Sea Glass

Sea Glass

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Small House

The McMansion it’s not; many are opting for living in a “Small House”. Living “small” is hardly a new concept. Henry Thoreau moved into a 150-sq.-ft. house on Walden Pond in the 1840s, and the city of San Francisco built some 5,600 cottages for survivors of the 1906 earthquake. But over the past decade, dozens of architects and builders have begun specializing in tiny-house designs. After Hurricane Katrina, Architect Marianne Cusato designed a series of homes, called “Katrina Cottages”, that were meant to replace the much maligned FEMA trailers. These homes ranged in size from 308 ft to 437 ft. and some of the models, as well as others, are now available as kit homes from retailers such as Lowes. The cottage in the photograph was designed by Bud Lawrence of Period Style Homes.

Many home buyers are motivated by the desire to simplify their lives, use fewer resources and save money. Many are falling in love with the little things. It has been estimated that anywhere from a few hundred to a thousand homes measuring less than 500 sq. ft. and costing less than $100,000 have been built since this trend was first noticed around 2002.

“It’s a very exciting moment,” said Shay Salomon, a green builder in Tucson, Ariz., and the author of “Little House on a Small Planet” (Lyons Press, 2006), “because it feels like a chapter of American history might be ending, the chapter called ‘Bigger is Better.’ I’m not the Gallup poll, but I hear the same story over and over: I got rid of that big house, and now I have time to see my husband. Before, we used to work all week and then we’d spend the weekend on the house.”

Small homes make sense not just for the frugal or displaced but also for single city dwellers like students or business travelers. In Germany six students at the Technical University of Munich spent a year living on campus in cube-shaped Micro Compact Homes, designed by British architect Richard Horden. Measuring about 74 sq. ft. and selling for $95,000, the houses are modeled after a Japanese teahouse, with a sunken eating space and a bed that folds up against a wall. Building a minihome offers the challenge of figuring out how to make every nook and cranny count. A recent design for a 625-square-foot guest house uses a loft sleeping area and built-in beds to create more room below. Windows were added in the loft and alcoves at the head of each bed with recessed lighting fixtures to facilitate reading in bed.

Designers believe amenities typically found in “Small Houses” prove that downsizing doesn't mean downscale. "When you build smaller, you can put in a lot more quality than you can in a larger space," says Geoffrey Warner of Alchemy Architects in St. Paul, Minn. Warner's weeHouses, shaped something like shipping containers, start at $69,500 for a 364-sq.-ft. studio with bamboo flooring, built-in cabinetry and floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors.

Many times “efficiency” in building design can go well beyond just making large spaces more efficient to operate. While "small houses" are well suited for a special client, many of the concepts can be incorporated into condensing a "normal" sized home. There are many ways to approach the issue of sustainability and efficiency if we have an open mind.

Jeff Good
Benchmark General Contractors, Inc.

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