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Should Minimum Home Sizes Be Illegal?



DSC_0095We live in a consumption based society.  We want it all, and we want it bigger, better, and faster that those who came before us.  Whether you consider it the “American Dream” or simply “keeping up with the neighbors'”, new home sizes have more than doubled since 1950.  Many local governments have placed regulations that require a minimum home size to be built.  In my county that minimum size is 1,650 square feet.

There’s currently a proposal before our county commissioners to reduce the minimum home size regulation from 1,650 s.f. to 1,250 s.f.  I don’t want to get into the discussion of what’s right or wrong in my particular locality (although I do think that 1,650 s.f. is an awfully large minimum), but the concept of “minimum” home sizes is something worth discussing.

Why Keep It Large?

In a word, it’s all about money.  Bigger houses are easy to fall in love with.  They’re flashy, glamorous, and they make the owner look fabulously successful!  Home owners see their home as a reflection of themselves, and who doesn’t want to look great to all of their friends?  Local governments love big houses too!  Bigger homes mean higher taxes and more revenue per household, so encouraging larger homes makes sense for local politicians looking to expand the budget.

In fact, even local businesses win with larger homes!  Home owners need more furniture and “stuff” to put in that home, utility companies sell more power, gas, oil, water, etc. to keep those homes running, construction firms buy more materials per home, and builders don’t have to worry about building smaller, less profitable structures because the government demands they build big!

The Biggest Loser

Unfortunately, requiring big homes has a tragic downfall.  Selling those big homes was fast and easy when the market was loose and credit was easier to find than sunburn on a beach.  Suddenly builders find themselves languishing and the very same regulations that allowed them to build “bigger and better” are now forcing them to struggle to find profitability.  (Is that the worlds smallest violin I hear?)

My sympathies do go out to people who simply don’t want or need a large home to live comfortably, however.  I can understand certain areas mandating minimum sizes to prevent ramshackle construction, or situations where health and safety are compromised due to undersized homes, but there has to be a point where people can live comfortably and still not be over-burdened by bills because the government wants them to live in a certain sized home.  Think about all of the costs that increase as a home’s footprint expands:

  • Property Taxes
  • Utility Bills
  • Maintenance Costs
  • Furnishing/Decor Costs
  • Insurance Costs

Laws and regulations like this are economic segregation, IMHO.  They force people on fixed and/or limited incomes to either spend the money on more house than they want/need, or they prevent them from buying altogether.  They also impact people like myself.  I live in an older home with a total square footage of 1,400 s.f.  It’s far more house than I need, but I can’t buy smaller.  I would personally love to build a new home; upgrade to higher quality insulation, better, more efficient utilities, Energystar appliances, dual pane windows, on demand hot water, geo-thermal heat, and watch my utility bills sink like a stone.  Unfortunately I spend as much on utilities now as people who buy new homes with 2,000 s.f. of living space!

There Are Options!

For regions that want to regulate minimum home sizes, I say don’t!  If the concern is protecting home values, then why not regulate higher codes of construction rather than size?  Governments can modify local building codes, require better insulation, demand brick front dwellings, anything other than forcing people to buy more home than they need!  In an age where “going green” is really gaining ground, jurisdictions that force people to buy big, over-sized homes are encouraging consumption and profit over fiscal and ecological responsibility.

I'm a Realtor in Southern Maryland. I grew up surrounded by the RE business, spent time as an actor, worked as a theatrical designer and technician, and took the road less traveled before settling down in real estate. I run my own local market website at and when I'm not at the office or meeting clients, I can usually be found doing volunteer work, playing with my 3 rescued shelter dogs (Help your local Humane Society!), or in the garage restoring antique cars.

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  1. Nick Sweeney, DotLoop Social Media

    March 9, 2010 at 4:07 pm

    Great post, Jonathan. I think you hit the nail on the head with that first sentence in the third paragraph: “It’s all about money.”

    I will have to disagree with you about the remainder of that paragraph, though – that bigger houses are easier to fall in love with. As an owner of a bungalow (704 square feet) built in the 1920s, I can say for certain that huge homes are not easy for me to fall in love with. Every time I visit a huge home, I can only think of the upkeep and the time spent cleaning all twenty rooms.

