Big Ideas for Small Homes: Maximize Space in Your Little House

For the past couple decades, American home building has been based on the “bigger is better” theory. But not everyone can afford a McMansion, and not everyone wants to live in a McMansion even if they could.

Smaller homes have a lot going for them. They are easier to clean and take care of, they cost less to buy or to build, they cost less to maintain and pay taxes on, and they have a more intimate feel.

If you live in a small home, there are a number of ways to get the most use out of the limited space you have. Try some of these tips and tricks

Live in your outdoor space. No matter where you live, there are certain times of the year when it’s beautiful outside your windows. Go out and enjoy it while you can. Houses that have rooms that open up onto patios allow indoor/outdoor living. Meals can be taken outdoors and children get away from the TV, video games, and gadgets and breathe fresh air and get exercise. In the north there is no better place for summertime dinners than on the patio. Even if you are only allotted a small balcony where you live, add a nice wicker chair with a cushion and some flowers and you have a great spot to read a book or listen to the people on the street.

Eliminate unnecessary rooms. Dining rooms are overrated. They get use only one or two times a year but requiring cleaning, heating, and furniture year round. If you already have a dining room, make it into a room that gets use. Add some french doors to close it off and turn it into an office or a children’s play room. If you don’t have a dining room, use your eat-in kitchen or the patio.

Make your main living spaces open to one another. Living rooms, kitchens, and eating spaces that flow together get the most use. While entertaining, no one feels “left out” because they are subjugated to one zone or another. With families, the parents can keep an eye on their kids while they are busy whipping up dinner. Connecting the spaces you have will make the inside feel larger even if the square footage is still on the small side.

Create built-ins. Built-in furniture, such as desks, and storage, such as dressers and cabinets, tuck needed space into areas that are otherwise hard to furnish. Space under the roofline becomes dead space as it slopes downward toward the floor where no one can fit to sit or stand. But with added built-in dressers or cabinets, the space has function and helps free up other areas where a dresser might otherwise go. A properly organized closet can completely eliminate the need for a bureau in the bedroom.

Have furniture with multi-functions. Buy a kitchen or dining table that is round and expandable. They not only allow for more space, they are friendly for other uses such as men’s poker night, ladies’ bunco night, or family game night. A desk can double as a night stand in a child’s room or in the master bedroom. A china hutch can store and display your dishes away from your cramped kitchen cabinets and hide board games in the enclosed space below. A coffee table with drawers can stow away children’s legos, action figures, and crayons and craft paper.

Small spaces can be family friendly spaces and they can be great for entertaining. A pint-sized home is friendly on your wallet and the environment. You want to live in a house that allows you to live as you wish, and not monopolize your time with cleaning extra spaces and extraneous upkeep. Be proud of the small place you call home.

Common Door Problems

Doors take a lot of beating on a daily basis. If you have doors that need repairing, here are some quick and easy tips to get you started…

1. Door will not stay closed

If a door sags a little, the latch bolt will be out of alignment with the striking plate. You can correct a small misalignment issue by unscrewing the plate and enlarging its cut-out with a small metal file.

Alternatively, remove the striking plate and fix it a little lower down the frame. Use a sharp chisel and a mallet to extend the recess in which it fits. If the plate has to be moved only a small distance, drill out the old screw holes and fill them with dowels. Drill new pilot holes for the fixing screws.

2. Fix a loose door frame

Slamming a door will often lead to the frame becoming loose. For masonry walls, make new fixings using three easy-drive Fischer wall anchors on either side of the frame.

The length of the frame plugs, which come complete with hammer-in screws, should be the thickness of the frame plus at least 60mm. Using the correct size masonry bit for the size of the wall plug you will be using, drill through the frame and into the wall behind it to the required depth.

Hammer the screw and plug into the hole until the screw head is flush with the frame.

3. Door that is hard to close

A door that is difficult to close, and tends to spring open, is said to be hinge-bound. The problem is usually caused by hinge recesses cut too deep in either the door edge or in the frame.

Generally, when correctly fitted, the hinge flaps should be flush with the surface of the wood. Protruding screw heads and badly placed hinge flaps can stop a door from closing and even damage the door.

