Fantastic Article Link on Building Smaller and Smarter

I’ve been out of the loop here for a while with family coughs and colds and general late winter ickies.  While playing catch-up, I ran across this excellent article about the sudden boom in smaller house plans–no more McMansions! Here’s a little blurb from this piece:

“You can save thousands of dollars” by using simple materials in a well-designed space, says [Sarah] Susanka, author of the best-selling 1998 book The Not So Big House.

For more than a decade, she has urged people to build better, not bigger. Now, as the U.S. economy struggles to climb out of a tailspin and environmental concerns rise, her message has gone mainstream.

New homes, after doubling in size since 1960, are shrinking. Last year, for the first time in at least 10 years, the average square footage of single-family homes under construction fell dramatically, from 2,629 in the second quarter to 2,343 in the fourth quarter, Census data show.

The new motto: living well with less.

susankax

I own Susanka’s Not So Big House books and have admired her ideas for years while collecting my own folder of plans and ideas for the house we hope to build. Even with a large family, it is not necessary to build sprawling mega-houses with bedrooms in every corner. In fact, it’s far better to build smarter, making public areas (kitchen, dining room, living room) the focal point and devoting greater space to those. Bedrooms are really only necessary for sleeping and dressing, and I’ve never seen the sense of having a gargantuan master suite that you hardly spend any time in when you’re awake! We’d much rather have plenty of room to have guests around the table–not to mention places to spread out homeschooling projects, read books together, etc.

I’ll be posting more about our home plans/ideas here in the future, sharing what I’ve gleaned from years of tearing out magazine pages and reading dozens of books. I inherit all of this from my mother, who was designing “green” before it was ever in fashion. Being green may be hip today, but it’s really just going back to older principles of building to last for generations and using materials that don’t have to be replaced every few years. We’ve got high hopes of using reclaimed barn wood, as one of our neighbors is frequently called upon to tear down old barns and sheds and recycles the lumber. We’re looking into passive and active solar options,  structural insulated panels (SIPs), and  talking about tankless water heaters (did you know roughly one-third of your electricity bill is due to keeping a tank of water hot?).

It is a really fun challenge to figure out where you can cut costs without cutting any real corners. Who cares about granite countertops when the extra money you’d spend on those could go to a high-efficiency tankless water heating system? We love to think outside the box. Below are some of my favorite links I’ve bookmarked over the past few years as we plan and dream. If you’ve got favorites, post a comment and share!

Architectural Salvage Yards – Because salvage is now “hot,” it can sometimes be pricier than new, but check locally, because that’s where you find the savings. We have three salvage places within 50 miles of us, and their prices are much lower.

Valuebuild Panel Home Kits – These kits use the SIPs I mentioned above, which have an incredibly high “R” factor when it comes to insulation. Energy bills in SIP houses are typically 60% lower than in stick-built (i.e. “leaky as a sieve”) houses. And if you’re not brave enough to literally put your kit together yourself, a local builder can easily do it for you with far less waste than a stick-built home entails.

The Affordable House – These plans are so much fun to look at — like little storybook cottages. The designer works to put lots of usable space into a small footprint with charming results.

SIPA (Structural Insulated Panel Association) – This site explains how SIPs work and why it is better (and faster!) to build a house with them.

Greenblock Insulated Concrete Forms – Another alternative to stick-built, these pre-molded forms go in quickly and are solid and long-lasting. There are some drawbacks when it comes to certain heating methods, but if you’re in a hotter climate, they’re a really good option.

The Natural Home Building Source – A great place for information on passive solar design, graywater reuse, heat storage tubes, and more.

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2 Responses to “Fantastic Article Link on Building Smaller and Smarter”


  1. 1 Marcia Wilwerding March 18, 2009 at 2:30 am

    I agree, this is a great idea for living frugally. My mother and her family (six) lived in two rooms when she was growing up. That’s TWO ROOMS, not two bedrooms. When I asked her where they played, she said they left the house in the morning when they finished chores and played in the woods all day. What a rich childhood! I mention this along with other ideas for frugal living in my e-book, Living Debt Free on One Income available on my blog and website.

  2. 2 queenofmytrailer March 20, 2009 at 9:35 pm

    This is so true, Marcia! The McMansion is really a strange detour in the history of the home. I have a great book on the history of houses and their functions that I’ll have to review here sometime. It is really fascinating. When my husband and I were newlyweds, we lived in a tiny 1940s Sears kit house. The original owners rented it to us–an elderly couple in their late 70s or early 80s. They had brought up four children in the house — with two bedrooms and one tiny bath. You could literally brush your teeth while sitting on the lid of the commode and have your feet in the bathtub at the same time! We marveled at their ability to thrive in such a small space, but, having lived in much larger homes since then, I now see the wisdom of it. I do really prefer a smaller home. The children love to be outdoors, and we encourage them to build, explore, climb, and run. Who needs a private bedroom with a walk-in closet at the age of five? 😉


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About the Queen…

Amanda Livenwell is the pen name of a stay-at-home mom who shares the adventure of living large on one income in, yes, a double-wide trailer! Join our family as we say goodbye to suburbia, trim down, and start saving to build our own home. We're going to talk about doing it yourself, living beautifully on less, making do or doing without, and counting it all joy in the process. We'll cover prep-work and painting, refacing kitchen cabinets, flooring on the cheap, tiling over laminate, upholstering furniture, and just rolling up our sleeves in general. If you love home improvement, this is the place for you. Let's get cracking!

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What Inspires Me Most!

"She seeks wool and flax, and willingly works with her hands. She girds herself with strength, and strengthens her arms. She perceives that her merchandise is good, and her lamp does not go out by night. She stretches out her hands to the distaff, and her hand holds the spindle. She watches over the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness." ~ Proverbs 31:13, 17-19, 27

"Do you see a man who excels in his work? He will stand before kings;he will not stand before unknown men." ~ Proverbs 22:29

"The soul of a lazy man desires, and has nothing; but the soul of the diligent shall be made rich." ~ Proverbs 13:4

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