The smaller house movement began in earnest In 1997 with the publication of “The Not So Big House” by Sara Susanka. The recession, which hit the nation’s housing market hard ten years later, only served to strengthened the movement. As home values tanked, homeowners found themselves “underwater.” From 2008 to 2013 4.4 million homes were abandoned in foreclosure, no longer worth the mortgage homeowners were paying.
But, the small house movement isn’t just about cost – though that’s part of it. It’s about the environment, about the need to use less energy, to decrease one’s “carbon footprint.” It’s about shedding “stuff” and about authenticity.
This idea of living with only what you need is not new. It can be traced back to the 19th century and the Transcendentalist movement, to Henry David Thoreau whose famous cabin on Walden Pond might be called the prototype for the modern small house. The notion of a more modest way of living remerged in the “back to the land” ethos of the 1960’s hippie movement. And, It was eloquently articulated in the widely influential book “Small is Beautiful” by E.F. Shumacher. Published just as America was entering the “energy crisis” in 1973, “Small is Beautiful” stood in stark contrast to the “bigger is better” philosophy that had driven post World War II America.
Definition of a small house
A small house is is defined as being a 1000 square feet or less. As of 2012 the average cost of such a home was between $20,000 to $50,000. Such narrow confines and limited budgets require ingenuity and creative design skills. These small homes have sparked a spate of innovations including unique approaches to heating, cooling and waste removal. Clever ways of utilizing vertical space to maximize storage, as well as developing new technologies such as flat panel heaters, are just some of the ways architects and designers have leveraged the limited available space. Additionally, many of these house are so small that they are on wheels and can be easily transported from one location to another.
Challenges to smaller homes
While the aesthetics of a simple life and living small are quickly capturing the imagination of many Americans, there are still some hurtles to be overcome before moving in. Depending on where you live, it’s unlikely that you can simply place a small house on land you own without going through your local zoning board. Zoning laws and building codes will need to be modified to provide true legal status to these new dwellings as a primary abode.
While it’s hard to imagine people abandoning their large home for these small houses, there are other factors that may make such a transition more attractive. The older population of baby boomers are looking to downsize. There is also a growing number of single person households in America. These, along with rising energy costs and the availability of smaller lot sizes may make smaller homes a truly viable alternative in the coming years.
For more info: