Size Matters.

My business card read, “SMALL HOMES, SOLAR ENERGY” in big letters in the upper left corner. My goal was to build small, energy efficient solar-heated homes. It was 1985, when the country was dealing with an ongoing energy crisis – imported oil prices were high and everyone said that Americans in particular were using too much. So it seemed that my plan to build smaller more energy-efficient houses would work.

It didn’t. I did design and/or build a few small solar projects. But as for new homes – people just didn’t want to build a small house. They figured that the more square feet, the less cost per square foot to build! The long-range costs of heating and cooling huge houses mattered little. And as time marched on, oil prices went up, came down some, and went up a little higher. People got used to the costs, amazingly enough. Most people continued to build houses much larger than anyone really needs. So my ideal to design efficient housing pretty much fell by the wayside.

In 1995, I was invited to build a house in Japan. That’s another story for later, but what I’m recalling is the size of the apartment that I lived in during the four months I was there. Here’s a sketch I made of the floorplan (the elevations are at the end of this post):
ApartmentDesign1-loresThe apartment was in a two-story building with 10-12 apartments on each level. Each apartment was meant for a single, couple, or even a couple with a small child. It was an incredibly small space, at approximately 225 square feet with a loft sleeping area. But it was not that bad, with a more efficient use of space than small apartments in the U.S., usually called studios, and usually reserved for cities with high rents or singles and couples just starting out. You’ll note a similar design in a travel trailer, a place that few people in this country would want to live in for an extended period, unless they had no choice.

But Japanese have the choice, and most choose to use efficient living spaces rather than build gigantic houses with multiple bathrooms, bedrooms, formal dining rooms, and all that. I suspect most Japanese men would laugh at the thought of a “Man Cave.”

I’m building a house for myself and my spouse at the moment. It’s less than 1,000 square feet, but seems huge to us. I tried to design something that was practical and comfortable with unique elements such as a gable-end roof venting system and radiant heat flooring. There’s a fun little breakfast nook and a recessed entry to accommodate the need to shed wet raingear before coming inside the house, a common problem in western Oregon. And there are other things. But, alas, it seems the first question many ask about our new house is, “How many square feet is it?”

Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to check out our bridge book. It includes some cool ideas that apply to other projects, like how to put a really tall post into a deep hole when you aren’t that tall. Amazon has the book on sale for about $13.00 right now. Here is the link:

Building a Small Cable Suspension Bridge with the Cable Locking System

Images, diagrams, and text copyright 2013 by Marvin Denmark unless otherwise noted. Please do not copy and post my content anywhere without my permission. Thank you.