18 incredible small 'green' homes

Small can be beautiful
Efficient light bulbs, nontoxic furniture and Energy Star-certified appliances can certainly reduce your family's environmental impact. But the more dwelling space we provide for each person, the more resources we are going to use.
In 2009, the average American home was 2,343 square feet, more than double the average in 1950. While new-home sizes dipped slightly during the recession, it's also true that more architects and builders are recognizing that small really can be beautiful. We see this in efficient, affordable modular design, and some folks are even going so far as to move into repurposed shipping containers. Some small "green" homes are envisioned as rustic cabin getaways, while others are on the cutting edge of style and amenities.

Small house on the Oregon coast
325 square feet
Obie G. Bowman, Chris Heath
Gold Beach, Ore.
This small, off-grid cabin was designed as a guest house, and visitors are rewarded with sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean. Its A-frame shape helps it weather a demanding climate, including winds up to 90 mph.
The small home is powered by solar panels and features gorgeous local cedar. The dark concrete floor slab serves as a thermal mass that helps store heat during the day, releasing it in the evening. Beams channel rainwater into a holding tank, where particles are filtered out.
Watershed House

70 square feet
Float Architectural Research and Design
Wren, Ore.
Built for a writer who wanted to channel his own inner Thoreau, the tiny Watershed House offers some of the most stylish living available in 70 square feet. The cabin has lots of openings to let light and scenery in, reducing a cramped feeling.
According to the book "Small Eco Houses," Watershed is prefabricated to reduce waste and disturbance to the site. The polycarbonate roof provides shade and diffuses the light, and the windows are double-paned for insulation.
The cabin even features a small, rain-fed reflecting pool to enhance the aura of contemplation and connection to nature. Think about that the next time you hear someone complain about a small apartment.
Joshua Tree House

387.5 square feet
Hangar Design Group
Moving up slightly in size, "Small Eco Houses" considers a prefab home that was envisioned as a mountain or vacation retreat. Would you believe that this space-efficient design features two bedrooms, a kitchen and two bathrooms?
The small but comfortable house is prefabricated off-site from recyclable metal cladding and wood. Several skylights provide illumination and ventilation, and the plumbing and electrical systems are designed to leave no visible mark on the terrain should the house be picked up and moved.
Small wood cabin on Lake Flathead

830 square feet
Andersson Wise Architects
Polson, Mont.

Perched on pillars near a granite and slate outcropping in the pine forests of Montana, this small wood cabin blends nearly seamlessly with the picturesque landscape. The open plan is comfortable inside, and the wood floors extend to a deck and small bridge over the sloping terrain.
The small house was built off-site and installed with minimal disturbance to the land. It is off the grid and takes advantage of passive heating and cooling, without the need to burn fuel. Large windows reduce lighting needs and showcase the forest.
Green addition

845 square feet
Jason Langkammerer, John Barone/@6 Architecture
Berkeley, Calif.
Moving to a decidedly more urban environment, "Small Eco Houses" features an addition to this San Francisco Bay Area home that boasts a bedroom, bathroom and living area. The modular panels that make up the exterior are prefabricated from fiber-cement, and the large, south-facing windows serve as passive heaters during the winter.
Inside, bamboo panels offer a natural look. Some rooms are set off by translucent polycarbonate walls, which let in natural light.
Taliesen Mod.Fab modular home

960 square feet
Taliesin Design/Build Studio, J. Siegal, M.P. Johnson Design
Scottsdale, Ariz.
If you think the Taliesin Mod.Fab house looks like a mobile home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, you're on the right track. According to "Small Eco Houses," the groundbreaking architect had experimented with modular designs early in his career, but adoption of the resource-saving concept was reportedly cut short by the disruption of World War I.
The Taliesin Mod.Fab pays homage to Wright while showcasing sustainability. It's built with so-called SIPs, structural insulated panels, which make installation quick. The house is designed to work well off the grid, using natural lighting and ventilation and optional solar panels.
Modern alpine hut

1,130 square feet
Ofis Arhitekti
Stara Fuzina, Slovenia
This stylish mountain cabin was built in a small village inside Slovenia's Triglav National Park. It is constructed from beautiful local materials and is oriented for passive heating and cooling, although it also boasts a central fireplace that warms both levels. Black foil was placed inside the walls to absorb heat and direct it inside.
Green Bridge House

1,184 square feet
Max Pritchard Architect
Ashbourne, Australia
According to "Small Eco Houses," the Bridge House was built for a client who didn't want to spoil the natural beauty of the property. So the architects came up with a rectangular design that bridged a small stream.
The main windows face north and south, facilitating passive temperature control. The black concrete floor serves as a thermal mass, and the windows are double-paned. The reflective steel cladding and surrounding trees help with cooling in the summer. There's also a pair of solar panels.
Lavaflow 3
1,300 square feet
Craig Steely Architecture
Big Island, Hawaii
Perched on a lava field 10 miles from Mount Kilauea, the airy Lavaflow 3 house provides views of the Pacific Ocean from every window. The home needs no air conditioning, thanks to the windows that take advantage of ocean breezes. Screens, curtains and louvers regulate the airflow and provide privacy.
The home was designed to minimize impact to the sensitive volcanic landscape. All water used is collected from rain and stored in a concrete cistern under the living room.
Ijburg House

