Five Best Design Practices for Small Homes and ADUs

Bird's Eye Axon

Less-Is-More House, a small-scale custom home designed using best design practices.

Over the years our architectural practice has worked out some best design practices for the design of small homes and accessory units, as well as the design choices that should be avoided. You can benefit from our experience. Here’s a list of common design mistakes people make when planning their Not So Big House or accessory dwelling unit.

1. Lack of interior sight lines
Limiting the number of interior walls, thus keeping with an open plan, has the advantage of optimizing a feeling of spaciousness. Conversely, having too many too small rooms contributes to a feeling of kludgyness and claustrophobia. You want a place that feels wonderful and creates a positive catalyst for your goals, therefor keep your floor plan open and airy as much as possible.

2. Too few windows
Many homeowners try to lower their project’s cost by reducing the number of windows. But a house with too few windows is not only a gloomy place to live in, it can actually increase your energy bill if you find yourself using electric lights in daylight hours. As a rule of thumb, you should install at least 10 square feet of windows for every 300 cubic feet of space.

3. Poor window placement
Window placement is also an important design consideration. It’s a mistake to only place windows on one side of a room. This makes a room stuffier and harder too cool because it prevents cross breezes. Especially in living rooms, try to place windows on more than one wall, ideally on walls directly across from each other.

4. Improper kitchen measurements
Kitchens are tricky to design in small homes because refrigerators, ovens, and other appliances take up so much space. Make sure you have enough space in your kitchen to accommodate the specific appliances you want – in fact, it may be best to pick out your appliances before building any counters and cabinetry.

5. Insufficient acoustical separation
Sounds are amplified in small living spaces. Kitchens and bathrooms tend to be the noisiest spaces, and bedrooms the quietest. It’s a good idea to separate the room used for sleeping from the rest of the home with a sound-proofed wall. If you are considering a sleeping loft, consider this factor as part of your decision whether it should be open to the space below or not. If you do elect to have it open, you can minimize noise by placing the loudest spaces beneath the loft, rather than directly across from it.

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