Saturday, July 31, 2010

Living small

Last week, in my post on living rooms, I remarked on how modern houses often contain more rooms than they really need. This link, courtesy of my mom, shows a house that's exactly the opposite: a tiny house with a place for everything and everything in its place. The builder, Jay Shafer, now makes a living building small houses, ranging from a truly tiny 65 square feet (less than some bathrooms) to 835 (nearly as big as the main level of our house). You can view his designs on his website.

There is also a couple out in Texas who are doing much the same thing, but they go Shafer one better: not only are all of their "Tiny Texas Houses" little (anywhere from 10 feet by 16 to 12 by 28), they're built almost entirely from salvaged materials. The owner says the costs to build one range from $38,000 to $90,000, plus the delivery fee. Now that's ecofrugal!

The amazing thing about all these tiny houses is that, based on the pictures, they actually look more luxurious than a generic builder-made home. They have so many lovely little details, like the wood paneling and stained glass window inserts, that would never be affordable in a larger home. Less quantity means more room for quality.

This same concept is also the basis of architect Sarah Susanka's highly popular "Not So Big House" books. However, her concept of "not so big" is quite a bit bigger than Schafer's; her rule of thumb is that a Not So Big house is about two-thirds the size you think you need, but costs just as much. Still eco, perhaps, but not really frugal (although it is still more frugal than a big box, since a smaller house is still cheaper to maintain and to heat and cool). However, Ross Chapin, one of the architects featured in the Not So Big House books, has plans available on his website that start at 307 feet—comparable to the Tiny Texas houses, and around the middle of the range for Tumbleweed Houses.

The only real problem with these houses is that the only way to get one is to build it from scratch. What I'd really love to see is a set of guidelines for remodeling an existing house, on a budget, to give it this kind of detailed, lavish feel in the same small space.
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