Open the door fully and then put a wedge under it. Clear any paint from the slots in the hinge screws and remove them. Remove the screws from the bottom or lower hinges first, always leaving the top hinge attached with at least one screw until last. Then have a helper hold the door while you remove that last screw.

Hinges may bind because the screws have been put in askew or because their heads are too large to fit flush in the countersinks in the hinge flaps. Remove the offending screws and replace them with screws with smaller heads. If they will not tighten, pack out the holes with matches, toothpicks and wood glue.

Binding can also be caused by hinge flaps that are set into the frame too near to the door stop or rebate. As the door is closed, the face presses against the stop. Remove the hinges, drill out the old screw holes and plug them with glued dowels. Chisel the dowel ends off flush with the recess.

Drill new fixing holes so that the hinge is farther away from the door stop. The hinge pin should be just clear of the door edge. Fill the resulting gaps beside the re-positioned hinges with wood filler.

Using Wood Heat as a Primary Heat Source

Heating Your Home With Firewood is a Viable Option

Budget-conscious home-owners are getting in touch with their wood-burning roots. But while the majority of wood stove users burn wood to supplement their primary heating systems, there are a number of dedicated home-owners who burn wood as their only heat source.

Indeed, there are thousands of people across Canada and the United States who use wood as their only source of heat. And not only are these wood stove enthusiasts saving money, but they are also one passionate bunch!

This two-part series discusses:

• The financial benefits of heating with wood
• The personal benefits of heating with wood.

Financial Benefits

primary heating systems

In order to understand the financial benefits of heating with wood, home-owners must think in the long-term. This is because purchasing a modern wood stove can be a substantial cost. However, the purchase of an efficient wood stove is a one-time cost, which is followed by lower annual costs. Over the long-term, wood heat is generally a more economical way to heat one’s home.

The Gordon Family

Take the Gordon family, in Phoenixville, PA, as an example. Darren Gordon, his wife Malia, and their young son live in a 2500 square-foot open-concept home, which they heat entirely with wood. A few years ago, the Gordons purchased an EPA-certified wood stove, a chainsaw, and everything else needed to successfully heat their home with wood. Their purchases totaled just over $3,000.

But now it’s a few years later, and the Gordons have already paid for everything needed to heat their home. With a year’s supply of free firewood stacked and ready to burn, the Gordons anticipate that the family’s heating expenses over the next year should be, in the words of Darren Gordon, “almost zero.”

So the Gordons won’t have a heating bill this year. Nor next year. Nor the year after that! And, if they continue living in their home as they are today, in fifteen years their story will sound a lot like the Ballenthins’ story below.

The Ballenthin Family

Jim and Jean Ballenthin live outside of Backus, MN, and have been heating their home with wood since 1990. Being without a monthly heating bill for the past eighteen years, the couple conservatively estimates that they have saved between $20,000 to $30,000 in heating costs.

Is it actually possible to see such substantial savings by switching to wood? Consider the following example, using today’s numbers:

• Average annual home heating costs in the United States range from $3 000 to $4 500 per year.
• Multiplying $3 000 per year over an eighteen year period adds up to $54 000 in heating costs!

Firewood

A key factor in both families’ savings is that both households have access to free firewood. Both families obtain their firewood supply for free off their own property or through connections (and hard work).

Darren Gordon jokingly calls his firewood-collection methods “scrounging.” Gordon confides, “Once you get good with a chainsaw, you also have an instant side business; people will pay you to remove fallen trees from their property, and you get free wood at the same time.”

Jim Ballenthin, on the other hand, cuts all of his family’s firewood from their own property. “I rarely cut down live, healthy trees,” says Ballenthin. “I take down diseased, dying, or storm damaged trees.”

But, unlike the families mentioned here, not all wood burners have access to free firewood.

Nonetheless, purchasing wood is still a financially viable option. Estimates suggest that it’s common to cut one’s energy bill in half by purchasing firewood instead of oil or natural-gas.

Darren Gordon is pleased with his family’s financial savings. But, with a smile, he warns, “I must admit, I wouldn’t do this for the money savings alone. It’s simply too much work. I heat with wood for a long list of reasons.”