Tag Archives: small

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 living space while building was 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 was 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 has 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. Survival 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.

Update — we recently disposed of our truck and purchased a minivan with stowaway seats. It can haul as much cargo as the truck and can also tow a trailer for dirty loads. It is a multi use vehicle that still has a quite reasonable fuel use.

Nine ways to make your home more energy efficient. 

Energy efficient building material

Impact of cars on the environment

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The KISS principal

KISS keep it simple stupid.

I am not a big fan of acronyms since I usually can,t figure out what they stand for, if they are not explained in the text. However, KISS is an acronym that is pretty apt in almost any decision making situation, and one I have no trouble remembering. Applying it is a little more difficult, but the most sensible approach to house building. Of course, our wants and needs don’t always make sense.

When building a house, the simplest plan is going to be the most cost effective, and the easiest to make work well in terms of comfort, efficiency and ease of building. I am going to dedicate this post to examples of how simple works.

Size is an important aspect of simplicity. The larger a house gets, the more complicated it is likely to become. The other side of the coin, is that trying to fit all your needs and wants into a small package, can make planning more complicated. Prioritization and compromise will be necessary, even if your budget and space is nearly unlimited.

A rectangular house is the cheapest build, and the most efficient energy wise, with square being the ultimate. There are limitations though. A square house can get expensive if it gets too large. If you want any clear spans, then roof and floor trusses get increasingly more costly, as the width increases. Hip or gable roofs may become to high, and limit you to flat or low slope roofs with their inherent maintenance and cost issues. A square footprint can be a good choice for a two or three story house, since you can fit in much more living area, and they can be very efficient energy wise. They do have the problem of space wasted in staircases, and are more difficult to design and build than bungalows or ranchers. They do suit small building lots, that are becoming more common as cities encourage infill in older residential areas, and as land costs in many areas escalate.

My favorite? My personal favorite is a ranch style house with attached garage. They do require larger lots, and unless your requirements are minimal, will not work on city lots less than 5000 sq. ft.. Second, would be a bungalow, which is basically a rancher on a basement. I am not so fond of multi-level splits, 1½ story, or two or more stories because they are more complicated, and I don’t like stairs. Stairs waste space, can be dangerous, and are not friendly to handicapped, seniors or toddlers. Maybe none of these apply to you now, but I am willing to bet that one or more will, at some point in the future.

Cheapest space for the dollar?

Well, that would have to be what is generally known as a bi-level. Basically a bungalow, where the basement is only about a 4 to 5 feet (1.22 to 1.52 meters) in the ground, allowing for large windows in the basement. One entry, generally the front, is a split with the door near ground level. You have stairs, but there is a landing half way down, so you don’t have as many steps to fall down at one time. Typically, even the small ones with a developed lower level, will have about 1500 sq. ft. (139 sq. m) of useful living space, and 4 or more bedrooms. Ideal for a large family with a small budget. This can be a simple house to build, and quite energy efficient. Garages can be easily attached to an end wall, if you have room, with entry to one or both levels. They also adapt easily to sloped lots. Because of their in-between height, they can fit into a more diverse variety of neighborhoods.

I know it sounds like I am a real fan of the bi-level, doesn’t it. Well I am, just not for me. Not for me, because me and my wife are already seniors, and we don’t want stairs of any kind. We also have no need for a lot of space or bedrooms.

Monopoly anyone

If you build your home smaller than the average for your neighborhood, it would be wise to design it so that it is easily expandable. Try to make it easy to add bedrooms, bathrooms or family rooms. After basement development, the easiest and least disruptive way to add space, is with a bump out. Of course, the house must be oriented to allow for this and c onsideration must be given to how heating, cooling and ventilation could be accomplished. Headers could be pre-installed in bearing walls, and electrical could be left stubbed off in strategic locations. My own plans are to build our house in stages, starting with about 1000 sq. ft (93 m2), two bedrooms and two baths. The intent is to add an attached garage within a year or two, or as finances allow, and add two more bedrooms at some point in the future, for a better resale value or maybe just a make work project.

This post has kind of led into a discussion on house configurations and the pros and cons of each. In another post we will deal with this further and perhaps discuss different construction methods and materials.

Below is my own simple and easily expandable home plan. Still working on it. it is 28′ x 36′ or 1008 sq. ft.. (or about 92.5 sq. meters)

My KISS project

My own unfinished simple plan


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