Our house is going to demonstrate a lot of sustainable systems and is designed to be affordable. Apparently there is a major perception out there that green homes are only for people with deep pockets: after all, to have a green home you need low-e windows, Energy Star appliances, and solar panels, right? While those things are helpful, being green means having a light footprint on the earth… that comes from simplicity and smallness more than anything.

The best way to build green and save money is to consider only what you really need, and build according to that need.

I designed and redesigned many, many different houses before we settled on the one we are building. Ultimately this process helped us discover what our real needs were. It also helped us to realize that we shouldn’t build a house around our stuff, we should build a house around us.

Some of my original designs were excessively large to accommodate our furniture and our many hoped-for children. Some were too small for a family (we really need two bedrooms right now). What we are building is just right, and designed to grow as our family grows. We won’t be paying for more than we need.

Our needs are pretty basic: place to eat, place to cook, place to store some things we use only occasionally or seasonally, place to sleep, place to work, place to relax, place to do laundry, place to bathe, place to potty. Some of these places can do double duty. The more you can do with less space, the more affordable your home… and arguably the more pleasant your relationship with it. After all, your home is meant to serve you, not the other way around.

I’ve met some people who visit RV lots to see how to make the most of small spaces. It is amazing but there are whole families who live quite well in RVs. The outdoors makes a great living room, if your climate permits. In the desert southwest, it generally does… even in the heat of summer, it is possible to construct shady, cool outdoor spaces. And it’s much cheaper and more environmentally friendly to do that than it is to build an enclosed, conditioned space.