Small REAL Houses

Guys, I’ve done it.

I’m at the point where I need to pick a plan or hire someone to design a plan for my house. Once I do this, I can get bids and look for someone who can break ground in the spring. Basically, until I start making some at least basic decisions, there’s not much more that I can do (except keep saving money).


The first thing about this is that it’s terrifying. I’ve done so much thinking about what I need in a house and I know that I don’t need a big house. I don’t need a bathroom for each of my bedrooms. I don’t want it to be ugly. I don’t want it to be sterile. In some ways, buying an already built house suddenly seems appealing because fewer decisions. The reality in this area is that I can’t afford to do that. Somehow it’s still cheaper to build plus get something that doesn’t need to be remodeled, efficient, and small.

The other frustration is that I want both small and a real house.

If you get on Pinterest or browse any Tumblr of adorable small houses, at some point you realize that they’re not really lived in. The words “guest house” and “studio” and “sleeping quarters” or “cottage” start appearing.

When they do, you realize there is either a a giant 4,000sq ft monstrosity to support it just outside the frame. Or, they often have bedrooms so small they don’t have closets because they’re vacation homes where their owners store all their clothing. If you do manage to find a “full” house, in 2016 apparently “small” means less than 2,000 sq ft. TWO THOUSAND SQUARE FEET. I grew up in about 1,600 sq. ft. with a family of 4 and we had a whole giant formal living room and a big entry way we never used (and the dining room was barely touched). 

I’ve lived in 930 sq. ft. with another person and a dog and I know that we had so much wasted space. I don’t want to go too much smaller and I’m willing to consider plans up to that size but I really really don’t want to go bigger.

5 Replies to “Small REAL Houses”

  1. Congrats!
    Thirty years ago I built a 560 sq foot cabin with a good sized loft. It has served us well throughout these years. My son grew up, married, and moved away.
    The cabin is fully equipted with all utilities and we put in our own septic.
    Hindsight is very acurate and of course there are things I would do different.
    I would use metal siding and roofing.
    I would make a few more outside, non utilitiy, storage buildings. I made a small 4X4 storage unit for long handled tools which was adequate at the time but as of now it has many more tools and an additional one of that size is useful.
    A place to keep garden tools, mowers, and stuff you just plain want to store is necesssry.
    The cabin itself is adequate but I think I would make it a bit smaller and focus more on kitchen area being bigger as we both like to cook.
    In the beginning the water bill was about twenty bucks for 12K gallons. Now it is about $65.00 for about 3K gallons.
    If we were paying for sewer it would be about double.
    Electricity now costs about 4 to 8 times more depending on the season.
    Upkeep that is simple when you are young and physically fit is no problem but everything becomes much more difficult when you get older. Ease of upkeep is a must.
    When you retire on a fixed income it does not keep costs from going up. They grow quickly!
    Utility planning is something that needs to be considered early on in the design phase.
    Anything that is a non painted surface becomes your friend.
    If you make too many places to sleep (bedrooms) there will always be someone who needs to have a long visit. Make the house big enough for your needs and if you need another bedroom for a future child build it then. As long as you plan for future additions it isn’t a problem.
    So many things I have learned over the years as to how to do it better would make a lengthly journal.
    I guess the best thing I can say is make it small and put lots of energy into the planning stage.
    Good Luck!

  2. When we moved to Houston we lived in about an 800 square foot place. It could have used a garage but otherwise it was pretty perfect. We didn’t have all of our crap, so there was that, too! But it was so, so easy to clean! I miss it a lot. I love my house now, it is a 2,000 sq foot + with some out buildings, but there was a lot to be said for that small house.

    Good luck!

  3. I also agree that ~1000 sq.ft. is pretty reasonable for something that you can live in and also, it must be considered, that can be marketable. You never know where life will take you, and it’s good to know that your hard work and investment could be used by someone else if need be.

    We have plans to build our own someday, not sure where just yet. We also plan to be off the grid, as much as possible.

    Some money-saving things to be considered can be a lot of some new and sustainable finishes you can put in later. Like Stikwood. We will be going to the local boneyards looking for windows, doors, lumber, and other supplies we could incorporate into our design.

    We like challenges and projects like this, which is why we keep doing this to ourselves; we just moved temporarily to a family’s home yesterday while our new house is being built. In two months, we move again into that new house. That will be 6 times in 5 years. Which is a record for us.

    Then we’ll stay here for 10 years until our daughter makes it into college. Then we work on our smaller house project, whether it’s redoing an old house, custom building a stick home, or going pre-fab, we’ll see.

    Dave Creech is an architect that might be able to help. I am not sure if he does smaller scale projects, but it doesn’t hurt to ask!

    Good luck!

    1. I just can’t believe how many 1500′ houses are called small! Agh.

      I shouldn’t be crippling my resale value by too much. The worst thing I’m doing is refusing to put in a second bathroom because just… no. If you’re visiting me and you’re too proud to share a bathroom you can go get a hotel room. (Additionally, unless something crazy happens in the housing market here it is insane to sell the place and not rent it.)

      (And Creech told me I couldn’t afford him. 😉 )

  4. I love small houses and all things building houses. I think I’m addicted to moving and remodeling, although each time after I move I think “never again!”… but a few years later I’m getting to itch to move everything around again. It sounds like you’ve done a lot of work on a house already and have lived in some interesting places, so you’ll know what you need. I will say having two toilets is really great if you ever think you’ll have another person living with you or have guests often enough, doesn’t necessarily have to be an extra full bath. Or you could go European and put your bathroom and shower in separate rooms, easier access to both!

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