Readers of this blog know I have an interest in the DIY of cabins and treehouses and such. I see them as retreats from the regular Monday to Friday life. This past week I came across several articles about a variation on that idea which is sometimes called “micro houses.” They are more than getaways. They are very mall homes where people live all week.

The first article I came across was about homes in Japan. That makes sense because we know that space is at a premium in Japan and they have always been masters of packing things into small spaces – from electronics to bonsai. It doesn’t seem very DIY in Japan since many of the homes started being built by major builders in th e late 1990s. There seems to be a market for living small there for these units, known as kyo-sho-jutaku in Japanese.

One of the early homes was built on a 249 sq. ft. site (a big parking space) in Tokyo. They built a five-story home on the site. That seems excessive.

A Japanese factory has developed aluminum, cube-like frames called tsubomi that can be arranged into stand-alone homes or used as attachments to existing houses. A 27 cubic meter (952 cu. ft.) attachment costs $17,000 and can be assembled in a single day.

But a little research seems to indicate that Susan Saranka gets has been credited with starting this movement toward smaller houses with her 1997 book The Not So Big House: A Blueprint for the Way We Really Live.

Apparently, I’ve missed all this because she has a bunch of books and has been on the Oprah Winfrey Show, Charlie Rose and in the The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal et al.

Her writing has gone beyond homes to The Not So Big Life: Making Room for What Really Matters

Back to homes though…

I found an article about an artist-builder who lives in a  96-square foot house in California. He started out wanting less of everything – including less of an impact on the Earth – and tried living in an Airstream trailer. That wasn’t really practical for the Iowa winter he tried to get through.

The movement is also big in Europe.  The structures are called Micro Compact Homes, or m-ch in the way they are developed by the University of Munich.

These micro-homes fit on plots that represent the garage space of the McMansions that started appearing in the U.S thirty years ago.

The movement got traction with architects and home design magazines. The Japanese model is extravagant for what I would want to consider building.

A budget in Japan of $170,000 USD for a 3-level home on a plot that measured only 32 square meters (or 344 sq. ft.) is a too much. Yes, it would have a spiral staircase, living space on the ground floor, living room, kitchen, and bedroom on the second and sleeping quarters on the top floor with access to a wood deck.

On the other extreme, Yamaha (the world’s largest manufacturer of musical instruments) sells soundproof rooms that to put into existing homes or to add one that are 1.4 meters wide, 1.8 meters in depth, 2 meters high for $3,700.

But before you stop reading, consider the more American style cottages under 1,000 square feet that are being built as second homes and getaways that are less than a regular house but an upgrade from the rustic cabin.

The Tower Studio pictured here is a small cabin with a garage on the lower level and a living unit on the second floor. A stove keeps things warm and you can have a view from your tower.

These designs get creative with the channeling of light and the way walls, hallways, and windows are designed and try to avoid using artificial lighting for as much of the day and night as possible.

It still would be tough to convince my wife that one of these could be our retirement home.

But I guess what I like about the movement is the philosophy of living smaller. A trend towards smaller would be worthwhile even if the result was not that we all started living in micro-houses, but that downsizing homes and building them more efficiently became the trend.

Want to know more?

Video from National Geographic of The Penguin House which uses innovative engineering and architectural design to achieve a better use of space.