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Green Home Building: Compact Design

Small can be beautiful and cozy. The trend lately has been toward huge mansion-style houses. Large houses generally use a tremendous amount of energy to heat and cool. This energy usually comes from the combustion of fossil fuels, depleting these resources and emitting greenhouse gases and pollutants into the air. […]

Small can be beautiful and cozy. The trend lately has been toward
huge mansion-style houses. Large houses generally use a tremendous amount
of energy to heat and cool. This energy usually comes from the combustion
of fossil fuels, depleting these resources and emitting greenhouse gases
and pollutants into the air. Also, the larger the house, the more materials
go into its construction; materials which may have their own environmental
consequences. A home should be just the right size for its occupants and
their activities. My wife and I (and our two dogs) happily lived in a
forty foot bus for four years. The key to this is efficient use of space,
good organization, and keeping possessions to a manageable level.

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Lloyd Kahn has done it again! He has published another seminal work on the general topic of shelter. This one is devoted to the art of living in small spaces…in style. Tiny Homes, Simple shelter: Scaling Back in the 21st Century is another amazing book with over a thousand photos detailing more than you could ever imagine about the beauty and construction of tiny houses. By “tiny” Lloyd means no larger than 500 sq. ft., but many of them are much smaller than this.

Having built and lived in many odd small structures, I can certainly appreciate the craft and utility of this approach to shelter. What I didn’t realize was the extent to which this movement has captured the imagination of common folk. Clearly the economic climate is part of the reason for this, as is the ecological realization that scaling back is often the right thing to do. Small design goes hand in hand with using recycled materials, and the result is cheap, ecological homes. There are builders across the country who are now finding a market for little buildings that can easily be hauled to any site after they have been built.

Dwellers of these little homes are finding that life can be simpler when space is at a premium, partly because the temptation to buy more stuff is thwarted by the impracticality of storing it. Also, one has to become neater and more orderly about keeping things in their place; otherwise life becomes unbearable. And folks find that they actually spend more time outside, another pleasurable and healthful benefit.

Lloyd has organized this colorful book into several chapters, each of which deals with the topic in a different way. There are homes that are fixed on foundations, on wheels, designed by architects or not, prefabs and kits, those made of earthy materials, treehouses, motorhomes, and even boats. The aesthetics can suit any impulse, from the funkiest of hippie hovel to high end architectural achievement. Some of these abodes are true artistic masterpieces of woodworker’s craft, and some are strictly utilitarian in style and function. Nearly all of the homes shown are described in some detail, either by the builder or the dweller, so there is personal narrative that is woven throughout the book. This makes the work inspiring on many levels; often these little homes were built by folks who have never built anything before, and become empowered by the experience of making something they can actually live in.

Because these little homes can be hauled to a location or built on site with fewer materials, they are often located in spectacular places, with views and a relationship with the nature around them that is breathtaking. I applaud this movement toward living more simply and ecologically, and I applaud Lloyd Kahn for providing a totally pleasurable glimpse into this little world! —reviewed by Kelly Hart

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Rolling Shelter: Vehicles We Have Called Home Are you interested in RV living? Rolling Shelter is a personal account of Kelly and Rosana Hart’s life in two different buses, three vans, two small motor homes, two travel trailers combined into one house, and two cars. Kelly tells stories about how they spent time exploring the western United States, Mexico and Guatemala, all the while living in various RV’s. This book will inspire you and give you some ideas for how you might take advantage of vehicles to provide shelter in your life. In full color, the book features over 200 photographs and 5 detailed floor plans. With descriptions of how the conversions were accomplished, it is valuable both as an overview of vehicular dwelling and as a construction manual for how you might convert your own.


The books shown below are arranged according to when they were published, with the most recent ones at the top. If you click on one of the images you will be taken to a page at where you can find out more about the book. If you end up buying one of them, will receive a small commission that will help cover the cost of maintaining this website. Thanks for your patronage.


Here is an 896 sf plan made for a couple’s weekend retreat…or even full time residence. It won’t take much to heat this place in winter or keep cool in summer. It will be easy to go off grid with this one!

For more information about this plan, and many others, visit our sister site, where you will find a wide range of plans for sustainable homes, greenhouses, small buildings, garages, and food storage space for sale. Dream Green Homes is a consortium of outstanding architects and designers, who have pooled their talent and expertise for your benefit. an article about thinking small for habitats. a short article published in 1941 about a small cordwood cottage with a unique fireplace/stair combination. an article about living in a 70 sf round cob house. an article about Dee Williams’ adventure with living small. a very informative video about the tiny house movement. designs and builds wome wonderful tiny homes on wheels. the Shelter Publications blog frequently features tiny houses, both stationary and mobile. a nice article about the benefits of living small. features an extensive infographic about the benefits of tiny houses. has a page about building tiny homes using their SIPs. allows the reader to post ads for tiny homes, plans, books, workshops, related supplies, etc. publishes a monthly digital magazine devoted to everything about tiny homes. Small house movement: the cost to build a tiny house – DIY options – what to expect.

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