The American home is at a crossroads, with two major problems: the bloated McMansions we’d grown accustomed to before the Meltdown can no longer be financed at most banks. And they’re highly unsustainable because our buildings have essentially been “unemployed” for the past hundred years. Project:SmartDwelling aspires to cure both of these ills. Here’s how we plan to do it:

The Size Problem

   Since the end of World War II, the average American home has ballooned to over double its size, while the typical American household has shrunk to half its previous size. Yet, with half as many people living in houses twice as big, we now have so much excess stuff that won’t fit in these houses that we’ve made the mini-storage industry a $17 billion/year business! That’s bigger than the movie industry!

Putting Our Houses on a Diet

   Today, the tide is turning, as nearly everyone realizes we’ve gone too far. There are a number of proposals out there which shrink homes incrementally, but this isn’t good enough. Shaving off a few hundred square feet won’t get the job done, because it won’t reduce the price enough for the bank to make the loan. We’ve got to get better results.

   How much better? We believe that if we are able to design homes that will satisfy the same customer with about half the square footage, that will be enough to get the job done. But we can’t just shrink a house and expect people to like it. Nobody wants to see their life in a vise. For each reduction in footage, the house must get that much smarter so that it lives like a house that’s larger. We believe it’s possible for a seriously Smaller & Smarter house to live twice as large as its footage. It won’t cost half as much, of course, because getting smarter means getting somewhat more expensive per square foot. We believe that a Smaller & Smarter house that lives twice as big as its footage will be roughly 60% as expensive as the big, dumb house.

The Green Problem

   Those aren’t the only savings, however. Remember what we said at the beginning about our homes being unemployed for a hundred years? That means that the architecture hasn’t worked to help condition itself. Rather, we’ve designed floor plans, wrapped whatever architectural style we wanted around them, and then called in the engineers to condition it all. Because the buildings have been loafing, the equipment has had to work overtime. And that’s expensive.

Putting Our Houses Back to Work

   That’s all about to change with Project:SmartDwelling. Because we’re not just making homes Smaller & Smarter, but we’re making them much more efficient as well. This efficiency is tied closely to the region in which the homes are located, because green strategies that make sense on Cape Cod are likely to look ridiculous in New Orleans, and vice versa. SmartDwelling I, which was published in the Wall Street Journal in 2009, for example, was designed for New Orleans. There are a number of posts on the Original Green blog beginning April 27, 2009 which detail various aspects of SmartDwelling I.

The Next Steps

   We’re now about to break ground on the first SmartDwelling. It’s a different design, because it’s in a different region. This one is at East Beach Norfolk, and it’ll be the 2011 Idea House for Coastal Living, otherwise known as the Ultimate Beach House. It’s being designed by Steve & Wanda Mouzon; Steve is blogging about its features on 3 Useful Minutes, which is Mouzon Design’s blog.

   Expect to see SmartDwellings from a number of New Urban Guild members shortly. A number are known to be working on them, and there are certainly others. As they’re either published or built, we’ll follow the progress on the SmartDwelling News blog. Check back frequently...

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