Small-Home Virtues

Reader Contribution by Bruce Mcelmurray
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According to generally accepted terms a small house is anywhere between 400 and 1000 square feet (s/f). Under 400 s/f it is a tiny house and anything above 1000 s/f is considered a large house. We have now lived in a small house for over 20 years. Our decision to go with a small house was carefully discussed and evaluated and (almost) all factors were weighed prior to making that decision. Our home has a total of 890 square feet.  

Choosing A Style Of Home:

We purchased our property long before we decided what type of house we wanted to build on that land. After careful consideration we chose the small ‘A-Frame’ house. Many considerations went into that choice but price was a major factor for us to achieve our early retirement. We have not once regretted our decision. Our prior homes have all been large and we knew we wanted/needed to downsize. The transition from a 2.5 bath, 3 bedroom house to a small house was uneventful and much easier than we thought it would be. We thought we had considered all factors when choosing this style house but it seems we overlooked one very obvious problem.

A-Frame Loss Of Space:

An A-Frame style house ends up losing room on the side walls because the roof is actually a wall and the slope of the roof takes away living space. This is a very obvious problem but we did not see it until later. Putting any furniture against the wall always leaves an area behind it that is not usable. While we would prefer to have all 890 s/f usable we have adapted and compensated for the exterior sloping walls fairly well. We therefore have about 760 s/f of functional or usable space when all calculations are considered. 

Paying For Unused Space:

That non-functional space still needs to be dusted, cleaned and heated so it does have some cost calculation in our s/f living area. Many years ago when living in Gainesville, FL I recall reading that a formal dining room cost about $1,400 per year to maintain. It requires heating, cooling, cleaning, prorated construction cost, property taxes, furnishings and when spread out over a year it adds up. The article was broken down for specific itemized cost and when taken in totality it was a cost I had not previously considered. Since we heat with a wood stove and have abundant firewood right on our property I don’t believe the loss of 130 square feet is much of a realistic cost calculation for us because of our lifestyle. If that room is only used one or two times a year that makes it an expensive addition to any home if you consider cost -vs- usability.

Living in a small house compels the occupants to utilize space sensibly. If we add a piece of furniture we need to eliminate something else to keep our home liveable and functional. We are always acutely aware of space and limitations. Hence one virtue of a small house is that you are forced to be minimalist whether you like it or not.

Small Homes Are Less To Clean And Maintain:

Another virtue is that a small house is less to clean and maintain. We are then able to do activities that otherwise would be consumed by housework and maintenance tasks. We have a total of 6 windows to clean which allow for adequate light in the house. Our house  is situated so that we get full benefit of sunlight making the house well lit and airy. The windows take mere minutes to keep clean. We have several friends who have large homes and they seem (in my opinion) to spend an inordinate amount of time cleaning and maintaining them which takes away from more enjoyable things like outdoor activities.

Exterior Maintenance Simplified:

Exterior maintenance is pretty much a breeze and doesn’t require much time. One of the abundant materials other than firewood on our property is rocks. There are rocks virtually everywhere so we decided to put some of those rocks (particularly flat rocks) to use in attaching them to the exterior of our home. We applied several coats of sealer to the initial T1-11 exterior and then attached the rocks with metal ties and mortar mix. It provides better insulation, wildfire protection and has a rustic look plus keeps the small varmints from chewing through the wood which was a problem. The weather is very harsh at 9,800’ elevation and the stone work endures better than treated wood.  One more small house virtue.

Small Is Cozy And Practical:

Some may consider it a benefit to have a house where they can disappear to another room all by themselves for privacy. From the front to the very rear of our house it is only 40 feet. There is no getting away from the other family members in that limited space. I consider that another small home virtue. We didn’t move to a remote location to be away from each other and if one of us needs a hand performing a task the other is always within view or ear shot to help out. Also since we are both older it is safer to have someone close by just in case of an accident.

To Each Their Own:

When we consider the virtues of a small house we have decided they far outweigh any negative features. Inside it is comfortable and cozy even with our three fur family German Shepherd Dogs. It is large enough to not get in each others way and small enough to easily heat in the winter to maintain comfortableness. Some people prefer larger homes and for them that is a good thing. Others can live in tiny homes and that too is good if they are able to live comfortably in a more confined space. For just the two of us and our three dogs it seems that a small house is perfect. When we decided to retire we didn’t want to end up slaves of our home and a small house gives us all the necessary room we require. Additionally when that home is located in a fairly remote location in the mountains surrounded by wildlife, that element considerably enhances small home living.


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