    I have written about smaller homes on the DotLoop blog ( and, and, while I obviously am a big fan of smaller homes myself, I don’t agree with forcing people to build small.

    The reason is simple: you can’t legislate morality. As you said in the first paragraph, Americans live in a consumption-based society. Until we change that underlying issue, we can’t force people to build smaller homes.

    Of course, the other question remains, with 18.6 million empty homes (that’s 5 and 1/3 for every homeless person in America), why are we building new homes to begin with?

    I love the thoughtful post. Keep it up!

    • Jonathan Benya

      March 10, 2010 at 3:40 pm

      Why do you feel that bigger homes aren’t easy for people to fall in love with? As I mentioned in my article, I personally prefer smaller homes myself, but you have to ask yourself this: Why has the average family size shrunk in the last 50 years while the average home size has more than doubled? It’s not just some bizarre happenstance, people buy bigger than ever before, and there has to be a reason for it. It’s not necessity, people have lived in tighter quarters historically, so the only other reason I can see is because people (generally speaking) like bigger homes. What you and I would prefer has nothing to do with it.

      This isn’t an issue of legislating morality. We’re not talking about setting max home sizes or forcing people to buy small. This is really about legislating fiscal responsibility (or lack thereof). If you force people to buy more home than they need (which is what a 1,650 s.f. minimum does), you’re infringing on civil liberties and essentially extorting the homeowner to pay for size that they may not want or need.

  2. Brandie Young

    March 9, 2010 at 7:31 pm

    Hi Jonathan,

    I had no idea there was a legally mandated minimum home size! So, for clarification – if I own a piece of land in your county, and decided to build the 500 sf hut of my dreams, I’d be shut down?

    Thanks for the lesson.

  3. Jonathan Benya

    March 9, 2010 at 7:45 pm

    Yep, the only exception would be if it were in a “major” subdivision, and less than 10% of the homes built were below the minimum. If that were the case, you could get away with 1,250 s.f. either way, a 500 s.f. would only be a pipe dream!

  4. granthammond

    March 9, 2010 at 9:46 pm

    I can certainly see a subdivision’s master deed limited the size, minimum and maximum, but I’m not so sure that’s a practice our government should be engaging within. What ever happened to a free market economy anyway?

  5. Sam Chapman

    March 10, 2010 at 3:10 pm

    Get out of the city and stay away from heavily restricted subdivisions. I put a 1289 sf to be built in Apache Shores on the market and got 4 great calls on it within days. One was to have brought an offer, but she couldn’t qualify for a loan. Another guy has 3 small to be builts just on the market in Apache Shores and is already negotiating a contract for one. In an area like this with great schools and almost no new construction for less than around $190,000, smaller plans do sell.

    • Jonathan Benya

      March 10, 2010 at 3:34 pm

      That doesn’t necessarily matter. Take my area as an example, my county would be considered 50% suburban, 50% rural. Doesn’t matter where you wanted to build that 1289 sf home, you couldn’t build it in my county. This is why government legislation of home sizes shouldn’t be happening. It’s one thing for a community or developer to mandate what gets built on the lots he owns/sells, but it’s another for the entire county to have government mandated restrictions

  6. Ken Montville

    March 10, 2010 at 3:49 pm

    Jonathan, you miserable slut… Ooops. This isn’t a political blog post.

    Seriously, It’s a shame that the County feels it needs tax revenue so bad that they mandate home size. However, there are smaller footprints. It’s called a townhouse or a condo. Both of which I think they have in Waldorf and LaPlata, if not elsewhere in Charles County.

    That being said, most consumers I know that look at small places are always complaining about the size of the bedrooms or the lack of closet space/storage or this or that. By mandating a certain minimum size you can assure that houses are going to sell and not sit around.

  7. anthonys indianapolis homes for sale

    April 18, 2010 at 3:37 pm

    I completely agree, with one minor exception: I don’t think a minimum square foot requirement is economic segregation by design, but rather, a consequence. In any case, I agree that such restrictions skew the market and create an unnecessary rift between those who can afford them and those who either cannot afford them or don’t need them.

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Green Live & Work

Regenerating architecture: green building product innovations

(Green News) Sustainable design has evolved beyond robotics, and has tapped into the basics, using pre-historic methods: bacteria. Genius!





