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VHF Laneway Tour — another great success!

DH and I got into the car yesterday, which is a treat in itself as we usually use transit to get around.  But there was not a minute to waste if we wanted to get through all 6 homes in the Vancouver Heritage Foundation Laneway House Tour.

Three years ago, it was the Laneway House Tour we took with our designer, Laurel, that showed us some of th4e features we wanted to incorporate into our lanehouse design.

Two years ago our house-in-progress was part of the tour, a great honour for us.

Now that laneway homes are becoming more and more common, it was interesting to see how the designs are being interpreted across the city, finding solutions to how to keep families together and even how to save a beloved tree.

The first home on the tour was not, strictly speaking, one of this generation of laneway homes.  Instead it was a strata-title home tucked behind a heritage house in Point Grey.  In 1988, architect Robert Lemon purchased the Barber Residence, built in the art deco style by Ross Lort in 1936.  The home straddled the front part of two lots, and Lemon wanted to make sure that the home would not be torn down to take advantage of the land.  So with a plan, patience, and perseverance, he convinced the city permit department to let him build a complementary home behind his, and to let him enter into a strata ownership with its inhabitants.

The result was stunning:

LW2015-1

At 2340 square feet the home is a spacious one bedroom and den, and those two-storey-high windows bring light and an upstairs view into what could be a rather dark north-facing home.  Skylights upstairs also lighten the interior.  The decor and artwork are stunning, too.  Comfortable but elegant, a perfect partner to the Barbour Residence.

But there was no sense in mooning about what could never be (for us, anyway), on to the rest of the homes.

We zipped up to House 4, just off King Edward Avenue and Columbia.  Built on a 150′ by 50′ lot, this was the largest of the laneways we saw, 1000 square feet.  There was a nice kitchen and sitting area, but the home is used as a vacation rental, with 3 bedrooms and two baths, so it didn’t say “homey” as much as “convenient”.  The take-away from this home was the heating/cooling system — a heat pump.  You get heating and cooling with the same system, and it costs much less to run, but costs much more to install.

House 2 is a real cutey:

LW2015-2

It’s an adorable one-bedroom cottage, all on one level with lovely high ceilings in the kitchen/sitting area.  That rounded front door is repeated in an interior hall archway.

House 3 fits in perfectly with the neighbourhood and allows a mother and child to live on the grandmother’s property (having grandchildren right there is a blessing!):

LanewayTour2015

House 5 provided a solution to a marital break-up that didn’t break up the children’s lives.  One ex-partner lives in the house, and one lives in a spacious laneway with room for the children to stay:

LW2015-5

House 6 is right in our neck of the woods and provided another solution — how to keep a mature magnolia tree and build a laneway house.  Lanefab found the answer:

LW2015-6

The house is a reverse plan like ours, with the kitchen/sitting area up top and the bedroom in the lower level.

So what did we take away from the tour?  All the homes were well-built, and most had radiant floor heat with boilers instead of water tanks.  So new home technology is being used freely in these new builds.  I’m sure all are energy efficient, and all make the most of the natural light available to them through windows and skylights.

We met some new builders on the tour, so you have lots of choice when it comes to pick your own you’ll have dozens of options.  And the tour showed us that laneways are a solution, not just for Vancouver’s housing shortage, but for all kinds of problems that people have.  A way to keep families together, to let children stay in the neighbourhoods they grew up in and to raise their own children there.

If less is more, is more less?

This week everyone is crazeeeee about the whole “Black Friday” thing.  Every time I turn on the TV or open a newspaper, the advertising is exhorting me to buy, Buy, BUY!  Stock up for Christmas, get a great deal of a new piece of equipment, spoil myself and my loved ones.

XmasSale

 

Some people even cross the border to bring back loot.  (BTW, this article says that many retailers actually put up their regular prices before the end of November so they can drop them for Black Friday.  Be diligent, check and compare.)

