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The Big Ideas in ‘The Not So Big House’

Living Smaller, Better, Healthier


Like many green builders out there, I have been a devotee and ardent practitioner of a “not-so-big” lifestyle, and was honored to meet Sarah Susanka at a conference a few years ago. She is an inspiration to many and I am delighted beyond words to see her work recognized in the Wall Street Journal.

In addition, a recent WSJ article about Energy Recovery Ventilators becoming a hot item also warmed the cockles of my heart, and made me start to think that we are finally getting into the belly of the beast! Smaller, better, healthier homes being touted in the paper that is the namesake of the place that stands for mindless greed and consumption in the minds of many Americans! It makes sense – consume less with an emphasis on quality of life – the perfect mix of my Scottish mother and my Irish father.

A smaller home can afford to have a lot more character, and feels infinitely more like home if the design is just right. That’s also a big reason I’m a fan of good custom design. It pays for itself through space efficiency and proper building construction, and leaves you with a better product to live in. Add in resource efficiency and it’s a win-win-win. There’s nothing wrong with a big home in my mind, and some of the bigger homes we’ve built use less energy (or contribute more than they use!) than some of the smaller homes we’ve built. But when size comes at the expense of building a home right, well that’s just dumb.

Sooner or later basic economics wins, though, and energy prices will rise faster than inflation until we, as a country, decide that renewables make a whole lot more sense for the long term. I would not want to own a big dumb house in the years leading up to the last throes of the energy infrastructure which should have been left behind with the last century. I was struck by Sarah’s vision for the smart homes of the future. It’s certainly very likely, but although we have been known to dabble in panelized and modular construction methods (marinate in it, more likely), there is a romance to building on-site that I would greatly miss if housing were to become robotic.

kirk and dou and twisted metal

I have loved my days framing houses and running trim, and I still like going on-site and experiencing the smells and sounds of construction. There is great satisfaction in craft and in admiring a job well done, no matter what the job is. Still though, Sarah is right. Homes will get dramatically smarter because they will have to to be viable. We are proud to be fighting the good fight for smart homes and smart choices in housing. It’s gonna get interesting!

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