Land use | Sustainability | Ecotrope

Conference Devotes A Day To Building Small Homes

Ecotrope | Oct. 25, 2012 7:59 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:29 p.m.

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Carolyn Matthews and Bruce Nelson built themselves a 670-square-foot “granny flat” alongside their home in Northeast Portland. A conference in Portland tomorrow devotes a day to examining the benefits of small homes like this one, as well as the potential for building more of them.

Carolyn Matthews and Bruce Nelson built themselves a 670-square-foot “granny flat” alongside their home in Northeast Portland. A conference in Portland tomorrow devotes a day to examining the benefits of small homes like this one, as well as the potential for building more of them.

Organizers say this is a first: An entire conference devoted to building smaller homes.

I’m looking over the agenda for the Build Small, Live Large conference, which is taking place tomorrow at Portland State University.

There’s a keynote talk by Ross Chapin, who’s famous for his tightly knit and highly space-efficient pocket neighborhoods, as well as sessions with architects, designers, developers and policymakers on why size matters, the future of the small housing market and the virtues of tiny homes.

I’ve reported on the environmental benefits of smaller homes: One study by Oregon Department of Environmental Quality found that 80 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions generated over the 70-year life of a home come from occupancy – from home heating and electricity use, not construction materials.

Shrink the size of a new home by 50 percent, the study found, and you get 36 percent less greenhouse gas emissions over the life of the house.

I’ve also reported on the city of Portland’s decision to drop the system development charges for building accessory dwelling units – the shining example of how building small can be both an environmental and economic benefit for homeowners while infilling extra space in the city to reduce urban sprawl. That has triggered a surge in the number of homeowners who are building additional living spaces on their properties from 20 a year before 2010 to more than 100 so far this year.

One couple I met on a green building tour built their future retirement home right next to the home their currently living in. Another turned their garage into a small home in their backyard. I’m hoping to tour a tiny home tomorrow and interview the owner to see how he makes use of his small living quarters.

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