Living in a little house has completely turned this season around for us.  Not only do we not want anything, we have no where to put it if we got it.  So don’t give us a new TV, or even a new remote.  We have too much stuff as it is.  Last year we didn’t exchange gifts between the adults of the family, and we’ll do the same thing again this year.  Instead we’ll get together with loved ones, have a nice Christmas dinner, and we’ll visit back and forth during the holidays.  It’s low-key.  We’ll decorate our homes, bake some cookies.  Take a little time to unwind and appreciate what we have.

So before you buy into the whole “buying” thing, think about what you really need and what makes you happy.  It’s not stuff, I’ll wager.  You’d probably be just as happy if you took the money you use to buy gifts and just gave it away to charity.  Happier, even.

Remember, you probably don’t need more of anything.  In his book, Billionaires: Reflections on the Upper Crust by Darrell M. West  , he points out that rich people aren’t happier than poor people, they are often more miserable. Because what they really want is “more”.

In this review of the book, Michael Lewis says

Not long ago an enterprising professor at the Harvard Business School named Mike Norton persuaded a big investment bank to let him survey the bank’s rich clients….In a forthcoming paper, Norton and his colleagues track the effects of getting money on the happiness of people who already have a lot of it: a rich person getting even richer experiences zero gain in happiness.

And Lewis goes on to say

something in the world has changed—or is changing. And I think it is: there is a growing awareness that the yawning gap between rich and poor is no longer a matter of simple justice but also the enemy of economic success and human happiness. It’s not just bad for the poor. It’s also bad for the rich. It’s funny, when you think about it, how many rich people don’t know this.

So don`t look for happiness in the next gadget or knickknack or fooforall.  You probably have more than enough.  (I know I“m chockablock with fooforalls.)

This is the time to say no to more consumerism.

There’s been some backlash to the blatant mass consumerism of the Black Friday event. Adbusters, a Vancouver-based not-for-profit magazine, often promotes their “Buy Nothing Day” on the same day as Black Friday, said Katherine White, a Sauder School of Business professor in consumer insights, prosocial consumption, and sustainability

Read more: http://www.vancouversun.com/life/Retailers+often+inflate+prices+before+Black+Friday+discounts+Vancity+report/10409658/story.html#ixzz3K7TQBZgu

(Less) Power to the people!

I chatted with Ian and Steve at the Home Discovery Show  on CKNW about the difference in the amount of energy we use here at the laneway house.  It really hit me this week when I signed up for BC Hydro’s Equal Billing.  We are paying $35 a month for our electricity now, back at the condo we paid $64 a month.  That’s a huge difference because even though our new home is about half the size of our old one, our condo was on the second floor of a three-storey building, so we only had two exterior walls.  Now we have four exterior walls over 1.5 floors, plus a roof and deck over the entire footprint.

But we don’t have to depend on lower energy bills to know our laneway is energy-efficient. Our house received an EnerGuide rating of 83 from BC Hydro.

Developed by Natural Resources Canada, an EnerGuide rating is a standard measure of a home’s energy performance. A rating of 0 represents a home with major air leakage, no insulation and extremely high energy consumption. A rating of 100 represents an airtight, well insulated, sufficiently-ventilated home that requires no purchased energy.

Power Smart new homes are required to achieve at least ENERGUIDE 80, higher than what’s required by the B.C. Building Code.

That rating put us in the “highly energy-efficient new house” category in their rating system.

This is “Offtober” at BC Hydro.  Visit their site to see how you can save on special deals from retailers; PowerSmart Programs; and play contests.

EnergyStar

If you want to make some changes to your home you can take advantage of rebates and other incentives from the City of Vancouver, BC Hydro, and Fortis.   Find out more about that here.

If you are a low-income household you can take advantage of BC Hydro’s Energy Conservation Assistance Program.  Find out more about this here.

And if you just want to get started living a more sustainable life, pick up some hints here .

What does all this energy efficiency mean to us?  It means lower Fortis bills for a start.  We pay about $25 a month for natural gas for our heating and cooking (including our barbecue).  But it also means getting out of bed on a winter morning and feeling that radiant heat.  It means no cold corners, no nasty drafts.  It means comfort, as much as sustainability.

 

 

How does our garden grow?

