Duck Duck Book


42 – little house
02.7.2007, 12:02 am
Filed under: art & entertainment

Little house on a small planet : simple homes, cozy retreats, and energy efficient possibilities / by Shay Salomon ; photographs by Nigel Valdez.
Guilford, Conn. : Lyons Press, c2006.
[MCL call number: 728.37 S174L 2006; nine copies, three holds]

There are many books about how to build an “eco-friendly” house, or remodel an existing house to be more “green.”  The library where I work has scores of titles on building houses from straw bales or out of cob, installing green roofs, naturescaping your urban garden, installing solar power, and choosing building materials that are less toxic than the standard, or that have been more or less sustainably manufactured.  The library also has hundreds of books showing floor plans for dream houses and giving advice about how to decorate, landscape, organize, and live happily in your apartment or house. 

But even the books that focus on building small, living in a limited space, or reducing how decorating, remodeling, or landscaping negatively impacts the environment; even these are practically throwing a party for readers who want to change something substantial about their home.  It’s hard to find a book that recommends that you leave your home as it is, a book that advocates for the position that the most eco-friendly thing you can do to your house may well be to  decide not to remodel or renovate it.  Little House on a Small Planet, however, is such a book.

Little House uses profiles of dozens of people and families and their small houses to illustrate a series of twelve suggestions for reducing how much impact an individual dwelling has on the environmental life of our planet.  Each profile is accompanied by information about the house and its inhabitants, its size, energy costs, and location.  Most are accompanied by photographs and floor plan drawings.

The small houses profiled really are small — some provide as little as about 100 square feet per occupant (for those of you who aren’t familiar with what this means, imagine a medium-sized apartment kitchen) — but the creative use of space, especially storage space and common space, makes them feel roomy to their occupants.  Many of the people profiled cite their small living space as a catalyst for their personal happiness — small spaces encouraged them to more actively live with their housemates, and to share their space more consciously.  At the same time, living right on top of family members caused some folks to rethink what privacy means and find ways to celebrate everyone’s right to be alone sometimes.  People report that a small house makes them less materialistic — their limited space requires them to consider new possessions carefully. And many small house dwellers reflect on the joy of neighborhood community space.

Little House doesn’t really have a smooth narrative flow — it reads a little bit like the report of a survey.  I found it suited me best to leaf through the book, stopping to read where photographs or floor plans caught my eye, or when I was interested in the particular question being discussed — the consequences of 30 year mortgages, building or redefining space for and with teenagers, encouraging common space in neighborhoods, working within the constraints of building codes.  The book’s index is reasonably good, and the endnotes are helpful, but I wished for more ways to get at the information.  A index of houses and people profiled, for example, would have been nice.  However, Little House has much to recommend it: as leisure reading for people who are interested in the composition of residential space and the history of dwellings; as practical reading for anyone who wants to build a house, remodel one, or reconcile themselves to living in one; and as a resource for anyone researching small houses or environmentally conscious building and remodeling.

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