Should We Buy a Bigger House? A Green Dilemma

Today I’m turning to all of you in an online opinion poll to help my family make a major life decision: Should we move to a bigger house?

I know you’re all up to your elbows in mistletoe and holiday cards, but we’re in the midst of a major transition and I love getting advice from wise readers.

You may remember my proud posts on the budgetary and environmental benefits of small homes.  We have been quite happy in our thousand square foot house for several years and the income from the small studio apartment we rent out back makes it even better.  Here’s a summary of why we should keep living in our small home:

  1. Constant Togetherness.  It’s nice to be within sight of each other almost all the time.  No one can retreat into his or her own world because our domain is mutual.  There’s no need for a baby monitor here!  (Our house isn’t really as small as this photo, but it can feel that way at times.)
  2. Limit on Acquired Stuff. We don’t have to maintain piles of possessions simply because we don’t have the room.  If something new is going to come in, another object simply has to be removed.
  3. Lower Energy Consumption. We have less space to heat, thus giving us lower utility bills and a lighter carbon footprint.

I could go on, but you get the gist!  We have a good gig here.  So why do we want to shift to a bigger home?  Again, the list:

  1. One Bathroom, Four People. This isn’t usually a problem, but a recent bout of communal stomach flu was pretty miserable with just one latrine.  I imagine this will get tougher when the kids get older too.
  2. No Space for Visitors. Kid gatherings are tricky in our home. Overnight guests have to camp out on the floor and be climbed upon by our children at 6am.  We won’t be living in the mansion pictured here, but it might just feel that way at first!
  3. Excellent Financial Timing. Interest rates are low, prices are low, we have savings set aside, and we’d be keeping this house as a rental. (Our goal will be a house close to shopping and work that is between 1600-1800 square feet.)

If you’ve managed to live in a small space as a family (perhaps even tinier than our house) for years and enjoyed it, please comment!  If you live in a large house, did you enjoy having the extra space or was it tougher to maintain? You could just be the one who tips our decision one way or another!

Update! Since I’ve written this post we’ve found an 1800 square foot home with a rainwater catchment system, organic garden beds, and a water saving toilet.  We may just be in love!  We’ll keep you posted on the progress, and in the meantime, we need your advice!


  1. About a year ago, my 3-person family moved from our not-quite 1000 sq ft townhouse where we’d lived for a number of years to a 1900 sq ft house in the suburbs of a new town. It’s HUGE by comparison, and there are parts of it that we really don’t use yet–so we don’t heat or cool them. It takes longer to clean, and there are things I really miss about a smaller house. But, we enjoy having the space for my husband to work from home, and we’re hoping that our family will expand soon. One of the greatest blessings of having more space is that we’re able to be generous with it. We have guests routinely. This summer, my future sister-in-law needed a place to live for a few months, and we were able to invite her to stay. My sister just moved in yesterday for the same kind of indefinite stay.

  2. As you know, we moved from a 900 square-foot house to a 1500 square-foot one. 500 square feet aren’t exactly finished yet (no heat + just subfloors on the upper story). Having the bigger space has been nice. First of all, it’s nice that there is more than one place to hang out. In our smaller house, it wasn’t possible for one person to watch T.V. and the other person to read at the same time (for example) without banishing one person to the bedroom. Also, surprisingly, it’s easier to keep the larger house clean. There’s simply more room for everything to go.

    There is a series of popular books by Sarah Susanka called The Not So Big House. She talks about all the things you discuss in your “pros” column as benefits of smaller-house living–except she considers a “not so big house” as around 2200 square feet!

    Anyway, I think you would enjoy living in a larger house, and it seems to be a good time for you to make the move!

  3. I think at least 1.5 bathrooms are needed for a 4-person household, particularly once your daughter is potty-trained. And if I remember, at least one set of grandparents lives far away–it’s awesome to have a guest room for them to stay when they come to visit (after our son was born, the guest room became his room and he bunked with us when a grandparent visited–which was OK for short stays but I know my mom always felt guilty about “kicking him out” of his room). 1800 sounds like a totally reasonable size, particularly if it’s in a location that’s still highly walkable, etc. so you can still keep your carbon footprint relatively low.