Yesterday I went with DD to the store and bought my first pair of gardening gloves.  Plus a bag of potting soil.  Then, while she carefully delineated and planted her first sowing of vegetables in a narrow strip by the sidewalk, I planted eight little pots with herbs.

The promise of herbs to come

The promise of herbs to come

Yup, I gardened.

One thing that you should definitely know if you are planning to build a laneway house (and I hope you are!) is that landscaping is a very important part of the process. I’ve written about this before but it bears repeating, you have to have a plan.

In the regulations it says quite clearly

11.3.3 Except as provided for elsewhere in this section, the setback area shall be fully graded and
landscaped with trees, shrubs and lawn to the satisfaction of the Director of Planning.

11.3.4 The following may be permitted within the landscaped setback area by the Director of
Planning:
(a) statuary, fountains and other objects of art;
(b) open ornamental fences if necessary for the protection and preservation of landscaping or
permitted objects of art;
(c) walks or driveways which in the opinion of the Director of Planning may be required to
provide direct access to any building or use on the site.

That’s bureaucrat for “you need some plants here, people”.

In the application for your building permit you must include

Landscape plan should include the following:
□ Plant/ Tree list (common & botanical name,
size, quantity)
□ Plant list symbols keyed to the plan
□ Indicate soft and hard landscaping

And not just any plants, either.  They want you to plant with five factors in mind:

1) low-maintenance,
2) drought-tolerance &
hardiness,
3) scale (all plants under 3ft
high not including vines &
climbers),
4) availability, and
5) variety & interest

And in the Guide the City of Vancouver provides they even list some plants that take these factors into consideration.

With the help of our landscaper Amro and his team, we have fulfilled the promise of our original plan.  We have a plum tree

Which will look like this when it's all grown up

Which will look like this when it’s all grown up

And on the laneway, we have our tall grasses, our lavender, creeping thyme and our beauty berry plants

Beauty

Also not at this luxurious stage as yet — but will be!

When you are planning your laneside plantings, you are not allowed to put in anything that will obscure the front.  We originally  wanted to put in some tall bamboo in a little hedge, but it was pointed out that would provide the perfect hiding place for someone who wanted to break into our place or who wanted to give us a little surprise when we came to the front door.

As well, because the occupants of the laneway, us, are family, we do not have to have a specially dedicated area of yard just for us — but if we ever want to rent the place out we will need to have a clearly defined area of yard just for the laneway tenants.

It’s also very important to remember that your landscaping should be substantially in place before final inspection is completed.  So unless there’s a foot of snow on the ground, it’s expected that your plants will all be planted and your land will be scaped.

When planning your walkways, sidewalks have to provide a hard surface from the street in front of the main house right to the lane and the laneway door — no meandering gravel walks — for emergency services to get to the laneway if they are needed.

When you are planning your laneway build keep all this in mind.  Just as with the design of the home itself the landscaping design has strict rules to follow, but you’ll end up with a space you really love.

 

You’ll flip for these ideas!

Due to my keen hearing and pathological interest in the other people who work in my office, I discovered that one of my co-workers has purchased an old beat-up home in their neighbourhood which they are fixing up to resell.

homeforsale

This is not just a fresh coat of paint and a swipe at the front yard then selling it for a premium, the walls have been stripped back to the studs, there is new mechanical and insulation, an open feel and landscaped property. They are now in the process of getting the new property staged for selling — and it promises to go fast (an updated heritage property in a good neighbourhood?  Catnip for buyers).

But what if you just want to get your home ready to sell?  Sure you know enough to clear out the family photos and personal chatchkes, but what are the best investments to get your place sold fast?

According to Style at Home, these are the top 10 ideas to get the most bling for your buck.

1 Kitchen
state-of-the-art kitchen is one of the most popular renovations for earning back most, if not all, of its investment. Even if you don’t fully gut and renovate, certain upgrades –granite counters, hardwood or high-end tile floors, premium appliances (especially stainless steel), islands and undermount sinks — attract attention and can increase value.

2 Hardwood floors

Especially on the main floor, hardwood is perennially popular with buyers. If your floors are refinished but worn, have them lightly sanded and resealed. If they’re very beaten up consider replacing them.

