The Materials Book

49 19 Rightsize Much of the world still needs better housing. As their needs are met, it may be useful to reflect on the standards of the developed world. Is bigger always better? As living standards increase, the average area per inhabitant for living space, working space, and infrastructure also grows. 1 The most notable changes have been in housing, as area has grown while household size has shrunk. The average area of a new American home increased from 154 square meters in 1973 to 234 square meters in 2007. 2 An increase in building volume typically requires more structural materials, creates larger surfaces for finishes, and needs more energy for heating, cooling, lighting, and appliances. These increases may be mitigated through efficient structural design, sustainable materials, and renewable energy sources. Larger living spaces can also create a barrier to using higher performance or more sustainable materials because the cost of upgrading gets multiplied by the additional area. Smaller spaces can thus be a direct way to reduce material intensity and lower the barrier for using quality materials. 1 Alex Wilson and Jessica Boehland, “Small Is Beautiful: US House Size, Resource Use and the Environment,” Journal of Industrial Ecology 9 (January 2005): 277–87. 2 Jonathan Massey, “Risk and Regulation in the Financial Architecture of American Houses,” in Governing by Design: Architecture, Economy, and Politics , ed. Aggregate (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012), 40.