Recycled materials provide a great opportunity to own a truly affordable, creative, and green home – and I don’t know anyone who provides better inspiration for building recycled small houses than Dan Phillips in Texas. Here is a taste of his work, complete with his inspirational and humorous commentary.
A great movement, coming to a city near you, is the creation or emphasis of backyard cottages. In an effort to curb suburban sprawl, city officials around the country are encouraging infill development with small houses built beside or behind existing houses. This movement is a win win situation for everyone involved – the city creates an increased tax base while preserving the countryside and agricultural land, homeowners are given an opportunity for rental income, and renters are given a great option for affordable housing.
The movement also provides designers with an incentive to increase the options for creative and sustainable small house plans. Seattle, one city that is on the cutting edge of sustainable development, has allowed attached ADU’s (Accessory Dwelling Units) since 1994. Their recent 2009 legislation, that allows detached ADUs of up to 800 sq. ft. to be built throughout the city, has motivated at least two companies to offer design challenges to inspire more creative small house design options.
Just up the road from Seattle, Vancouver is another city that is encouraging backyard cottages and, down the road, Portland Oregon is doing the same. Farther down the road, Berkeley, California is even setting goals for a percentage of their new development to be in ADU’s. Around the country other cities have adopted, or are considering adopting, similar ordinances.
This brings me home to Asheville, NC. Backyard cottages, attached or unattached, are legal here – they have been for some time. I’m not sure if suburban sprawl had anything to do with the motivation or if it is just common sense mountain wisdom. Whatever it is, it is a great opportunity to increase creative green built and affordable housing, as well as to increase the development of community in any neighborhood.
Wherever you are, whether you are a home owner or renter, this is a great option to consider promoting in your neighborhood. Let me know if we can help – we have great resources to help design and build your backyard cottage.
Small Houses and Future Development
As the suburbs sprawled across the countryside over the past 50 or so years, houses got bigger and bigger. As our consumer appetites grew to unprecedented proportion, we gobbled up farmland and natural resources like never before. In a relatively short time in history, we populated the countryside, fueled by the fires of our lust for more. We marched forward with the attitude of “too much is never enough”.
There was a brief recognition of the direction we were headed in the 70’s. Our concern for environmental protection and energy efficiency was stimulated by the economic conditions and the back to the land movement. We started to explore renewable energy and built more efficient homes. But something happened in the 80’s – the economy indicated a false stabilization as employment increased, oil prices fell, and interest rates lowered. With only a minority holding on to their prophetic voice, the majority seemed to stick their heads in the sand while fanning the flames of consumption. “Bigger and better” became the cry of the masses.
Well, it seems the tide has turned. Those who held on to their convictions continued to move forward with passion and innovation. “Green” became a buzzword gaining momentum in the early years of this century. Finally, the economic collapse, along with the concern of peak oil and other environmental concerns, began to get everyone’s attention. Today, sustainability is, or should be, on all of our lists of concern. We are rethinking our direction – downsizing and efficiency is taking root.
Building smaller houses and more conscientious development is on the forefront of this movement. Creative designers, inspired by innovative pioneers like Sarah Susanka, with her Not So Big House series, are creating healthy, efficient, and aesthetic homes in pleasant community oriented neighborhoods. Low impact, zero energy, and high performance are values that are replacing bigger and better. “More with less” is becoming the new cry of those truly in touch with our dilemma.
People across the country are joining the small house movement. Even the planning and zoning departments of progressive cities are collaborating for smarter growth. The adoption of creative infill ordinances is growing throughout the country. Many cities have followed Seattle’s lead to allow greater density of small houses on combined infill lots. Other cites are promoting the addition of small “mother-in-law cottages” on developed lots.
Asheville, NC, where I live, is a great location for this movement to grow – and one of the reasons I moved here. Along with the provision for an auxiliary studio cottage or apartment in most locations, there is a great ordinance recently introduced for cottage development as well as other considerations for smaller houses and greater density.
By all indications, the tide will continue to turn and environmental, social, and economic sustainability will influence our building and development practices. As more and more people wake up to the reality of these concerns, that influence will become a driving force. I am excited to continue to be part of the movement.
Ross Chapin is an outstanding architectural designer, putting a contemporary flare to traditional cottage design. He focuses on creative small houses with quality green built features. His work is featured in the communities of The Cottage Company in Seattle. Take a look at his website for a sampling of great small house plans.
Oregon Garden Cottages
These garden cottages are a fantastic example of creative and simple design for small houses. They were built in Portland, Oregon with a a focus on recycled materials in a design that fits their turn of the 20th century neighborhood. At only 364 sq. ft., these cottages are suited to Portland’s progressive environmentally sensitive zoning that allow small houses within greater urban density. Check out this article in the Oregonian for more information.