Sea Glass

Sea Glass

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Big House-Small House

For most of us baby boomers, chances are great that the houses we live in now are bigger than the houses we lived in when we grew up. Nothing is more cost effective in controlling energy usage and carbon impact than good design. It’s no coincidence that many of the rating systems, such as LEED for Homes, Florida Green Building Coalition and others give credits to encourage smaller home sizes. Our culture's thirst for oversized homes, which have been so fashionable over the last few decades, have many homeowners realizing that maybe too much space is not so great after all.

Is it possible to live smaller with a higher quality of life? Is there a greener future for our homes? Sarah Susanka, author of the “Not So Big House”, believes that anything that is well designed will stand the test of time and will sustain our inhabitant. The wise use of both energy and monetary resources is a core element of good design, since over 20 percent of our carbon emissions come from our existing housing stock.

Sarah Susanka has been credited to have started the small house movement. In The Not So Big House, Susanka urges people to create homes that are designed for themselves and the way they live by carefully considering comfort, detail, and the importance of space and the spatial use to the residents. She encourages homebuilders to discover what ceiling heights and overall room shapes bring them into a peaceful state of mind. She stresses the importance of ceiling heights being in proportion to the rest of the room and giving every adult occupant a private place of which they can take ownership. Certain architectural details are central to her philosophy, such as stair railings, moldings surrounding windows and doors, and built-ins. Small does not necessarily mean plain. A basic concept is smaller and more personal spaces but still retaining a high level of quality, detail and craftsmanship. Sarah hopes that people building homes will discover what they like and what makes them feel at home--not just naming certain square footage or a number of bedrooms and bathrooms, or picking a generic plan provided in a builder’s set of fixed options.

The finishes and types of building materials are also important in her construction. Susanka stresses the use of renewable materials, building with energy efficiency in mind, and constructing homes to last for future generations to enjoy. Knowing and understanding what rooms and spaces one likes, the use for the space, and how often that space will be used are some of the building blocks Susanka utilizes for planning a home. Some examples include determining which rooms are public and private or which need to contain spaces for both, such as a window seat in an otherwise public room in which two persons may sit and converse away from others. Addressing the issue of the use of space, Susanka also discusses the duplication of functional spaces throughout the house, such as multiple dining areas, somehting most can probably relate to. One would translate these ideas and concepts into reality by determining one’s wishes and the feasibility of ideas, as well as considering what she calls the “three variables” of “quality, quantity, and cost”.

These factors form the basis upon which she makes decisions finding that one of them will often dictate another. For example, the size or number of rooms and the quality of interior finishes will decide the cost of space and materials. As one works with an architect and builder, Susanka believes persons building their home must determine which of these “three variables” is most important to them and their lifestyle.

Jeff Good
Benchmark General Contractors, Inc.

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