Downsizing your digs

Trading in the big house for the big picture

Lance and Natalie Pagel see downsizing as a good thing for their family.

Lance and Natalie Pagel see downsizing as a good thing for their family.

Photo By Sena Christian

Natalie Pagel and her husband Lance have made small look sexy in the suburbs. That wasn’t necessarily the couple’s goal when they decided to downsize from a four-bedroom, 3,600-square-foot house in east Roseville to a comparatively tiny three-bedroom, 1,100-square-foot house in the nearby historic part of town. But with the modern, hip, eco-friendly accommodations they’ve created, it just sort of turned out that way.

The Pagels downsized because finances required it, and as Natalie is fond of saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” It costs a lot of money to keep up with a big house—to fill it with stuff and pay those high electric bills. They toyed with the idea of renovating and relocating their family of four (they have two young daughters) to a smaller house for a while, questioning whether they could really make the move. Could they downsize and still live comfortably?

Yes, of course. And when the time came to move into the new house a few months back, they weren’t begrudgingly resigned. They were ecstatic.

“I don’t want it to feel like a sacrifice,” Natalie said. “I want it to feel like a fun challenge, not like a defeat.”

To achieve that end, the couple gutted the house, built in 1924, down to the bones. They cut out larger windows and upgraded to dual-pane windows to bring in more natural daylight and reduce the use of artificial lighting. Accent lighting is set on a dimmer to conserve energy. The house is insulated underneath, as are the interior walls. The house cost $1,800 to insulate, and less than 10 percent of that cost went to wall insulation, but “it makes all the difference in the world” in terms of increased energy efficiency, Lance said.

The kitchen is outfitted with Energy Star appliances and countertops of granite composite, a product that didn’t require mining new raw materials but utilizes leftovers. The couple chose maple hardwood flooring—a big splurge—which wasn’t a green decision, but they used inexpensive carpet remnants in the bedrooms, keeping this material out of landfills. It’s all about the choices you make, they said. Living in a small space? Keep the furnishings simple and use light-colored paint on the walls—anything to make it “less insulting that the house is small,” Natalie said.

This renovation process has been a learning exercise for the couple, who run Pagel Design Build Company. Lance is a general contractor and Natalie is an interior designer. The couple specializes in building $1 million custom homes; but the same clients who used to demand big and excessive are now also asking for recycled products, nontoxic paints, organic fabrics and flooring made from rapidly renewable resources. Now, the Pagels have firsthand green-building experience to offer these clients.

The Pagels’ house is so energy-efficient that a ceiling fan cools the space down in a snap, unlike when air-conditioning units attempt to cool down huge houses, which is like “a tiny engine in a big car trying to make it to Tahoe,” Natalie explained. Their monthly electric bill is one-third the cost of the old house, and Lance estimates they’ll save $1,700 a year on energy costs. The city of Roseville assisted the couple with $500 in rebates for insulation and windows but not, to the couple’s surprise, for a tankless water heater, which Lance said is about 70 percent more efficient than a conventional water heater.

The couple hasn’t landscaped yet, but plans include raised garden beds and shade trees obtained for free from the city. Lance might eventually capture rainwater and irrigate with it. The backyard will also have an outdoor fire pit and theater. The young couple loves to entertain, and while a large, spacious floor plan seems ideal for that purpose, this new house makes gatherings more intimate. For the Pagels, a smaller house has also meant an improved and less consumeristic lifestyle. When they moved, they fit what they could into the space and purged the rest. They no longer have a Costco membership or two ovens in their kitchen “just in case.”

“This house forces us to live with what we need and not what we might need,” Natalie said. And what they actually needed didn’t turn out to be much.