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Crestone Eagle, May 2004:
The beauty of small homes (Thoreau
was on to something)
story & photos by P J Smith
cabin at Walden Pond was 150 square feet. Granted, he built
it in the early 1800’s. And he was a bachelor who ate
at his mother’s house. But Thoreau may also have been
a trend-setter, because singles in small households are the
way many Americans live now.
Less than 30 years ago, Mom, Dad, and the kids were the norm.
Today, the nuclear family is only 30 percent of the total
American population and is not growing. Singles, single-parent
households, seniors, and young marrieds with modest incomes
are the fast-growing members of the population—all together,
a solid 50 percent. As this part of the population is growing,
the number of people per household is declining, from 3.67
in 1940 to 2.60 in 2000, which is also the average in Saguache
Many modern home buyers, builders and dwellers are choosing
to live small. Some, like Thoreau, seek to simplify their
lives and to live in greater harmony with their surroundings.
Others cannot afford or do not need an average-size American
home of 2,200 square feet.
Many Crestone and Baca residents believe small is beautiful,
too. Wooddora Eisenhauer lives in 650 square feet of usable
space in an “Earthship” in the Baca. The Earthship’s
extremely thick rear and side walls are dug deeply into a
hillside. The fourth, south-facing wall is nearly all large
floor-to-ceiling windows, adding to a feeling of interior
spaciousness by inviting sunlight and outside vistas inside.
An open floor plan adds to the airy feeling, while a separate
bedroom and bath offer privacy. Every nook and cranny is utilized
and exudes character, from hand-crafted built-in seating areas
and shelves to a sleeping loft suspended from the ceiling.
The constant stream of sun and a small wood-burning stove
heat Wooddora’s well-insulated Earthship. Domestic hot
water is supplied with a low-profile, wall-mounted on-demand
propane hot water heater, which saves both space and energy.
“This past winter,” Wooddora says, “my total
utility bill—that’s electric, water/ sewer, propane,
and wood—averaged less than $100 a month.”
Marty Shults and Marlaina Mandeville, and their new baby
boy, Keegan, live in a 1,200 square feet home in the Baca.
It is a good example of how small houses can be packed with
attractive architectural effects, like large, open interior
door archways. “That’s what sold us on the house—the
arches,” says Marlaina. “The minute we walked
in, we said ‘This is the house for us.’”
Light-colored cabinets, ceilings, doors, and trim contribute
its charm and provide a feeling of continuous flow throughout
Marty and Marlaina’s new home, like Wooddora’s,
also features a wall of south-facing windows and an on-demand
hot water heater. Energy consciousness seems to be built-in
to small houses.
Some interesting comparisons can be made between minimum
required square footages and average house sizes. For instance,
the minimum house size required in the Chalets and Grants
is 900 square feet. This is the current average home size
in Japan, and 100 feet more than the typical 800-square-foot
middle class American home of the 1950’s. Other local
minimums are even more minimum: 300 square feet in the town
of Crestone and 720 in Casita Park.
When building a small home, cost savings on unneeded square
footage can mean more to spend on custom, hand-crafted details,
and higher-quality, naturally-healthy energy-saving materials
and equipment. In the long and short-term, small houses can
benefit not only their inhabitants but also the environment.
Thoreau may have started a trend of living small with his
10 by 15 foot cabin on Walden Pond. But Leonard Da Vinci said
it best, “Small rooms or dwellings discipline the mind,
large ones weaken it.”
Check out the Small House Society at www.smallhousesociety.com,
or look for books on small houses at Taunton Press at www.taunton.com.
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