A Third Grade Teepee

Remembering back to third grade science class, about ten sticks bound together at the top with twine of some sort, and a little beansprout planted at the base of each pole, eventually became the coolest shelter this eight year old had ever seen. Seedlings wound their way up, tendril by tendril until their leaves reached just far enough to clasp and join, and create and fantastic teepee that was actually a food source, too! Talk about the ultimate in sustainability – but that was old school.


Making Something Out of Nothing

Enough about my blast from the past. I was seriously thrown into nostalgia when I thrust onto the path of this fantastic article by Gary Wollenhaupt earlier this week regarding some of the most inspirational green-building products I have heard about in quite sometime. It must have something to do with the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute’s Innovation Challenge and building products that seem to become something from nothing! Apparently these folks were up to the task!

So, maybe the little teepee which was representative of the sacred “three sisters” or corn, beans, and squash that the Native Americans utilized as their staple crops symbolized something else to me. The regeneration of soil, the regeneration of the land, and a regeneration of that happy little elementary school structure, covered in beans which became the perfect hiding spot.

Obviously, the teepee wasn’t innovative, but for this little kid, the shelter “appeared out of nowhere” once those leaves filled in. The Forbes article pulled together an arsenal of truly innovative products that are not only environmentally friendly, sustainably-minded products that will certainly turn many green-builders on their heads!

The Home that Regenerates Itself

Innovation comes in many different forms. Lots of great builders looking to build sustainable homes look towards energy efficiency in a hard-core way and building with products that take building to a new level; however, these innovators have gone and created building products that supposedly grow themselves, or are fire-retardant, or are -say what?- regenerating when they are broken? Oh, ok? This sounds like something out of the future, and we don’t even have our hoverboards yet!

Seriously though, it is amazing to think that there is a product made of a bacteria which will regenerate itself. Self-healing materials have been around for a while, but not necessarily for home building. Wollenhaupt noted that the”Bacteria engineered to thrive in dry climates is helping to create a concrete that can repair itself.

The bacteria are mixed into the concrete and release calcium carbonate, similar to limestone, as part of their waste process. The material fills in holes and cracks in the concrete, making it last longer and reducing maintenance costs.” As someone who is incredibly interested in developments like these, I am quite curious as to their durability and what the testing has been like for the products, but can’t wait to see what the future holds for green building products that bring us full circle! Fascinating, isn’t it?

Watch it Grow

It will be fascinating to see what happens when these homes are built out of these biologically and ecologically innovative building products, and if they will indeed withstand the test of time and do as they say they will. Take some time to view the entire roster of impressive applicants to the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, the California based non-profit who put on the event, check out their information, and applaud their achievements in green-building and design!

Now I want to go in the yard and build a little pole-bean teepee, and watch it grow. I don’t think my back yard is at the “coral-like” regenerating concrete bio-product level quite yet.

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Green Live & Work

Superadobe: super sustainable building phenomenon

Taking something that already had the power to be awesome and making it, well, super-powered, that is what one bright-eyed architect did with an age-old building concept. Let’s take a mini-adventure into the world of Superadobe, where a blending of concepts which are thousands of years old with some new ideas has created yet another buzz in the stratosphere of sustainability and green building.





Superadobe, I am Your Father

I believe it was Christopher Nolan who said “Batman and Superman are very different characters but they’re both iconic and elemental.” Either way you cut it, adobe is elemental, and adobe is nothing new; I make the comparison the Batman and Superman because they are both superheros, however different…

Adobe is also something nothing short of super. From the ancient Egyptians to the Anasazi Tribe, many cultures near and far have utilized the brilliant mixture of straw, soil, sand and water tamped together to create a sun-hardened earth house for shelter through the ages. These homes are sturdy, cool on the inside in the heat of the Sun, and warm on the inside during cool nights.

It is quite possibly some of the most amazing architecture that we can find when we look at the history of our progression of architecture, next to the great pyramids and cliff dwellings. Let’s face it, in many parts of the world, because of its magical simplicity, adobe is, after caves, how humans survived the elements.

