18 Incredible Small Green Homes That Live Large
Small Can Be Beautiful
Efficient light bulbs, non-toxic furniture and Energy-Star certified appliances can certainly reduce your family's environmental impact. But as population rises, we have to start paying more attention to the fact that the more dwelling space we provide for each person, the more resources we are going to use.
In 2009, the average American home was 2,343 square feet, well more than double the average in 1950. While new home sizes have dipped slightly during the recession, it's also true that more and more architects and builders are recognizing that small really can be beautiful. We see this in efficient, affordable modular design, and some folks are even going so far as to move into repurposed shipping containers. Some small green homes are envisioned as rustic cabin getaways, while others are on the cutting edge of style and amenities.
The new book Small Eco Houses (Universe, $35) by Cristina Paredes Benitez and Alex Sanchez Vidiella is a wonderful survey of beautiful small homes that are packed with sustainable features, from use of recycled and local materials to natural lighting and landscaping. Many are inspiring examples of what's possible if we think outside the old mantra that bigger is always better.
70 square feet
FLOAT Architectural Research and Design
Built for a writer who wanted to channel his own inner Thoreau, the tiny Watershed House has got to offer some of the most stylish living available in 70 square feet. Reducing a cramped feeling, the cabin has lots of openings to let the light and the scenery in.
According to the book Small Eco Houses, Watershed is built in a prefabricated process that reduces waste and disturbance to the site. The polycarbonate roof provides shading and diffuses the light, and the windows are double paned for insulation.
The cabin even features a small, rain-fed reflecting pool to enhance the aura of contemplation and connection to nature. Think about that the next time you hear someone complain about their small apartment!
Small House on the Oregon Coast
325 square feet
Obie G. Bowman, Chris Heath
Gold Beach, Oregon
This small, off-grid cabin was designed as a guest house, and visitors are rewarded with sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean. Its "A-frame" shape helps it weather a demanding climate, including winds up to 90 miles per hour.
The small home is powered by solar panels and features gorgeous, locally sourced cedar. The dark concrete floor slab serves as a thermal mass that helps store heat during the day, releasing it in the evening.
Beams channel rainwater into a holding tank, where particles are filtered out.
Joshua Tree House
387.5 square feet
Hangar Design Group
Moving up slightly in size, Small Eco Houses considers a prefab home that was envisioned as a mountain or vacation retreat. Would you believe that this space-efficient design features two bedrooms, a kitchen and two bathrooms?
The small-but-comfortable house is prefabricated off site from recyclable metal cladding and wood. Several skylights provide illumination and ventilation, and the plumbing and electrical systems are designed to leave no visible mark on the terrain should the house be picked up and moved to a new vista.
Small Wood Cabin on Lake Flathead
830 square feet
Andersson Wise Architects
Perched on pillars near a granite and slate outcrop in the pine forests of Montana, this small wood cabin blends nearly seamlessly with the picturesque landscape. The open plan is comfortable inside, and the wood floors extend to a deck and small bridge over the natural sloping terrain.
The small house was built off site and installed with minimal disturbance to the land. It is off the grid and takes advantage of "passive" heating and cooling, without the need to burn a fuel. Large windows reduce lighting needs and showcase the forest.
Martin Residence Green Addition
845 square feet
Jason Langkammerer, John Barone/@6 Architecture
Moving to a decidedly more urban environment, Small Eco Houses features an addition to the Martin's Bay Area home that boasts a bedroom, bathroom, and living area. The modular panels that make up the exterior are prefabricated from fiber-cement, and the large south-facing windows serve as passive heaters during the winter.
Inside, bamboo panels offer a natural look. Some rooms are set off by translucent polycarbonate walls, which let in natural light.
Taliesin Mod.Fab Modular Home
960 square feet
Taliesin Design/Build Studio, J. Siegal, M.P. Johnson Design
If you're thinking the Taliesin Mod.Fab house looks like a mobile home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, you'd be on the right track. According to the book Small Eco Houses, the groundbreaking architect had actually experimented with modular designs early in his career, but adoption of the resource-saving concept was reportedly cut short by the disruption of World War I.
The Taliesin (also featured on page 1 of this feature) pays homage to Wright while showcasing sustainability. It's built with so-called SIPs, structural insulated panels, which make installation quick. The house is designed to work well off the grid, using natural lighting and ventilation and optional solar panels.
Modern Alpine Hut
1,130 square feet
Stara Fuzina, Slovenia
This stylish mountain cabin was built in a small village inside Slovenia's Triglav National Park. It is constructed from beautiful local materials and is oriented for passive heating and cooling, although it also boasts a central fireplace that warms both levels. Black foil was placed inside the walls to absorb heat and direct it toward the inside.
The chic cabin features a modern kitchen and a wood-paneled sauna.
Green Bridge House
1,184 square feet
Max Pritchard Architect
According to Small Eco Houses, the Bridge House was built for a client who didn't want to spoil the natural beauty of their property. So the architects came up with a rectangular design that bridged over a small stream.
The main windows face north and south, facilitating passive temperature control. The black cement floor serves as a thermal mass and the windows are double paned. The reflective steel cladding and surrounding trees help with cooling in the summer. There's also a pair of solar panels.
How would you like to live over a stream?
Lavaflow 3 Green House
1,300 square feet
Craig Steely Architecture
Big Island, Hawaii
Perched on a lava field 10 miles from the active volcano Mount Kilauea, the airy Lavaflow 3 house provides views of the Pacific from every window. The home needs no air conditioning, owing to the windows that take advantage of ocean breezes. Screens, curtains and louvers regulate the air flow and provide privacy.
The small home was designed to minimize impact to the sensitive post-volcanic landscape. All water used is collected from the rains, and stored in a concrete cistern under the living room.