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Jul 282009
 

By Harriet Blake
Green Right Now

One or two of the seven dwarfs would enjoy these houses, but certainly not all of them, and forget about Snow White. In Peter Pan, the lost boys made such a house for Wendy. And when Alice landed in Wonderland, she too experienced the tiny house phenomenon.

So, now in 2009, what’s the appeal of a home that ranges 100 to 800 square feet? Is there a market for them? Are people really downsizing to this level?

The economy may be one factor, but most folks who are attracted to these miniature homes are seeking a simpler, scaled down lifestyle –one that is kinder to the environment. Such a home uses less energy and takes advantage of renewable resources.

Simon Hare, a designer/builder in the Boston area, has resurrected an 150-year-old former gunsmith workshop and is now living in a very efficient 750-square-foot home in the dense urban setting of Roxbury, Mass. Dubbed the Pratt House project, the house is being constructed by Placetailor Inc.,  a design/build company that renovates city environments. Hare is one of five associates who work at Placetailor. The house, says Hare, “is named after Henry Pratt, the 19th century gunsmith who used it as his workshop when Roxbury was still mostly a rural settlement on the outskirts of Boston.”

Through the Looking Glass

“We just moved in this summer,” says Hare, who lives here with his engineer wife and one-year-old child. “In fact, the house isn’t finished yet. We live on the top floor, while the downstairs is being completed. We like small spaces — we’ve lived in studios before. It’s good for the environment, it’s easier to control and it’s good financially.”

Placetailor has managed to eliminate a traditional heating system (see picture right), amazing for anyone who has experienced a New England winter. “We keep the heat from a hot shower and the heat emitted by a refrigerator, by having great insulation. We also seal the building to make it airtight and situate the openings to best take advantage of the sun. By putting windows on the correct sides of the building, we minimize the amount of heat that is lost. We use no oil or gas, in fact, the house is designed to consume no energy.”

“Our walls,” says Hare, “are made of 12-1/4″ thick Styrofoam sandwiched between two layers of plywood. This is one of the many construction details we used to make the most of our house, both energy wise and otherwise.

“We don’t have a lot of appliances,” says Hare. Their washer-dryer is one unit and contains a condensing dryer, which is very efficient. It fits beneath the counter, similar to a dishwasher. “The clothes go in dirty and come out dry and clean,” says Hare. The unit does not emit exhaust like a typical dryer, so no heat is lost. As for cooking, the Hares use a convection microwave oven and a small cook top range, designed for a sailboat. Their fridge is measures 10 cubic feet.

The plumbing system consists of an electric tank less and instantaneous hot water heater located in a special wall cavity between the bathroom and kitchen, which are back to back. There are three lines, one goes to the lavatory, says Hare; the others go to the shower and the kitchen sink. There is no traditional water heater, “so we avoid having water standing around,” says Hare.

Basically, it’s a big house condensed into a smaller one, he says. “We’ve cut out a lot of things. And it’s taken a lot of trips to the local thrift shop to donate what we don’t use. There’s no room for storage.”

The second floor has two areas for sleeping, but no partitions. “The house is good for our small family, but would also work for empty nesters,” says Hare. In addition, he says, “we’ve found that people put out heat themselves and now with the addition of our baby, that helps…

“Of course,” he says, “there are other reasons for having kids!”