the BIG small home
using big ideas to stay small

Why a BIG small home?


  • Buildings use 40% of global energy;  25% of global water & 40% of global resources, emitting 1/3rd of total Green House Gases, according to the United Nations Environment Programme.  It is one of the areas that we can and should focus on.
  • By building smaller we have a huge positive spiral.  Using less raw material, less power, less water, less transport, less fuel with less impact on our infrastructure with immediately less pollution while it is being built and while you are living in it.


  • Building small or smaller is applicable to everyone. Yes a family will need more than a single home occupant but we can all save somewhere. 
  • Building smaller can allow the person with average means to get a better house.
  • By building smaller less money is required for the same quality,  and visa versa with the same amount of money one can build with far better quality.
  • A smaller building also costs less to power, to light, to heat, clean or maintain.
  • There is data showing returns and payback time periods on eco-systems like bio-gas, wind turbine, solar panels etc., but the bottom line is that they must be paid with hard earned capital upfront. With a fixed budget, building smaller allows for the possibility to invest in such systems and others like rainwater harvesting, landscaping and vegetable gardens. Therefore this frees up money for further education or do other pursuits… travel, hobbies, charity, things we are passionate about.
  • Generic simplified examples show how small savings can make a big impact:
  • Option A:
  • Building Cost - 4 people x 70m2= 280m2 x R8500 = R 2 380 000
  • Power Cost – 280m2 x R7,21*= R2 018,80 x 12=R 24 225/year with expected increases in the cost of power it will be R 54 344 in 8 years, giving a total running power cost over eight years of +- R 314 000.
  • Option B:
  • Building Cost – 4 people x 45m2=180m2 x R8500 = R 1 530 000 (A saving of R 850 000).
  • So lets assume the quality stays the same, but a Solar PV Grid Tie in is installed for R75 000. The Power Cost – 180m2 x R2,92 = R526 x 12=R 6 307/year with expected increases in the cost of power it will be R 14 174 in 8 years, giving a total running power cost over eight years of +- R 82 000 (Saving of R 232 000).
  • Total Saving: R850 000 + R232 000 – R75 000 (Solar PV system) = R1 007 000 for 8 years.
  • If that savings is invested for that 8 years with 5% grow it could be a total Saving of +- R 1 300 000 (77% of the original cost to build the house in 8 years!)
  • *Times Media Group Digital 2016 posted annual household electricity bill is R13 509 in 2016 (ave household assumed at 156m2, see references below).

Sustainability & Resilience

  • Better quality is ultimately better for durability and better durability gives resilience.  Maintenance is easier and less costly, which in turn ensures longevity.  The longer the lifespan of a building or its finishes, the better the Life Cycle Assessment of the building as a whole will be.  (US Green Building Council – Counting Carbon: Understanding Carbon Footprints of Buildings).
  • Conventional buildings structures & materials are advocated based on the location & climate of the home, due to being sourced locally, built locally and maintained locally. Using conventional building methods also means that a loan application should be straight forward.
  • Using smaller quantities of bricks or shorter span lengths also allows for a better opportunities for using reclaimed materials.
  • Using a conventional building construction system allows for individual custom designs that suite each person's specific needs or - circumstances, unlike modular and kit system that have limited design options & finishes.


  • As in the financial model, building smaller has a massive positive spin regarding how we live and how if effects us emotionally. With less space we cannot hoard as much. Which means we have to simplify and de-clutter. This leads to less materialism and consumerism, which leaves us in a better financial position to enjoy financial independence (no or little mortgage), giving us freedom to explore other avenues and directions.
  • Intimate spaces allow for better family bonding, and creating respect and privilege of privacy.  Smaller spaces and structures require less materials and time to clean or to maintain. All this 'lessness' translates into more free time, more together time, more me time! Time to feed the soul.
  • Jim Tolpin, author of the The New Family Home, describes what makes a 'cottage house' design so appealingHow a modest home answers our archetypical need for shelter with intimacy, unpretentious materials and interiors and thoughtful connection to nature.