3 Premium broadloom
Broadloom is popular too (especially for bedrooms), but only if in top condition. If it’s worn, soiled or out of fashion, replace it with something more contemporary. Neutral, lightly textured weaves such as wool “sisal” are fashionable right now.

4 Master ensuite

If your ensuite is a bit tired, it’s worth upgrading, especially if you can afford a few luxuries such as a whirlpool or air jet tub, separate shower with a rainshower head, double sinks and/or heated floors. If you don’t have an ensuite, perhaps you can install one by stealing space from the master bedroomor a room next to it.

5 Radiator covers
It’s a simple carpentry job, but makes almost any older home seem more gracious.

6 Upgraded lighting
Old-fashioned  “can” track lighting can be easily replaced with more contemporary styles such as smaller cans or halogen track lights. Replace dingy overhead lighting with chandeliers (vintage or modern), or install them in rooms that don’t have any.

7 A finished basement
After kitchens and bathrooms, a stylishly finished basement is high on many buyers’ wish lists. If the ceiling is low and you can afford the investment, consider digging down to increase ceiling height. If you can’t, levelling the floor and installing broadloom will help make it more comfortable.

8 Landscaping
A well-maintained garden with attractive plantings, hardscaping such as brick or flagstone, and features such as urns or paths, add an elegant look to even a smaller home.

9 Front porch

Two or three decades ago, tearing off front porches became fashionable in some Canadian cities, but now they’re back in a big way. If you can, add a full front porch (or replace/repair the one you have if it isn’t in top condition); if not, a portico (a smaller porch that shelters the front door) can be a worthy substitute. Or add a deck in the back.

10 Adding a bedroom
A four-bedroom house will command a higher price than a three-bedroom, even if they’re both the same size. Consider dividing a large bedroom into two small ones (as long as they’re not too small, or it can have the opposite effect), or alternatively, consider converting an upstairs den or sitting room.

Ready for more ideas?  According to Forbes, these are the best ideas to give you a superior return on your investment.

1 Entry Door Replacement (Steel), Average Job Cost: $1,218 Average Resale Value: $1,243 Cost Recouped: 102%

2 Mid-Range Garage Door Replacement, Average Job Cost: $1,291 Average Resale Value: $1,083 Cost Recouped: 84%

3 Fiber-Cement Siding Replacement, Average Job Cost: $13,382 Average Resale Value: $10,707 Cost Recouped: 80%

4 Minor Kitchen Remodeling, Average Job Cost: $21,695 Average Resale Value: $15,790 Cost Recouped: 73%

5 Wood Deck Addition, Average Job Cost: $10,973 Average Resale Value: $7,986 Cost Recouped: 73%

6 Vinyl or Foam-Backed Vinyl Siding Replacement, Average Job Cost: $11,357 / 13,973 Average Resale Value: $8,223   10,119 Cost Recouped: 72%

7 Mid-Range Wood Window Replacement, Average Job Cost: $12,027 Average Resale Value: $8,707 Cost Recouped: 72%

8 Attic Bedroom Addition, Average Job Cost: $51,428 Average Resale Value: $37,142 Cost Recouped: 72%

9 Mid-Range Vinyl Window Replacement, Average Job Cost: $11,066 Average Resale Value: $7,920 Cost Recouped: 72%

10 Basement Remodel, Average Job Cost: $64,519 Average Resale Value: $45,186 Cost Recouped: 70%

And according to Bankrate, these are the best investments to get the most money when you resell;

 Top 5 ‘good payback’ projects. According to the NAR/Remodeling magazine’s 2005 Cost vs. Value report, the projects that will pay back the most at resale are:

5 projects to boost home value
1. Upscale siding (new fiber cement) replacement
2. Midrange bathroom remodel
3. Minor kitchen remodel
4. Midrange siding replacement
5. Attic bedroom remodel

The thing we learned when we sold our condo last year is this:  when you sell your place your competitors are not the other 20-year-old condos in your neighbourhood — they are the top-of-the-line modern suites with the latest conveniences and features.  Anything you can do to get your place sold is a good idea.

 

No new (stuff) is good news

Last week we went through our belongings in our storage locker and renewed our pledge to live with less.  It just makes sense.

