Green Homes

Building for the future, today – combining the best of historical wisdom and modern technology.

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There are a number of appropriate and affordable structural choices to consider in the design for your small home, based on locally available materials, the features of your site, and the regional weather: post and beam, log, or slab foundation; stick-frame, pole-frame, SIP (structural insulated panels), timber-frame, cordwood, straw-bale, or masonry walls; metal, shake, shingle, tile, or living green roofs.

Regardless of the construction style, an owner-builder’s labor is the most precious resource. The happy owner-builder knows her/his timeline and avoids re-work. Visualizing your small home construction in these 10 milestone steps will provide you with a preliminary plan that will get you started, stay on track, and finish within budget:

1. Obtain your property, complete the preliminary design, and get quotes. Even before you own property, you can sketch your house design and determine what you’ll do with it and how you might build it. After you obtain your property you begin evaluating the house site: the direction of views, sunrise, sunset, and prevailing wind; access for your vehicle; locations for the drainage field, well, solar panels, wind turbine, and garden; and proximity to the neighbors.  Submit your house drawings to building suppliers to get quotes on materials. Determine if your time and money budget is sufficient and if you are ready to pick a building start date.

2. Site clearing, plotting and grading. Determine which obstacles like trees and boulders to remove. Clearing the obstacles is best done by hand if possible because bulldozers often tear up more of the existing vegetation than intended. After you’ve cleared the site, then use stakes and strings to outline the footprint of your house location. Now spend lots of time, AM through PM, inside and outside the house outline to determine if this is the best location and adjust it as you see fit. Grade the access road; level the house footprint down to undisturbed soil.

3. Material delivery. Plan a location for the building materials that is level and close to the house.  Sometimes large construction vehicles cannot navigate small, narrow roads, so discuss this in advance with the building supply company. Depending on the foundation type, it may be better to have materials delivered after the foundation is set, because a cement truck laying a concrete pad or a crane installing poles or timbers needs a fairly large access.

4. Foundation and underground utilities. If your design requires underground utilities like the sewer drain, water, gas, and/or electric, install these before the foundation.  At this point you would have obtained expert advice on your foundation details like frost depth, snow level, ground water, drainage, soil forces. Likely your foundation will be exactly like the neighbors.

5. Walls, floors, structural sheathing, and rough openings for doors and windows. At this step you ‘swing the hammer’ and progress seems to go quickly. Remember to use your safety gear and make temporary braces as needed until the structure is sound.  Unless your materials are delivered in order of use, you’ll spend time sorting to get the items in order as you build. Don’t forget to count the labor needed to move the materials to the house and to will lift materials into position at the higher locations. Running out of fasteners or other materials will cause down time and extra trips to the building supply.

6. Roof structure and roofing.  At this step progress takes about twice as long as the walls and floors due to the challenge of raising materials to the roof level and the extra time required to set up safety ropes and scaffolding. For safety, at least two persons are needed: one to work and another as a “spotter.” Hopefully you’ve timed the whole project so that the roof can be completed while the weather is favorable, or you’ll need a contingency plan for covering the building and materials until the next building season.

7. Doors and windows. Take care when storing and handling doors and windows to avoid damage to these relatively expensive items. Doors are the realm of carpenters and an amateur will certainly take longer to install a door and may mess it up, requiring re-work. Larger windows will require two or more persons to handle and install. Don’t make mistakes on how flashing is used, or you’ll have to remove the siding and re-do the flashing, or you’ll find out when water leaks through the walls later and then you’ll be re-doing the siding.

8. Weather wrapping and siding. For some types of siding, like stucco over straw-bale, it must be completed during the dry season, but for construction that has structural sheathing, siding is simply the ‘icing on the cake’ that makes the house look nice and it could stand without siding until the next building season. This step also requires ladder work and/or scaffolding and usually at least two persons to handle and attach the materials.

9. Plumbing, electrical, ventilation, stovepipe, insulation. This hardware requires specialized knowledge and tools to install.  Installing these systems incorrectly can weaken the structure.  Now that you can stand inside the house and see more clearly how these systems are routed, it is reasonable to modify the routing at the last minute if you feel the plans were not correct.

