What do you do if you don't have a large piece of land or enough money to build your perfect home yet?
What if you don't have a home or site with enough southern exposure for a passive solar home?
What if, for any number of reasons, collecting water, or installing a greywater system is not feasible for you at this time?
You want to take steps toward a more sustainable life, lessen your footprint on the planet, and do something good for yourself and your family.
So, what can you do now to move forward?
My partner Matt and I recently had the opportunity to stay in a lovely little cottage on the coast of Northern California. Unbeknownst to us, we were walking into a playground of sustainable living when we booked a week long stay at this home.
Here are just a few examples of how one couple has made the most of a small plot of land in town. With their creativity and skills, they have co-created a sustainable oasis.
Let's Start in the Garden
The small yard between the modest main house and backyard cottage is filled with an enchanting garden.
The greenhouse was constructed from windows reclaimed from an old school.
Raised gardens beds produce loads of edibles in a small protected area of the yard. The growing season was just beginning, but leafy greens, berries, and asparagus were already showing signs of life.
A worm bin was tucked into the side yard. The attractive and clever design makes composting kitchen scraps easy. Raising and lowering this large lid is easy because the lid is balanced with a weight at the end of the rope. The heavy lid keeps dogs and animals from getting into the delicious contents.
Paper is recycled by shredding and laying it over the top of the food scraps.
The cottage proved to be as delightful as the gardens. By counting the Saltillo tiles on the floor, I'd estimate the floor plan at 20 feet by 24 feet. The 480 square foot cottage was the perfect size for a single person or couple. Matt and I felt like we could indefinitely live here because of the efficient design.
This small home is nothing like our thicked-walled, passive solar, off-grid home, but it is a terrific example of making a sustainable home anywhere.
First, the nearly square home, sandwiched between two other structures, affords no opportunity for even one south-facing, solar-gain window. There are very few windows at all, so each window is strategically placed, and a small skylight brings in much-needed light.
With the open floor plan, this skylight provides daylighting for the entire home.
With well-insulated walls and roof, a small propane heater warms the space in a matter of minutes.
One of the main features that makes this modest space so functional is the ingenious room divider constructed by the owner. Obviously, he has some carpentry skills, and this custom element is worth its weight in gold. The divider is two-sided, allowing access from both the living room and bedroom on the opposite side. In addition to defining separate spaces, it contains an abundance of storage for books and treasures.
A TV, tucked away in the center of the unit, is available in either living room or bedroom by simply swiveling it to either side.
A handy slide-out desk creates a workspace in the living room.
The bedroom is spacious enough for a queen-sized bed.
Residing here in our home-away-from-home, convinced us that living in a home that is less than 500 square feet is entirely achievable.
So often I am asked how much my house cost or I hear people express how expensive it is to build sustainably. The price of my home is not a secret, but I don't often share how much I spent because what truly matters is your budget and how far you're willing to go to live sustainably - both environmentally and financially.
If you are just starting out, don't have equity in a property, or a pile of money stashed in a mattress, a small home like this may be in your reach. You don't necessarily have to build a Tiny House.
There are loads of possibilities between a 150SF and a 1500SF home.
Each of you will undoubtedly have a unique solution based on budget, lifestyle and what is most valuable to you or your family.