How much space do we really need?
According to some sources, typical work area requirements are 4-12 m^2 (43-130 ft^2) depending on the nature of the work or even desk configuration.
An interesting research paper (pdf) out of the U.K. on current trends showed that households in the “fuel poverty” band had an average of 102 m^2 (1100 ft^2) – which might seem like a mansion to the homesteaders of the pioneer days.
Today, the average living space per person is more than 40 m^2 (430 ft^2), which means about 1700 ft^2 for a family of four. Of course, many people today might find that a bit small.
The problem with defining living space requirements is that it is primarily a psychological, rather than physiological problem. A person can survive in a small cell indefinitely, but for most people this would be uncomfortable. There is the added complication that since our current society places a great deal of emphasis on large living spaces it may be difficult for even Peak Oil-enlightened individuals to transfer from something like a 3000 square foot house to one less than 1000.
The concerns with building too large are not surprising: time, cost, and labor. If you have only one or two persons to build your house, a large one will be prohibitive on a short time scale. Consider the availability of the proper tools – it’s easier (but potentially more expensive) to dig a foundation with a front-end loader rather than a shovel. Also, don’t forget to take into account heating and cooling your dwelling – even a well insulated mansion would use a lot of firewood!
If you can develop a scheme for staging construction that will allow for phased occupancy of the homestead, a large house can be made more feasible given time and cost constraints. More on this later.