10. Interior wall and ceiling covering. These materials are fragile and vulnerable to weather damage and must be stored with extra care before they are used. This is the “icing on the inside of the cake.” Craftsmanship really shows at this stage, or you might say lack of craftsmanship really looks crappy. Others may question the soundness of the structure if poor craftsmanship is obvious.

Christopher James Marshall is the author of the do-it-yourself small house book Hut-Topia and is a modern-day, off-grid mountain man. After weathering recessions and lay-offs every decade since the 70s through the “Great Recession,” he became semi-retired by making plans to live sustainably and then built his 500-square-foot off-grid home. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Photo by Zeta Communities 

Do you know what a net-zero or net-positive home is? Once you know, you're going to want one for yourself. Ah, but now what does it take to build or find a net-zero energy home for sale? Here are some tips, you're going to enjoy about one of the most energy-efficient forms of housing available.

How Does a Home Reach Net Zero or Net Positive?

Net-zero homes achieve their energy efficiency by working from the very start with this goal in mind. There are two sides to this equation — the home design must be as energy efficient as possible so they require less energy and then it must maximize the use of on-site energy sources such as solar, wind, and geothermal so they produce enough energy to power the home on their own, achieving a net zero in-take of grid energy.

While energy efficiency and renewable energy are the main components, working from a holistic design is principle to achieving a net zero or often called a zero energy home. This is accomplished by working with the site, the climate, and taking advantage of renewable energy sources. This is why net-zero homes are typically newly built, not retrofitted. Although building materials and systems are extremely important to achieving zero energy, beginning with a smart design can be paramount to a successful outcome.

Many homes begin with the passive design model. Passive design utilizes the climate and surroundings of a home to ensure that the energy needs are very limited. For example, a home may be designed with awnings that shade the high sun in the summer helping to reduce energy required for cooling and at the same time using solar for natural day-light heating and air flow for cooling can greatly reduce the need for systems to achieve a comfortable home climate.

All "off-grid" homes are net zero, but net zero encompasses a larger category, since zero energy homes are typically attached to the energy grid. There may be times that a net zero home pulls more energy from the grid than it is producing, although it will make the difference up during periods of lower energy use.


Photo by Meritage Homes 

How Do I Get a Net-Zero Home?

Zero-energy homes can be found in new developments such as SpringLeaf in Boulder, Colorado, and in Fontana, California, where Meritage Homes is building California's First Net-Zero Neighborhood called Sierra Crest. Zero energy homes can built on site by design and build companies such as Bright Build, Zeta Communities or Metro Green Home.


Photo by Bright Build 

Viva Green Homes makes it easy to find net zero homes for sale across the country. In fact with our advanced search page you can find net zero homes with a check on a single box and many other types of energy efficient and eco-friendly homes like LEED certified, Energy Star certified, solar or geothermal powered and so on.

Photo credit: Meritage Homes 

Kari Klaus is the Founder and CEO of Viva Green Homes; Additional info about passive design can be found here. Net Zero certification information here. More information about the design and construction of a net zero home, please view the Zero Homes website.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



Ever since I began researching sustainable living more than a decade ago, I have heard the same thing over and over again: The single most important step you can take to make your home “green” is to swap out your old windows with shiny, new, energy-efficient ones.

The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that the amount of energy lost annually through windows costs consumers $35 billion. Heat loss and heat gain through and around windows accounts for between 10 and 25 percent of our heating and air conditioning usage, the largest consumer of energy in a modern home.

According to Energy Star, energy-efficient windows can save 7 to 15 percent of this energy loss (with storm windows, that figure rises to 25 to 50 percent), saving between $27 and $111 a year on energy bills for a 2,000-square-foot single-story home with storm windows or double-pane windows, or $126 to $465 if your home has single-pane windows. That’s a significant saving both for your pocket and the planet.

