or even run a heater without it. Low energy is the key here when it comes to consumption, and it can be easily integrated into everyday life.
In our webshop, for example, we offer an expresso machine that doesn’t require electricity – it makes really good expresso, but you can operate it by hand.
Let’s talk about the green sewage treatment plant: Why is that important?
Since water might be our most important resource, we all need to consume it responsibly. In a normal household, only a very small amount of water is actually used as drinking water or for cooking. The lion’s share goes down the drain as we shower, flush the toilet, or wash our laundry. But you really don’t need the purest quality drinking water for these activities; utility water is good enough – and that you can filter yourself! With water filters you can also remove nitrates, any remaining medications, and other undesirable contaminants.
How does that work in the Wohnwagon?
Around 650 liters of water circulate through the Wohnwagon. Most is on the roof, and around 200 liters of clean water are kept in a storage tank in the ground. Rain water is collected from the flat roof to the refill the water in circulation, replacing any that has evaporated. Grey water (from the shower or sink) is pumped up to the roof and cleaned in the green water treatment plant. We use what are known as reposition plants well-suited to the purpose because their roots are particularly active. Microorganisms that live inside the roots also do a lot of the work getting the water clean. The plants themselves are hardy, survive frost, and are pretty easy to care for. A small solar-heater has been installed in the basin to ensure that the roots remain completely active in winter as well. This is an excellent way to have access to naturally purified water all year round.
The water circulates through the processing circuit around every 24 hours and can then be used for showers or handwashing. A special filter is added to the circuit to produce drinking water.
Inside the Wohnwagon
How did you come up with the idea of creating the Wohnwagon?
The idea was originally the brainchild of the workshop‘s operative manager Christian Frantal. He has been involved the issue of self-sufficiency for a long time and put a lot of thought into the question of how sustainable living could be realized. So he came up with the idea of Wohnwagon. When he told me about it, I was thrilled and knew this was the project for me – I just had to be a part of it. This idea had to become a reality!
What did you like most about it?
For us the Wohnwagon is not just a product we designed; it is really a political and philosophical statement on the future of living. We wanted to show that it is possible to live close to nature and reduce life down the essentials, while still enjoying a stylish lifestyle.
How is the Wohnwagon a statement?
Because the concept provides so many answers to questions facing us as a society: How can we respond to all the resources being wasted and to climate change? How can we use resources responsibly, limit waste and still live joyful and comfortable lives? I don’t believe in pointing the finger. It doesn’t help to say don’t do this; don’t do that. Use an energy saving lamp whatever you do! And stop driving everywhere by car! It is no fun at all and doesn’t really change anyone’s mind. We want to show that consuming resources more responsibly can also be enjoyable.
But you do not have a background in architecture or something similar?
No, my background is in design and communication. I founded my own communication agency when I was 21 years old. Christian was one of our customers and we have stayed in contact.
Are you planning to buy a Wohnwagon for yourself sometime in the future?
Of course! I am still completely fascinated by the result and am so looking forward to living in one at some point. My boyfriend and I are currently negotiating where we would put it though.
If I were to order a Wohnwagon from you – would it also be furnished so wonderfully, or do I have to head to the nearest furniture store and do it myself?
No, not at all. If a customer asks, we are more than happy to deliver it fully furnished and ready to use, including the kitchen, bathroom and mosaic shower. You can also buy just the Wohnwagon and furnish it yourself if you like, of course.
The prototype is complete – are you now making Wohnwagons for customers?
Yes, we have started production. We can make four Wohnwagons at a time and our goal is to consistently produce two to three a month.
So a Wohnwagon is ready to roll in one month?
Well, yes and no. In addition to the time they take to produce, there is the time it takes to find out exactly what the customer wants and adjust the design accordingly, which takes a while as well in our experience. With the time that the separate parts need to be delivered you should calculate 6 months until your Wohnwagon is ready to move into..
What do you see happening regarding the topic of self-sufficiency in the next few years?
I think it will increase in importance as an issue and become more integrated into our lives, starting with the simple espresso machine all the way to new construction norms. In many countries, construction guidelines require a sewer junction, which prohibits composting toilets. But it is really very easy for consumers to use composting toilets or clean their own grey water using green water treatment plants.
In general I think a lot of people will come to the conclusion that less is more and work on getting back to the basics.
Do you follow those principles in your own life? What do you do when you’re out shopping and see something you really want?
In all honesty, I have never been much of a shopper. The question “what do you really need?” has always been an important one in my life. I am always on the lookout for multi-functional solutions so I don’t end up with a lot of stuff. Let’s take jewelry for example: I have one necklace and one watch. Both mean a lot to me. I focus on finding favorite pieces, not on quantity. Every time I buy something new, I get rid of something I already have.
Really? There isn’t a single product that weakens your resolve?
I do have one weakness: I love to cook. I do occasionally buy some new piece of equipment for my kitchen.