This past week the annual Seattle Home Show was notable for its emphasis on smaller, more modest, and more sustainable features and homes. For many years, even decades, futurists have presumed that a day would come when it made more sense to build smaller rather than larger dwellings, primarily because of shrinking family size. More recently, the need to reduce carbon footprint, and now the urgent need to reduce the cost of housing makes a shift to smaller homes seem much more likely.
This was the case that I made when invited by Korean Airlines to contribute an article on the future to their inflight magazine, Morning Calm. The piece that resulted is entitled “Living Little,” and appeared in the December 2008 issue. The article is available online only in Korean, but you may link a pdf version in English and Korean here. The magazine prints in a large format and it may take some scrolling to view the entire piece.
In brief, I argue that because we need to reduce the carbon footprint of our built environment, while at the same time providing homes for a larger global population living in smaller families, it makes sense to make homes smaller, or if of average size, greener. I point to examples from around the globe, in particular the Unico project that we’ve written about and produced a video about earlier. I also had the chance to interview the owner of an innovative green home in Park City, Utah. Just a few of the home’s features made it into the final piece in Morning Calm because of limitations in article length.
In the original draft, I described the Park City home this way:
In Park City, Utah Nancy Wastcoat Garbett and Michael Garbett set out to build an average size but low carbon footprint home. Years of research led them to the adoption of a range of green technologies that make their beautiful home an example for the future. Inspired by the classic Yurt, their home features a large round dome, with a vent at the top that allows heat to escape. Built with post and beam construction, the walls are made from 10-inch thick FlexCrete™ a special concrete that adds fly ash and tiny polymer fibers to produce a lighter and stronger material. No insulation is required, even in Park City where summer temperatures soar while winter time freezes.
Stained concrete floors combine with passive solar orientation to absorb heat in the winter and cool the structure in summer. An array of solar collectors heat water and provide home heating. Future plans include installation of thin-film solar photovoltaic cells above the solar collectors, along with a small windmill.
In-home green tech features include PaperStone™ kitchen counters made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper and cashew nut resin. Desk tops in the home offices are made from sunflower seed husks.
Even were all future homes to adopt green technologies such as those in the Garbett house, given the number of dwellings needed worldwide, the footprint will still be too large. So, smaller homes are inevitable.
The Living Little article is here (pdf).
Also, a similar case for smaller homes was made recently in the Washington Post, in an article entitled Seeking Smaller Footprint.
Glen Hiemstra is a futurist speaker, consultant, blogger, internet video host and founder of Futurist.com. To arrange for a speech contact Futurist.com.