in Greener Homes on 24 May 2010
Compact homes take less and give more.
WHEN Edward Vinas and his family began planning their new home in East Brighton, they thought they’d go big. “It was probably because everyone else was building big places,” he says. “In our area, there are so many new houses and they’re built almost fence to fence.”
They visited volume builders, but it wasn’t long before they realised a large home would mean wasted space. “We’re a small family – my wife, myself and our son. When we thought out what we needed and why we needed it, a small house suited us better,” he says.
Zen Architects designed the family a two-bedroom home, with a convertible third bedroom and a study. It measures 140 square metres, including the outdoor decking. “It’s the perfect size for us. It feels spacious and we’ve got enough room to entertain both inside and outside,” Mr Vinas says.
The cost savings due to the modest size allowed for design and sustainability features they couldn’t otherwise have afforded, such as a reed-bed and sand filtration system that treats all greywater onsite.
“We don’t feel as though we’ve lost anything,” he says. “We feel like we’ve gained spare time. We didn’t want to be slaves to the home for its cleaning and maintenance. We’ve got better things to do.”
If house size is a guide, Australia is becoming a nation of constant cleaners. Research by the Australian Bureau of Statistics last year showed that our new houses are the largest in the world. The average floor area of new free-standing dwellings is 245 square metres. Meanwhile, through the decades, our households are comprised of fewer and fewer people.
Sustainability consultant Malcolm Wilkie says house size isn’t just a matter of lifestyle, but also ethics. Larger homes require more materials, more appliances and more stuff to fill the space, as well as more energy for heating and cooling. Inevitably, extra bathrooms mean higher water consumption.
“To sustain human life on the planet we have to conserve our resources and use only what we need,” he says. “We’re beyond the point where we can just say, ‘I earned it, so I can spend it.’ There’s a moral obligation to the next generations.”
Mr Wilkie argues that choosing a humble abode doesn’t mean sacrificing quality of life. With thoughtful, elegant design – and consideration of what really makes a house a home – a compact residence can improve your day-to-day existence. “A good way to think about it is, ‘What makes the building sing?’ I think a small house, with the right-sized spaces in it, is a nicer house to live in. If it’s too big, you lose the heart.”
In the US, the ‘small house movement’ is setting out to counterbalance oversized dwellings. The trend is founded on affordability, sustainability and simplicity, and a belief that larger lives are lived in littler spaces. The Small House Society, founded in 2002, acknowledges that ‘small’ is relative to occupancy and needs. Its supporters own homes ranging from just a dozen square metres, up to hundreds. Jay Shafer, author of The Small House Book, lived in only eight square metres.
“That’s going to the extreme to demonstrate what’s possible,” Mr Wilkie says. “They can do a lot with that living area – people start to get really clever when they’re tight for space.”
Contact Malcolm Wilkie.