Framing the Small House Movement - Bigger Isn't Always Better

“The American Dream” is a concept that was coined in the 1930’s and typically invokes images of a white picket fence home, two car garage, and happy family of four. Although the interpretation of the American Dream has evolved over the course of the past century, many of the elements have remained the same. Arguably one of the biggest qualifiers is the act of home ownership, and as the home is typically a mark of social status, the trend has been that the bigger and more impressive the home, the greater the worth of the home owner.

Large homes do have an allure, and are certainly practical when accounting for a large family, however smaller house footprints (for the sake of this post, we’ll define this as anything below 2,000 square feet) are starting to gain popularity, flipping the “bigger is better” concept on its head. With the millennial generation stubbornly rejecting the standards of family and homeownership set before them, and the “tiny house” movement gaining momentum across the country, people are beginning to question the necessity of a floor plan greater than 2,000 square feet. 

There are many advantages to a smaller building footprint, and you don’t necessarily have to move into a building the size of a tool shed to reap the benefits. Below are five reasons to get behind small house development:

1. Energy Efficiency

A smaller building footprint utilizes less resources, both in the materials required for construction and the energy needed to make it functional, and is generally more efficient than its McMansion counterpart. Heating and cooling a smaller space not only lowers your energy bill, but also lowers the carbon footprint of your home. It’s a win-win!

2. Affordability

Smaller homes are cheaper to build, and as such come with a lower price tag. With the current nation-wide housing shortage, home ownership may seem like a pipe dream for the average buyer. Small homes offer a way to step into the real estate market without breaking the bank. 

3. Easier Maintenance

In addition to an affordable purchase price, small homes are also cheaper to maintain, since the general footprint of the roofs, interior spaces, and yard cover less space and thus require less time and materials for up-keep and renovation.

4. Reduction in Clutter

A smaller space demands greater spatial awareness and is likely to rewire the brain to accumulate less junk. Living in a reduced interior space is a bonus for lowering excessive consumerism, whereas in a larger home you may be more apt to indulge in unnecessary frills just to fill the empty spaces.

5. Smart Neighborhood Design

What if we were able to bring the same density and tight knit feel from the grid-network neighborhoods of the city into those neighborhoods resting on the outer fringe?

Small homes create a medium for this high-density development, and while they aren’t exclusive to suburban areas, they present a great alternative to the 2,400 square feet homes you typically find outside of the city, set back from the sidewalks and generating a feeling of detachment from their surroundings. 

Designing a network of small homes that are constructed closer together encourages social interaction and creates a sense of security. Features such as forward-set front porches and human-scale lighting invite pedestrian activity, and windows with clear and direct views of the neighborhood keep eyes on the street, discouraging suspicious activity. Additionally, providing connectivity to trails and open space keeps the neighborhood from feeling claustrophobic and provides easy access to recreational opportunities. Overall, this tight knit neighborhood design is ideal for maintaining neighborhood connections to surrounding amenities, generating an aesthetic that is inviting to visitors and residents alike, and creating a sense of community.

Although home ownership is likely to remain a cornerstone of the American Dream, the shift from the garage dominated “snout-houses” (the style of home construction where the garage largely makes up the façade of the home) to cozy cottage style abodes in dense communities is just on the horizon. With soaring house prices and millennials stepping into first-time home ownership, we may just be approaching a perfect storm from which the smaller (more affordable!) home movement will blossom.