Living large, but smaller

Often, when I tell people that I build micro homes, they are fascinated, state that they absolutely adore them, and describe the various tiny home television shows that they watch regularly.

However, upon my family’s most recent trip to Costa Rica, this dialogue changed.

The locals had never heard of micro homes; micro homes were the regular sized dwellings in their country. I had to explain that our average home size in Canada is roughly 2,000 sq. ft. and our company specializes in building homes under 1,000 sq. ft.

This was definitely a foreign concept to them, and when I looked around, I could see why. Typical houses, like the one pictured above, are 400–800 sq ft.

This got me to thinking about the history of home sizes and the factors that influence the size of dwellings in various parts of the world. We live in larger houses in the north because we spend more time indoors.

Of course, temperature is not the only reason we live so large. According to an article in the Globe and Mail, in 1975, the average size of a house in Canada was 1,050 square feet.

In 2010, it was 1,950 square feet. The Globe also noted that the average number of people per dwelling was decreasing in the same time period.

In the U.S., the average home size was 983 square feet in 1950, 1,500 square feet in 1970, and 2,349 square feet in 2004.

Why has the size of our homes in Canada and the United States doubled in the last half century?  Because they could. Technology, such as electric lighting and central heat, allowed for living activities to be spread out over more rooms and larger spaces.

Vehicles provided a way for people to move out of decaying, urban neighbourhoods and into suburbs that contained an abundance of land parcelled into large lots.

The rapid rise of media mechanisms allowed the image of luxurious living in large homes to permeate our daily lives like never before. All of this, coupled with frequently low interest rates and the ability to get a home mortgage, resulted in the large home boom that has become the norm.

So, why the trend to smaller homes in places like Canada and the United States now?

1. Design – Until recently the only way to live in a smaller space was in a condo or townhome building. This style of living does not appeal to many North Americans who have grown up in a culture that prides itself in single family dwelling home ownership.  In addition, the innovative use of smart storage solutions and large window/high ceiling designs have made living in a small space more comfortable than ever.

2. Life Satisfaction - We have discovered that the shift to larger homes has not necessarily impacted us in a positive way or created happier communities. The evolution of our living spaces has had a direct effect on our relationships with our families and our communities.

Smaller living works for those who desire to simplify and focus on experiences and connectedness vs. home maintenance, mortgage payments and upkeep.

3. Immigration - According to the Financial Post “With increased immigration on the horizon, those arriving in Canada may not have the same size expectations, creating demand for smaller units.”

4. Affordability – Housing prices have skyrocketed in recent years and the reality is that whether you are a first time homebuyer, or a retiree, living in a smaller home will cost you less. Money is saved on the purchase price, utilities, maintenance and furnishings.

Not all Canadians will want to live in 500 sq ft bungalows like our Costa Rican friends, but some will. Those who do, will do so for many of the same reasons that applied to Canadians in the 1950s and still apply to many people in various countries, like Costa Rica, today.

As Costa Rica has ranked number one since 2009 in the Happy Planet index (a tool that measures statistics such as life expectancy, ecological footprint and wellbeing), we could emulate a little of what they are modeling.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


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