But how do you resist the lure of retail?  After all, temptation is all around us — we see new and shiny things (or in my case, old and patinaed things); advertising is everywhere reminding us that we NEED NEW STUFF.

At this point it's mostly toys anyway, isn't it?

At this point it’s mostly toys anyway, isn’t it?

In the nick of time comes two articles from Apartment Therapy to help strengthen our resolve to fill up our lives with useless items.

First of all, avoid the idea that you are missing out on a bargain if you don’t buy that particular shirt or shoes or chatchka.

1. Avoid high pressure sales tactics.

We’ve all done it, gone into a shop for one thing and felt the pressure from the sales staff to get more.  Hey, it’s their job to sell you stuff.  But it’s not a personal rejection if you don’t submit to their wiles.  It’s your job to stick to your original plan.

Don’t have an original plan? Well,

2. Keep a list

You should always be aware of what you need, and what you buy frequently.  If you don’t keep a list in your head you may find yourself prey to the next item.

3. Avoid impulse buys.

You’ve got a shopping cart (in real life or online). Why not just slip in a couple of things that are on sale but are not exactly what you need RIGHT NOW?  Don’t do it.  You will regret that expensive impulse when you get the items home.  You know you will.  And if you bought it on sale you may not be able to return it.

4. Check the measurements and read the product info and reviews.

One of the great advantages of shopping online is being able to read the product reviews.  Those have saved me from many a foolish expenditure.  In a retail store be sure to check out the size on the package or you’ll come home with sheets that won’t fit your extra-thick queen mattress.

5. Eliminate temptation.

When we were stocking the laneway I subscribed to several on-line shopping services.  They were great when I knew I needed one white duvet and two sets of white queen sheets.  I was able to compare and was quite happy with the deals I got by waiting and checking often.

But I don’t need them any more.  There will come a time when I have to replace the sheets/towels, and I’ll subscribe again.  But right now I do not want to see a supermarket of attractive items coming through my inbox and tempting me to purchase them.

Maybe you know you have to buy a new shirt or blouse in an exact colour.  Find a sample of that colour and carry it with you to the stores.  It’s a reminder that you need THAT particular item and nothing else.

Yesterday DH and I took a little walk along Main Street, looking for a particular item.  I had a fabric swatch of the cushion covers I am making and we needed a little tray in a matching tone to sit on our ottoman and serve as a coffee table.  We whisked through second hand stores and thrift shops, zipping through in minutes because we knew exactly what we were looking for.  (We found it, BTW in the Vancouver General Thrift Shop for 50 cents).

So we’ve safely navigated the swamp of retail stores as far as impulse buying goes — what about the danger of (dun dun DUNNNNNN) Stocking up.

We can’t do it here.  We just don’t have the room for a giant case of paper towels or toothpaste.  So this article in Apartment Therapy speaks to us in the dulcet tones of truth. When you have limited room and are not expecting the apocalypse, store it at the store. What could be standing in your way?

Roadblock 1: Buy more, save more

You can save money on large quantities of things like paper and laundry products.  But we know well how much storage costs — we are paying for a storage locker.  How foolish it would be to use our in-home storage for bathroom tissue rather than bringing our good crystal home from that expensive lock-up.

Roadblock 2: Convenience

We have to go to the grocery at least every other day — our little fridge doesn’t hold very much.  And that is fine with us, we are close to 3 major grocery stores, two of which offer clothing, housewares, and yes, small appliances.  So stocking up on the bulky stuff just does not make sense when we’ll be back buying milk tomorrow.

Roadblock 3: You Might Run Out 

Once again, see Roadblock 2 above.  We are close to the store.  Running out means literally running out — the stores are open early and close late.  Plus we keep an on-going list of what we need.  We usually buy replacements for our dishwasher detergent or toothpaste just before we run out — and of course our neighbours can always help us out.

I think it’s a good idea to borrow a concept from our Zen teachers, but instead of mindful meditation we practice mindful spending.

