McMansion to McCottage: Why Smaller Houses Are Smarter
According to US census data, the size of the average American home in the 1950s was a modest 1,000 square feet. Today, the square footage has more than doubled to nearly 2,500. If our families are getting smaller and our objects are getting more compact and portable, why do we need all this space? As the recession of 2008 continues to grind away at our lifestyles well into 2011, maybe it’s time we slay that final sacred cow of "bigger is better" — our homes. Here are just nine advantages of small houses.
1. They Fight Clutter
Smaller homes force us to consider what items we own and why we own them. It’s easy to fill up large homes, and often it seems like our personal inventories balloon to fit the spaces we’re in. The first step in becoming a minimalist may be to minimize your square footage. (See also: Small Space Survival Strategies)
2. They Promote Energy Efficiency
Don’t get me wrong, great rooms are lovely, but I can’t help but think about those heating and cooling bills. Cathedral ceilings are dramatic and wonderful — if there’s a corresponding cathedral-sized congregation to pass the collection plate to. A smaller physical footprint means smaller bills, and a house that’s well designed and well-insulated will always win the numbers game.
3. They Rein in Taxes
Our property taxes are determined by assessed property value, and value is partly determined by square footage. Though a number of other important factors also affect assessed value, all things being equal, smaller homes equal cheaper property taxes.
4. They Encourage Social Interaction
It’s easy to get lost in a big house, or at least be isolated from the rest of your family. When I was a kid, my brother and I shared a bedroom until my parents bought a larger home when I began high school. Though I might have argued the point at age 11 or 12, the memory of falling asleep with by big brother nearby is a cherished one. I think part of the reason we enjoy a strong bond now is due, in part, to all those years as "roomies."
5. They Promote Good Design
In much the same way that small homes compel us to be conscious of clutter, they also encourage smart design. Space limitations challenge our creativity and drive innovation. Small homes designed for versatility are filled with clever surprises: A staircase is built to house a reading nook underneath; a stainless steel utility table is a kitchen countertop on wheels, a home office, and kids' craft area.
6. They Reduce Maintenance Costs
Larger homes also carry larger price tags for general maintenance like re-roofing, painting, new windows, etc. A commitment to going small also means a commitment to reduced expenses over the life of your home — and a greater chance of affording those "uh-oh" unforeseen expenses.
7. They Create Better Neighborhoods
Have you ever noticed how different it feels to walk through a modest pre-war neighborhood vs. any subdivision built after the 1980s? The pre-war neighborhood probably has smaller single-story homes that are built close to the sidewalk. They may feature broad front porches, garages tucked away in the back, and dense canopies of trees. By contrast, newer homes are imposing, set back like stately mansions on lots that are barren, deep, and narrow. The garages are more prominent and designed for small fleets of cars, bikes, and lawn implements. A stroll though a pre-war neighborhood becomes a jog in a newer subdivision.
8. They're Cheaper to Build
Smaller homes are often significantly cheaper to build. A conscious attention to detail can lead to lower materials costs and the option of using higher-grade materials. There’s less foundation to pour, less floor to lay, and less roof to cover.
9. They Encourage Outdoor Activity
Homes are meant to shelter us from the outside, not to be a substitute for it. Often larger homes can meet all of our needs so completely that we forget there’s a yard around all of those walls. Sometimes feeling compelled to "get out of the house" isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Small homes can inspire us to garden, to get to know our neighbors, and explore other neighborhoods.
Television and movies suggest we aspire to micro-estates with nothing less than three-car garages, media rooms, and America’s newest enigma — man-caves. But were the homes we all grew up in so bad? What’s lost in the bargain we’re making to constantly move on and move up? Do we have more time, more money, or more freedom? Or are we simply wandering around our big houses looking for one another?