Join the Small Home Movement

theme-1301-smallhomesThe size of new single-family American homes is on the rise again. Not even the recession could stop the relentless push for larger homes. Nor could the mass foreclosures that went with it.

The increase since 1950 is roughly 250%, from an average of 943 square feet to almost 2,500 square feet today.

Europeans live on a much smaller scale, as did we only sixty years ago. And there’s no reason we shouldn’t live that way still — especially as average household size has actually declined 23% since 1950 (from 3.37 people per household to 2.59 in 2010). But then, the drive for more space comes from ambition not need.

So, why does it matter (as long as we can meet our mortgage obligations)?

Excessively large houses have excessive environmental impacts — on open land, landfills, natural resources and climate. Consider, for instance, that the waste from construction of a single-family home is typically over two tons.

Meanwhile, countering the dominant trend toward BIG is a movement (small, naturally) toward smaller homes. The idea is to get out of hock to your house, focus more on doing things for their inherent interest and value and live more sustainably. For some people, that means a home with 1,500 square feet of floor space; for others, 1,000 square feet or considerably less. A special group of questers and visionaries is even living in “tiny houses” of under 100 square feet, complete with living room, kitchen, bathroom and bedroom (or sleeping loft).

Designs for the small house market have been proliferating and the small-space adaptations are wonderful to see. Whether your tastes run to the traditional or cutting edge, you should be able to find one to suit you.

Learn more about the benefits of downsizing and how to make it work for you.

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12 Responses to Join the Small Home Movement

  1. sarah January 25, 2013 at 11:52 am #

    Yes, and while on the topic of sustainability and housing, why don’t we look a bit father into energy efficiency, for example, in the form of the Passive House Standard.

    Check out this video for more info: http://www.foursevenfive.com/index.php?main_page=page&id=30&chapter=1
    Or read up on it here: http://www.passivehouse-international.org/index.php?page_id=70

    • Eleanor Hall January 25, 2013 at 12:41 pm #

      To discourage large homes with their high energy use, we should lower the amount of mortgage interest that can be deducted on our income tax forms. The change should be phased in gradually so as not to penalize people who bought with the expectation of a certain deduction. It might vary by size; for example, people with a small amount of interest could deduct all of it, those with a very high amount, only a fraction of it. It would take some thought to work out the details, but the goal of decreased housing size would be worth the effort.

      The federal government would benefit from this, since taxes would be higher if people couldn’t deduct so much mortgage interest.

      • Sheryl January 26, 2013 at 11:27 am #

        An interesting idea.

  2. Bill January 25, 2013 at 12:16 pm #

    I’ve been increasingly interested in the small house movement since I began seeing info about it, say 3 or so years ago. My problem is that I’ve been out of work (and am just getting over a major health problem from last winter) for 3+ years or I’d probably have acted on it by now. My perception, and that of a brother-in-law involved in green industry, is the property restrictions and permit requirements of municipalities in PA and surrounding states. Not being independently wealthy I can’t just walk away from work (although I’d like little more….), so I need to be close enough to “work” to make it viable for other expenses, healthcare, etc. 35 years ago? I’d have been on a mountain top somewhere if one of these had been around. Still the contemplation of need not the dreaming of want is heady stuff for me and many others from what I’ve seen. Anyone know about building requirements, etc. for some of the more or less rural counties in PA regarding these structures? I’d be appreciative. Thanks!

    • Cori Snigg January 26, 2013 at 2:57 pm #

      I live in PA, too–York County–and the inquiries I’ve made here are that there just aren’t programs or people to support small houses, nor adaptation of existing houses into multiple units that are healthy, energy efficient, quiet, and walk/bike friendly. I am looking to join a co-housing project but those move slowly and options are not always where we want them. I am retired and would go elsewhere, but want certain things like one-story. Anyone who wishes to discuss, please contact me.

  3. Ron January 25, 2013 at 1:18 pm #

    Absolutely right on! Watch “House Hunters International” (HGTV) to get a close up view of how the rest of the world lives comfortably in dwellings which are less than half the size of what we think of as “necessary.” I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Japan where a 1,100 sq ft (102 sq m) home is “large.” Takes some getting used to–for one thing you don’t collect many single-purpose accessories–but ultimately it’s every bit as rewarding as living in a 2,500 sq ft behemoth. And, living is less space is “freeing” in many respects.

  4. Wolf January 25, 2013 at 7:12 pm #

    After deciding to build my wife and I a smaller house, I have found that the city will tell you the minimum square footage, materials, w/attached or detached garage and how many cars to make it for. All of this is to boost the tax they levee on the homeowner. This needs to stop as well as people building massive houses for just one or two people and calling them empty nesters.

  5. Gail Veasey January 26, 2013 at 5:00 pm #

    How about having fewer children?

    • Bill January 26, 2013 at 7:35 pm #

      I saw earlier earlier, in another post, that Americans are already doing that. The average American family is down more than a single statistical family member in the last 40 years or so. But you are right. We don’t live in an agrarian society anymore and don’t need the extra hands to bring in the family crop. Nor are we falling over dead like we used to do, oh say, in the 19th C and earlier. Our society, in my opinion is provincial, in that few folks really travel enough to see what the rest of the world is like. Those who do seem to come home with a changed perspective. Nonetheless, these reduced sized homes make sense as our society continues to grow. There are large tracts of land in NY City that are basically abandoned that could be a test ground for developing a small scale community, including related businesses, urban agriculture and green energy consumption development. This would be a great way to test out the concepts that would grow the industry into other urban environments impacted by the need to expand and yet no direction to “grow.” There is a big movement going on in urban areas developing non traditional food production techniques and formats. Completely enclosed programs are now on many tables for discussion and, I think one or two of them are already in place in a couple of cities in the South (Check me on that).

    • Eleanor Hall January 27, 2013 at 3:18 pm #

      Good point. In addition to supporting green organizations, we can all support organizations working to prevent unwanted children (Planned Parenthood, etc.).

  6. Nick January 29, 2013 at 10:14 am #

    I love the tiny houses, I think they’re attractive and beautifully designed (except for the bedroom ceiling, that’s a nightmare waiting to happen). But have you ever noticed that in the ads they are always sitting in acres of beautiful, empty land? The reality is more like a caravan park, with everybody crammed next to each other. The marketers are still selling the American dream of “big”, just reversing the indoors for the outdoors.

  7. Naomi February 7, 2013 at 1:02 pm #

    Having a smaller house means less money on heating and cooling and has the added benefit of being greener than maintaining a giant McMansion. We are thinking about relocating to the NE and I am actually looking forward to a smaller residence – and we wouldn’t be able to afford a big house anyway. Great article and awesome resources!!