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Why Do Americans Need to Live in Such Freakishly Big Houses?
We want dystopia-ready homes.
My dad has three rooms he doesn’t even use. Meanwhile, I’m raising a family in a house less than half the size of the one I grew up in.
Downward mobility, bro.
It’s a whole thing.
There’s an upside, though. Living in a small house has reformed my selfish spoiled American desires for a McMansion-esque monstrosity in the middle of a gated community full of Karens and Katrinas.
There’s a bunch of stories floating around out there about how millennials and zoomers are recalibrating our expectations around a smaller future, one that’s more sustainable. It’s a good thing.
Not all of us are, though.
I’ve got friends who still feel the need to trap themselves in $400,000 mortgages because they want big homes like the ones they remember from their childhoods. They don’t get it. Those homes aren’t for us, not anymore. They’re for our parents to grow old in, and then for a bank to collect when they die with hundreds of thousands in medical bills, and then for a hurricane or a derecho to smash apart with so much violent force it’s almost poetic.
We shouldn’t want big homes.
We need small ones.
Homes have gotten yuge.
Turns out, I’m not the first person to ask why we have such gigantic homes, especially when we have such a big exploding homeless population. We took the necessity of shelter, and turned it into a hot commodity. That’s what capitalism does best these days. It sells us what we need to survive.
Isn’t there a better way to go about this?
According to The Atlantic:
U.S. houses are among the biggest—if not the biggest—in the world. According to the real-estate firms Zillow and Redfin, the median size of an American single-family home is in the neighborhood of 1,600 or 1,650 square feet.
New houses are getting even bigger.
They exceed 2,000 square feet. Some even approach 3,000 square feet. That’s about three times the size of homes we were building in the middle of the 20th century, a modest 850 square feet. Imagine your average gated community suburbanite trying to live in that kind of space. It would be hilarious.
There’s no good reason for houses to get that big. It’s just the American way. We think bigger is better. We do it with everything from trucks to sushi. It’s not just an obsession with bigger, either.
It’s about newer.
Home builders probably don’t mind building big ass houses that sell for more. Neither do banks. The bigger the home, the more money you can make off it, and that’s all they care about.
There’s plenty of problems with the housing market. Put simply, there’s just not enough homes being built. There’s no incentive for homebuilders to step it up, and investors are happy to keep scooping up houses and turning them into rentals and vacation homes. There’s also a labor shortage, and a supply shortage. At one point, there was even a window latch shortage. Behind it all, you’ll find a fundamental rejection of sustainability.
Size matters too much.
Make it stawp.
You don’t want a big home, seriously.
So, we’re never going to own a big home.
Look on the bright side.
Climate change is going to render big homes completely useless death traps. Think about trying to keep a big house cool in the summer when it’s 110 degrees outside, every single day, and some days it reaches up to 120. Think about 500-year flood events like Ian happening every year to those things. Now think about insurance companies increasingly sticking you with the bill, assuming there’s any home insurance companies left in 10 years, at least in states where super weather events happen all the time.
That’s the future.
It’s pretty much unavoidable at this point. Nobody’s going to be able to afford the gas and electric bills in these behemoths. It’s going to get even worse in places like Nevada and Arizona when Karens start killing each other over bottled water. Suburbs around Phoenix and Scottsdale are already dealing with water scarcity. It would be terrifying if it weren’t so funny.
It’s funny because they know there’s no water, and yet they keep building these giant stupid houses out in the scorching desert.
From The New Yorker:
Homeowners who didn’t have wells were suddenly uncertain that they’d be able to wash their dishes or flush their toilets. Some water haulers reassured their customers that they could find water for them, at least for now. Hornewer, who runs a water-hauling company, told me that not all haulers were scrupulous about the legality of their sources. “To them, it’s just kind of like the Old West,” he said. “If the water’s there, grab it. If you want to get it from Phoenix illegally, sure, you can do that. But that’s a short-term fix.”
Seriously, who wants a big home in the middle of the desert? Not me. Apparently, stupid rich people do. They’re still snapping them up, even when they have absolutely no idea how they’re going to get running water.
Maybe they can manifest it.
We want solar-powered tiny homes made out of bamboo.
There’s an alternative to this madness. We don’t have to build a bunch of giant homes that nobody can actually live in, or even rent.
We don’t have to keep rebuilding condos on the coast to get blown apart by increasingly unprecedented hurricanes.
Want a solution?
It’s tiny home communities.
Tiny homes come in at about 400 square feet. You can slap solar panels on them, and live simply. For every huge suburban castle at 2,000 square feet, you could build five tiny homes. You don’t have to build “tiny homes,” either. Just build smaller homes, like we used to. Build them out of materials other than wood. Build them with bamboo, or tires and rammed earth, or cob.
There’s lots of options.
It’s insane to be cutting down trees by the thousand to build huge homes when there’s so many other materials better suited for the job.
Consider bamboo. It grows super fast. It’s resilient. It’s affordable. Growing and harvesting bamboo actually removes CO2 from the atmosphere. It’s practically screaming to become our new super material.
It's an incredibly strong material. On a weight basis, it's actually stronger than steel, which is much, much heavier than the same cross section of bamboo. Bamboo has more than twice the strength of the wood usually used for construction, and it's got a compressive strength similar to concrete.
We've had our buildings go through multiple Category 5 hurricanes, up to 200 mile-an-hour winds. We've had our buildings go through up to 6.9 on the Richter Scale in terms of seismic events, or earthquakes. Because the bamboo is so much lighter weight and stronger on a weight basis, it can flex and then recover.
That’s David Sands, an architect who builds with bamboo.
According to the science: If you want tough homes on the cheap, go with bamboo. It’s the material of choice for surviving our dystopian future. We could build so, so many little homes with it. Imagine what affordable housing programs could do with a few bamboo farms. We just have to think differently.
I know, it’s a big ask.
A lot of states won’t let you use a tiny home as a permanent residence. There’s all kinds of zoning laws and building codes.
Those need to go.
We want dystopia-ready homes.
We don’t want big homes that turn into climate death traps. We want tiny homes made for dystopia. We want earthship homes. We want solar panels and earth tubes. We want microgardens and rain catchment systems.
At least, I do.
I don’t want a house with three rooms I don’t use.
I want a root cellar and a storm shelter.
I don't want a guest bathroom.
I want an outhouse, just in case. I want a rain catchment system with backup plumbing, in case there’s a flood and my city takes 7 weeks to get the water running again. I want a house that’s built for massive government incompetence during a natural disaster, because that’s what we’ve seen in Mississippi and Florida. I want a house built with droughts and plagues in mind.
I want one that won’t go up in flames in ten seconds.
These aren’t hard to build. They’re cheaper. They’re the kind of homes we’ll need the deeper we get into this hot, stormy, disease-riddled century. We need homebuilders and lawmakers to accept this reality.
The future is small.
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