If your home already has storm windows or double paned windows, you can take steps to further improve their efficiency by caulking and weatherstripping. Window treatments will also help keep heat inside in the winter and outside in the summer. However, if your windows are old, damaged and/or single-paned, there is no doubt that you will save a lot of energy by replacing them with Energy Star rated windows.


How Do I Choose an Energy-Efficient Window?

According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy the following are the key considerations to incorporate into your window buying decisions:

Warranties and Installation. Choose windows with good warranties, particularly against the loss of the air seal. Help mitigate any problems with this by making sure to have experienced contractors install your windows—and check to see if the installers can provide a warranty as well.

Energy Star Rated. Look for the Energy Star label, which includes requirements tailored for the four broad climate regions of the U.S. Additionally, to be Energy Star compliant, windows must have an NRFC label, which indicates the window’s performance ratings with regard to U-Value (how well the window prevents heat from escaping), SHGC level (how much solar energy is transmitted through the window), Visible Light Transmittance (measured on a scale between 0 and 1, the higher it is the more light can pass through), Air Leakage and Condensation Resistance. Here is an example of the NRFC label: 

Bigger is Better. Maximize energy performance by choosing windows with larger unbroken glazing areas instead of multi-pane windows, to reduce air leakage.

Choose Efficient Frame Materials. Based on your home’s age, look and location, different materials will work better for you than others. Here’s a look at the most popular options:

Wood: Still the most common material, it insulates well, but is not as durable as the other options and is significantly more expensive. If you go with wood, look for FSC certified wood.
• Aluminum:
This metal conducts heat, making it the least efficient option. However, it is impervious to moisture, insects and rot that plague wood. It will corrode when exposed to sea air, so it’s not a good choice for coastal climates.
• Vinyl (PVC):
Vinyl frames insulated with fiberglass are the most efficient choice, as vinyl insulates better than wood, and it is also about half the price. However, the manufacture of PVC produces toxins and the material itself is not biodegradable, but its longevity goes a long way toward countering that particular eco-concern.
• Fiberglass:
Fiberglass frames and wood-polymer composite frames are fast becoming a common option for high-efficiency windows. They insulate well, are stronger than vinyl and cheaper than wood. The frames can also be filled with foam insulation to enhance its thermal properties.

Opt for Extra Air-Tightness. ACEEE recommends considering air leakage specifications (listed on the NRFC label) carefully when selecting windows, but as a rule of thumb, opting for casement and awning windows over double-hung and other sliding windows will provide a stronger seal.

Get a Glaze. A Low-E coating, a transparent layer of silver or tin oxide, is becoming a standard option due to its ability to reduce the solar heat gain without reducing visibility as much as tinted glass. According to Energy Star, these coatings reflect infrared light, keeping heat inside in winter and outside in summer.

Layer Your Windows. Double-glazed windows insulate almost twice as well as single glazing does, and of course, triple glazing further increases the efficiency, and is an excellent way to reduce noise pollution.

Go Wide. Double-glazed windows rely on the air space between the panes of glass for increasing the energy-efficiency of the window. The wider the space, the less heat can be conducted through it, although it can’t be much wider than one inch or it loses efficacy.

Get Gas. Replacing the air between panes with a gas such as argon has also become a standard option in energy-efficient windows. The gas is denser and has a lower conductivity, reducing heat loss significantly.

Pick Proper Edge Spacers. The piece that holds the panes of glass apart, the edge spacer, provides the airtight seal for your window. Steer clear of aluminum spacers, which have a high conductivity, and instead opt for non-metal materials such as silicone foam or butyl rubber. ACEEE also advises to pay particular attention to warranties against seal failure.

Windows are literally holes in our walls that allow all that precious energy to leak out of our homes. Unless you are considering living in a windowless box, upgrading to energy-efficient windows still remains the greenest thing you can do for your home.

Photo credits Energy Star

Jennifer Tuohy provides advice on home energy efficiency for The Home Depot. Jennifer's green home tips are designed to help homeowners improve the insulation effectiveness of their homes. To view Home Depot windows installation services available in your area, you can visit the company's website. 

