Wednesday, December 31, 2008

OPINION: 2009 is the year of smaller living!

End of a year, This is my opinion piece of things to come.

2009 we will see more and more people flocking to smaller homes. People will embrace the under 1000 sq foot living space for their family and shun the huge McMansion and it's huge expenses. Families will build because of being closer physically. when the kids cant be down in the game room all the time playing games on the 108" plasma while your wife is upstairs in the bedroom watching her shows and you are in the den ignoring everyone else... you don't get a family connection. If everyone is within a few feet of each other, you have to interact. Interaction is good. Embrace this. Honestly, reducing to get rid of stuff means also getting rid of your kids TV, your bedroom TV, your kitchen TV, the bathroom TV, the laundry room TV, the Closet TV, and the garage TV. One TV that's it. if you FORCE everyone to be together for TV you build bonds. plus getting rid of all that stuff will make you feel better and probably cut your electric bill by $100 a month. Reclaim the bedroom as a bedroom. It's not your kids dorm room, don't let them do that and use it as a way of getting away from you. Don't use yours as a way to ignore your family and the house. I see these changes making people happy. I see an explosion of small business start-ups because of it.

Technology will continue to change but DRM and content police will hamper it severely, things we should have in our home will not exist because the great grandson of some dead director deserves to not work and live off great grandpa's work.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

HDTV for a smaller space.

If you are aiming for a smaller space, you can take advantage of smaller HDTV sets. If you sit within 6 feet of the TV set a 42" plasma or LCD will be almost too big. a 37" set will be just about right. If you plan on sitting 6-8 feet away a 42" will be just right and if you can sit from 8-10 feet away, then you dont live in a small home, you live in a huge home. Also dont worry about 1080p versus 720p. unless you sit really close to the set you really will not notice. Plasma TV's are best for bright rooms with lots of windows, LCD's are best for darker rooms with some ambient light.

Either way, you can get it wall mounted to stave lots of space, or a custom cabinet that mounts it on the face and you can swing it out of the way for storage behind the set. I have seen IKEA book shelves modified to have the plasma tv mounted on the front and a swing arm to swing the tv like a door to access the storage behind it.

If TV is not a centeral part of your life, then a smaller set is always a good choice. a 32" set in a smaller living room is a very good choice and can fit on some bookshelves. LCD sets create less heat.

Finally, when you go shopping for a set turn up the volume. Listen to the set to see if it sounds good if you do not want the expense and space taken for a surround sound setup. Some great looking set's from LG and Sony sound horrible as they have very tiny speakers.

Monday, December 15, 2008

TV Show Review: Small Space, Big Style

I set my MythTV to record a new show out there on HGTV. It's called Small Space, Big Style. and it's covering decorating and design in real small spaces. This is not your typical HGTV show where they call a home with 1800sq foot, "A very small home"... They showcased a 450 sq. foot apartment and other real small living spaces. This show is realistic! Some fantastic ideas and great design examples.... Although I seem to notice a trend... A Lot of the people they are choosing are incredibly "quirky" and a bit out there. I have watched over 3 of the episodes already and have enjoyed every one of them, finding that I have been rewinding to rewatch a part about a item over and over to get more info about how they did that change or storage, etc....

My wife commented and said.... Are you going back to your Christopher Lowe phase again? I laughed, but wondered if the beer I was drinking would stain the cashmere sweater I just got :-)

Hey manly men can enjoy design!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Smaller Winter stuff: Cleaning out the closets.

I went looking in our vacuum bags that are stacked in the top of the hall closet for my ski mask. It's 16 degreesF out and I needed to snow-blow the driveway. After opening the last bag, I counted 6 winter coats, 32 pairs of gloves, 18 scarves.... the list went on and the living room is full of stuff. Go through your winter coats and stuff and pare it down a lot. take the rest to your local homeless shelter so that the unfortunate can have something warm to wear this winter.

I really do not need 6 winter coats. I need 2. and that really is a want and not a need.

Now my wife will not part with her 8 coats... but that's another story....

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

how automation makes smaller living bigger. the PVR

Instead of having 3 big cable boxes at home to record the TV shows, I have it all tucked away in a nice cabinet/technology rack. I also for-go the cable boxes and use a computer running a system called "MYTHTV" that allows me to record what I want and save it for me to watch later, watch on my laptop/ipod/etc... we eliminated the TV in the bedrooms because the mythtv can stream to the laptops to watch TV and recordings there. sick in bed? grab the laptop and watch live tv you can pause, or watch your recordings. in the kitchen? set the laptop down and catch your food tv shows as you cook. It eliminated a lot of equipment and makes TV do what we want instead of doing what it wants.

A mythtv is a high end solution. it takes lots of computer skill and is more expensive than most solutions. but it's the most usable. Any skilled computer shop can build you one for well under $800.00 with 2-3 tuner cards in it by using a easy to install setup called Mythbuntu..

It's not a toaster. it's a complex computer. But it made a HUGE difference in my home. It does things we need that TiVO can not do.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Smaller living goes mainstream...

quickie update today. It seems that smaller living is catching on! check out this article from the NYT!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Old Knowlege: Solar and Energy efficiency.

