Small is Beautiful

All else being equal, the bigger your apartment, the bigger your impact on the environment. More square feet generally means more lighting, more heating and cooling, and more embodied energy in construction and furniture. It also takes more cleaning supplies and paint to keep things looking spiffy. So wouldn't it be nice to have a smaller place and reduce your footprint?

According to the NYC Mayor's Office, there are 1.8 million one- and two-person households in New York City, but only one million studios and one-bedrooms. So despite the cost savings and ecological benefits, you might not always have the option to choose that right-sized apartment.To help close the gap with appropriately-sized and affordable smaller units, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) launched the adAPT NYC competition yesterday, which will seek proposals to develop replicable designs for residential buildings containing "micro-units," apartments smaller than currently allowed by code. Individual units are expected to measure 275-300 square feet.

In this pilot program, Mayor Bloomberg will waive certain zoning regulations on a Kips Bay site owned by the city to allow HPD to issue an RFP for the design, construction, and operation of a micro-unit rental building. The goal appears to be both to provide affordable housing as well as inform potential changes to regulations affecting buildings with smaller housing units.

The small house movement has been preaching the benefits of mini-homes for years, and the Brits are building homes less than half the size of those on this side of the pond. While New York City already has denser living conditions than the rest of the US -- part of the reason its environmental footprint is comparatively reduced -- increased choice and affordability will help keep the NYC housing stock flexible for the needs of the market.

This seems like a great idea from both an economic and sustainability perspective. Choosing smaller apartments can help your pocketbook, your energy bill, and the earth. We look forward to taking a tour of the first built at a time.



About the author

Cecil Scheib
Cecil Scheib is Chief Program Officer for Urban Green Council.