Minihome: everything you need in 365 square feet

Lloyd Alter

For years, we have been preaching that Small is the New Big, That Tiny Homes are the Next Big Thing, and that Small Houses Getting Big Coverage. The key point was that larger homes use more energy, cost more money, encourage lower density development and provide space to fill with clutter and stuff we don't need. On Planet Green I wrote two years ago:

As the recession takes hold and people are worried about money and jobs, it is important that we figure out how to use what we have efficiently, and how to use less of everything. It isn't just because it saves money; it is also because it is green, using less resources, burning less fuel and creating more carbon dioxide.

Now it appears that the message is catching on; Alex Wilson at BuildingGreen reports that the Census Bureau says that new houses are being built slightly smaller. But they are still huge:

In 1950, the average house in the U.S. was about 1,100 square feet, while there were about 3.4 people per household, according data I compiled for a 1999 article in Environmental Building News. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that in 2009 the average new house in the U.S. was 2,438 square feet (down slightly from 2,518 square feet in 2008), while the average household size was 2.6 people. In the past sixty years, house size has increased 120%, while family size has dropped 24%, so square footage per family member has nearly tripled (from 324 to 938 square feet).

Alex picks up on a point that I make all the time, that building smaller is a lot greener, and costs less too. But in America all everyone thinks about is the price per square foot, and on that basis, smaller houses cost more. This is the scam that the developers have been selling us; the bigger house looks cheaper, but all they have added is volume, that doesn't cost much to build but does cost a lot to maintain.

I think the days of even the new, smaller, 2438 square foot house is numbered, as is the suburban milieu that they are built in. But it is a step in the right direction. More in BuildingGreen