Gettin’ down with the downsizing

Last weekend DH and I fulfilled an epic quest — we moved from a 10 x 5 storage space to a 5 x 5 storage space.  So we started out with 1100 square feet plus a 5 x 8 storage locker and we are now living in our eensy laneway plus holding on to enough extra junk, er belongings to fill just 5 x 5 x 8 feet.  And of course the big plan is that we will eventually get rid of all that extra, er, belongings.

milk

It was good to move it all box by box and take inventory.  We could see where the trims could be made, and we will make them.  We will not make the mistake we did with our old storage locker.  We will not stick stuff in little secret corners and forget about it for 11 years.  We will have to move the stuff at the front to find the stuff at the back so will mix the contents of the locker and gradually take out what we need, and get rid of the rest.

That’s the plan.

Because we are currently living with less, and loving it.  And I can tell you why. I could have thought of my own reasons, but why bother when Life Edited already lists 5 Reasons to Love Less.

1.Less is better for the planet.

It hurts to see how much we throw out.  And it doesn’t take much brain-power to see that the less you bring into your life the less you have to toss.  Less waste.

2. Less gets us into the present moment. Despite our best efforts to prove otherwise, humans cannot do more than one thing at a time; paying attention to one thing will inherently displace our ability to pay attention to another. When we have less in our lives, we can pay attention more fully to the fewer things we do have and enjoy them more.

That’s a little deep, but if we appreciate what we already have we are less inclined to be always seeking more.  And vice versa.

3. Less is easier to manage.

This is really coming across as we downsize our wardrobes.  We do the laundry a little more often and operate on a strictly restricted clothing rotation.  But it saves time and effort — as it does when we deal with fewer pots and pans and dishes, less linen.

4. Less is usually more interesting.

I get a slightly different take on this rule than the author.  S/he feels

Try less. Be unprepared. You might find yourself with a more interesting life.

But to me #4 means that you have fewer things so you have to make sure that they are the best things you can afford/find.  You can’t make do with inferior goods, you have to have exactly what you need.

And finally

5. Less helps us find out what is truly important.

To take it to the extreme, we’ve all seen those shows on hoarders, who collect cardboard and old newspapers with the same manic passion as they collect fine china or crystal.  They honestly cannot make the differentiation between items of real value and ….things. Detritus.

When you have less, you give everything more value, so you make sure it has real, extrinsic value aside from the intrinsic value we give it.

Now the secret will be to keep our promises to live with less.

We have made a good start.

Read the rest of this entry

Who wants to live the small life?

Have I convinced you to live in a small house yet?  Lots of people love living the small life — and bring great gusto to it. And not just on mountain tops and deep in forests.  These people found smaller is better even in the biggest cities.

Designer and architect Rohan Walters built an 1100 square foot “Driveway House” in Toronto in a space that was just 12 by 40 feet.  Read more about it here where Humble Homes drew our attention to it.

The use of glass walls and frosted panels allow lots of light to penetrate into the interior of the home.

SmallHumbleHomes

I particularly like how the electrical outlets are placed high on the walls along a silver-coloured strip.

SmallHumbleLiving

And it’s super efficient, too, using as small an environmental footprint as it does a physical one.

In the heart of Paris, clever use of design by Julie Nabucet and Marc Baillargeon allow comfort and style in just 130 square feet. Thanks to Tiny House Talk for the heads up.

SmallParis1

The bed pulls out from underneath the raised kitchen area.

SmallParisbed

And I love the bold touch of the red kitchen cabinets. This angle allows you to see how they’ve brought light into the kitchen through the clouded glass of the bathroom door.

SmallParisBath

Of course, there are lots of opportunities to create a great small space in New York City.  This Houzz story shows a 300 square-foot studio in Manhattan.  Are you expecting more sleek finishes and mid-century modern lines?  Nope, this space has gone all Boho in Soho. (Actually in the Upper East Side, but who could resist…?)

