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New Living Standards

How much space does a person need to comfortably live in? It is a much more complicated question than it seems. It calls in to play all of the major factors that comprise the building formula including money, the market, regulatory agencies, materials, labor, and client, all run through the psychological lenses of perception, expectation, ego and so on. It is a good question to ask as we consider the impact of housing on the environment. In the nearly 30 years I have been involved in home design, I have seen the size of house grow consistently even while energy use and cost have risen exponentially. In order to reign in this growth we need a reference point - a new place people for people to anchor their sense of home.

At the most basic level, one could determine a base unit of volume per individual based on experience subject to a set of conditional values. This unit would vary based on the number of co-habitating individuals given certain redundancies - for example a unit of bath space can serve more than a single individual. This for me would be a really fun exercise. Breaking down living standards into a series of variables, weighting each variable and then combining them into a formula which could yield something we might call the "standard of living." I am intrigued by what this might be. What does this mean in the big picture? As we face the realities of rising energy costs coupled with other resource scarcity and compounded by other issues of sustainability and environmental consciousness, it is clear that size of living space becomes a critical component of an overall green strategy. Due to the constant focus on gas prices, we have done a pretty good job of recognizing the impact of gasoline dependence even when we haven't necessarily moderated our car choices as seriously as we might have. Car efficiency has crept into our consciousness in a way that home efficiency has not yet. The codes have tried in their plodding way to address efficiency and there is no doubt that the impact of regulation has vastly improved the efficiency of homes with respect to energy use per unit of house volume over the last few decades. But this regulation is hamstrung by market factors and frankly ham-fisted in the hands of regulators. If we want to truly revolutionize the energy impact of our built environment we need to get people thinking seriously about their role in living too large.