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Size Matters When Building Your House

Size matters to the planet and to your wallet.

when size matters
RowdyKittens / Foter.com / CC BY

Is it practical to reduce the size when building your house? Does a smaller car make sense?

As you may know from previous posts, we have been living in a in a motor home for the last six weeks, as we get a start on our new house. This isn’t a new experience. We recently lived for an entire year in motor homes while traveling. It has given us a perspective on what our real need for space might be.

For an excellent photo essay about a tiny house, follow this link

Of course a motor home is not exactly a house. If you don’t like your neighbors, the climate is unsuitable , or you want a change of scenery, it only takes an hour or so to pack up and move. This will be the first time we are permanently (for the summer) in one location.

There are quite a number of people experimenting with permanent RV living. Often they are snow birds, who move to more pleasant climates as the seasons change. Of course this option is rarely open to people with children or jobs. It does serve to illustrate that there is a large proportion of the population who do not really need houses at all.

Over time, many of our wants seem to become needs. Only by doing without, do we really find out if we miss things or not.

size matters to the environment
ecstaticist / Travel Photos / CC BY-NC-SA

Our current living space is less than 8 feet wide and about 35 feet long or about 275 sq. ft. (26 sq. m.). Is this livable? Yes it is. It is even quite comfortable as long as we have some extra storage and outdoor living space.

Disadvantages? Well, our hallway is 22 inches wide, which is just over my shoulder width, so passing each other is a squeeze. Space around our double bed is quite limited, which makes getting in and out awkward. Getting dressed is also a little awkward. The dinette is cramped which is uncomfortable for a fella as large as me. We do have a bar and ice maker which we barely use. Without these, the dining area could be much larger. The driving area takes about 15 square feet away from our living area. The kitchen area leaves room for only one cook and there is no dishwasher. It is, however, remarkably efficient when you get accustomed to it. There is no comfortable office workspace, and it is a little awkward typing this. It is difficult to find a place to put your shoes and jackets. We do not have laundry facilities.

This is an older unit which is not designed for long term living. It is, however. not intolerable given outdoor living space, and serves to show how little our needs can be. There was a time when many mobile home were not much larger.

The advantages? There is not much area to clean. There is not much space to heat or cool. We use less than 30 gallons of water per day which is only about a cubic meter per week. Laundry may increase that to 40 or 45 gallons. Our electric and fuel use is very small. Although we have 2 furnaces and 2 air conditioners, neither have been turned on since we moved in. .

Size matters in a bedroom

Our bedroom

This motor home has a comfortable double bed. Although we have, for years, been accustomed to a queen size bed, we adapted with no problem at all. So why do we want larger?

The kitchen counter has a built in food processor drive which accommodates several kitchen appliances and saves lot of storage space. This seems like a better option than more cupboard space.

The last couple moves we made showed that we had kitchen stuff we had not used in at least a year. There were still empty spaces in the cupboards. This was just a typical 10 x 10 kitchen but I am sure we could have done with half the cupboards. Counter space always seemed to be at a premium but part of that was because we had a lot of unnecessary stuff parked there.

We are definitely limited, when it comes to indoor entertainment, or overnight guests, but we have found ways to cope. Winter, of course, would make things much more difficult, even if the RV was built for cold weather.

All this has convinced me, that a comfortable home for 2 people, could be designed in about 500 sq. ft.. The 1000 sq. ft. home we are building may seem palatial by the time we move in.

What is the purpose of this little exercise? I think it shows that most of us could do with much less space than we suppose.

Less space means less environmental impact. It also means less initial cost, less maintenance, and less money spent for heating and cooling.

So why are we building a house more than twice that size? A difficult question. Particularly as I am a huge advocate of small.

size matters when you sell
i am real estate photographer / Foter.com / CC BY

We do require reasonable ease and value in resale. We are quite old, and things could change rapidly for us. I don’t believe the market, in our area, is quite ready for a 500 sq. ft. house. We require a second bedroom for a handicapped daughter who spends about 4 nights with us every couple weeks. We occasionally have more overnight guests, so have included extra multiple use space. I do need a comfortable office and computer station. Because of frequent guests and our age we believe two full baths are necessary.

These may be fairly valid arguments, but they do not prevent me from feeling just a bit guilty, for using more resources than we might need.

We did plan for an open concept plan for our kitchen, dining, living and office areas. This allows for some adjustment of the spaces as the need arises. We also planned for the house to be easily expandable, if the need should arise for future owners. The house will have no basement. Expansion that way is not an easy option.

I do ease my guilt, and my wallet, by purchasing used material where possible, and by building an efficient house.

I have no guilt at all about our vehicles, another area where size matters. We live in a rural area, and at least one vehicle is an absolute necessity. We drive a compact car in a five door, or hatchback, configuration. It gives us as much room for cargo as many large cars. Ease of parking, small turning radius, low initial cost, and of course excellent fuel mileage, make me a real fan of small cars. Comfort may suffer some, but not significantly. I feel I gain some prestige in showing my concern for the environment.

car size matters with a family
Mikey G Ottawa / Family Photos / CC BY-NC-ND

Compact cars are probably not an option for families with children, Mini vans are a good choice in this case.

Some will argue a safety difference. In my opinion a large car may not be maintained as well, because of cost. You are also carrying a much larger load of a very flammable fuel. Agility and stopping distances may be reduced with a large heavy car. Survivability in a small car may not be as good when in a collision with a larger vehicle. However, doesn’t that make the large car the killer?

size matters
mrpattersonsir / Foter.com / CC BY

Of course, you can own a big car and still have no more impact on the environment than me. You just have to drive less at sensible speeds. Considering the cost, you likely will.

We also own a small truck (a Ford Ranger,) needed for construction, and as backup. Fuel efficiency is reasonable but not exceptional. We avoid using it if we can.

I have been told that size matters in other fields of endeavor. I think they were talking about my waist size. It certainly reduces my agility and costs a lot to maintain.

Nine ways to make your home more energy efficient. 

Energy efficient building material

Impact of cars on the environment

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