Downsizing Your Home

Downsizing your home could be your first step towards reducing your impact on the planet. It could also save you quite a bundle. 



+ "Where do I start downsizing?" 

+ "How do I do it?

+ "Do I need to see a consultant?"

These are some of the questions that people ask when they become aware of reducing their consumption and their ecological footprint.

And the answer is...

If you're really serious about reducing your consumption, your energy use, your ecological footprint and your impact on the planet and the environment, and if you're serious about saving money, an excellent place to start is with your home.

WHY SHOULD I DOWNSIZE MY HOME?

On a recent visit to Ikea, my friend and I were fascinated by the small "model apartment" that had been built right in the middle of the store. The whole apartment was only 380 square feet (that's a mere 35.3 square meters!), yet it looked very comfortable and had everything a normal person could possibly need.

Check out this Ikea video for downsizing ideas. Like the lady says in the video:

It's not about giving up your dream, it's about shrinking it a little bit!


Not everyone is a fan of Ikea, but "tiny homes" is a buzzword that no one has been able to avoid these days. Story after story, on television and in magazines, show how some downsizing pioneers are living in ever-diminishing spaces. Here is a compendium of examples.

If you're tempted by this kind of extreme living, by all means go ahead and build yourself your minuscule paradise.

But you don't have to go that far (unless you live in Japan or... Vancouver)! 

Here is my own downsizing story

Several years ago, I bought this home:


It was beautiful. It had over 2,000 square feet of space, three bedrooms and two and a half baths. It had a garage and nearly half an acre of green lawns.

Winter came. Heating bills began to show up in my mailbox. $600 per month! Ouch! My total heating bill for that first year was about $2,500 and the cost of electricity was projected to go up every year.

I researched and investigated every way of making it energy efficient: wall insulation, attic insulation, basement insulation, hot water heater insulation; draftproofing; interior storm windows; new windows; new siding; energy-efficient lightbulbs; alternate energy sources, and so on.  

What I found out is that it would be complicated, expensive, and extremely disruptive.

According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC, a government-owned corporation), in their brochure about Pre-World War II Houses (from the "Renovating for Energy Savings - Case Studies" series), which outlines everything that's wrong with those old houses, and what to do about it:

If all of the recommended improvements ... are carried out, overall energy use can be reduced as shown below. Actual energy use is affected by weather and lifestyle, so specific energy savings may vary...

This brochure applied to my house, which was built in 1928, so I was very interested in the possible outcome of applying all those measures.

The outcome was illustrated in a graphic that showed potential energy savings varying from 29% to 47%, depending on the region. For my area, the figure was 41%, but that was probably based on oil or wood heat, which is how most people heat their homes here. However, I was using electricity, and had neither the intention nor the means to switch to oil or wood.

Therefore, I figured that by spending tens of thousands of dollars, I might save about $750 a year -- some of which would be cancelled out year after year as the price of electrical power increased.

It would take 25 to 30 years to amortize my investment! I couldn't wait around that long.

I loved that house but staying there didn't make any sense. In order to achieve the energy efficiency I was after, I had to sell it and buy a smaller one. I had to downsize.

My next house would have to be:

  • Cheap, so I could afford to gut it in order to insulate it properly;
  • Small, so I could afford to heat it, not just now, but in years to come;
  • Just one storey, so I could stay there into my old age;
  • Close to everything, so I could continue to walk everywhere;
  • Close to neighbors, so I could feel safe;
  • Already built, so I wouldn't waste new resources in constructing it.

This is the small fixer-upper house I purchased for $10,000 and that's how it looked when I acquired it. (As they say, "it had a lot of potential"!)

That house is the subject of this website and you can read all about my project by clicking on the buttons in the navigation bar.

YOU CAN DOWNSIZE BY MAKING YOUR PRESENT HOME SMALLER

Have the kids grown up and moved away? Was your house too big to begin with?

Whatever the circumstance, you might be thinking of reducing your living space without having to move.

In my case, for instance, since I didn't want a second story in the first place, I just sealed it off. That's a lot easier than you think! If you want to see how I did that, see my stair remodeling project.

In summary, the best way to reduce energy consumption is to reduce the size of the house.

This is because the size of our home carries a whole set of consequences.

Let me explain.

ENERGY USE AND ENVIRONMENTAL CONSEQUENCES

My big house used more energy for everything

Not just for heating, cooling, cooking, washing, etc.

For example, it had a very large yard, which required mowing every few weeks. (It rains a lot here.) Since I don't have the strength for a push mower, in spite of myself I had to buy a gas mower - a noisy, polluting machine.

It had three stories and several rooms, therefore more light bulbs and, well, even with the best intentions one forgets to turn them off sometimes. 

It had electronic thermostats in every room, and so I had to keep remembering to go around and turn the heat down when I went out, or at night. Sometimes I would go away for a few days and forget to turn the heat down. (Programmable thermostats don't work for people without a definite routine, and that's the case for me.)

A big house just produces more waste.

Repairing a big house requires more energy because of its sheer size.

My big house contained more stuff than I needed

The more space you have, the more stuff you buy. And the more stuff you hoard.

Even "good" things like books. Instead of borrowing it from the public library, you buy it. You read it, then you shelve it. After all, you've got all that space, and books look nice, and they make you look intelligent!

But for producing books, trees have to be cut, and that doesn't make me feel very smart.

So, in preparation for moving into my small house, I had to psych myself for saying goodbye to all the books that I haven't read in over a year. (Reference books are excluded from this pruning, of course.) 