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



From homeowners to factory-owning industrialists, everyone is thinking about going green. Even climate change deniers may have to change their thinking to keep up with public opinion. Much has been written about changing to low-wattage lightbulbs and reducing carbon emissions during shipping and commuting, and it may seem at times that you’ve done all you can possibly do to reduce your carbon footprint. What’s left?

Air compressors. These valuable machines are used in many factories, small businesses and even in homes, and making sure yours is efficient can cut down on emissions and your energy bills at the same time.

Do I Need an Air Compressor?

Maybe, if you’re handy with tools. While the average homeowner probably doesn’t have one, carpenters and people who use nail guns around the house do need them. Air compressors are also useful for pumping tires, using a blast of air to clean dust from crevices and powering paint sprayers.

Small-business owners may invest in larger air compressors to power pneumatic tools, paint sprayers and lifts. Factories can apply air compressors to these uses on a larger scale, and may also use them for cross-building transportation and braking systems.

How Does an Air Compressor Work?

Using air pressure to power tools may sound like it’s already a pretty green solution. After all, the free air around us must be pretty clean already, right?

This is true, but producing that powerful puff requires energy. Air compressors are basically small engines that use pistons to create the air pressure that is released at the business end of a tool like a nail gun or spray nozzle. Running the engine in the compressor requires electricity or gas, both of which increase your overall carbon footprint.

3 Ways Air Compressors Can be More Environmentally Friendly

Reducing the amount of electricity or fossil fuels required to run the compressor is key to making your air compressor a greener solution in your home or business. Here are the most important considerations:

1. Check machinery and hoses for leaks. As equipment ages, movable parts are often the first to break down. Any cracks or leaks in the air compressor will cause the engine to cycle on more frequently to maintain the air pressure. The longer the engine runs, the more fuel you burn, so replacing worn hoses can result in big savings.

2. Use a properly sized air compressor. Homeowners need only the smallest machine for the job. Business owners should carefully study the spec sheets before purchasing a compressor to make sure it’s capable of doing the work it’s assigned.

3. Upgrade to more efficient equipment. Homesteaders and businesses can realize significant energy savings – as much as 35 percent – by replacing outdated equipment with variable speed compressors. These smart machines can match output with the demands made on it, so they are never wasting energy by cycling on when the output isn’t required.

By keeping air compressors in good working order and upgrading to newer, more efficient models, users from modest handymen to large corporations can take advantage of this hidden green solution to lower their carbon footprints.

James White is an experienced home improvement blogger and construction worker. His writing has appeared in many publications, including First Home News, Building Blok, and AmeriFirst. He is involved in promoting the ideas of sustainable building and living.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


This Way To Small Town 

Primarily, the goal is to find a community that you feel a sense of belonging to and in an area that you love and can successfully build.  Often a person grows up in a region and is acclimatized to it and would not be comfortable elsewhere.  Others may have traveled and found a new region that they prefer.  Still others can afford two homes, and for them, living seasonally is what they love.

Mapping Your Region

People in groups are also known as the community or population. Population is a number, but people are individuals with needs for a sense of belonging, privacy, access to resources, a healthy environment, security, and a gainful employment—regardless of the community size.  The problem is that quality of life and population don’t scale in a linear way.  Generally speaking the quality of life varies with the population size

Dimensions of Population





Extended family

Sense of belonging, no privacy


Large company building

Everyone knows about you, no privacy


Urban high school campus

Everyone has seen you, no privacy


Small isolated town

Limited local resources, limited privacy


Suburban city

Resource centers, isolation, crime, long commute


Metropolitan city

Many resource centers, isolation, crime, pollution

Now let’s ‘put a tack on the map’ and locate a town where you would love to build your home.  Obtain a current state highway map.  If the map doesn’t contain population listings for each city then you’ll need to look it up from other sources like Wikipedia.  Attach the map with tape or spray glue to a foam core board, corkboard, or cardboard so that it will hold tacks placed on the map.  Using a set of different color tacks, place a color-coded tack on each city based on its population and proximity to urban centers.

