But, is energy efficiency guaranteed when you build from a small house plan? Can you feel secure that you've done your job just by choosing to build a small home?
Energy Efficiency Isn't Just About Size
There's no question that the energy it takes to run a smaller home is less than what is required for a larger home. Just like bigger cars vs. smaller cars. But, is it efficient? Not necessarily. If you're trying to keep your monthly energy costs down, you can look at two distinctly different approaches.
First, is energy efficiency and the second is energy independence by generating "free" energy. Let's look at both for a moment.
These are the more common energy and cost saving approaches that most everyone can employ to some degree or another. They include:
High quality windows & doors
Well insulated floors, walls, and ceilings
Energy Star (efficient) appliances and HVAC systems
Low wattage and time regulated lighting
Well insulated and regulated hot water delivery and usage
House framing techniques that eliminate energy/heat loss
Smaller designs, yes small does require less energy
We're talking about something very different from energy efficiency here. One ore more of these could be the best ways to lower your energy bills on a monthly basis but typically these require a much larger up front investment.
Solar powered homes
Geo-thermal heating and cooling
Wind power augmentation
Naturally, there are more ways to generate energy and "free" is a subjective term. A lot of the advice about free energy is bogus. As I've already alluded to, free comes with an upfront price tag and often with recurring delivery and maintenance costs. But, if you are willing and able, the long term benefits can be outstanding.
Very little of these ideas are dependent upon the size of your home.
Take a Practical Combined Approach
When I advise people building or remodeling, I usually advise using a combination approach. A completely energy independent home is not practical for most people in most home building markets. And it may be very difficult to find a lender who will finance a home that is "off the grid" or not serviced by the local utilities.
Instead, use an approach that strikes a balance between your desire to pay no utility bills and your ability to afford larger upfront costs. If you do, whether you build a small or large home, you'll be in good shape.
The Halls of Injustice
I could take a hard stand and say that hallways in a home are the lazy, uncreative way out of taking the time to design well. Halls can be a waste of space. But, the truth is, we grew up with hallways and love them.
Bigger Closets & More Storage
Despite the difficulty in reducing or eliminating hallways in small home floor plans, the pay-off is substantial. What would you rather have; a big hallway to hang pictures in (where it's too dark to see!) or a big closet to hang your clothes?
Storage, like closet space, must be addressed. We all have things we just want to keep but without a spot, it becomes so much clutter. A good way to do this is to design accessible attic space in the house and garage. There are trade offs in every design but in a small home, you can't afford to waste a foot of space. Good design can eliminate or minimize hallways.
Quality of Life Issue
A little clutter can make a house a home, but in a small home, a little extra clutter can overwhelm you quickly. Pay close attention to the number and size of closets as well as where you'll store that extra "stuff" and your small home can feel spacious and comfortable.
Your quality of life might just depend on it.