LIVING SMALL….A GROWING TREND


     If you have had the opportunity to follow our current project, where we are converting an 1894 church to a green building, you will know that we are working on a small footprint; the actual area that we will be living in totals 1200 sq. ft.

   This is similar to the average sized home built in the 50-60’s. Today’s homes, on the other hand, at over 2000 sq. ft., are more the norm than many people realize.

    I have had a number of readers and clients who are following the “green church” restoration, question the size.  With that in mind, I felt it was time to explain why we feel this “small” home will be ample in size for us and allowing for frequent visits from extended family. 

    There are many plusses in a smaller home; a considerably lower environmental impact being one of the most obvious. In fact, our energy auditor projects that, once the restoration is done, we will reduce the greenhouse gasses from this building by nearly 43 tons annually; that is a lot! And small works for our lifestyle. As we crowd in on retirement age, reaching that age without debt in today’s economic climate is almost a necessity; a smaller home allows us to do that. Not surprisingly, operational costs are significantly less than in a larger home. We have modelled this home and, once completed, the projected heating costs will be less than a thousand dollars a year. 

    With the planned solar thermal hot water system, which will also supply a radiator style forced air heating system; our hot water costs will be greatly reduced. As heating water in an electric water tank is one of the largest users of electricity in most homes, we will have lowered our electrical bill considerably.

    Maintenance costs, too will add up to less. Smaller requires less time and energy to keep up, as well. Throw in the drop in cleaning time for a small home vs. a larger one and, combined, these go a long way to freeing up personal time, which is what we hope to do,  in order to travel. Further, with a smaller home, it becomes quality vs. quantity and we are finding that we can look at some nicer fittings and fixtures. Quality, obviously, lasts longer and when you are looking at what may be the last home, having some “good stuff” and not breaking the bank is a feels really good.

    

    An area that is often not considered is the social and emotional values of home size. In the case of possessions, the more you own, the more they own you. Freeing yourself of the excess “stuff” frees the mind and enables you to enjoy the simple life.  When you downsize and move to a smaller home, you may be forced into having a “monster yard sale.” Once in your smaller home, you will, by necessity, become more aware of purchases. One client told me recently that they were downsizing because they can no longer afford their 3200 sq. ft. home. He made a pointed comment. Had they moved to a smaller home years ago, they would likely still be able to have a home and not the condo apartment they now have to move into. They will miss the gardens and their neighbourhood.  While the prevalent thought is a larger home suits a family, I disagree.  A smaller home can encourage interaction amongst family members; they can’t as easily hide away in the TV room or on the computer.

     One reader asked how we intend to make the church “comfortable” with smaller in mind. This one is actually quite easy to answer. Firstly, we will look to the outside to enjoy that space as an extension of our home. The range of canopies, sun-tents and three season sun rooms is one of the fastest growing segments of the home upgrades market. Some garden furniture today appears to be nicer than some living room furniture was just a few years ago. The accessories available to extend the use of the outdoors well into the spring and fall months are amazing. A visit to any big box store or local garden center will confirm that they have huge sections on this life style now.  

    Secondly, we are planning a loft which will give us added space for a bedroom, a second bathroom and closets. When I designed the loft, I did away with framed walls that eat up 4 - 5 inches for every wall.  We are using 3 inch solid wood "log style"

walls that give us solid, finished walls on both sides.  For our guest room/office (another space saver) on the main floor, we have a pull-out sofa bed. If we had an  even smaller space, I would have designed in a Murphy bed. For anyone who does  not know that term, these beds fold out of the wall and are often companioned with  wall cabinets.

     

   Another client asked about the lack of storage space possibilities and worried that “downsizing” would mean that they’d lose some of their treasured possessions. One trip to  an RV dealer will help you rethink this; the people who design these “homes on wheels” are forced to find ways  to use every inch of space.  In home building, we think square footage when we could be thinking square inches and how they are best used.


   One last point, if you are looking at a smaller home there are two areas to not scrimp on; the bathroom and kitchen. Use as much natural light as you can get.  In our climate, I favour sun domes over skylights. Natural light gives the feeling of openness and spaciousness.  Strategically located windows can give the essence of space, as well, so they should be positioned for best passive solar gain. In the case of the church, we are blessed to have seven tall windows, four of which are located on the east and south walls for morning and daytime sun.

    Small is no longer attached to the idea of “can’t afford more.” Rather a quality built, small home can meet today’s needs and be stunning when done correctly. If you wish to catch up on our progress, go to www.alltechgreenchurch.ca for recent pictures and columns.