Superadobe is Born Powerful

In the present, an Iranian born architect, Nader Khalili, has discovered, well- I say present, but it was some twenty plus years ago- how to perfect the concept of adobe and bring it forward into the new age. Through modification of the structural processing of the staging of the adobe, Khalili has managed to create a product and process that he has coined as Superadobe. Khalili has said that “Superadobe is an adobe that is stretched from history into the new century. It is like an umbilical cord connecting the traditional with the future adobe world.” He has an interesting take on adobe and its re-emergence to the “new world” through his superadobe product.

Moon-dust or Sand. Take Your Pick – it is Still Super.

What this really means is that his process of taking long tube-like bags, usually made of sturdy polypropylene or sometimes straight-up burlap, and filling them with sand, or rice or any sort of fill, then creating a trench for the foundation, and forming the frame out of these tubes which are filled with the “fill of choice” and then tamped down, either by hand or with a pneumatic tamper. As the foundation is created, windows can be created by having voids not filled, or cut out after the fact. A huge part of superadobe, beyond the tubular filled bags of soil or the like is the barbed wire which reinforces the shape of the buildings, which are generally a coil of these reinforced tubes which ultimately form a beehive shape. There have been extensive experiments with the concept of superadobe, or the earthbag building concept, which Khalili first came up with after attending a symposium at NASA in 1984 where he was trying to figure out who to build structures on the moon! Imagine, bags full of moondust. That sort of sounds magical, or super! Doesn’t it. Just agree. It does.


From the Moon to Your Backyard it seems that not even Kryptonite will take  this stuff down! Superadobe is one sturdy building concept. It is aerodynamic, just as its predecessor, just regular old adobe is. However; with the beehive and or rounded edges that it tends to take on, it can survive hurricane force gales. A superadobe home or building can be built by unskilled labors in a matter of days by the resources available on site, either of the sandbags, or of the specific tubing and barbed wire. The buildings are sturdy, sustainable, cost effective and can be built in nearly all elements. As a builder, one would look to superadobe from the cost effective standpoint for a client who is thinking about passive solar design; it tends to stay cooler during the day in those hot climates, and warm in the evenings in cold climates. The stuccoed exterior is incredibly low maintenance and provides the client for an exceptional opportunity for reduction in utility bills, or for even being off the grid, if they so desire. New offices looking for an interesting, cost effective and sustainable building concept, could certainly look at superadobe as an option. The unique building structure of the circular and hive-like shapes lend towards something new and different. If you want to stand out from the crowd, be sustainable, and possibly have a quick build, superadobe could be for you.  It From the moon to Costa Rica and everything in between, superadobe is a sustainable building concept that has green building aficionados looking towards the sun. It’s a bird, it’s a plane. No. It’s superadobe.

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Green Live & Work

GreenSpur: sustainable construction, reclaimed materials

GreenSpur Unveils their first OneNest Project home built in Virginia, a sustainable construction project that could be duplicated across the world.



sustainable construction

sustainable construction

One of a kind sustainable construction project

This weekend was full of anticipation and completed, what could be called “full-circle-excitement come to fruition” for those who have been keeping tabs on the GreenSpur construction team. Not so long ago, I brought word to you about the incredible opportunity that Mark Turner and his concept team were working on regarding a fully sustainable, green-built home constructed of Structurally Insulated Panels (SIPS) and reclaimed materials.

This project is the first of its kind and is hopefully going to be one of many that will be replicated internationally as a model of sustainable construction that meets the needs of a true nest.

Flying into the Nest

Minimalism, with a true rustic elegance is what you find peering out at you as you make your way up the steep, curving drive to the Delaplane OneNest home set atop a perfect hill overlooking the foothills of the Shenandoah mountains. It is almost as if someone has called in the gentle fog to hover just at the top of the treeline for intrigue, mystery and sultry ambiance to pull you into the site. Recall those mystical tendrils of smoke that lure… that is what pulls you here…to something new and exciting.

Before you get to the site, strategically placed communal fire pits with site-found logs are hissing, popping and generating that delightful campfire smell and then there is that house. With the elevation of a classic barn marrying a contemporary sanctuary, OneNest sits there among newly planted native river-birch trees, nestled in yet peeking out. The patina of the tin a deliberate match to the brick-red rust of the seamed and painted hardi-plank that covers the SIPS.

