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Size matters: Lecturer advocates ‘tiny homes’

April 05, 2011 12:00AM

Size really does matter and in Jay Shafer's world, bigger is definitely not better.

Shafer, a designer specializing in sustainable architecture and urban planning and an internationally recognized expert in "small living," will speak at Pittsburg State University at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, April 6, in 109 Grubbs Hall. His visit is sponsored by PSU's Department of Family and Consumer Sciences.

Since the 1950s, the average size of a new single-family American home has grown from 983 square feet to more than 2,300 square feet. Shafer is a passionate advocate for reversing that trend. In 1997, Shafer launched a campaign to encourage Americans to think about smaller, more energy efficient homes. He not only talks the talk, but also walks the walk. Shafer lives in an 89-square-foot house in Sebastopol, Calif.

"My decision to inhabit just 89 square feet arose from some concerns I had about the impact a larger house would have on the environment and because I do not want to maintain a lot of unused or unusable space," Shafer wrote on his website. "My houses have met all of my domestic needs without demanding much in return. The simple, slower lifestyle my homes have afforded is a luxury for which I am continually grateful."

Shafer called his little home Tumblweed and the company he has formed is the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company. Since building his first tiny house, Shafer has developed a number of plans that range in size from 89 square feet to a whopping 837 square feet.

Not everyone who builds a tiny home uses it as a primary residence.

"How each house gets used depends on the occupant's particular needs," Shafer wrote. "What one person would enjoy as a quiet studio in their backyard, another couple might choose to inhabit as a full-time residence. What some people see as the perfect weekend hideaway in the country, others will use as a beautiful free-standing addition to their existing home for accommodating an elderly parent, an adult child, guests, or as office space."

Shafer has lectured on sustainable living at colleges and universities across the country. His designs have been featured on television programs such as "This Old House," "Oprah," and "Fine Homebuilding." His essays have appeared in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.  In 2000, Shafer was honored with the Natural Home's Home of the Year Award for Innovative Design. In 2005, he was selected for the American Institute of Architect's Sustainable Design Symposium.

Shafer's presentation is free and open to the public.

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