Alternative Living, Design, Green Building

What is the Perfect House?

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”
-Ruskin

What’s the perfect house? This question conjures up vastly different images depending on who you are, where you live and what you do. Thoughts of beach side tiki huts, penthouse suites or multi-million dollar mansions in Orange County might pop up. But in this post, the perfect house means one that fulfills all the roles of a house with no wasted space. It means one that is simple, efficient, healthy, durable and uses the least amount of materials to achieve its function.

WHAT’S THE PERFECT SIZE?

How much space do people really need? This picture from Life at Home in the 21st Century shows the floor plan of an average family in LA, with red dots representing the areas occupied by the family at regular intervals throughout the week. Immediately you can see which spaces are used often like the kitchen and family room, and which are for the most part deserted like the dining room, living room and porch.

So, the perfect size house would contain only the necessary rooms, and would eliminate these empty, single-purpose spaces. This would bring the average suburban home down from it’s monstrous 2,600 sq. ft. to a more reasonable 1,500 sq. ft., probably without anyone really noticing.

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THE PERFECT SHAPE

Heating and cooling accounts for a huge proportion of costs over a home’s lifetime. Minimizing the amount of walls and roof surface area (called ‘skin area’) exposed to the outside will not only reduce the costs to heat the house but reduce the amount of materials needed to build it.

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With some estimations, the same square footage house with round walls and round roof has approximately 6-8 percent less skin area than the same square footage square house. That is 6-8 percent less heat loss and construction materials! Doubtful many will rush out to build a circular house, but it’s a good thought process nonetheless.

Calculations and idea from Rob Roy’s book “Mortgage Free!

WHAT ABOUT A BASEMENT?

Rob Roy also covers this topic, saying: “It’s surprising how many people in the North continue to view a basement as a necessity, despite the fact that in a low-cost owner-built home, a basement can eat up almost half the building budget or half the person-hours or some combination of these, while providing low-quality space that will be used less than 10 percent of the time.”

In a typical home today, a basement is also massive energy sieve, especially through the exposed section of concrete above-grade. Some insulated concrete designs exist but are rare. The perfect house would avoid the basement altogether.

THE PERFECT DIMENSIONS

Houses built today produce a tremendous amount of waste in the form of off-cuts when pieces are chopped to fit the irregular shaped design. If you’re building your own house, considering standard building materials will save money, time and reduce waste. For example, plywood is 4’ by 8’, so the floor plan should be somewhat divisible by these numbers, like 24’ by 36’. Same goes for the walls: if you make your walls 8’ tall, that will save cutting plywood to fit. It’ll probably make standard-size materials like drywall and insulation squeeze in nicely too.

PERFECTLY LOVABLE

And finally, a house just isn’t perfect unless it’s lovable. This is suggested in “the New American Dwelling” manifesto by Tom Bassett Dilley, who does an infinitely better job summarizing the perfect house than I do. Check it out!

Picture from here

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