Green Communities, Part 2: Cottage Communities

August 15, 2008

Sometimes, some of the greenest solutions come from the simplest of ideas.  Take the cottage community.  What could be simpler than the idea of building houses that are radically smaller in square footage than the national average?  Not everyone wants all that extra space, and many would rather have a smaller home built well than a cheaply made box full of emptiness.

Cottage communities are not yet widely known in planning and development.  Cottage communities are primarily located in the Pacific Northwest, though there are indications of interest, if not actual communities yet built, in other parts of the country.

The individual cottages have a small footprint.  The first cottage community built in Langley WA had half the cottages no bigger than 800 square feet, and the other half no bigger than 700 square feet.  These homes are far smaller than the average size house in the U.S. (which was almost 2,400 square feet in 2004).

Cottages serve a niche community.  Obviously, a family of more than 3 or 4 people would start to feel crowded living the typical American lifestyle in such a space.  But many households have only one or two people, and a 700-800 square foot house is perfectly adequate for them.

Cottage CommunityCottages work best where several cottages can be placed near one another.  If you still require a full size lot for every home, a cottage doesn’t really do anything towards reducing sprawl.  But a cottage development typically has twice the number of houses as would normally be permitted.  So a piece of land that could normally accommodate four houses can be developed with eight cottages.  By developing as a community, cottages also benefit from common amenities such as landscaping and shared parking areas.  (The small size of the cottages precludes attaching garages to them.)

While cottages reduce the amount of land needed for development, they also reduce the volume of resources needed in their construction.  It is intuitively obvious that an 800 square foot cottage takes much less material, from studs and shingles to pipes and cupboards, than an average sized 2,400 square foot home.  In addition to all that material saved, the smaller cottages also need fewer resources to keep them heated and cooled.

Cottage communities can break up the texture of an otherwise undifferentiated development, and provide opportunities for other kinds of owners to be added into the housing mix.  While they serve the needs of a limited part of the population, they can contribute to better communities with just a simple idea.

See other related Green Building Elements stories:
Green Communities, Part 1: New Urbanism
Traditional Neighborhood Development and LEED Go Hand in Hand
Living Green in the 21st Century

images via: The Cottage Company