I often talk about “building small” as a good strategy for sustainable living. But what does “small” mean? These days, the average new Canadian home, built for 2-3 people, measures 2,000 square feet. I define a small house as one that minimizes space per person while allowing a comfortable lifestyle for its occupants. About 1,200 square feet or less for a couple, or under 1,500 square feet for a family with kids, would fit this criterion.
A lot of people can’t imagine how a small-footprint home could feel open, expansive and convenient, or how it would contain all their stuff. But rest assured that with careful design and siting, this is absolutely possible. To make best use of natural light, the design should incorporate proper site orientation, as well as optimum window size and placement. The next step is to reduce hallways and other unnecessary square footage. Finally, you reduce clutter by providing a range of creative storage options.
It’s also important to increase efficiency by designing multi-purpose spaces, and it’s here that we “design for the 95 per cent.” Instead of having dedicated spaces that are used only occasionally — think of that extra bedroom used for guests once or twice a year — we build for the way we live 95 per cent of the time. The exceptions usually take care of themselves. Instead of having that extra room (with its additional footprint, mortgage interest, taxes and heating costs), it may be more efficient and cost-effective to offer that rare weekend guest a stay in a nice local B&B, for example.
There’s a growing trend toward building small, especially in urban centres where people often live alone and housing prices have skyrocketed. Properly designed small homes are more affordable to build and maintain; use less energy and offer greater resilience in the face of fossil fuel scarcity; and take less time to clean. All of this frees up more time and money for the pursuits that make life worth living.