NOTE: Make sure you read the first three posts (in order!) before tackling the rest, or it could be confusing: Post 1 is Designing the future, Post 2 is Setting up the problem, and Post 3 is Estimating basic requirements.


Monday, December 11, 2006

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.


At 2:04 PM, Blogger Buckaroo said...

As you consider space requirements, think about how the typical measurement of X square meters/feet per person is inherently linear while the first person in dwelling requires the most because of needs like a kitchen, utility space for washing clothes, etc. I suspect a true metric would reflect the progressively smaller space needed with added persons under a given roof. It would stop shrinking after, say the 5th or 6th person and then reflect a base minimum for sleeping quarters, a portion of a bathroom, and a marginal increase in the common living area. Of course, all this has little to do with modern American housing and the cancerous growth of new homes sizes for progressively fewer people under the roof.

At 9:13 AM, Blogger DJEB said...

You've come to the same conclusion as I have. I will be seaching for property next year and plan to build a small home on it to serve as an temporary shelter so that I can build a larger home over the course of a year or two. Once the larger one is completed, the smaller one can serve as a guest home (for WOOFers, students, etc.).

While there are good books available to help you build an efficient home in temporate climates (Dan Chiras's Solar House : Passive Heating and Cooling), some people build thinking only of energy efficiency and wind up with a home that is not nice to live in. For those designing and building a home, I recommend the above book and Christopher Alexander's A Pattern Language.

At 11:01 AM, Blogger PeakEngineer said...

Is that going to be in Canada or Japan?

At 2:01 PM, Blogger John Barrie said...

You should check out the book "The Not
So Big House" by Sarah Susanka. Susanka advocates design of smaller spaces and gives great examples of how it can be done from her own work.


At 1:56 PM, Anonymous jeff said...

Outside the realm of The Homestead Project (based on a single nuclear family), a communal lifestyle could reduce house size. A shared "mess hall" used by the entire community would dramatically reduce the kitchen size in each house. In addition to reducing overall floor space, you would no longer have to provide all the equipment needed to outfit each kitchen; stoves & ovens, refrigerators, pots, pans and cooking utensils, etc. There would be less waste produced by each house, and by not cooking inside the house, humidity which can be both unpleasant and undesirable would be reduced. Lastly, communal dining encourages socialization, something mentioned in a previous post.

Anther idea, again thinking in terms of community rather than a single house, is to shift away from house design focused on the nuclear family. A semi-townhouse design would reduce the total number of homes needed in a community thus reducing the amount of natural resources required to house people. Two or three families could share a house, or families could choose to house their grandparents. In a semi-townhouse design some sections of the house are private (bedrooms, bathrooms) and other sections are shared (living rooms, reading rooms, bathrooms).

As PE pointed out, this is all psychological (although with some families this could be a physiological nightmare, ha-ha), and with oil still gushing, there may be little incentive for people to change.

There have also been tremendous advances made in interior design with a focus on using less space. One that I can think of is the kids’ bedroom, where everything is built into one wall, beds, desks and storage. If I find the website I'll post it.

For an above ground structure staging (or self-prefabbing) is an excellent technique, provided you have the storage space. Not only does it allow for building a larger home with fewer workers, but the expense can be spread out over time. Travel time can be reduced using the technique DJEB mentioned, by living on site. Although DJEBs technique provides two permanent structures, you could also live in a camper onsite during the staging period of the larger home.

At 11:50 AM, Anonymous elitrope said...

I certainly appreciate the concept behind communal living and space sharing as I've lived this way in the past. Unfotunately, The reality I'm contending with now, primarily due to the fact that I live in a resort town is big, bigger and bigger and I don't see a trend to go smaller. I encourage my clients to design what I call "cozier" homes and attempt to focus their attention on the details like lots of built-in storage and incorporating some green elements. I welcome the day we return to homes that are designed for the useability of long term occupants, not the bottom line resale formula.

Amongst personal friends, we have similar discussions of what is the sq. ft. we really need and how can that space be shared or compensated for in our communities and or outdoor living. It's definitely the mindset that needs to be ammended. We have a development here that is composed of homes designed around the courtyard, where occupants must travel outdoors between bedroom, living and kitchen. This is a huge leap for many people to make even in our temperate climate. They want to get out of the car in the garage and travel into the house without having to interact with the elements. I see it as another stepping stone toward becoming completely isolated and disconnected from our natural environment and other human beings. I think we'll start to see people questioning their sq. ft. needs as the housing market unwinds and hopefully the cocooning trend will give way to more communal outreaching, maybe even sharing a kitchen.

At 12:10 PM, Blogger PeakEngineer said...

That's something I hadn't considered before -- how the functionality of our homes can lead us away from connecting with the environment. I'll try to keep that in mind in my designs.

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