Lately the news and "experts" have been touting how to save money with solar heating and insulation and other "innovative" techniques and devices. How great of them to invent things that are saving our money and energy..... Or are they?

I just got my hands on a book from 1981. "solarizing your present home" by Joe Carter. This coupled with my brothers 1972 book on residential home engineering have angered me with the current experts and every home builder and architect that has designed or built a home since the mid 70's.

Every breakthrough they toute today have been known about and in use for over 30 years now. This book talks about things that should be standard in home designs. When was the last time you saw a home with the correct eaves for the climate to reduce solar gain in the summer but enhance it in the winter? how about being built for the site and energy efficency?

Most homes are not designed right. your Architect and builder is doing you a disservice by not talking about efficency and showing you what your home could do if designed right instead of incorrectly to look like the next door neighbors.

I am starting to explore a few options to go along with smaller living that will further enhance ecological living that will not only make it incredibly cheap to live, but the side effect of reducing your carbon footprint as well. Homes can easily be designed this way. It's just that the architects have not been doing their job as experts in home design. They let the uneducated whims of their clients dictate design.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

A drawback of smaller living...

If you are a "handyman" or like to fix your own vehicles and save thousands of dollars a year fixing it yourself, smaller living can be a disadvantage if you dont plan ahead. Build that small home, but build a seperate workshop to fit your needs. If you rent or buy a condo you may be stuck. They typically have rules keeping you from working on your vehicles.

Be sure to check first on rules and the possibility of having a workshop if you are a handyman or a "gearhead" that works on cars (or builds hotrods.)

Monday, August 25, 2008

Reduction process..

I started my reduction process this week. 5 garbage bags full of stuff I do not need. and honestly after looking at it all, I need a LOT more garbage bags. It takes a ton of energy and positive thinking to get rid of your stuff. I'm not blindly throwing things away, but I am looking at each item and asking myself the following....

1. Have I touched this in the past 12 months?
2. does this have a HIGH value?
3. Is this a family heirloom?
4. Do I really need this?

If I do not get a yes then the item goes away. I am having trouble with deciding about my musical instruments, I have not touched my guitar for over 2 years, I really want to get back to it, but cant see when I will.

Also this shows how much stuff you really have. I mean WAY too much stuff.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Time to start living it....

Well changes happen and in the next 90 days I'll be living in 1/4 the space I currently have unexpectedly. Wife and I have to move and apartment land we are headed. I legally have to have a 2 bedroom for my daughter, but we are going gangbusters in reducing what we own... so we will be downsizing faster than we were planning to. My hardest part is where to put all my vehicle hobbies. Motorcycel can go with me, and can store in the winter, but my sportscar and it's higher power replacement engine project does not fit with an apartment. so I need to figure that one out. I am designing an "apartment" networking rack that will fit in with the furniture to house the Crestron gear and networking stuff.

More to come....

Friday, August 8, 2008

A great site/blog for un-cluttering.

Unclutterer is a new blog/rss feed that I discovered that has some very useful tips for cutting down on "stuff" and clutter. nothing specific for smaller living but the tips are very useful.

Just wanted to share....

Friday, August 1, 2008

Smaller Vehicles...

Smaller living means giving up your escalade XLT that has been stretched. If you really need a SUV I found that the Subaru and Suzuki has offering that fit in a tiny garage or are smaller and overall very comfortable. But there are other options. If you live where it's warmer, a motorcycle is a better option. A bike takes very little space, you can fit 3 of them in a 1 car garage and they cost less to run, own and maintain.

I can carry all our family groceries home on my Motorcycle, go to work with my laptop and other gear and tools and easily go off on a weekend trip with the wife. We save money and space.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Smaller living = smaller bills.

A friend recently pointed out that if you built a 850-890 sq foot home right and sited it right on the lot, you would have nearly a $50.00 annual heating bill with the current high heating costs. He also calculated that that same home of it had the right windows and design would have an equally low electric cost (covering lighting and cooling) I also pointed out that by using more space saving tech you really would have less electronics that would use that electricity as well.

With costs sky-rocketing, being able to have incredibly low utility costs would go a long way to making this smaller living idea have more appeal to others...

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Music and stereos.

If you are building a smaller home you are in luck, you can use audio gear that is hidden, distributed, and installed in the walls. you can either buy or build thin 4" deep subwooofers that can be built into your wall with only the speaker and port visible with a grill over it. you can also get some nice quality speakers installed for the rest of the music or even surround sound.

Also you can use a whole house music system to a better advantage than the 3000 sq foot home can. Newer high end systems come with 2 fm/am tuners and a XM or sirius tuner built in. Add a mp3 server and all your audio gear can fit in a shelf up in a closet.

already built home? then get under couch subwoofers (or better yet build them) or at the least get and install some "shakers" to add to your couch or chairs for that deep bass effect that does not bother the neighbors. The great part is, smaller spaced need far less sound to be full and enjoyable. buy quality over quantity. a set of small but good 6" shelf speakers in a small room will sound better than a set of huge coffee table sized monsters. Bose 601's and 301's are very good sounding speakers for a midrange quality speaker.... I personally go shopping for speakers at a musicians store and look for "studio monitors" they always sound better than anything at a best buy or stereo shop.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Small home technology.

