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Building a house, how small is too small?
Old 03-04-2020, 08:01 AM   #1
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Building a house, how small is too small?

Taking a little break from the virus threads, I thought I would get some thoughts on houses.

We are looking at building a small house in eastern Washington in town. We have located a quarter acre city lot just a few blocks from main street and the prices here are cheap (maybe we can get the lot for under $30k). City water, sewer and electrical hookups will be about $9000 total.

My wife is designing a 2nd empire style house, but very small (about 1000 square feet across two floors, not including the tower room with Mansard roof).

I am wondering if that is maybe too small. I don't really plan on selling it but it is always in the back of one's mind.

We would be doing all of the building ourselves (after building the pole barn, shed, deck and workshop, we are ready to try a house).
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Old 03-04-2020, 08:12 AM   #2
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What are your plans for it? Permanent residence or second home? I think 1000 is a bit tight for 2 people as full time residence, but there are numerous people that do just fine with that size apt or condo. 1000 sq ft, especially as 2 story, will be quite small footprint each level. Even split up, as 600 main floor and 400 second, those are fairly small. I just think having larger rooms and more space will be nicer if you are living there all the time. Having 1/4 acre is good, it allows some space outside and not being right on top of your neighbor. It also lets you spread out the house footprint some without problems with setbacks.
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Old 03-04-2020, 08:12 AM   #3
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What is the square footage and style of other homes on the neighborhood?
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Old 03-04-2020, 08:16 AM   #4
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Is it one or two bedroom? Do you plan on this being a part time residence? Is your concern around resale value? Is there a garage in addition to the home?

I lived in a 600 sq ft condo and an apartment that was probably just over 1k sq feet. Both were fine and there are days I love the idea of something so small and easy to care for. I do think two bedrooms is better for resale in a home though.
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Old 03-04-2020, 08:16 AM   #5
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Will this be your forever house?
Will stairs pose a concern for you as you age?

We retired to a 950 sq ft home last year.
Two bedrooms, 1.5 bath all on one floor. Deck off kitchen.
Full basement, one half is mechanicals and laundry.
Other half is finished office with walkout to back yard.

Just the two of us so our house works for us.
Stairs to basement rooms may become problematic.
For now, we do have opportunity for personal space.
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Old 03-04-2020, 08:18 AM   #6
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How are you going to get to the second level later in life?

You don't have to add an elevator now...you can stack two large closets and use that space later for one (minimum 6x6 IIRC)
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Old 03-04-2020, 08:33 AM   #7
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I was a little off, it is more like 1200 square feet.

She is putting the master bedroom, kitchen, master bathroom, large pantry room, laundry room, and breakfast nook on the first floor. The second floor would have kind of a loft appearance with a area for our computers, couch, TV, and a decent size gaming table (for board games and D&D). We would just have a toilet/sink on the second floor.

Concerns I have are:

1) No garage, but I guess we could always build a detached garage building later.

2) Not really 2 bedrooms although the 2nd floor could be considered sort of a loft bedroom I guess.

3) No storage room for things like bicycles (again, could later build a garage)

I think her footprint right now is 24 x 28 feet but the lot could support a larger footprint.
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Old 03-04-2020, 09:02 AM   #8
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We keep going back and forth about building a smaller forever home. If we go that route I am looking to have a pole barn for storage, workshop, spare vehicle, etc. especially if no basement. If we proceed the smallest for our needs would be a 2 BR 2 bath house with great room, (no separate dining room), and large kitchen area. I figure at a minimum we would need 1500 sq. ft. so as to not have what I call cramped room sizes. Additionally having both a generous front porch and a screened rear patio are high on the wish list.
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Old 03-04-2020, 09:08 AM   #9
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34 years ago, Our first home was 1100 sq ft, 3 bedroom, 2 bath home and we had 2 kids and 2 dogs at the time! Luckily it had a huge backyard.
It was doable then, but cramped. If it was just DH and I, it would have been plenty of space.
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Old 03-04-2020, 09:20 AM   #10
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Made me look https://architecturestyles.org/second-empire/ Pretty!

