Benefits of a small footprint home

Benefits of a small footprint home

ProudGreenHome Approved Contributing Expert Melissa Rappaport Schifman, principal at Resonance Companies, shares her insights as to the benefits of a small footprint home:

There are really two ways to look at this question: the benefits of a small home versus and large home; and the benefit of a home that has a smaller footprint than a same-sized home — which means it is built more vertically, not horizontally.

With respect to a smaller home: The United States Green Building Council (USGBC) estimates that for every doubling of square feet, a home uses 25 percent more energy and 50 percent more materials. So, the primary benefit of a small footprint home is that is simply uses less material and energy — both of which save homeowners money on upfront investment, utility bills, maintenance, furnishing, cleaning, etc. It also saves the homeowner time — time spent furnishing and cleaning a larger home.

But that doesn't mean that a larger footprint home cannot still be green. The green movement often finds itself at odds with our consumptive culture and economy. So when people start touting benefits of smaller home, it can alienate a lot of people who actually want a larger home.

I wrote a blog post (Does Home Size Matter?) addressing this subject, because I believe any home can be green, even if it is big. The USGBC believes this, too. The home building industry has, after all, created a lot of jobs and helped the economy. Any size home can incorporate green features, and that is better for our world than that same home without green features. People that can afford larger homes are often the same ones that can afford new green technologies. And that's what we need: more people who can afford it doing it — so that demand goes up, cost comes down, and more and more people can afford to do go green.

To address the second component of this question, there are also benefits to building more vertically than horizontally — a truly smaller footprint.

First, there are energy and water savings. Plumbing and ductwork will have a more compact design and can more efficiently heat and cool the home. Construction costs would typically be lower as well, on a per square foot basis, since the size of the hole to dig is much smaller.

If we are referring to an urban dwelling, the LEED rating system actually rewards project for higher-density building — which usually means building up and not out.

Finally, the community benefits. Having less hard-paved surface areas reduces issues of storm water run-off and the urban heat island effect. Leaving more of the surface area of a lot as vegetation, as opposed to building, allows more room for plants and trees, which is vital for water filtration and our ecosystem.

For more information, see our Building a Green Home research center.

Topics: Building Green

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