A Small Home That Grows When You Do

Small home design

Why build a small home?  There are many reasons.  In my past blog, I discussed the construction cost reasons; see that blog here. Just keep in mind that the “American Dream” of owning a home should not indenture you for life to a bank.

Plan to build small with the option growing as your needs and budget grows. Plan to save materials before the home is built. Plan on using quality recycled materials by designing them into the home and saving them before construction begins. Building an affordable, functional, and beautiful home is all dependent on design.

The home I am designing for myself employs these principles. The “tiny home movement” is valid in that it teaches people to live simpler and in smaller spaces with less clutter, however, it does have its short comings.  I have friends that started with tiny homes (10′ x 9′) and it worked for a while, but guess what?  When it came time to have someone over there was no room to ‘entertain’ them.  These homes were just too small and were not designed to be added on to.  So, they had to start over and build something larger.

This is where I am heading with my small home design- how to build small to get on a site affordably, but how to plan for addition of space as funds and more spaces are needed. The top rendering shows Volume 1 as the main volume, which is two stories.  The other volumes can be added on later. This does take some planing so that wiring and conduits won’t have to be rerouted.  Also, with good planing and design, windows come out and an interior door goes into its hole making passage to the new addition.  Another area of concern is where the new roof meets the old wall. This can be built into the exterior wall with flashing and ledger so that when it is time to add on, no siding has to be removed.  Some siding looks rather nice as an interior wall, such as a vertical cedar board v-match or ship-lap.

open interior space of living area
Loft bedroom and desk

I have come up with several key ingredients to a small home design.  One is, don’t make it too small. Create a main space that gives ample room for a kitchen, a place to eat, and a place to entertain, meaning some nice seating with pleasant outdoor views. Such seating can as act as a place to sleep if a guest stays over if the couch is a ‘fold out’.  Give room for stairs that meet modern codes ( 7.75 inches of rise to 10″ of tread usually).  Have a loft above or a second story where you will sleep and can have a desk and closet space.  Having a second story saves on roofing, insulation, and foundation.

By making this main volume tall, the home is prepared for lower, smaller additions to be easily added on later. Such additions can be another bedroom on the first floor, a mudroom with increased storage, and laundry and counter top space for gardening projects or household tasks that you don’t want to be doing on the kitchen counter.  Also, a main bathroom could be added to another side of the building at a later date or at the beginning.  Which volumes you choose to begin with all depends on your initial start-up budget.  Remember: building too small will make it harder down the road for adding on.

Don’t forget that with good design, built-in shelving and storage can use space that once seemed unusable (under the stairs, etc). Efficient storage space is important in a small home. Many small homes never a plan for enough storage. This simply doesn’t work and the residents often end up storing their stuff outside in the weather, cluttering up their site.

My home shown here starts out with a main volume that is 16′ X 24′  with a second story, or 768 square ft. The additional spaces are a bedroom at 12′ X 13′-6″ (162 sq ft), a mudroom at 8′ X 10′ (80 sq ft), and a bathroom at 8′-6″ x 11′ (94.6 sq ft)  for a total of 337 sq ft more. All of the volumes together gives the plan a total 1105 sq ft. This is a very comfortable-sized home for a couple or small family.

The design of my home will change a bit when I find a specific building site.  This home is designed for passive solar gain; there is a concrete slab floor to the south.  Depending on the site, the concrete can either be slab on grade or a slab over a typical joisted floor system. I will configure some of the building to have a full basement for utility and washer/dryer if the site is conducive to this.

Cheaper land often has ledges, which makes a basement expensive. In this case, there will have to be an additional volume built for utility and laundry.  Some of the foundation can be on piers, some can be crawlspace foundation, but those issues depend on the site.

I have posted this project under a new section on my website, www.Greenovision.com, that is dedicated to small home design. Check it out here. To see a similar small home that I designed and built in Maine, check out Liberty House.

The computer images and drawings shown on this blog were created by Mark Pelletier and are property of Greenovision, LLC. Beware of the copyright monster!


  • February 14, 2011


    I love this small home. Great idea that you can start small and affordable, then easily make it bigger.

  • February 22, 2011

    Hi Mark,
    I found you through your comments on Kunstler’s CFN blog last week.
    Your thoughts there had me howling and thoroughly agreeing. The antics that you describe in Bozeman are identical those happening here in Crested Butte, CO. Exactly.
    And in perusing your site it seems that we were separated at birth, architecture, building and societal commentary are brotherly.
    I’ll look forward to seeing more of you there and here.
    Thanks so much,

  • January 29, 2017

    Matty Miller

    I really like your ideas. Are you saying that the bathroom would be in one of the addon spaces? Do you have plans for this home?
    Thanks for sharing your ideas.

Post a Comment