Let’s Get Small

by Richard T. Stuebi

In a recent story, CNN profiled the new home of Bill and Sharon Kastrinos.

154 square feet. That’s right, 154 square feet. Actually, it’s 98 square feet downstairs, plus a 56 square foot loft upstairs. The closet — well, that’s inside the car.

Why would the Kastrinos live in such a miniscule dwelling? Apparently, it’s driven by economics. Mr. Kastrinos wants to live on $15,000 per year, but also wants to live in a nice place, California wine country (specifically, Calistoga), where real estate costs are astronomical. With this home, costing $15,000 and with a utility bill of $15 per month, he and his wife can make it work. And, when they get the urge to go elsewhere, they can tow their home, which has wheels and a chassis on the bottom, making it essentially an RV.

The small pre-fab home market has become a bit of a “cottage industry” (sorry, couldn’t resist). Mr. Kastrinos himself has made and sold 11 of them in the last half-year. In nearby Sebastopol, Jay Shafer’s Tumbleweed Tiny House Company offers a full range of home designs between 65 (!) and 774 square feet.

The common theme of the customers is a desire to downsize their lives and their consumption patterns, the equivalent of a colonic cleansing. It’s a bit extreme for me; I couldn’t imagine making such a big change in lifestyle in one fell swoop. But there’s little doubt in my mind: unAmerican as it may be, if we as a society are to achieve significant reductions in energy consumption and emissions output, some degree of downsizing will occur. The question is going to be: will it be by choice, or will it be forced?

Richard T. Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc.

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