  4. I think the best way to look at a home sale is in purely economic terms. It sounds as if you have the financial stuff figured out, and you would be alright either way. What will be your better long-term investment, keeping the home you have and perhaps help visitors rent a hotel room near you on occasion, or purchasing a second home and collecting the profits on a rental? Run the numbers: if it’s cheaper to rent a hotel for your guests every time they come over than it is to own two homes, you should factor that in. If having the long-term investment of the second home is the most important factor, then buying might be the winning plan.

  5. David Nelson says

    Could you add a small bathroom in the basement? As far as visitors go, I would hate to see you go into more debt simply to have a place for visitors to stay (there are hotels, or kids can sleep on the floor when family comes over). Financial timing is really only good if you can take advantage of it without anymore debt. If the interest rates are so good, refinance your current home to take advantage of the low interest rates.

  6. One bathroom for four people would be hard! We are trying to buy a house right now… we currently live in a 500 sq ft basement and there is just no room for our little guy to play! It’s a great time to buy if you can swing, we certainly are hoping and praying that we can.

  7. Thanks for your input so far! Caitlin, I’m impressed you’ve managed it thus far and wish you the best of luck.

    As for adding a bathroom, we could possibly do it, but then we still wouldn’t have much play space. If we did a bit addition, we would really out-remodel our home for the neighborhood and make it hard to sell in the long run.

    For now, we’ve decided to sit on our hands for awhile. We would like to find something great, but it has to be a good enough deal to merit taking the financial plunge. We are the most slow and careful people we know with making big financial decisions and this is just about the biggest one there is!

    We’ll keep gathering info, occasionally looking at houses, and playing Tetris with the furniture, toys, and people that are currently occupying this small space.

    Our friends have four children and a one bathroom house. If they can do it, we can hang in there for at least a little longer!

  8. No kids for us yet, but we’ll be starting a family in the next year. We currently live in a 440 sqft studio. I know what it’s like to play Tetris with the furniture, as you stated, Joy. I could probably make our studio work up until the baby starts to crawl, and then it just wouldn’t be fair to him or her. I think that we could get by on a very tiny house as long as we had separate bedrooms for boys, girls, and adults, plus some open floor space (which we are lacking right now). I’d have to enforce strict bathroom rules. With that said, there’s a big difference between “making it work” and being comfortable. One thing I’ve noticed about living in a small space is that it gets messy VERY quickly. With so much stuff crammed into so little room, just having a single item out of place makes our studio looked cluttered and messy. Anyway, I’d say that you should pick a place that you’ll be more comfortable in. If finances are ok, then having some extra elbow room could probably lower stress while still allowing for the closeness that you value.

  9. Not a regular reader but came across your blog and had to add a vote for small houses…we have a family of five in around 750 give or take
    Yes it gets messy quickly (and I need organization for my sanity)…and can occasionally drive me nuts, but its also very quick to clean up again…and I’ve noticed that more house doesn’t only equal more space…it equals more stuff…in time, people fill up their bigger houses to look just as cluttered, take longer to clean (since there’s more stuff now), and most importantly waste precious resources making all of this extra stuff that you don’t even realize you have….its amazing how much stuff we go through each year…I RARELY shop for anything and somehow I have to purge and reorganize multiple times a year…with multiple bags for goodwill each time…I just don’t get it…but I know it would be much worse with more space…except it would sit in storage somewhere in my house instead of being donated for good use
    The biggest pro IMO is the built in need for priorities with a small home…I really have to know what stuff is important to my family…what makes us most happy and what’s a waste of space….I think it makes for healthier people…and that is number 1 hands down
    We buy kess, keep less, and giveaway more…we also need to get out of the house more…another plus! Going for walks outside becomes a necessity
    As long as you organize your space and evaluate priorities, I believe anyone can be happy in small homes
    that being said…perhaps you can “recycle” your home….if overnight guests are a priority, perhaps you can change 2 bedrooms into 3 smaller ones for example…depending on how handy you are and the layout of your home…it could even be a DIY…(my stepdad built their entire house…so I speak from this perspective)

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