That place (just a wee bit bigger than the one in the picture above) has three main virtues:
1. it’s smallness makes it very green, given that size is the primary determinant of a dwelling’s environmental footprint;
2. it’s nice, making it possible to live small without feeling like you are living in poverty; and
3. it’s very close to, but still quite separate from, the main house, meaning I can live a few feet from my mother-in-law and still think it’s a good thing. :)
In short, those are the virtues of the modern accessory dwelling unit, also known as a granny flat, backyard cottage, ADU, etc. Given that the nation will need to build millions of dwellings for aging 1- and 2-person households over the next 30 years, I think they are a really interesting option both socially and environmentally.
Now I’m one of the editors of a new site that’s all about accessory dwelling units — what they look like, how to build them, what regulations are, etc. It’s called AccessoryDwellings.org.
Please come check it and consider becoming a contributor. Thanks!!
Call me a curmudgeon, but I hate it when consumer products are designed to fail.
For me there is a certain quiet pleasure in having well-made things in my everyday life. You know, things that work well for their purpose, feel right in my hands, and are worthy and capable of being repaired, rather than just cast into the landfill. And so when I encounter things that don’t have those qualities–are badly made, badly designed for their purpose, and incapable of being repaired, I start to sputter with anger. Is it right that I feel personally insulted by poorly done products?
Probably not; my condition probably has a code in the DSM V. In any case it flared up this year when confronted with the subject of lunchboxes. Before my kid went to school I had no idea how revolting lunchboxes could be. I had visions of him traipsing along with one of those classy stackable things like in Eat Drink Man Woman (go to 1:55 in the video below).
Of course that wasn’t going to happen. Little kids want pictures, colors, logos, characters. So last year (kindergarten) we tried two kinds of lunch boxes that ended up raising my hackles. …more
When people see the granny cottage I built, a lot of them ask, “I’ve been thinking of doing something like that on my property – how do I get started?”
There haven’t been many good sources I can refer to, and though I try to be friendly I haven’t been that encouraging. Developing that cottage was actually quite a struggle, even in the supposed progressive city of Portland. When you create a second dwelling in or around your house, like this one photographed by radworld…
… you are essentially becoming a mini real estate developer, where you take on a lot of risks and responsibilities before you get—you hope—to the rewards.
A solid one-stop source of good information was sorely needed about how to develop a second dwelling on your property, whether you call it an in-law unit, a basement apartment, a backyard cottage, a garden suite, a secondary unit, or (to use the term favored by planners) an “accessory dwelling unit” or ADU.
Of course architects and contractors will offer …more
My own alternating tread device, like most I see around on the internet, was custom made out of wood by a carpenter, and is straight. However the Arke kit uses a modular metal unit as its spine, giving it a lighter appearance, and giving it the ability to curve. The Arke kit isn’t cheap ($1600 minimum, plus >$200 extra if you want a second handrail), though custom carpentry isn’t either. Neither a custom made wood alternating tread stair, nor the Arke kit, meets most residential codes in the US so it’s a wash in that respect. What’s the better choice for someone building or modding a small house?
I finally got a chance to see an Arke Karina kit in action, …more
Lately I’ve been obsessed with kitchen efficiency. Not green efficiency, but efficiency in terms of work. I would prefer to spend my time enjoying food, not preparing it or cleaning up. Why does my mother-in-law’s kitchen seem like such a breeze to work in while my own kitchen felt so awkward? And how can I save work without spending $20K-$100K on a major renovation?
I embarked on my own amateur analysis of kitchen flow and modded my kitchen to match. My work began with this kitchen work flow diagram:
I’m not much of a graphic artist, but it succinctly shows why it can be so hard to do work efficiently in the kitchen: …more
I refit this end of the attic in my 1922 house as a play area for my son. I wanted this attic to continue to feel like an attic, even though I was finishing it off. So I did the walls and ceiling in tongue & groove beadboard, a material which was also used when the house was built. It has new fireproofing and insulation underneath. Other features inlcude: marmoleum sheet scraps for flooring, with soft padding underneath; an antique star-mullioned window to suggest a sunset; a Velux roof window for emergency egress; low-temperature LED light fixtures; a verdant-brand thermostat with an occupancy sensor, controlling a “hydronic” baseboard heater; and a tent-sized nap bay.
People striving to make environmentally sensitive housing often struggle against building codes and planning officials that tell them their environmentally positive design feature simply “can’t be done.” In the case of small houses or accessory dwelling units– which can be greener than a solar mcmansion just by being reasonably sized — one of the biggest challenges can come with stairways, since code stairways take up so much floor area and volume.
There are alternatives, of course, and here I’ll tell you about the one we used in my tiny house project: …more
Tiny houses need to rely on the outside for a sense of spaciousness, and for an extra place to be in good weather. In previous posts I’ve talked about the ways our building directs the attention outside. Now here’s the outside itself, complete with kid table:
In this pic you are looking from the street up the driveway (made of pavers set in sand to let rainwater drain through). On the left you see stairs that curve up to the “big house” (750 sq. ft). Behind that curve we dug out a little sitting area (where you can see a concrete table with bouquet and iron lawn chairs) and made a retaining wall. This is a really comfortable little spot in the heat, because it’s in the shade of the building and dug in low. …more
The interior to my 400-square foot house is finally complete, and I think the results show that a tiny, environmentally sensitive house can be both complete and pretty darn nice. Please take a look around in this extensive series of pictures. For example, my cozy skylit loft (120 of the 400 square feet). Don’t you just want to read a book here?
It’s my belief that real green housing for Americans (as opposed to preposterous faux-green McMansions) will inevitably involve downsizing, because downsizing saves energy and resources across the board. But to work, it truly has to be a better place to live than an oversized dwelling — not some unsustainably pious way of “doing without.”
I think my project makes the point pretty well. It was done on the budget (about $75,000 including $7000 for permit and $4000 for architect) and plans I gave in an earlier post. I am very open to comments and questions, but please read that post and in fact all the posts in this series before you quiz me…
One of the most common (and appealing) tricks in tiny house construction is removing ceiling joists to expose the attic volume, creating a “cathedral ceiling.” In McMansions such extra space can be cold and regal, but within a small frame it gives the eye some room to travel and permits the addition of a sleeping or storage loft.
Consider this before and after pair from my garage-to-granny-house conversion:
Nothing in the dimensions of the building has been changed, but there is clearly much more usable space in the “after” version.
However, in a conversion, you can’t just knock out joists willy-nilly; the place might fall down.
I’ve often noticed that very small differences in dimensions can make a big difference in personal comfort. For example, any sink will feel uncomfortable to use without that little 10 or 15 centimeter kickspace at the bottom of the sink cabinet. Any obstruction to the eye or body can translate into a claustrophobic feeling, no matter how big the room.
The flip side of this is that if such obstructions can be reduced, even a small space can feel generous. If I may modestly offer my own office setup (not part of my tiny house project, though there is more about that later in this post) as an example:
This photo (taken from the building’s hall through the door) shows nearly the entire place, which is maybe 7 by 11 feet, except for the cot that occasionally occupies the unseen wall to the right.
Sure, to function as an office it could be smaller but my point is this is a relatively small space that feels roomy. I think it is partly because I’ve designed the desk (it’s a piece of birch plywood with a routered edge) in a shape that allows both the eye and the body to move unobstructed into the middle of the room. Once there, the shape encourages the eye to travel out the window.
I was feeling proud of this little design when I saw how a real pro architect had done a similar thing in our garage-to-granny-house conversion. …more