Eclectic Bedroom by Brooklyn Photographers Rikki Snyder
In decorating her studio, she was inspired by both New York City and rural Chilean Patagonia. She wanted to create an urban refuge but was also drawn to rough woods, thick wools and warm colors, which were naturally suited to the apartment’s existing brick wall.
Even this tiny NYC apartment shows us warm wood and rich textures.
SmallNYCMain
This story from Life Edited shows how they’ve fit so much into the tiny area without looking cluttered or “stuffed”.
SmallNYCUpper
From Apartment Therapy we learn about another tiny home, right across the bridge in Brooklyn and just 460 square feet.  They have used light wood tones as well to make their house look warm and yet clean and elegant.
SmallBrooklynMain
But the secret to living in such a small place is in building up.  Looking the other way in the suite we see how they have created a second story in their sleeping loft.
SmallBrooklynLoft
Lots of clever use of built-in storage, plus an office area tucked under the bed.
SmallBrooklynDesk
Big cities and small homes.  The perfect combination.

13 Reasons Why Smaller Is Better

Many years ago I was walking down a residential street here in Vancouver with a much younger friend of mine.  We were both looking at the houses, stating our preferences.  I was rather surprised to learn that she wanted a big house.  Not just big, not just huge, a monster house. The kind of house that takes up most of the lot, that overwhelms the space.

MonsterHouse

Know what I mean?

She said she wasn’t planning a large family, or to live in a multi-generation situation.  She just liked big houses.

I thought she was out of her mind.  I still do.  Smaller houses are best.

There, I’ve said it.  And I am prepared to back it up.

Northern Homesteader got me started with 12 Reasons to Live in a Smaller House – other than money.  Here’s her list, with my comments.

1. A small house is cozy

In a big house you have to find your cozy spots, create them with an overstuffed chair or a window seat.  But a small house is all cozy corners and intimate spaces.

2. A small house is warmer in the winter

It takes less than 10 minutes for our house to get warm on a cold morning.  The radiant heat works beautifully, and there are no cold corners.  In fact the laneway house is so energy-efficient that we turn down the heat to 16(C) in the afternoon so it doesn’t get uncomfortably hot.

3. A small house is easier to decorate

Even if you are going for a bohemian style with every flat surface covered in pictures and knick-knacks, decorating a small house takes less time and energy.  Even painting a room takes less time.  And you’ll need fewer cushions, fewer paintings, and fewer area rugs.  So if you want to completely change the look you can do it over a weekend.

4. A small house is faster to clean

Our former condo was only 1100 square feet, but it had two full baths and miles of carpeting.  To clean it up used to take us most of Saturday.  Now we can be out of here in less than an hour, with every surface sparkling and every floor damp-mopped.

5. A small house builds relationships

It’s funny, when you have a big home, how little time you spend in the same room as another person.  You might drift through the kitchen while your husband makes dinner to grab a glass of wine before you go back to watching the news in the front room, but you don’t actually have that much face time.  But in our laneway, I can be in the “sitting room” doing the crossword while DH is making dinner, and we are sharing and chatting, and sometimes watching the news together.  Yet when we want some private time there is always a little corner where we can be alone.

6. A small house inspires ideas and creativity

In our condo we had storage space galore.  Closets stuffed with clothes we didn’t need any more, an entire storage room just for stuff, 50% of which we didn’t use.  But now we have to find storage in every nook and cranny.  The space under the stairs.  the space in the stairs. And since more of our stuff is on display we have to find ways to make it attractive.  There’s a reason I keep watching those decorating shows.

7. A small house prevents clutter

We used to have a pile of papers in the kitchen.  Also one in the front hall.  And one in each bedroom.  No more!  I keep a (lovely) basket where I put all the papers that come into the house.  Once a week I go through it and toss what we don’t need and file what we do.  Bills and bank statements I get online so there’s less paper coming in. Clutter makes a small house look very messy.  It also makes a large house look very messy, but there’s more places to hide it.

8. A small house feels securer

When DH is out I know I just have to lock the two doors and this place is a fortress.  No dark corners or iffy locks.

9. A small house helps to live simple

Maybe that’s not your goal.  Maybe you look for ways to complicate your life.  But buying less, cleaning less, fussing less is what I want.

10. A small house is freeing

I thought it was funny when I read this — because that is exactly how I feel!  Less stuff makes you feel freer.  It’s part of 9., but it’s more than that, too.

