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Tiny, energy-efficient, homes are bucking the trend toward bigger and bigger houses

3 min read
Illustration: Elias Stein
Small is the new big.

—Bob Wheeler, CEO of Airstream

The comedian Steven Wright once quipped, “You can’t have everything. Where would you put it?” Yet for many years now, it seems as though consumers have been determined to buy everything, and are purchasing ever-bigger houses in which to store all their knickknacks and doodads. Back in 1900, the average U.S. single-family house was 65 square meters (700 square feet). That jumped to 93 m2 in 1949, 154 m2 in 1973, and a whopping 234 m2 in 2007 (according to the U.S. Census Bureau [pdf]). This trend led to a raft of new words that reflect a world increasingly flabbergasted by house sizes: Really big houses became monster homes or megahomes; oversize houses that didn’t fit the neighborhood were called McMansions or Godzilla homes; a massive house crammed into a small lot was a bigfoot home; garishly large dwellings were known as starter castles.

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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