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Small Is Better: Big Houses Are Out and Downsizing Is In

With economic and environmental factors colliding, tiny houses are suddenly becoming the biggest rage.

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Steam condensation from the building's heating system will be captured, cooled and used on-site to water the landscaping. Low-flow showerheads will save about one gallon per minute per head and dual-flush toilets will use 29% less water per flush. Olive 8 officials say they expect the project will save an estimated 2.4 million gallons of water per year, or 32% less water usage than a conventional building of the same size and occupancy.

The new Olive 8 condos in Seattle save serious space, water and heat through efficiency measures.
© Olive 8

And green building makes good market sense, too. Jill Elizabeth Westfall, coauthor of Green Matters: The Residential Builders, Visionaries, Communities & Lifestyles Shaping Atlanta's Landscape (GreenLife Books), says there are more American homebuilders "going green" than not. "About 40% of builders believe that it helps them market their homes in a down market,'' she says.

Westfall cites the findings of the McGraw-Hill Construction survey, which was cosponsored by the National Association of Home Builders and shows that the residential green building market was worth $12 billion to $20 billion (or 6% to 10% of the market) in 2008. In 2012, the market is expected to double to between 12% and 20% of the market share, or $40 billion to $70 billion.

"We have hit the tipping point for builders going green,'' says Harvey M. Bernstein, McGraw-Hill Construction vice president of Industry Analytics, Alliances and Strategic Initiatives. "This year, the number of builders who are moderately green -- those with 30% green projects -- has surpassed those with a low share of green -- those who are green in less than 15% of their projects. Next year, we will see even greater growth, with highly green builders -- those with 60% green projects -- surpassing those with a low share of green."

There are many reasons for living in a smaller space while keeping environmental preservation in mind, says Ciji Ware, the author of Rightsizing Your Life: Simplifying Your Surroundings While Keeping What Matters Most (Springboard Press). "The thrust of the book is about people who are tired of the burden of  carrying a big mortgage, a lot of square footage, and maintaining  earthly possessions that don't mean much to them anymore, especially  if the kids have flown the coop,'' says the Sausalito, California, author. "Their 401Ks have turned into 101Ks, and they want to reduce their carbon footprint." Ware has a formula for keeping possessions tight in order to live light. Something must be valuable, useful, beautiful or sentimental to make the cut. "Something has to have two of the four or you don't keep it,'' she says.

Living small is nothing new. During the 1800s, Henry David Thoreau's cabin on Walden Pond measured 10' by 15', and cost roughly $28 to build. Furnished with a bed, a table, a small desk, a lamp and three chairs, he lived there for two years, two weeks and two days, according to Tiny House Design, which has a motto of "live light, live small, be free." After World War II, 1,000-square-foot homes were the norm for returning soldiers and their families. But as folks tried to "keep up with the Joneses," the average size of a home grew from roughly 1,600 square feet in the 1970s to about 2,500 square feet today.

Interior of Olive 8 condo.

Of course, there are challenges to living in tight quarters. "People need private space,'' says Johnson. "There's a phrase people refer to which is 'too many rats in a cage.' Animals get stressed if there isn't enough space. Space requirements will certainly be different for every individual, couple and family," he adds. "What worked for a while may stop working if the family dynamics change, or if other stress factors cause people to be extra sensitive."

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