Not Your Neighbor's McMansion: New Approaches to Housing

BlogHer Original Post

Changing times call for changing houses. Several forces are combining to propel a movement to small houses in contrast to the increasingly large houses known as "McMansions" which have become popular in the past few decades.

Modular housing, also known as prefab has enjoyed a resurgence lately. There are several drivers of this movement including a desire for affordable modern and/or custom-built homes. Another primary driver of interest is the growing desire to "go green." Nina at Queercents thinks that it will take some time for the small house movement to really materialize but looks at an article in The Los Angeles Times which cites these "green" reasons why small houses are increasingly attractive:

He first asks, “What’s so awful about these big, bad houses?” And then rattles off the usual list:

1. It wastes natural resources by using more building materials.
2. It requires more energy to heat and cool than a small home.
3. It cost more to buy so typically people can only buy a big house in a less expensive location. This means far from work resulting in a longer commute, using gas and creating more pollution.

Read the entire post to see Nina's analysis of the article and why she concludes: "Bigger isn’t always better. Small is destined to catch on again."

Another use for modular housing has been found in rebuilding areas devistated by Hurricane Katrina. Leslie Eaton's New York Times article Katrina Victims Find a Solution: Modular House finds that since the storm,

modular houses, which range from simple shotgun-style cottages to fancy minimansions, are starting to appear across the Gulf Coast, as public officials and private citizens search for ways to speed the slow pace of recovery and begin experimenting with new forms of shelter.

Another form of recovery housing developed in response to Katrina are Katrina Cottages. I recall reading a while back that some small, pre-built houses were being rejected as an option because they were not to built on foundations. However, it seems that the slow pace of rebuilding has led to a change of heart.

Katrina Cottages will now be sold by Lowes initially in the Gulf Coast area but then nationally due to interest in a variety of other uses for the small but highly affordable homes which can be built for under $50,000. D at Divorce to Financial Freedom says Go Lowes!!!

The Inman Blog, which looks at the real estate industry, points to the downsizing trend and finds Smaller Nest which is a company that specializes in helping boomers and seniors downsize.

Seniors and the disabled also have needs which lead to specialized housing requirements. Universal design which meets those specialized requirements is increasingly being used to create housing that can meet the needs of anybody. For instance, Lisa Chamberlin in a New York Times article Design for Everyone, Disabled or Not writes:

For instance, at 6 North, what looks like interior decoration is actually intentionally contrasting colors to allow people with limited vision to navigate the space. In the hallways, carpeting in front of apartment entrances is darker to signal the door’s location. Next to each entryway is a small shelf, which looks like a nice design detail but is also a handy spot for people to put down mail or packages while they open the door. This is, of course, equally convenient for a parent carrying a baby or people with partial paralysis.

All of these new housing options are great examples of how trying to meet the needs of one group might serve to meet the needs of more people than you can imagine.

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