Tack Color Map Legend

Tack Color


Distance to Nearest ‘Red’ Tack

City Type


50,000 to 250,000+




15,000 to 50,000

closer than 20 miles



15,000 to 50,000

farther than 20 miles

small city


3,000 to 15,000


small town

As you fill the map with color-coded tacks you’ll begin to notice the shape of the geographic and demographic landscape.

Look for These Four Patterns

1. When a red urban tack is surrounded by many yellow suburban tacks it indicates the ‘greater metropolitan’ area, where there is really no separation between the core city and the suburbs other than long commute times.

Greater Metropolitan Area

Find The Best Metropolitan Area

2. A string of green small town tacks along the interstate highways may indicate that there is no difference from one small town to the next, and the feel might be more like suburbia than rural.

String of Small Towns along the Highway

String Of Small Towns

3. When you see scattered green small town tacks, the next thing to determine if it’s the geography or other factors that isolate these towns.

Scattered Small Towns

Scattered Small Towns

4. There might be a red urban tack surrounded by a few green small town tacks.  This is different than a greater metropolitan area with suburbs because the commute time from the small town to the single metro city is long enough that you’d likely work and live in the small city and take occasional visits to the bigger city for other resources.

Single Metropolitan Area with Surrounding Small Towns

Find The Perfect Town

Road-Trip Research

The first place to drive when you arrive is Main Street or downtown and stop at the local Chamber of Commerce where you can get a local map, phone book, newspapers, magazines, list of events.

Read articles on local businesses, issues and residents.  Ads indicate what people are typically buying in that region, and conversely what is not available.

14 Things to Find Out About a Town

Use Wikipedia, history books, maps, government websites, etc. to gather and evaluate information that may influence your decision about choosing a particular town:

1. Maps. Shaded relief and topographic maps, county maps, national forest maps, city maps, Google Earth satellite maps, and National Geographic Topo maps. Study these maps and learn where are the public/private domains, access roads, lakes, mountains, rivers, forests, farms, ranches, railroads, airports, industrial zones, residential zones, and how steep is the terrain.

2. Mileage and travel time between key towns. Set a cutoff distance/time for commuting to a job and/or to obtain services from businesses.

3. Unemployment rate from the state employment department. Find a source(s) of income for you and your family that is compatible with the region.

4. Main industries and/or polluters. Government, forestry, ranching, farming, mining, tourism, education (college town), fishing, hi-tech, gambling, etc.

5. Internet groups like MeetUp and Yahoo. An indication of the size of a town: no internet groups means small town, lots of groups means large town

6. Seasonal weather statistics. Freezing temps, summer temps and humidity, number of sunny days. This will influence the energy aspects of the home you build.

7. Disaster history. Earthquakes, forest fires, storms, floods, landslides, volcano eruptions, pollution. This will influence the building structure you build or possibly your choice to build in the area at all.

8. Median citizen age. This will reveal if the population consists mostly of retired folks or young families.

9. Crime statistics. Avoid drug addict invested towns with high rates of home invasion, theft and robbery.

10. County and city zoning codes. Study this and determine if you’ll be allowed to build what you want.

11. Land prices and availability listings. Is it possible to afford the land you want and/or is it available?

12. Tax rates, state resources. Know what you’re getting into, as these two aspects of a town are very slow to change.

13. Schools, colleges, food stores, hospitals, airports. Find what’s important to your needs and determine if the quality of the facility is sufficient or if you can live with it.

14. Jails, reservations, churches. Determine if you are comfortable with these neighbors.

Christopher James Marshall is the author of the do-it-yourself small house book Hut-Topia and is a modern-day off-grid mountain man. After weathering recessions and lay-offs every decade since the 70s through the “Great Recession,” he became semi-retired by making plans to live sustainably and then built his 500-square-foot off-grid home.Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



Homes are getting larger in the USA, but some alternative thinkers are actually downsizing their dream homes and opting for itty bitty dwellings. These “tiny homes” are becoming more attractive due to their small footprints, affordable prices, off-grid capabilities and green appliances.

Why are Tiny Homes Inherently Green?