1,507 square feet
Marc Koehler Architects
With a bold, contemporary look, the Ijburg House by Marc Koehler Architects occupies a small lot on a densely populated street in suburban Amsterdam. The home is made from recyclable bricks in a monolithic style that calls to mind the acclaimed Amsterdam School of the 1920s.
The three-bedroom house features a garden, terrace and artist's studio. It is oriented for cross-ventilation and is designed to support a green roof and to encourage plants to climb up its exterior walls, to provide shade and even to grow some food.
Modern green house in GerĂªs

1,615 square feet
Correia/Ragazzi Arquitectos
Canicada, Portugal
A bit larger but farther south, this unusual home could be the love child of Frank Lloyd Wright and Philip Johnson. It cantilevers far over a steep slope in Portugal, where it was situated to minimize disturbance to the surrounding forest.
The home is built with reused and natural materials, and is oriented for cross-ventilation. The views from inside make one feel part of the forest.
House 205

1,690 square feet
H Arquitectes
Vacarisses, Spain
In neighboring Spain, H Arquitectes perched House 205 on a craggy slope by cutting a small ledge. According to "Small Eco Houses," the builders minimized damage to the natural environs.
The home is built with a material-saving truss system and load-bearing walls, instead of a heavy foundation. It emphasizes cross-ventilation and scenic views.

1,900 square feet
CCS Architecture
Stinson Beach, Calif.
This gorgeous beach vacation home is no monstrosity, yet it is loaded with modern features and high style. Despite the statement-making, rotating "fireorb" fireplace, the real star is the view of the natural lagoon and surrounding tony beach community.
Sensitive to the fragile beach environment, the owners and the designer, CCS Architecture, created a net-zero-energy home, which takes advantage of passive features and solar panels. It's stylish, comfortable beach living with less guilt.
Renovated green house in Hattem

1,937 square feet
Arconiko Architecten
Hattem, Netherlands
Another Dutch entry in "Small Eco Houses," this renovation of a 111-year old dwelling was designed to let the light in. The extensive glazing facilitates cross-ventilation and passive heating, and opens up parts of the original structure.
New material was acquired locally and provides interesting juxtapositions of old and new.
Annie Residence prefab house

2,000 square feet
Bercy Chen Studio
Austin, Texas
Still smaller than the average American home, the Annie Residence in Austin shows how beauty and elegance need not be reserved for the wealthy. The prefabricated home is cheaper to build than conventional homes, and it is more resource-efficient. It is composed of two pavilions connected by a glass hallway and arranged around a central courtyard and peaceful water feature.
The extensive glazing is double-paned and tinted to reduce solar gain during the hot Texas summers. Partitions can be opened and closed for cross-ventilation, and there are shade plants aplenty.
Casa Pulmo green beach house

2,100 square feet
Cathi House/House + House Architects
Cabo Pulmo, Mexico

"Small Eco Houses" takes a trip south of the border to Casa Pulmo, in the small Baja fishing village of Cabo Pulmo. This renovation project eliminated the need for air conditioning, thanks to ventilation and shading. The gorgeous, sun-kissed home was hand-built by local artisans, who used local materials.

This casa has solar panels and rainwater harvesting. It is also wheelchair accessible. Views of the blue Pacific can be enjoyed from nearly every room.
Emigration Canyon

2,500 square feet
Sparano + Mooney Architecture
Emigration Canyon, Utah
Only slightly larger than the average U.S. home, this contemporary abode outside Salt Lake City is LEED silver certified because of its many green features. The home is designed to provide views of Emigration Canyon while minimizing impact.
According to "Small Eco Houses," the design of this home emphasizes communal living, with openness and a sliding glass wall. It features rainwater collecting, dual-flush toilets, cross-ventilation and natural lighting, including Solatubes.
The exterior steel cladding is designed to be maintenance-free, and over time it is expected to further blend into the surroundings as a result of weathering.
Hof House

3,165 square feet
Studio Granada
Skagafjordur Fjord, Iceland

Less than 66 miles from the Arctic Circle in rugged Iceland, the Hof House is larger than the other homes featured in "Small Eco Houses," but it is included here because of its deep green profile and setting and because it is essentially a modular concept, meaning it supports the concept of flexible sizing. The contemporary home was sited on a historic horse-breeding estate and is intended to blend in with the surroundings and afford panoramic views.

The home is largely built of concrete, which is a great thermal mass, and the cedar siding will weather beautifully. The house features green roofs, which provide added insulation, and it is powered with geothermal energy. It takes advantage of passive heating and cooling and the use of natural lighting, and it was built with many local materials.

Inside, the Norse minimalism and picture windows reminds us of the home in Roman Polanski's film "The Ghost Writer," with views of the fjord instead of the cape. The home shows how people can live well in a beautiful place with minimal impact.