Is that near the size of other homes on the block? Would a future buyer be able to add on to it? Our 1880s old house was just over 1200 sf before we added a family room to the back and we raised two kids here and more importantly still live here and think it’s very spacious for the two of us.
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Old 03-04-2020, 09:43 AM   #11
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I used to have a 1k sf 1 story villa. 2b/2br. Tiny and cute but perfect for one. The 1k was under-air, so I'm not counting the 1 car garage. I also had a nice larger screened back patio off the living room so it made that feel very open.

But that was about as small as I'd want for 1 person, not 2. And you lose about 150 sq ft total with stairs when you make it a 2-story. The key is a good open floor plan. And 2 bathrooms seems to be a basic requirement for ever selling (even if not in your goals).
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Old 03-04-2020, 09:48 AM   #12
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OP - is it really 1200 sq ft of floor space, as the stairs and the loft overlook are taking away from that space.

Will you have a basement ?
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Old 03-04-2020, 09:48 AM   #13
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We did a major remodel on a 2500 sq. ft. ranch and still struggle with storage. I don't go to estate sales anymore. I hate throwing things away and adding to landfills. We have ample personal space and a guest bedroom/bath and office. Also, 2 car garage, a must with our winters.
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Old 03-04-2020, 09:49 AM   #14
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I have not lived in a house that small, but imagine that I could.

My daughter's first house, bought before she got married, was a 1,000-sq.ft. townhome. I asked myself if I could live in it, and the answer was yes, for 2 people.

I have stayed in many European Airbnbs that were much smaller.

PS. A double-car garage is a must if one has a hobby, or takes up gardening. The Europeans do not even have that.
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Old 03-04-2020, 10:00 AM   #15
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Wanted to point out that the stairs will most likely eat up squarefootage on both floors. ANd closets are going to be a problem. If this a seasonal house? Need room for skis/sleds/snorkelgear/vacuum cleaner/luggage/extra TP to hoard/tools. SUggest making a list of the items you know you will need and account for storing them. Id rather build a slightly larger home to start than have to add a storage building...and another...and.... Could do something like a double use big storage area with access from both inside the house (cleaning type thigns and luggage?) and outside the house (ladder, stuff you don't necessarily want to drag thru your living room).

Edited to add: Best closet we ever had was in a 3 bedroom apartment. IT was the coat closet nearish the front door but it was double deep. Rod hanging across the front for coats. But when you parted the coats you could step through under the rod and there was basically an additional closet worth of space. Overhead strong shelving and a couple areas left open below perfect for vacuum, carpet shampooer and wrapping paper container. When you pulled the coats together you never saw it.
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Old 03-04-2020, 10:04 AM   #16
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Originally Posted by Fermion View Post
We are looking at building a small house in eastern Washington in town. We have located a quarter acre city lot just a few blocks from main street and the prices here are cheap (maybe we can get the lot for under $30k). City water, sewer and electrical hookups will be about $9000 total.

My wife is designing a 2nd empire style house, but very small (about 1000 square feet across two floors, not including the tower room with Mansard roof). I am wondering if that is maybe too small. I don't really plan on selling it but it is always in the back of one's mind. We would be doing all of the building ourselves (after building the pole barn, shed, deck and workshop, we are ready to try a house).
I think 1000-1200 sq/ft is fine, especially for just two people. Heck, we raised our daughter in 750 sq/ft for over 18 years and were quite comfortable. My wife's family raised eight kids in less than 700 sq/ft, but that's probably a little extreme.

We built our own 1456 sq/ft three bedroom, two bath, house in 2003. 2003 - Building Our Own House Now that our daughter has moved out it feels like a mansion to us.

I think the size of your proposed house is fine, but do have a few recommendations if you are planning for this to be your forever home. Most important, make it one level. Climbing stairs gets difficult as you age, and if you need a walker or wheelchair you're basically shut out of the upper level. My wife's grandmother spent her final years sleeping in her living room because she couldn't get upstairs to her bedroom. Not to mention stairs and elevators are expensive and take up valuable floor space.

Make all doorways 36" wide in case you need to use a walker or wheelchair later in life. Wider doors also make it easier to move furniture in and out, and just make things feel roomier.