Tiny homes use fewer materials to construct and cost less to build than the average-sized home. Savings on overall price can be used for higher quality materials, green building alternatives and sustainable resources. A few examples commonly used in tiny homes are: bamboo flooring, solar panels, LED lightbulbs, manufactured composting toilets, high efficiency insulation, etc.

A small interior space requires less energy to heat and cool. Limited storage promotes a minimalistic lifestyle and conscious purchasing. Small refrigerators supports a healthier diet with fresher ingredients.

In the spotlight today, we’d like to feature Anita’s Tiny Home. At only 248 square feet, Anita wanted her house to be as green as possible. She worked with designer Lina Menard and builder Small Home Oregon to incorporate green appliances and systems in her Lilypad Tiny Home.

Lilypad Tiny House on Wheels 

Lilypad Tiny Home’s Green Features

• Rainwater Catchment System
• Soy-based Spray Foam Insulation
• Bamboo Flooring
• Solar Power System
• French Drain for Greywater Disposal
• LED Lighting
Wood Burning Stove and High-Efficiency Electric Heater
• Denatured Alcohol Cook Stove
• Gravity-Fed Fresh Water Tank*
Nature’s Head Composting Toilet*
Vertical Aeroponic Garden*

*More details below

Gravity-Fed Water Tank

By placing a freshwater tank in the loft of her tiny home, Anita is able to use gravity power for her sink water instead of a electric water pump.

Nature’s Head Composting Toilet

The Nature’s Head compositing toilet is a good choice for small bathrooms, off-grid homes, mobile homes and green homes because of its zero-water use, self-contained compact frame and simple urine diverting system.

By design, the Nature’s Head separates liquid and solid waste, reducing odor and affectively speeding up the composting process. A 12-volt fan aerates the solid waste chamber and a human-powered crank is used for stirring. For more information on this green product, click here.

Aquaponic Indoor / Outdoor Garden

The Tower Garden is a vertical aeroponic growing system. It is great garden option for tiny and eco-friendly homes because of its petite body and efficient reuse of water (the Tower Garden uses only 10% of water involved in traditional gardening). Plants grow faster in the Tower Garden than with traditional gardening, so it’s not only cleaner, more compact and greener, it’s also a very efficient alternative. For more information on this green product, click here.

Take a tour of Anita’s Lilypad Tiny Home here and for more information, visit her website.

Photos by Guillaume Dutilh and Small Home Oregon

In an effort to pursue an alternative nomadic lifestyle, Jenna and her partner, Guillaume, began building a tiny house on wheels. Within the first year of travel, they towed their tiny abode over 20,000 miles around North America and Canada. Read about their travels and follow at Tiny House Giant Journey and follow Tiny House Giant Journey on Instagram.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Livable Space vs. the ‘Box’

The ‘box’ is any rectangular living space, but the box we don’t want is the one that poorly satisfies our human dimensions and activities.  The problem presents itself when living space is compromised over building costs.  These choices boil down to balancing livable space with the building budget, however, creativity in space design is not limited; that’s how architects create nests.

When you are working with house concepts you must include the roof in the equation. The 5-sided (pentagon) house shape we are familiar with: a sloped roof and a box under the roof.   In the figures below, all will shed the weather, yet which shape will most comfortably accommodate our activities with the least material cost?  Note that the ‘bird house’ profile has greater square footage at eye level than at floor level.

Human Dimensions inside a 5-Sided Tiny House

Tiny Home

Tiny Home

Tiny Home Design

Tiny Home 

Inside or Outside Rooms

The purpose of going inside is to get away from outside, and the reverse is true, that you go outside to get away from inside. This might seem silly, but the point to understand how much time you prefer spending inside vs. outside. At a homestead there is a lot of regular outdoor activity, so what the house can offer is a change from being outside!

If you want to feel more connected to the outdoors, consider concepts ranging from a ‘garden room’ which is outside with furniture among the plants, to a ‘glass house’ which is inside, with walls made of windows that creates the appearance of being outside.

