Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Book Review: Bigger Than Tiny, Smaller Than Average

Bigger Than Tiny, Smaller Than Average by Sheri Koones. Published by Gibbs Smith, Layton, UT, 2022

Reviewed by Janis Petzel, M.D.

When my husband and I decided to build our house in 2013, we loved the idea of a tiny house, for energy efficiency, mindful use of space, and their cuteness. But due to restrictions on the subdivided land we bought, we had to build an 1800 square foot home. As it turned out, I am glad it’s not smaller. But I am also glad it’s not bigger.

Bigger Than Tiny, Smaller than Average by Sheri Koones showcases homes that border on tiny house size (400 to 600 square feet) up to around 1800 square feet. If you are wondering, the average new home in the U.S. is 2500 square feet. With our older housing stock in New England and upstate New York, the average home size in our region is 1660 to1815 square feet (2019 data,

Koones, the author of this and ten other books on sustainable homes, presents a nicely photographed collection of 26 new or remodeled homes designed by various architects around the U.S. and Canada, from prefab modern to an old-fashioned balloon framed cottage. My favorites from a creative inspiration point of view were the urban remodels of an old carriage house, and a car repair garage. Each respected the history and character of their neighborhoods but made the residences comfortable and functional.

The homes in this book from Maine, Vermont, rural New York and Nova Scotia may be of particular interest to G.E.T. readers since they were designed for our four-season environment.

The description of each home includes a floor plan and at the end of each chapter, a focus on an energy efficiency or building technique, such as making space for an all-electric vehicle and charger, building a house on piers so flood water can pass under it without harming the structure, thermal mass for passive heating and cooling, ideas for non-traditional siding or bi-fold glass doors, HVAC requirements for an air-tight house, and increasing home density in urban settings, etc.

You can get ideas for your own home. These might include, for example, tucking computer workstations in unused space, designing smaller bedrooms and bathrooms, open floor plans with multipurpose rooms, and good use of space around stairwells. The book has a useful list of sources at the end. Photos of the interiors are all excellent.

One idea new to me was Venetian blinds on the outside of the building. The author is right, traditional window shades are great, but the heat is already inside the house when it hits them. These Venetian blinds automatically open to let in light and close to keep heat or cold outside, even if snow piles up.

The homes in this book are designed to be energy efficient, some with solar panels, some not. But if you are looking for ideas on non-traditional structure – yurts, straw bales, or 3-D printed homes, such as the one recently produced by the University of Maine – you’ll need a different book. Koones does showcase prefab homes, for which she is an expert – see her Prefabulous books for example.

Most of the featured homes in this book fit great into their rural, urban and suburban neighborhoods, with a couple of exceptions. The Hygge House sits heavy, like a fallout shelter in a group of older beach houses on Lake Chaplain. It jars and detracts from the charm, in my opinion.

I loved the Passive House LA, even though I am not fond of stark, modern architecture. But it looks like a prickly (but cool) bunker in a neighborhood of small houses with front porches. It is not welcoming. But passive homes like this would improve local air quality, increase availability of good housing and make utilities affordable. Can’t we design homes to have it all, neighborliness and efficiency?

This book could have used a cost estimate for each featured home. These homes look expensive. Energy efficient homes are cheaper to maintain and heat, but as pricey as any house these days to build. I’d love to see Koones write a book on how to build an attractive, energy efficient home with a smaller than average price tag.

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