The standing seam metal roof line is a delicate yet masculine balance to the reclaimed history that is woven into this home through the use of wood paneling straight from past cabin quarters of the John Marshall property. The facade wouldn’t be complete without the mirror image of floor to ceiling windows flanking a steeple like fireplace that is masoned in stone harvested directly from the site. Usable porches galore. Panoramic views of the fog rolling on and on across the pits and valleys of the foothills while the cows come home. A matching barn is just beyond the main house that has an awning wide enough for a classic riding tractor. Classic is right. This is just the exterior.

Getting Cozy on the inside

Delivering more inside, OneNest’s vaulted ceilings are welcoming and open, leaving one to be baffled by the thought that this space is one-thousand square feet. It could be thousands more; the trompe l’oeil affect of the grande windows to the view beyond pulls the eye out and into the distance. The living room has very functional usable built-ins and is open to the stunning kitchen with a wonderful amount of storage. The fantastic use of counterbalanced Connecticut-style pull down lanterns is just one more ‘trick of the eye’ and fun for the gorgeous space and means to draw the eye up to the loft space above which is the master suite.

Past the kitchen, a full bath, well appointed and glowing is to the left, and storage to the right. Beyond that, windows, again floor to ceiling brighten the space and pull in the outdoors while highlighting the spiral staircases to go up and up into the nest. Before heading up, a nosy poke into the crawl space reveals some more smart design, wine-cellar in the crawl built from galvanized metal buckets and wine-racks; a good use of space in an otherwise unusable crawl!

The second floor is home to the lofted main bedroom, which has a lovely view of the great wide yonder and can be conveniently enclosed with thoughtful curtains; wrapped around the far right of the bedroom is a little nook- great for reading, a dog-friend or maybe some lovely indoor plants for creating a nice indoor air quality. The master spa-bath is impeccable with an egg-shaped soaker tub, walk-in shower complete with rain head and well, it is simple, yet stunning. Plus, there is a fireplace above the bath. Nice… I

n the central stairwell, up once again, the next level houses the guest room with incredibly functional use of space, reclaimed wood and a sumptuous bathroom which is just incredibly well done. This OneNest space is an unbelievable four stories of beautiful, reclaimed, green living space built to help the owner truly nest in, living in what they need.

sustainable construction

sustainable construction

sustainable construction

sustainable construction

sustainable construction

Nesting as a Trend

Why OneNest? Business partner, Arian Lewis, stated “this is something that can be replicated in any country across the world. I’m currently talking with contacts in Malaysia to see about using our concept houses there.”

Lewis is the partner based out of the Oxford England team, who has been working on outreach to developing nations. These homes can be built anywhere. They are sustainable and don’t have to take up a lot of space or resources. Minimal or luxury finishes can be put into them and the product can be built an a relatively small amount of time.

Mark Turner, the brainchild behind GreenSpur and the OneNest project, said when asked what the biggest take away should be for the project, “Well, this was absolutely a labor of love and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I wanted to do something different that other builders weren’t doing and that would change the way things were being built in the construction industry.” He has proved it once before when he built a net-zero house on Capitol Hill, now he has done it again with the OneNest project’s first completed home, built in 100 days in Delaplane, VA.

Turner reminds us all that “OneNest is the context of everything in one world- a natural resting place.” Mark has also been quoted, “When I think about designing and building PLACE, I am inspired by Stegner’s quote, ‘There it was, there it is, the PLACE where during the best of our lives friendship had its home and happiness its headquarters.’ This 1000 SF OneNest Project is our team’s best attempt to capture this spirit. We are using radical approaches in design, materials and building science to capture that simple notion that we all universally yearn for: ‘happiness its headquarters.'” I love this about this team, they are so grounded in their since of duty to balance and harmony with nature, life and the elements.

What is Next for OneNest

Looking at their mission, Delaplane was a lovely place to select for the first part of this project’s journey. Just off of John Marshall Highway in historic wine country, this may be an idealistic “happiness headquarters.” The first OneNest will be open for extended stays as well as events for the next six months to continue to the conversation within the community and beyond about this intriguing and passionate design and building concept.

Where do you think we’ll see more of these beautiful, sustainable creations across the States and internationally? Start the conversation by making the visit.

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