The average new American home weighs in at 2,400 square feet, even as our most popular cable TV shows illustrate our utter fascination with tiny houses. But between these two housing poles lies the optimal 21st century home: what I call the small, affordable, net energy, or SANE, house.
After building boats in the 1990s and geodesic contraptions such as the 112-square-foot Life Pod over the past 10 years, I turned my design focus to just the right size home for today’s family, leveraging renewable energy and contemporary materials and technology. Think of it as a Life Pod on steroids.
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The SANE house ranges from 400 to 1,200 square feet, too small for the contemporary builder but not so different from the capes and lowland homes that German and Scotch Irish pioneers brought with them in their heads, as they established the South we know today. Small is relative. Our global partners live in homes averaging 200 square feet per occupant, and have been doing so for millennia.
After World War II, our parents and grandparents, the greatest generation, raised as many as five children in houses that were around 1,000 square feet. Today our children spend the day in rambling space attached to their iPhones, requiring perhaps a couch or love seat and fridge nearby.
The high divorce rate leaves our 2,400-square-foot, $200,000 to $600,000 homes more than half empty, the subject of litigation and settlements. The tiny home is adorable for a long weekend, but most of us don’t want to trip over each other on a regular basis to get to the salt or find a towel.
We need houses that are sized just right, with an ability to make as much energy as they require to light, heat, cool and provide for all the appliances and iPhone recharging imaginable.
The thousands of Baby Boomers who reach their 60s each day seek less house to take care of, with room for the important stuff and perhaps a spare bedroom for visiting kids and grandkids. The millennials who will champion our information technology-based century seek a home they and their children can afford, while they draw little from the dwindling pool of fossil fuels. Governments seek less expensive, aesthetic housing for families at a disadvantage. So why aren’t we building these homes by the score?
There are plenty of trailer parks built in the 1950s and 1960s that still have the water and sewer hookups, yet have become eyesores. These could be transformed. Our regional high schools build 1,200 to 1,600 square foot ranches to be auctioned off while families at 80 percent to 130 percent of the median S.C. income yearn for clean, safe, affordable housing to replace their dreadful dwellings. Let’s award and recognize these students with STEM-based hands-on experiential learning projects, like SANE homes, to enhance their education.
We can reduce urban and suburban blight and revitalize a Midlands community with innovative, job-creating, investment-generating ideas and solutions. In prefabricated, climate-controlled manufacturing facilities, we can build these SANE-style houses and their components and provide new jobs and innovative solutions in a fast-growth, renewable-energy-driven small house market.
Let’s transform housing through innovation, fresh design and entrepreneurial spirit. Our history and heritage are filled with innovation in the canals, steam trains and submarines we celebrate. Let’s get that going again, making things we need, now.
Mr. Weekes is an industrial engineer who relocated to the Midlands in 2015 to challenge, foster and drive new economic development through public-private partnerships with builders, architects and education institutions. His Life Pod invention was the forerunner of the SANE house. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.