One of the most useful and affordable outdoor spaces is a covered porch, often the space in-between the front stairs and the front door, with the second floor forming the roof over the porch.  This is a classic bungalow design, with a porch facing the front yard, sidewalk, and street. It offers outdoor living when the temperature is sufficient and presents a friendly attitude towards neighbors.

A flexible inside/outside design is a wall of ‘French’ doors that open onto an un-covered patio or deck.  This has major challenges in dealing with the egress of insects and pests and can only be used when the outside temperature is comfortable.

Another design for inside/outside is an open-air courtyard surrounded on at least three sides by the building, with windows and doors facing the courtyard. When the occupants rarely go outside then house plants are a way to bring the outside into the home.

The outdoor kitchen is worth considering in warm summer climates. The main purpose is to move the heat and vapors of cooking out of a tiny house. A barbeque on the patio is essentially an outdoor kitchen.

Single or Multiple Rooms and Floors

The purpose of multiple rooms is to separate activities, thus providing privacy and/or isolation of things happening in one room from pervading into other rooms like odors, sounds, and light. For example it is not healthy to have the bathroom adjacent to the kitchen.

Rooms should be dedicated to creating a space that is optimized for certain functions or to offer a change from the other rooms. Often these spaces can be simple extensions of a larger room the way nooks and window seats are known to offer their unique ambiance.

Techniques for one-room homes to make it more livable: Ventilation can eliminate humidity and odors; lighting can alternate the look of a single room for multiple functions by using dimmable lighting and task lighting.

Multiple occupants in a single room bring up other considerations:  generally related persons can share a bedroom; unrelated persons can share a ‘bunk house’.  However, lack of privacy can become an issue over a long period of time.

Multiple floors pay the price of floor space dedicated to the staircase.  The staircase opening is also a pathway for air currents and heat that must be considered.  If the upper floor has sloped walls as in an attic or dormer, you’ll have restricted head clearance, consequently the furnishings that require less height like beds and desks are usually placed along the walls.

Built-Ins and Fold-Outs

Putting some thought into the design of built-ins and fold-outs prevents the problem of believing your kitchen space is large enough and then finding it too tiny after you attach cupboards to the walls and place a table in the middle of the room.

Objects like books, dishes, food supplies, or clothes will decrease the “people volume” of the room.  These items can be accessed with built-ins and fold-outs and can be designed into the “wall volume.”

An important aspect of built-ins and fold-outs is that they will be permanent features and not easily modified, thus their utility or function is fixed and the amount of repetition to operate a pull-out or fold-out plays into the confidence in its value.

Examples of built-ins: shelves, cupboards, drawers, closets, a staircase that allows access to shelves behind the treads.  Note that lights, fans, heaters, video displays and speakers are often and can be built-in.

Examples of pull-outs and fold-outs:  flip-up work surfaces; convertible beds, sofas, and benches; closets that roll around and become a room divider; window coverings.

The Fourteen Basic Requirements of a Livable Home

1. House is solidly built and has no leaks exposed to unfavorable weather nor unwanted pests

2. House creates a sense of security for the occupants and their possessions

3. Materials are pleasant to touch, non-toxic, strong and durable

4. There is a water supply, electric power, hot water, and heating and/or cooling

5. There is a place to securely park the homeowners vehicle

6. There is access to a garden for humans and their pets

7. Kitchen has a refrigerator, stove, sink, and enough counter space, pantry, and cupboards

8. Bathrooms have a toilet, a shower and/or tub, a sink, and cupboards for toiletries and towels

9. Laundry rooms have clothes washing and drying devices

10. Each member of the household has his or her own private place that is comfortable

11. Rooms are generous in space for humans while storage space is compact and efficient

12. Rooms are warm in winter; cool in summer

13. Rooms have a view and natural light from at least two directions

14. Rooms have lighting for nighttime and task work

Christopher James Marshall is the author of the do-it-yourself small house book Hut-Topia and is a modern-day off-grid mountain man. After weathering recessions and lay-offs every decade since the 70s through the “Great Recession,” he became semi-retired by making plans to live sustainably and then built his 500-square-foot off-grid home.Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here. 

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.

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