|Small is better! Declining house sizes and their benefit to the planet|
|Written by Caroline Haywood, Four Green Steps|
|Tuesday, 16 October 2012 12:57|
If you have watched ‘The Queen of Versailles’, the 2012 documentary that follows the construction of the biggest house in America (a 90,000-square-foot mansion inspired by Versailles, Louis XIV’s palace in Paris!), you might not be surprised to hear that the general trend in house sizes has been up-up-up!
Over the past sixty years, the average house size in America has increased dramatically from an average of 983 square feet in the 1950s up to 2,300 square feet in the 2000s. However, it seems as though this trend is reversing – many people are now considering building smaller houses. In the UK, this trend has been emerging for many years: in 1920, the average new, large family home had five bedrooms and occupied an enormous 3,440 square feet. Today's equivalent decreased to four bedrooms and 2,409 square feet.
These changes have been linked to societal differences. Modern families are smaller, with fewer children, and the majority of families have no live-in staff. Entertaining friends is also done on a smaller scale and the convenience of 24-hour supermarkets and ready-made meals have reduced the demand for large kitchens.
Behind this trend lies an environmental advantage too that seems obvious, but it is the simple things that are often overlooked: small houses are more energy efficient. A recent study by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality found that reducing a home’s size by 50% reduces greenhouse gas emissions by more than a third. This includes the emissions generated by manufacturing building materials, transporting them, heating, cooling, and powering the home, subsequent remodels, and tear-down after 70 years.
Building a smaller home uses less resources and materials and takes up fewer square feet that could be left as green space. Living in a small home can also encourage you to live more simply, as you simply don’t have the room for extra furniture or additional household items. Moreover, smaller houses are more energy efficient once they are built, as they require less energy to heat and cool. Small homes cost less to maintain, to renovate or to touch up as well. With energy costs on the rise, small energy-efficient homes are likely to be in high demand in the future.
If you’re considering building green, take time to reflect on how big your home really needs to be. Contrast the spaces in your home that you spend the most time in with areas that you never use. It won’t take long to question whether a formal dining room or large entrance hallway is really necessary, and compromising on these areas can really pay back in the long run. Of course, consulting about the material with which you are building, the optimal orientation of the house, and the level of insulation, for example, can also reduce your home’s environmental footprint. But the biggest difference can be made by simply going smaller!
You don’t need to rebuild Versailles to have a beautiful home – small can really be better!
Image courtesy of Bill Ward's Brickpile on Flickr.
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