ASH, or Awesome Small House, is my concept of what a dwelling in the twenty first century should be. The premise is to abandon the bad practices of building temporary and cheap dwellings and move to a more sustainable paradigm. In order to accomplish that, our attitudes need to change. We need to understand that conspicuous consumption is a vice and not a virtue. We are not bigger and more important because we generate a monstrous carbon footprint. We need to reduce the level of toxic chemicals in our environment, and especially in our homes. We need our homes to be efficient, to use resources wisely. Our homes should be both comfortable and secure. A home should make us feel like we’re living in harmony with nature, not building a fortress against it.
The Awesome Small House is all about finding the place where cost efficiency meets thermal efficiency. It’s both comfortable and healthy. It has to be affordable while providing the best overall quality of life possible. An Awesome Small House doesn’t have to be a new structure, I’m sure there are many older homes that could be successfully renovated to become ASH Homes.
So what exactly is the Awesome Small House?
The Awesome Shall House is efficient. Its thermal performance should be if of a high standard appropriate to the local climate. The thermal envelope should be airtight. Mechanical systems should be inside the envelope. Lighting and appliances should be the most efficient possible. Storage should be adequate, not excessive, and moved outside the envelope when possible. From the earliest design stages energy and air circulation should be modeled and the long term implications of these decisions well understood.
It should not waste space. There should not be unused and unnecessary rooms or spaces. Formal dining rooms and spare bedrooms that are rarely or never used are an anathema. Spaces should be open, flexible and communal, but people also need their own private areas. Where possible, views that help bring the outside in are encouraged.
An Awesome Shall House should be healthy. This means moving beyond avoiding things that are actually dangerous. The building and environment should promote good health. It should have properly sized energy or heat recovery mechanical ventilation with high quality filters. In the appropriate climate zones, there should be a system for managing humidity.
Intangibles matter, an Awesome Shall House must encourage both physical and mental comfort. Just providing comfortable levels of temperature and humidity are not enough to make your home awesome. We are at peace when we feel we’re in harmony with nature. The gardens and yards are part of the overall design. The Japanese are masters of this and we can learn much from them. Have a place for indoor plants, have views into a private garden. Use available sunlight wisely, along with the textures and scents of the natural world. The interface between outside and inside is a key factor in making a good house into an awesome home.
You must also make your awesome house secure. It should be as rugged as possible, able to stand up to whatever nature is going to throw at you. The details are going to be region specific. In most places an extra 10% invested in hurricane shutters, better roof attachments, or a more earthquake resistant foundation not only improves physical security but provides a lower level of anxiety over time. Durable and low maintenance finishes for both the interior and exterior will reduce the opportunities for unnoticed deterioration in structural integrity over time. The goal of security and durability is a lower long term cost of ownership.
A truly awesome home must also be personal. There is no single architectural style that suits all, or appropriate for all regions, or even neighborhoods. Even so, simple is almost always better. With small houses, a lot of decorative elements will detract from the overall visual statement. What really makes a smaller house stand out is attention to detail. An example: if the exterior cladding is siding, miter the corners instead of using corner boards. Carefully done details personalize your home in a subtle way. There’s nothing wrong with a little whimsy. Make it your own. Remember that whatever the style, craftsmanship is supremely important.
If we take care, our home can achieve all of these goals at a reasonable long term cost of ownership. A well thought out plan should result in an inspirational home.