11. A small house encourages more time outdoors

Last week I was feeling a bit closed-in.  You can feel that in a large space, too, but I knew what I needed, a brisk walk to the store.  Our small fridge means we buy less, and shop more often.  So we get out every day.

12. A small house takes up less space

The blogger at Northern Homestead loves her garden space.  And she’s not going to sacrifice it to gain more housing square footage.  We like the garden space we share with the main house — their back yard is actually bigger than it was before we built the laneway here because there was a big concrete slab where the house sits.

Twelve good reasons to have a small house, but I’ve thought of a 13th.

13. Smaller ecological footprint

Building the house took fewer resources than building a large house.  That’s a good enough reason to build small.  But running it takes fewer resources, too.  Heating, cooking, running the washer and dryer all take less energy than a larger house with large appliances uses.  If we want to be responsible energy consumers that is one more reason to live in a small house.

Knock, knock. Who’s there? And how many?

I ran across another great article on Life Edited, this time on household size.

All along I have touted laneway homes as a good method to increase the densification of neighbourhoods without changing their character.  These houses, by nature of their small size, will only house one or two people each.  What about the housing density of the rest of the neighbourhood?

Not this kind of housing density.

Not this kind of housing density.

We tend to frame the density issue in terms of housing size, because it’s easy to understand that big homes, as a rule, reduce overall density. But there is something else, just as important as housing size, that must be factored in to understand how density works, and that is household size.

The article quotes a paper in the online journal Population and Environment.  Looking at the population/housing ratio in the past 400 years,

the number of households grew faster than population size in every country and every time period. These findings suggest accommodating housing may continue to pose one of the greatest environmental challenges of the twenty-first century because the impacts of increased housing present a threat to sustainability even when population growth slows.

There are fewer people being born per capita, true, but

Progress made in curbing population growth, however, has not translated into reducing human
consumption of natural resources and impact on the environment.

Yikes!  Why?  Of course there are lots of reasons, and it’s not just because people are building larger homes (McMansions) for their smaller families.  People are also moving out of the family home at an earlier age.  The trend during the recent economic downturn for people to move back in with their parents after college is an anomaly, and probably will not be continued after the economy picks up again.  Also elderly people stay in their own homes longer rather than moving in with their families.  Plus they remain in their old family homes longer rather than moving to smaller ones.  There are other factors as well

The rising incidence of divorce also encourages increased household numbers. In the United
States, 15 % of all households had divorced heads in 2000 …. Although remarriage is common, the relatively high percentage of divorced households persists, and divorced households are 27–41 % smaller than married households

And that means?

From a more simplistic perspective, declining household sizes, from over 5 to approximately 2.5, will mean approximately twice as many houses will be needed per capita in any areas of the world yet to undergo the shift in household size.

Assuming that each of the additional households occupies a 210 m2 house (the average US
house size in 2002) (National Association of Home Builders 2004), then an additional
185,800 km2 of housing area would be required. This estimate may be conservative because land
area for household-related infrastructure (e.g., roads, yards, and retail) can require 2–4 times as
much land as the actual land used for the home …. Each of those houses would demand more household products and have lower efficiency of resource use per person because fewer people share goods and services in smaller households.

That’s why urban sprawl — taking more land to build more houses — will not solve all the problem.

One small caveat by Life Edited shows a glimmer of light in the tunnel of doom:

As a small space design blog, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that the amount of sprawl (i.e. the 72K sq miles) they calculate is based on a house size of 2509 sq ft–McMansions for all.

So smaller houses will help the problem well into the future.  And they give us a couple of options,

  1. Let things remain the same. Encroach on undeveloped lands and deplete all natural resources until the planet’s homeostatic environmental mechanisms are irrevocably destroyed.

  2. Reverse demographic shifts away from industrialization, the desire for privacy, divorce and so forth.

  3. Rethink housing. Adjust housing style to meet demographic shifts. Have smaller, more efficient houses with shared amenities. Creatively subdivide existing housing. Mitigate sprawl by keeping density high, even outside of major metropolises, permitting walk/bike/public transportation-friendly living.

That last choice seems the best to me.

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