The first thing you notice in the our plan catalog is the compact scale of the houses. From a lifestyle perspective, small houses take up less of your time and money and allow you to simplify your everyday routines. From an environmental perspective, small houses take fewer resources to build, operate and maintain. The tiny house movement has been a wonderful thing in that it has brought the concept of compact living to the attention of so many people. We totally respect and admire those who have embraced and enjoy the tiny house movement, but our designs are geared toward those of us who admire those ideals but aren’t comfortable taking them to such extremes. As a result, our houses are rooted to a foundation and intended to accommodate everyday furniture and appliances.
In terms of space planning, our designs are based on an open floor plan where the gathering, dining, entertainment and food prep all happen in one great room with varying degrees of interplay and connectivity. Compact shouldn’t mean the floor plan is compartmentalized into tiny boxes like most older small houses on the market.
Kitchens come in all shapes and sizes, and a compact home doesn’t necessarily mean you have to have a compact kitchen, especially if you like to entertain. Don’t expect a 300 square foot commercial kitchen like you see in some model homes, but I've specifically designed floor plans with kitchens designed for two people to use efficiently. Kitchen design is often a balance between windows and light compared to wall cabinets and storage. To reduce floor area, our plans generally show more cabinets and fewer windows, but such things are easy to modify to taste during construction. Some of our smaller kitchens place the sink on an interior wall for efficient plumbing. This is contrary to the usual layout with a window behind the sink, but it does offer the opportunity to use a European-style dish/bowl storage in a drying rack that drains into the sink--super efficient use of space and improved workflow!
We love it when we can organize the plumbing fixtures in one place to save money and ensure that you don't have to waste 2 gallons of water to get hot water to the sink or shower. It doesn't always work out, and sometimes compromises result. There is usually a different way to organize the fixtures if you see a more desirable layout, and we can customize your plans accordingly.
We avoid duplication of space. Our designs don't have a living room and a family room, and they don't have an eat-in island and a dining room. We usually have one entrance that welcomes residents and guests equally rather than a formal front door in addition to back door from the car parking area. We try to design options that include an “airlock” entry where you come in out of the cold (or heat), close the door behind you, and then enter the house through the main insulated door. This avoids having an unconditioned air stream directly into the house.
Bedrooms are a personal thing, so we have many options throughout our catalog of designs. There are intimate lofts or attics with sloped ceilings that are an upgrade from a tiny house loft that barely has sitting headroom. There are small bedrooms that are essentially just for sleeping with large closets and built-ins for clothes storage. And then there are larger bedrooms for those who may have a large furniture set and want to keep it when they downsize. Or perhaps the large bedroom serves both for sleeping and a home office, combining two purposes in one space.
Bathrooms are another feature that bears some serious thought. We often show a split bathroom. This comprises two rooms: one with a shower/tub and sink for hygiene and a second room with the toilet and hand-wash basin. While more space intensive than a one-room bath, it does give greater utility to a family of 4 or 5 without the expense of a second full bath. In some plans, we specify a toilet with a hand-wash basin on the tank as a space-saving feature.
Any compact home should provide for outdoor living, whether it is a patio, deck, covered porch or 3-season enclosed porch. All our homes include some form of outdoor living, and we also consider solar in the mix. Often the covered porch shades east/west windows that can be a source of solar heat gain in the summer. Sometimes a south-side sliding door opens to a patio where a retractable awning can keep the sun out of the house interior in the summer. These are obviously details that should be considered in relation to your site, climate, views, solar constraints, etc.
An important factor in downsizing is deciding how much stuff to keep and how much to jettison. But there are two sides to this equation: there is the stuff we keep in the conditioned living space (with heat and maybe A/C), and stuff that can stay in a garage/shed/attic, etc. Maybe you want to keep a large clothes collection but are comfortable switching between the summer wardrobe and winter. Maybe you want an art studio but are OK spending less time there in the winter when days are too cold for the sun to make the space habitable. In this case, you might opt for an out-building that is either unheated or only heated when you use the space. Our goal is to design enough storage space in the form of closets, pantries, built-ins, etc. to handle everyday storage demands generously, and that overflow storage happens in some form of unconditioned space.
Our exterior Enhanced Efficiency walls are designed at the width of a 2x8 to allow for extra insulation (but studs are not 2x8 lumber). We strongly prefer slab-on-grade construction for many reasons, but the most critical is that they provide thermal mass to act as a thermal battery and level out the inside temperature. If you haven’t experienced a slab with radiant floor heat before, you should spend a weekend in my house some winter and see if you become a convert. Windows are critical because they are the weak link in the thermal envelope. At a minimum, you should choose thermally broken frames with double paned low-e windows that are tuned to the direction they face. Our plans specify this level of detail. If you have extra money to spend, the first priority should be to upgrade the windows and doors since you’ll reap the comfort and energy benefits for 30-50 years. This all sounds technical, but it’s all about creating a healthy, nurturing and comfortable interior.
All our houses are designed with passive solar strategies to take care of free heat that streams in the windows on a sunny winter’s day. With a slab floor, that energy gets stored to keep the house warm at night, and the high levels of insulation keep the heat inside. Passive solar does result in some trade-offs, particularly in how the house gets sited on your lot and where to plant large shade trees. If the view from your property puts the lake or mountain valley vista on the north side of the house, we can customize the window sizes and glazing options accordingly. Many of our house plans work with multiple lot frontages so that the site plan is adaptable to suit the available solar resources. We have a page dedicated to site planning that is relevant to maximizing solar benefits. If you’re thinking about solar photovoltaics, many of our plans are suitable or can be optioned to remove dormers to make room for the panels.
Regarding heating and cooling, we already mentioned our preference for hydronic heating (water tubes) in the first floor slab. We don't like ductwork, so we envision ductless cooling (also called mini-split systems). Because the envelope is well insulated, and because we expect ceiling fans to be installed in the major rooms, it's OK to cool the space with just a few point sources, which are the ductless wall units. Incidentally, ductless systems can also provide heat, so in warmer climates, the radiant floor heating would be unnecessary. Radiant flooring and ductless systems also have the benefit of taking up very little floor space, which makes it easy to build on a slab rather than crawl space or basement. If these systems are not the best option for your build location, we can make suitable design adaptations. Some designs work well with wood or pellet stoves (heat and aesthetics). And with such a tight envelope, it is critical to plan for adequate ventilation to bring in fresh air. We highly recommend a Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV) or Energy Recover Ventilator (ERV), although a bathroom fan is adequate (but noisy) in our smallest homes.
Hopefully these descriptions help you understand why we made the choices we did in the plans we've presented. If our style resonates with you, that's great. If you're saying, “I kind of like them but I'd prefer…” please contact us to discuss your thoughts. Perhaps we can customize one of our plans to incorporate your wishlist, or we might be able combine ideas from multiple plans into a brand new hybrid. This will almost certainly be more affordable than designing a home from scratch. We welcome your creative input into our design process and feedback on our plans helps improve the ones we’re working on for future release.