Eco-Saturday: Cottage vs. McMansion

View of our house from the backyard. We have an attached garage, which is handy for storage.
View of our backyard. Our house has an attached garage, which is handy for storage.

While a few notable exceptions exist, as a general rule, big houses are terrible for the environment.

Think about it: The bigger the house, the more material it takes to build, and the more energy it takes to heat and cool. Big houses also encourage consumption; if you have a lot of excess space, it’s really hard to resist the temptation to fill it with shiny objects.

For the sake of both the environment and our bottom line, Ron and I have always insisted on buying small houses.

Our current home is an 86-year-old, 730-square-foot Craftsman bungalow with hardwood floors; a full, unfinished basement; and a front porch that’s just right for sitting with a glass of wine and watching the world go by on a summer evening. Despite its diminutive size, it feels roomy, and I’ve managed to live in it for 16 months without cluttering it up.

Here are the advantages of a small house:

* They cost less to buy.
* They cost less to heat and cool.
* They are easier to retrofit for alternative energy. You can go solar in a 3,000-square-foot McMansion, but it’s never going to be cost-effective.
* They discourage unnecessary purchases. If you don’t have a place to put it, you can’t buy it. I still buy a lot of stuff for the garden, but I waste far less money on odds and ends for the house these days.
* They take less time to clean.
* They’re cute.

Small houses require some creativity and planning, especially if you’re downsizing from something bigger, but the payoff in terms of energy and cost savings is worth the extra effort. If you’re considering a move in the near future, get on Realtor.com or another MLS engine to get a feel for what’s out there. Take an honest inventory of your personal possessions, and get rid of anything that’s taking up space without giving you anything in return. Figure out how much space you actually need, then look at your options. Chances are good you’ll save a pile of money, both upfront and over the long haul, and you’ll certainly be doing the environment a favor.

Here are a few photos of our house to give you some inspiration:

Bedroom. That's a battery-operated, LED reading lamp mounted to the wall. It folds up and out of the way when I'm not using it.
Bedroom. That’s a battery-operated, LED reading lamp on the wall. It folds up and out of the way when I’m not using it.
Dining room. Look at all that floor space! (Don't look at that ugly chair. I haven't had time to repaint it.)
Dining room. Look at all that floor space! (Don’t look at that ugly chair. I haven’t had time to repaint it.)
Kitchen. The counter was a tad more cluttered than usual because I was in the middle of a couple of projects.
Kitchen. The counter was a tad more cluttered than usual because I was in the middle of a couple of projects.
Our house was built before recycling was a thing, so I had to improvise to find space for the bins.
Still life with recycling bins and cat food. Walter photobombing.
We use a corner of the counter as a sort of breakfast bar for Ron's toast and my coffee.
We use a corner of the counter as a sort of breakfast bar for Ron’s toast and my coffee.
Office. The only truly cluttered space in the house, mainly because it's a multi-purpose room, and I'm always in the midst of one project or another.
Office. The only truly cluttered space in the house, mainly because it’s a multi-purpose room, and I’m always in the midst of one project or another.
Living room. I have no idea why Walter felt the need to photobomb every room.
Living room. Clingy cat photobombing yet again.

I can’t tell we’ve lost anything by downsizing from 950 square feet to 730. We have enough room to live our daily lives comfortably with a cat and two dogs, and those low energy bills make up for any minor inconveniences (e.g., the lack of a good place to store dog food and recyclables).

Emily

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