Consider this: The average American house size grew from 1800 square feet in 1989 to about 2600 square feet in 2008. That is an in increase of 44%. And amazingly, this happened during a time in history of dramatically increasing material and energy costs, and increasing concern and understanding about global energy issues.
In her well-articulated book, “The Not So Big House”, Sarah Susanka discusses the trends that have grown our houses so large, and makes a very compelling case for smaller homes. At the heart of her story is the notion that one can design a house that has no wasted space (including getting rid of rooms that are generally unused), and therefore can be smaller. She makes a point of prioritizing quality over quantity – a fine recipe for very unique and personal homes.
Timber frames make wonderful smaller homes -the enduring character of a timber frame is equally as pleasing in a small home as it is in a large. And, when it comes to use of resources to build a house and use of energy to operate that house, size clearly matters.
We just erected a small timber frame for a couple of teachers who are getting close to retirement. The beautiful rural property they purchased came with a covenant that specified a maximum footprint for the house of 800 square feet. They loved the property and wanted a small home anyway: a house that was easy too heat, easy to maintain, reasonably priced, easy to build, and gentle in is consumption of resources. What might have seemed restrictive at first became a very workable design parameter. In the end, their very ample and lovely 1300 square foot story-and-a-half home with 2 shed dormers will have 1 1/2 baths, 2 bedrooms, an entry/mud room, an open floor plan living room and dining room, a well apportioned kitchen, a screen porch, and a full basement with exterior entry.
Our timber frame homes have always been among the most energy efficient homes constructed. In 1993, when we built a turn-key timber frame home in northern NY, we ran its design specifications through the Canadian R2000 energy analysis program. We passed with flying colors. With the advent of whole house energy analysis in NY over the last few years, we find that our timber frame homes easily beat the NYS energy code by 25% to 40%.
We hope to be building a lot more modest sized timber frame homes in the years to come.