Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Living Small

“Better living through simplicity” is the motto for the small house society, an organization dedicated to the promotion of smaller homes. Their mission is “to support the research, development, and use of smaller living spaces that foster sustainable living for individuals, families, and communities worldwide.”

Jay Shafer, one of the groups founders, has lived in tiny houses (all less than 100 square feet) for over ten years now. On his website you can view videos of some of these remarkable spaces and hear Shafer describe what motivated him to embark on this small living adventure. Sustainability was high on his list of reasons: recognizing the impact any sized house has on the environment and wanting to minimize that impact by minimizing the space to what was absolutely necessary. He also hates vacuuming.  Shafer’s philosophy is “dream big, build small” and his company, Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, creates an array of models of truly tiny houses.

We saw how living in smaller spaces makes a huge difference for environmental sustainability at many of the sites we visited for our book Living Green: Communities that Sustain. Places like Los Angeles Eco-Village emphasize higher quality lives with less space. When you live in less square footage, you consume less energy and, importantly, by necessity, have less stuff. At a place like an Ecovillage or a co-housing community, the downsides of having less space (i.e., no guest room for when Aunt Mildred comes to visit) or less stuff (i.e. no table saw when you need one) are tempered by the ample shared space and shared stuff.

And, the benefits of living with less are not only environmental. A growing number of people are finding themselves drawn to the “small house movement” because of the economic implications. Less square footage and less stuff is cheaper to maintain.

Andy Thomson, founder of Sustain Design Studio has created the miniHome. In an interview by David Suzuki’s The Nature of Things, Thomson described how the fact that we in North America currently consume so much energy that we would need ten additional planets to sustain ourselves, led him to try and create a house that would use one tenth of the energy of a standard house--thereby reducing our consumption to a sustainable, one planet level. The result is the miniHome.  It's an off-the-grid, prefabricated, modern home that stands at just 325 square feet.  Thompson lived in one (may still live in one) with his wife and two young children. Check it out on the Sustain Design Studio website.

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