I love efficient houses. Harpoon House is a 704 square foot 3 story house in Portland, Oregon. It is a certified LEED Platinum house and was built green and efficient without sacrificing the comforts you would expect in a small house. Before you gasp at the small size of the house, note that the average size house has doubled since the 1950’s to 2349 square feet. But in reality, do we really need all that space? Using the less is more theory, Matt Kirkpatrick and Katherine Bouvee created a livable space with just the right amount of space for their growing family.
Be sure to watch the Fair Companies’ house tour video below.
Matt, an architect, explained in his email interview about the design process of building a smaller house.
“I think my main advice for building efficient is to evaluate how you live and to not feel weird about leaving things out of the house… If you don’t need something don’t build it. A lot of people don’t think about how much of their homes go unused or under used, and its not that difficult to provide the same functionality in half the house if you consider your lifestyle in a thoughtful manner.”
Matt has a point. Do we really need the dining room and living room anymore?
Details of the House
The uniqueness of the home is its urban setting. It is a three story home built on a 2500 square foot lot with 704 square feet of livable space and 448 square feet of unconditioned basement. The house only fills 20% of the lot coverage. The actual house is 16 by 28 by 28 feet but they are in the process of adding onto it for additional space for their child.
What I love about the house is how the house brings the outdoors inside with its carefully placed windows throughout the house. My favorite feature is the wall of windows in the kitchen. There are no upper cabinets that impede the view of the neighborhood. Honestly, cleaning the dishes at the sink would be a treat.
Bring the outdoors-inside theme is repeated with the garden roof patio outside the master bedroom. No conventional roof materials were used. The beauty of this roof from a green building perspective is it will keep the house warm in the winter and cooler in the summer.
Building small allowed the couple to splurge on certain eco-designs that would have ordinarily been outside their budget. For example, there is only one bathroom on the main floor. The couple splurged by installing a large soaking tub.
To save room, they also installed a toilet/sink combination, in which water from the sink fills the toilet. Honestly, one bathroom on the first floor was unsettling. I sometimes get up in the middle of the night. My fear is I would trip down the stairs trying to hold in my business. When I asked Matt about this issue, he explained you adjust.
Plus, let’s face it. Bathrooms are expensive. To give you a frame of reference, Consumer Reports states the average cost of a bathroom remodel is $16,000. Having one bathroom, again, allowed the couple to splurge on other eco-features in the house such as R-5 windows.
Living in a smaller space requires creative storage ideas. One of the interior walls in the Harpoon House provides nested two way shelves on both sides of the walls. In addition, the master bedroom contains a loft bedroom area with a multitude of drawers against one wall for storage.
Energy Efficient Home Design:
Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) were used for the exterior walls. Electrical chases can be created in the walls. Years ago, I toured a house using SIPs and all the electrical wires ran through the interior of the house. Outlets were installed in the floor near the exterior walls. The architect explained that he didn’t want to install chases since it would compromise the thermal integrity of the panels. Matt explained the following in regards to the electrical wiring in the house:
“We were able to install outlets into the panels. SIP manufacturers like to explain how there are built in chases in the walls that allow you to run your wires through the panels, in practice its easier not to. So we ran services through our interior walls and the floors which were all conventionally framed, and were able to poke our wiring up through the base of the panels to get outlets in.”
There were many wonderful green attributes to the house from the locally made cabinetry, the siding on the house to the green roof. So how much did this efficiently designed house cost? Generally, one can gauge the expense of the project by the cost per square foot. Matt replied:
“I’m not a big fan of using cost per square foot for buildings. Our budget can be found online . Small houses tend to cost more per square foot because you still have much of the expensive infrastructure (kitchen, sewer connection, etc…), but are putting it in less space. Our overall cost for a nice house however, was pretty low. Valuing things on a cost per square foot basis encourages big homes because it makes you feel like there are cost efficiencies to build large, but a small house will cost less overall and you get efficiencies in functionality per dollar spent.”
According to the website,the house cost $192,700. (Note, the true projected cost would have been $224,700 but the owner’s architect fees were ” on the house” and the system development charges were waived.)
Having built a house, there is always builder remorse dwelling on mistakes or missed opportunities. Matt replied when asked this question the following.
“Things went surprisingly well during construction, and there is nothing big that we would have done differently. There are a few little details like wanting a little more space in the entry where we take our shoes off, but for the most part the house has been working great.”
Photos courtesy of Harpoon House.
Join the Conversation:
- What part of the house do you find interesting?
- Could you live in such a small house.
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