Efficient Dwelling - Small is Beautiful

July/August 2008
A version of this article appears in the July/August 2008 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
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July 01, 2008
North Americans have quickly become the most-housed people in the history of humanity. The average detached single-family house built today has almost 2,500 square feet of floor area, and fewer than three people live in it. Each of these people has more than three times the space that new homeowners had in 1950.  In 1999 I saw a graph in Environmental Building News that showed what may be obvious to any HVAC professional. Energy use is primarily a function of the size (or more specifically, the volume) of the home. Technology can make houses more efficient per square foot, but what matters is absolute energy use. Reducing per capita living space is the single most effective way to reduce household energy use. We Have Some Options What can an individual builder do? If we work in new construction, especially with custom-built homes, we have an opportunity to influence homeowners to build smaller. There are so many reasons to do this that someone could write a book about it—everything from simple accounting (explain what each 100 square feet of floor area will cost the owner to heat, cool, and maintain over the life of the house) to aesthetic concerns (cut off some ...

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