This was not easy -- I'm extremely attached to my books -- but it was relatively simple to choose which books to get rid of - they have been in boxes in the basement for over a year! There was just no room for them in the apartment I moved to after selling the big house.

And then I thought I might even make a bit of money by selling them on eBay or Amazon Marketplace.

I only keep the books that will fit on one shelf that I built at the top of the new sunroom-office. I also kept the cookbooks that will fit into a small bookcase.

And from then on, I decided to buy mostly used books.

However, I continue to make an exception for books about permaculture and other environmental subjects. Those I like to buy new simply because their authors and publishers need our encouragement in order to keep producing those valuable books, which usually have a very limited circulation.

I also downsized my kitchen, and kept only the utensils that I use regularly.

A big house has a bigger ecological footprint

In case you're not familiar with the concept, the ecological footprint is

the area of land and water required to support a defined economy or human population at a specified standard of living indefinitely, using prevailing technology.

The premise is that if every person, family or nation on earth lived like Canadians and Americans do, we would require several more planets like this one.

Naturally, a bigger house takes up more of the Earth's space physically, but, also, building it required a lot of resources and generated a lot of waste, and once it has outlived its usefulness, it will produce even more waste.

And most of that waste will probably be toxic.

My small house will have a small garden

Thanks to my permaculture training (and new methods like Square Foot Gardening), I will be able to grow a lot of food in a small space.


No more lawn! Adiós gas mower!

A FEW TIPS FOR DOWNSIZING

  • Downsize your wardrobe. They say if you haven't worn it for a year, you don't need it.
  • Downsize your car. (According to environmentalist David Suzuki, "Light cars produce fewer emissions and cost less. Annual fuel costs average $648 for a new Volkswagen Jetta and $2,067 for a Ford Expedition 4x4.")
  • Downsize your meal portions. We eat too much and it's killing us and our children. Also, food production depletes the earth's resources.
  • Join a Voluntary Simplicity group. They're everywhere.
  • Take a permaculture workshop.
  • Live within your means. Forget about keeping up with the Joneses - they're probably trying to keep up with the Smiths (who are trying to keep up with the Browns, etc.)!

I'm sure you can think of a thousand more ways to cut down, cut back, cut off... and feel immense relief for doing it.

We are already experiencing the effects of climate change, yet it seems that homes are getting bigger and bigger.

Why are so many of us insensitive to what we are doing to the future generations?

Considering the environment and the present economic situation, downsizing your home seems like quite a rational decision right now, doesn't it?

Do you need more convincing? Then check out this great video about The Story of Stuff. 

Then come back and tell us how you're tackling this downsizing issue.

P.S. Not Just Homes, Hotels Too!

For the sake of the planet, I wish more hotels and motels would follow the lead of the Yotel chain. I stayed in a room (they call them “cabins”) exactly like this one in New York City recently.

For an Ikea fan, this was heaven! Look at how everything you need – sleeping/resting, bathing, storage, workspace, entertainment -  has been designed to be compact, ergonomic and uncluttered. The look was youthful and serene at the same time.

In the photo, the bed is in its “sofa” position, achieved by pushing a button, serving a dual function like many of the other features.



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COMMENTS

...I clicked to your site and found a great wealth of information. I'm about the least tool oriented person there is around, but I'm passionate about many of the topics you write about. And I find the writing to be very well done and informative even for a non-handy person like me. Welldone.

Dean
Prague, Czech Republic

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I would just like to thank you for maintaining this resource. It's essential that information about environmental issues are easily and broadly accessible.

Steve
United States

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Thank you so much forsharing your exquisitely well-told stories! I have spent the last 2 hours reading the whole saga, and I appreciate all of the detail that went into your decision making. I hope you are enjoying your green home with cozy surroundings and energy efficiency.

Candice
Unites States

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Thank you for taking the time to write down your experiences. It is truly a valuable service.

Rajiv
United States

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Thanks for all the info on this site, it is very thorough.

Marie
United States

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Very well documented and I appreciate the work and the effort you have put into this.

Brian
Canada

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Hey! Just wanted to compliment you on your site! I'm a new, first time homeowner, with a dirt crawlspace andhave searched for hours on how to set it up.

Living here in Montreal, and the conditions aren't easy on a house and this site sure helped to answer some questions.


Thank you for displaying your work and experience!

Bannon
Canada

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Have to say I absolutely love your site. Really complete, well thought out, and has me clicking from page to page...

Marcus
Spain

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I just wanted to say I love your site! Well done!

Susan
United States


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Love your web site. You are an inspiration to me. I am 66 and I want to build a small green home on my land. [...] Your green home looks beautiful. I wish you luck in all your endeavors!

Nancy
United States

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Thanks again for your advice! Your blog has been really helpful!

Virginia
Minnesota

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I visited your site today and just wanted to congratulate you on a well presented and informative website.

                       Brad
                  Australia

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Just came across your site and think it is fab! Lots of info there for sure!

Michelle
Canada

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I would like to thank you for your excellent articles covering your well drilling experience. (...) I expect to be visiting your site often!  

Glenn
Canada

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BACKGROUND

A few years ago, I bought this fixer-upper for $10,000.

It had been vacant for six years, had no water supply, needed a new roof, and was likely to conceal an unsuspected number of nasty flaws.

Don't believe me? See these "Before" pictures.

My intention was to turn it into as "green" as home as I could, within my physical, financial, and geographical limits – and to share this adventure with you, step-by-step and dollar-by-dollar.

I'm not quite finished, but I do have a few "After" pictures to show.

If you want to follow me on this exciting adventure, you can subscribe to this site by RSS feed -- see the box below the navigation bar on the left.