The Hummingbird is a four bedroom bungalow is one of EkoBuilt’s most popular floorplans.

Paul Kealey from EkoBuilt joins us to discuss affordability and how to create healthier, happier, and more sustainable communities.

BC:  With expertise in creating personalized living spaces, what are some of the innovative designs that bring the power of design to affordable housing?

Paul Kealey:  Affordability in house design is something that should be considered from day one in any design process. The end result should be building “enough house” or living space. The tiny home movement has been very much about focusing on clever spaces and affordability, but many truly “tiny” homes are simply too small for most folks.
     Even for a two or three-person household, constantly being in the same space together can just be too much. We all need a sense of “somewhere to go” within our homes, and for natural “away” spaces where quiet and concentration can be achieved.  It almost goes without saying that smart design should build in multiple uses for spaces. Gone are the days of single use rooms or spaces. Why undertake the expense of building, and then heating and/or cooling a room that’s rarely used?

A bonus room or space that can act variously as a guest suite, a home office, and an exercise space is entirely possible with forethought. Thanks to clever concepts such as foldaway or Murphy beds, modular sofas, and innovative hanging and wall storage solutions, a small space can be optimized to serve all of these needs comfortably and attractively. Making a comprehensive list of all the ways you expect to use your space, including frequency, can really help to narrow down what you need. If putting up guests feels important, but you realize you really only do this once or twice a year for a few days, it would be silly to designate an entire room to this function.

The Hummingbird 

BC:  What are some of the foundational features for creating spaces that are comfortable yet minimal in size?

Paul Kealey:  One very simple foundational feature of affordable house design is building up (or down) rather than out.  It’s important to remember that the more exterior wall space and roof space required, the more the resulting cost of a home will be driven up. This is even more true for house design that embraces complexity with features like dormers and a lot of “bump outs” in the home’s floorplan. All of this adds hugely to material and labour cost.
     There is a reason why twentieth century postwar housing focused on box design. A simple cube is always the most affordable starting point. Adding another level to a home with a simple square footprint will mean the least amount of additional materials and labour. It also makes placement of plumbing features more likely to result in efficiencies, when you have spaces stacked on top of each other rather than sprawling hugely.

Passive homes tend to feature simple shed roofs and slab on grade foundations, not because of an undying devotion to modernism, but because of the cost savings these measures introduce. A simple shed roof is strong, resilient, and uses very little roofing material (and corresponding labour) in comparison to a more traditional peaked roof with dormers.

BC:  And having slab-on-grade is a key approach to optimizing the thermal performance of the home?  

Paul Kealey:  Absolutely.  For a home that doesn’t require a basement, slab on grade is the perfect solution. This approach does away with the expense of a basement entirely. Slab on grade has become a very sustainable default thanks to frost protected slabs becoming readily available, unlike in the past. This single measure will cut down on construction time and cost right from the start.
     Finally, looking for storage in otherwise wasted space can be a really great way to make the most of less house. In our work with clients, we regularly make use of deep storage alcoves or niches above closets. In our model home, a four-bedroom bungalow, these added roughly 200 square feet of additional space to the home by making use of otherwise “dead space”. Thinking “up” or “down” really is useful when considering how to make your home’s design as affordable and smart as possible.

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