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The top 10 reasons building a smaller house is better

By Katherine Salant
Saturday, July 10, 2010; E04

Here are my top 10 reasons for building a small house:

1. You won't be the obvious person to host every important family occasion and accommodate all the friends and relatives who come to town. If you live off the tourist track, hosting duties and overnight guests might not be an issue (in Ann Arbor, Mich., the only regular visitors we've had over the years were our now-deceased parents). But if you live in a popular destination, such as the Washington area, or in a place with great winter weather, such as Florida, you can get a steady stream of overnight requests in addition to the oversight duties that the big family celebrations entail. A move to a smaller house provides a gracious way to say no.

2. You have a bulletproof reason to graciously decline Aunt Laura's offer of her lime-green, fake leather living room set that might have looked good 40 years ago. You'll have no place to put it; you won't even have room for all the stuff you have now.

3. A smaller house is easier to keep clean. Eternal vigilance is still required if you want a clutter-free house. But when a house is small, there are fewer places for clutter to pile up and dust balls to collect, and this can dramatically reduce cleaning time. You might find that you still have to be a drill sergeant to elicit cooperation from other family members, but you won't have to do it as often.

4. With a smaller house that takes less time to clean and maintain, you'll have more time to cultivate a garden if you're so inclined and more time to casually interact with the neighbors, the first step to feeling at home in your new surroundings and part of a community. If the houses are close together, opportunities for casual interaction are increased.

5. With fewer rooms, the household is more likely to have frequent interactions, the glue that holds it together. Most people take family socializing as a given in any house. But in bigger houses with more rooms, household members tend to spend less time together and have fewer encounters.

6. A smaller house costs less money! And this gives you more options. Assuming that you would still be building in the same area, you can put the money you're saving into your kid's college fund, buy a new car or blow it on a trip to Vegas.

7. Alternatively, you could plow the money back into your home-building project. Depending on how small you go and how much you save, you could hire an architect to design a house that will be precisely tailored to your downsized lifestyle instead of buying a house from a production builder that doesn't allow changes in the floor plan. If you engage an architect and a custom builder who are well-versed in "green" building, they can help you devise economical ways to make your house both charming and more energy efficient. This is good for your pocketbook (lower utility bills) and good for the planet. (In the United States, buildings are the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions that are causing global warming, and more than half the buildings are houses.)

8. You can use the money saved by downsizing to buy a lot in a close-in suburb where land prices are higher. If you buy a lot that's close to public transportation that you can use for commuting to work, you can ditch one of your cars. That would save about $9,641 a year, on average, according to AAA. It also would benefit the environment by reducing your carbon footprint. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, every year a car remains on the road, it emits, on average, 4.78 tons of CO2 and a quarter-ton of methane, nitrous oxide and hydrofluorcarbons that are slowly leaking from the car's air conditioner.

9. When you live closer to your job, you spend less time commuting and more time with your family. If you spend about 45 minutes every day commuting each way, and the close-in location would cut that by half, you would have 45 minutes a day -- which adds up to 15 hours a month -- to devote to other things.

10. With fewer entertaining obligations, less time spent cleaning, a greater sense of connectedness in your neighborhood, many casual interactions with members of your household, a more pleasant family dynamic and a shorter commute, you'll be far less stressed and much happier.

And that can lead to a level of Zen that most homeowners would envy.

Questions? Comments? Queries? A home-building story that you'd like to share? Katherine Salant can be reached at http://www.katherinesalant.com.

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