The average home size in the US increased from 1,400 square feet in 1970 to 2,330 square feet in 2004. During the same time, the average household size dropped from 3.11 to 2.58 (2002).
We have become obsessed with having lots of space. “Starter” homes have become starter castles. A home is not complete without at least four bedrooms, three bathrooms, formal living & dining, and of course the great room. Guests get their own room that sits empty for most of the year.
These increasingly large homes take a toll on the earth by using up non-renewable resources and requiring more energy to heat/cool. (And most of the time they’re really not that inviting or interesting!)
Sarah Susanka is an architect and the author of a series of books starting with The Not So Big House (which I am coincidentally getting from swap.com any day!). She is a proponent of designing beautiful homes for living and not for show. Instead of spending money on lots of space, she encourages readers to spend money on an architecturally-designed house that will fit their lifestyle and feel like home. This includes using more wood, built-ins, and other interesting details.
However, even most of the houses in Sarah’s books are pretty big. Not as big as the typical McMansion, but still has more than enough space.
Ross Chapin Architects have a portfolio of cottage and house plans starting at 307 and 1,302 square feet respectively. These homes are about the most wonderful thing you’ll ever see! They apply the “Not So Big” principles and manage to create the coziest-looking houses with all the required rooms, but with small footprints. Give me the Elderberry house and I’ll live happily ever after!
A big part of building smaller is obviously for sustainability purposes. In reading about sustainable building practices, I ran across the company Enertia. This company builds kits for houses that are intended to last for 300 years. That’s a long time! They are also built to be energy-independent. Seems pretty cool!
At the most minimalistic end of the house spectrum are the Tumbleweed Houses. The owner of this company introduces himself as follows:
My name is Jay Shafer and since 1997 I have been living in houses smaller than some people’s closets.
You definitely need to check out the video tour of his house:
Ultimately, I guess there’s no good way to determine how much home is enough. However, there are ways to live that are more sustainable than others:
- Remodel vs. new construction
- Make your existing home energy-efficient
- Don’t buy more home than you need
- If you must build, use renewable/recycled resources and incorporate green building practices
- Downsize if you’re in a house that’s too big
- Consider co-housing
I’ve lived in a big house. It was nice, but we had rooms we hardly ever used. When guests came over, they never hung out in our formal living/dining area. Rather, they all hung out in the kitchen! It’s time to reconsider how we live, what spaces we really need, and create homes that are cozy and inviting.