Try to design a roll-in curbless shower in your bathroom. Install grab bars, or at least ensure blocking is installed behind the walls so you can install grab bars when you need them.

Try to minimize hallways. They waste space, and can be difficult to navigate with walkers/wheelchairs if too narrow. They can also make it difficult to haul furniture in and out of rooms. When I designed our house I made sure every room had a straight shot from the front door for bringing in furniture. I've hauled enough furniture up stairways and through narrow hallways to know I never want to do that again.

Remember, smaller spaces cost less to build, less to heat and cool, have lower taxes, cost less to maintain, and are easier to keep clean.
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Old 03-04-2020, 10:17 AM   #17
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If I understand you correctly, it is 1,200 sf over 2 floors or ~600 sf per floor ignoring the floor space lost to the stairway. IMO that is too small... plus as you age you can't age in place because you need to use the upstairs.

At home we live on 1,000 sf per floor. Main floor has a great room (kitchen, dining area, living area), powder room and a master bedroom suite (master bedroom, 3/4 bath and walk-in-closet). Downstairs walkout includes a family room, 2 bedrooms, a full bath and utility room (including laundry). We spend the vast majority of our time on the main floor other than doing laundry. The downstairs is mostly for guests. We designed it to age-in-place with generous doorways that will accomodate a wheelchair, lever door handles, etc. When the time comes, we can convert a large closet that backs against the powder room to a laundry fairly easily and have one floor living... or put in a stair elevator... or both. The main floor is 4 steps up from ground level and we have room to put in a ramp in addition to the 4 stairs if needed.

How does the style of house, number of bedrooms and size fit with the neighborhood? I think anything less than 2/2 will adversely affect resale value unless it is totally in keeping with the neighborhood.
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Old 03-04-2020, 10:19 AM   #18
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Originally Posted by mountainsoft View Post
Try to minimize hallways. They waste space, and can be difficult to navigate with walkers/wheelchairs if too narrow. They can also make it difficult to haul furniture in and out of rooms. When I designed our house I made sure every room had a straight shot from the front door for bringing in furniture. I've hauled enough furniture up stairways and through narrow hallways to know I never want to do that again.
I want to knock out a couple of walls b/c of our narrow hallways. Truly wasted space and confusing to guests. However, this is probably our forever home. I'm pretty sure we've outspent the value to make it comfortable for us. But, ranch styles are popular due to senior walking issues. Only 2 stairs from garage to L.R.
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Old 03-04-2020, 10:22 AM   #19
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The older I get, the more I prefer 1-level living. In the last 30 years we have lived in homes from 1200 sq. ft (no garage, nice covered back patio) to 2080 sq. ft. w/ 3-car garage. We've also lived in multiple 1-br apartments and studios. We've spent several months in a pop-up camper as well.

We tend to prefer the smaller spaces now. They limit the amount of crap we can accumulate and are much easier to clean. It helps if you have a large yard or a good view.
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Old 03-04-2020, 10:30 AM   #20
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Originally Posted by MrsHaloFIRE View Post
Wanted to point out that the stairs will most likely eat up squarefootage on both floors. ANd closets are going to be a problem. If this a seasonal house? Need room for skis/sleds/snorkelgear/vacuum cleaner/luggage/extra TP to hoard/tools. SUggest making a list of the items you know you will need and account for storing them. Id rather build a slightly larger home to start than have to add a storage building...and another...and.... Could do something like a double use big storage area with access from both inside the house (cleaning type thigns and luggage?) and outside the house (ladder, stuff you don't necessarily want to drag thru your living room).

Edited to add: Best closet we ever had was in a 3 bedroom apartment. IT was the coat closet nearish the front door but it was double deep. Rod hanging across the front for coats. But when you parted the coats you could step through under the rod and there was basically an additional closet worth of space. Overhead strong shelving and a couple areas left open below perfect for vacuum, carpet shampooer and wrapping paper container. When you pulled the coats together you never saw it.

In general. Spending a lot of time to design builtin features will pay off. optimizes your space and leaves the house looking less cluttered.
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