Small Living

So we’re all about the carbon footprint now, right? Well, the biggest step to take in reducing our carbon footprint is to reduce our physical footprint. Smaller living spaces take less energy. One thing I have known for some time that to become more efficient and in balance with our environment, Americans are going to have to give up their love affair with space. For 400 years we have had seemingly endless space to expand where and how we live. That’s quickly running out. Sure, there is still tons of open physical space out there, but what kind of resources are we drawing off to actually make that space livable? Too much. It’s already too much in Southern California, Arizona and Nevada. You want to be sick? Fly over Phoenix/Scottsdale and look at all those massive houses with their lush green lawns in the middle of the desert. Where do you think that water comes from? Los Angeles, Las Vegas, all of them sucking up so much water they destroy not only natural environments, but human communities.

Yes, Chinatown is based on real events. Seriously, look at the struggles over water in California and Arizona and you have a glimpse into the what the future holds for nations as the drinkable water runs out. Some of it has been happening  for quite some time now. Yeah, that’s a factor in Middle East peace process they never seem to talk about in the news here. I remember there was one Israeli-Palestinian peace plan in the 1970’s that was rejected by the Palestinians. I can’t remember which one it was, but of course they were pilloried in the press here for rejecting such a “generous” plan.

A plan that left all the water wells in the hands of the Israelis. Yeah, like they were really going to go for that.

ANYway, here in the U.S. we have these massive homes that in many other countries would be considered palatial mansions.

2500 sq foot house

2500 square feet waving “Howdy!” to your neighbors, whether you want to or not.

DuganExterior

3000 square feet of how many days does it take to clean this?

And not just in poor countries, in Japan these houses would be considered extravagant. (Parts of the country here too.)  And how much of that space does a person or family actually use? Someone pointed out to me in the 1990’s, the trend in Southern California construction of houses was to build right to the edge of the property lines, and then have this huge front “living room” (often two story/open ceiling) with big picture windows so people outside could see what a wonderful home you have. Of course, no one actually uses this room/area because there was no privacy. Like the huge windows in the first house there facing right out onto the street. It was just wasted space people are lighting, heating and cooling.

We really can’t afford to be that wasteful with space and resources anymore.

So for years I have been following the Tiny House movement.

Off-Grid-Tiny-House-Made-From-Reclaimed-Wood Off-Grid-Tiny-House-Made-From-Reclaimed-Wood-Interior

These are micro-homes of less than 400 square feet. Because building codes in many regions demand a certain minimum square footage for a house, the tiny house movement has circumvented that by building homes on trailers. The trailer may never move, but technically they are  a mobile home and can be built outside of the codes.

For instance: Lacy Miller’s Tiny House. Be sure to flip through the pics to take a look at the interior.

The leader in tiny house design is Tumbleweed Tiny Homes.

(And for those that find living in under 200 square feet to be claustrophobic, Tumbleweed also has cottage designs up to 850 square feet.)

There is also Redwood Tiny House. (Which is the design I am leaning towards simply for the stairs. I’m good with dogs, but I don’t think I can train them to climb up a ladder.)

Four Lights

Brevard Tiny House

And many other companies up and coming. The designs become more and more impressive each year as people find new ways to efficiently utilize such a small space.

Nor is this design movement limited to small houses. Many of us have lived in cramped studio apartments when he started out. Don’t you wish you had a set up like this 420 square foot Soho apartment?

Nice.

If you don’t mind getting your hands dirty and working up a  sweat. These homes cost between $12,000 to $30,000 to build yourself. It takes time, it takes work, but imagine a roof over your head with no rent and no mortgage and miniscule utility bills.

Because a lot of these homes are self sufficient. Many of these homes use solar panels to provide the majority (if not all) of their electricity, sometimes adding propane as an alternative fuel for cooking and heating. Though I think one can rely solely on electricity for all the space heating and cooking needs, especially where induction burners are so affordable now.  (Plus if you get portable ones, you can just stow them somewhere when they are not in use.) And a small convection/microwave oven and energy efficient drawer refrigerators will make a nice kitchen. The problem is heating water. Reviews are mixed on the energy efficiency and effectiveness of tankless water heaters.

Thing I discovered about the tiny (under 200 sq ft) homes is that ventilation/air cleaning is as important as heating because the moisture of living beings in an enclosed space can cause some odor and mildew problems, now to mention carbon monoxide issues if you are using fuel for heating.

Whether you want to use a composting toilet or not is your business. I guess if you tapped into your own well and had a septic tank, you would still be considered “off the grid.” But that really doesn’t lessen the environmental impact. (Unless you moved onto a property they were already set up.)

While this maybe extremely small for some (and again, there are plenty of nice cottage designs), a small home say, 1000 square feet or less, is the only way a house is ever going to be “off the grid.” You can’t generate enough power and have the other utilities to truly take those 2,000+ square foot homes off the grid.

And does a single person to four person family need any more than 1000 square feet? If you have kids, having space outside for them to run around in will help. Maybe the small space will encourage them to get out more. I live in a 730 square foot apartment now and it is more than sufficient for my needs. (I know I will never want to live in anything bigger than I can clean top to bottom in one day.) And I know I can downsize.

I’m working on that now by transferring my fiction collection to e-books. (Non fiction is harder to find in electronic versions, so I’m kind of stuck on that.) Between Project Gutenberg (all hail the Project Gutenberg editors!) and e-book sale sites like Bookbub, along with some judicious “e-retail” spending, I have been able to eliminate three bookcases. I am going through my stuff and if I have not used something in two years, it’s on Craigslist or off to the Salvation Army.

As pointed out to wisely by George Carlin, a house is just a place for your stuff.

The only problem is I have several pieces of heirloom furniture, antiques. Those I am not so ready to get rid off. So while the truly tiny home beckons, I may be looking more at a cottage. I would find an 850 square foot cottage positively luxurious.

That was not very organized, and I may update this post later. Maybe even post some of my design sketches. 🙂

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2 thoughts on “Small Living

  1. I love this! I introduced my best friend to the concept of Tiny Houses only a few weeks ago. I first heard of them about five years ago and was instantly taken with them. I’m not up to building my own and unfortunately nobody here was making them when I bought my house three years ago. But I haven’t ruled out selling my current house and buying one of these in the future. It goes with the whole minimalist ethos that I want to live by. I also got rid of a lot of my books, about five or six years ago. I thought of replacing the remainder with e-books however the drawbacks of the format have made me put this on hold.

    In Australia the traditional house block is 1/4 acre but with most of us wanting to remain huddled around the few big cities, land is becoming very scarce. Dwellings of all sizes are being squished onto smaller and smaller blocks and many places these days have little or no yard.
    I could go on but just remembered this ain’t my blog. 😛 Yet another stimulating post, old chap!

  2. Sorry to double-post but forgot this bit:
    “You want to be sick? Fly over Phoenix/Scottsdale and look at all those massive houses with their lush green lawns in the middle of the desert.”
    In Australia we’re obsessed by water, being the driest inhabited continent. To say that seeing lush lawns in the desert makes you feel sick may seem like hyperbole to some but that is exactly how I feel. It’s now a cliche that wars in the 21st century will be fought over water. As you pointed out, it’s already happening.

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