In a small home you need to remove things that take up space. One thing I have discovered that is if you like movies and dont want to have the huge rack of gear to watch them. Look into the AppleTV product. you can rent movies from iTunes for cheap and it looks darn good on a 42" LCD HDTV. it takes up almost no space as well. A friend of mine hid his behind the TV on the wall.

If you are more of a technophile and want more control and cant stand not having your collection of personal DVD's around then you have two other choices. first upgrade to a DVD changer that holds 300 or more DVD's. Store all your boxes elsewhere and have all the DVD's ready at a moment's notice. OR take the path that I have, I built a HTPC a computer that looks like a piece of stereo gear but records tv, plays music movies and stores the movies inside it's self as AVI files I rip using a program called "handbrake" I have taken all our 300 movies and ripped them to the hard drives in the HTPC. Now we can watch all our movies when we want without having the DVD's in the house.

Home theater is another issue. Right now we have a giant 52" HDTV in our massive 12X18 living room. In a smaller room you can get away with a far smaller set because you will be sitting closer. a 42" or even a 37" set is huge in a 10X12 living/dining/entrance room when you are sitting less than 6 feet from it. Also you can get away with far smaller speakers and get fantastic sound. In a small room even the $299.00 cheap JVC home "theater in a box" sounds fantastic. you dont have to buy the $2200.00 Denon or Marantz high end setups with huge speakers to get the great theater feel in a small room.

Home networking... Gone are the days you need a server and lots of network gear in a home. you can get a good N wireless network in your home with a NAS and have a nice high speed network that can do everything you want. Cheaper solutions are buying regular gear such as the Linksys NAS200 and the WRT54GL router you can stuff under one of the cabinets in the living room or even one of the dressers in the bedroom to cover the whole house. Adding a 500gig storage drive like the NAS200 gives you a place to easily back up your files.

home Computer... If you are into gaming then you are going to have less choices. IF you leave your games to the Wii or PS3 or xbox360 then you can get away with getting rid of your big desktop computer for a laptop. Dell sells decent power laptops for $499.00 now and they take much less space in the home. No more desk and 10 square feet or more given up to the computer. Kids can use used laptops from ebay (My daughters cost $100.00 and does all she wants)

there are tons of options for smaller living. One of the biggest benefits is to have you main living space walls covered with bookshelves. giving up that 11" depth on the wall but getting the ones that go to the ceiling will give you a ton more space for books and other items.

Some store links for furniture and other items.

it seems that the quest I am on is replicated by the "apartment dwellers" out there. Thankfully they have paved the way and I found some stores that cater to the smaller home.

HomeReserve is one that has lots of couches and chairs and even sectionals that will fit in a small home. The completely designable sectional actually would work well in a small living room as it eliminates the need for chairs if designed right.

Crate Designs has some beds that are perfect for small homes as they have storage.

Apartment Decor is a cool site that sells apartment specific furniture and other items.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Some links to get started....

Getting started in this quest I'll share some of my links I visit and keep for information...
Small House society
Compact Appliances
Art of living small article

More links to come....

As for house plans, look online for "cottage plans" on google. I have found many that were downright elegant and can be modified by a regular architect for very little money to be what you exactly want. two of my favorites are as follows....

This victoria Cottage

This single story cottage

both would be modified if the chosen site allows to have a 1/2 basement to hold the mechanicals like furnace/ac/waterheater as well as storage. Also both would be modified for a better layout and slightly bigger master bedroom.

One of the best tricks for smaller living is to make a lot of things "built-in" You can have an excellent kitchen for baking and gourmet cooking in as little as 7' by 8' space. Living room would have all walls covered in bookshelves and cabinets, windows need window seating, etc...

also scaling down your appliances helps. you do not need that 8 burner Viking stove that is 48 inches wide with the separate 2 ovens. and yes this means forgoing the Pair of 42" wide Subzero fridge/freezer combo as well.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Life, Living, and space

My wife and I currently live in a 2400 sq foot home. we Have 1 teen, and 3 animals living here. Looking at being empty nesters soon we started to look at our life and saw that we spend a huge amount of our money yearly on maintaining and operating this HUGE home. electric bills running over $150-$220 a month, Heating is cheaper as it is highly insulated. Our average monthly heating bill this year in mid michigan with the average temp this winter at 19 Deg F and being on the lake-shore with a non stop wind we averaged $90.00 a month for heating costs. We have a low maintaince home, the exterior is all brick and real stone unlike the fake stuff found on homes built in the past 15 years around here.

I gave up my Corporate career and payscale so I could have time to myself and for my family, downsized my life so I had more time for me. It's now time to downsize our home as well. This blog will chronicle the next two years as we go from the typical american family living in excess to the efficient family living in the amount of space we need and not only reducing our impact around us but save ourselves a load of cash ever single day.