As a nurse in Boston planning for her future, Janet envisioned living a simpler life with a smaller footprint. What she never envisioned, however, was that she would build that future herself – literally with her own two hands. But that’s what Janet did when she retired and became the general contractor for her Unity Nano.
“One of my goals was to demonstrate that you can live in a small space and prepare for your future,” Janet said. “I wanted something that would be as maintenance-free as possible, that wouldn’t have to be replaced in my lifetime, and that had low energy cost.”
Initially, Janet toyed with the idea of building a tiny house. But she quickly realized she needed more livable space, and didn’t like the fact that most tiny houses were on trailers.
She then developed plans for a small home with a local architect and builder. She scrapped that idea for two reasons. First, the architect wanted to go bigger rather than smaller. And, second, the builder gave her a quote beyond her budget. That’s when she found Unity.
“The fact they offered a small house was very attractive,” said Janet.
Deciding to build a Unity “shell” was the single most important design decision Janet made as it allowed her to customize the interior finishes and do much of the work herself, with help from her adult children and some friends. She spent time on the pre-planning and the design. Then, Unity took care of the high-performance components.
Unity’s off-site, factory-built fabrication process and emphasis on minimal waste were two equally important factors for Janet. “I never had to have a port-a-potty or a dumpster,” Janet boasts, since part of her goal in building a small house was also to eliminate waste.
Janet kept a keen eye on how every component of her home contributed to her footprint, from the R-rating of her panels, to the windows and doors, to the floor insulation and finishes. With the help of her carpenter son, Janet salvaged much of her building materials from other construction projects.
She is also proud to share that her home energy rater estimated she will spend about $14 dollars to cool her home for the summer and an average of $120 a year to heat the house.
“My overall design goal was to have an open, accessible space – small, but not cramped, which would allow me to ‘age-in-place’,” said Janet. “But also not feel cold and drafty because I’ve lived in a space like that before.”
Total Living Area: 463 SF
Porch: 105 SF
Wall Insulation: R-28 cellulose
Roof Insulation: R-52 cellulose
Foundation Insulation: R-15 rigid foam
Windows: Triple-glazed European style tilt-turn
HERS Rating: 37
Certifications/Awards: 2019 Small Home Hero Award
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Advice based on experience
For those interested in doing a project like this themselves, Janet has a few pieces of advice. First, she recommends working with a design team and a builder you are comfortable with. Second, she suggests thinking “outside the box” even about finances. Pioneer Valley Habitat for Humanity has a helpful website with ideas for creative financing for owner-builders. Finally, Janet suggests being flexible and building a contingency plan, especially around timing and budget.
“There are all the same stressors when you build small,” Janet said. “And, there are a lot of challenges, regardless of the size of the house.”
Her hard work and dedication to building a small home have paid off. She recently accepted the 2019 Small Home Hero Award from Pioneer Valley Habitat for Humanity.
This is my castle, It’s been a long time coming. I’ve put a lot of hard work and soul in it. There were a lot of hiccups along the way. But I’m here!”