Small homes make impression

ROOM ENOUGH: Sam Jones and Kalie Palmer check out the Small Home Test Lab in Hobsonville Point, Auckland, now open to the public.
ROOM ENOUGH: Sam Jones and Kalie Palmer check out the Small Home Test Lab in Hobsonville Point, Auckland, now open to the public.

Smaller, smarter house designs are being touted as a solution to housing affordability but not everyone is convinced the Government's plans will be a success.

The Government's housing initiative at Hobsonville Point in Auckland has offered up three trial homes ranging from a one-bedroom 40sqm house for $340,000 to a three-bedroom 89sqm home for $485,000. They were open for public inspection this weekend.

Designs can be accessed online and it's hoped they will inspire builders and developers to think small. Currently, the average house size in New Zealand is twice as large as in the United Kingdom.

The highest priced house is equal to the maximum cap for first-home buyers applying for a mortgage under the Welcome Home Loan scheme but Properazzi founder Alistair Helm said the houses would not appeal to that market.

"The concept of single bedroom multi-unit developments are more akin to the CBD. You need infrastructure that supports that kind of single bedroom small environment because they are the kind of places that you don't want to spend a lot of time in."

Helm said it was good that new houses were being built but to say the small units were energy efficient was a bit disingenuous as it didn't take much to heat a room so small anyway. He said insulation was not a good tradeoff for isolation.

Visitors who looked through the houses yesterday were impressed.

Glenfield resident Julia Velijanskaia said she loved the design and would consider replicating it on her own section. "I was quite impressed with how spacious they were. It has everything you need, but definitely the one-bedroom one is kind of a tiny place."

Velijanskaia said she would be worried about a lack of parking spaces but she thought the houses could appeal to couples and young families. She would consider the three-bedroom house design for her own family of four. "Compared to other places in Hobsonville it's definitely more affordable. Compared to what we paid for our place I think it is a fair price."

Hobsonville resident Matthew Faulk said the houses were well-designed and the prices were appropriate for the area, but nationally the houses would not be affordable.

The concept of smaller homes was welcomed by business journalist Rod Oram who said it was important to demonstrate to people that it was possible to have compact houses that were still attractive. "In this case they are light and airy and are very carefully designed for maximum sunlight and heat."

Oram said older couples who were downsizing might find the options attractive. He hoped that with time the design could be improved to be less boxy and more interesting.

Housing Minister Nick Smith said New Zealand houses had been growing consistently larger even though household size had declined. "This initiative is about leading a change of thinking to smaller and more affordable housing."

The homes will be open to the public for six months and plans will be available online for replication. The houses come with extra insulation and double glazing as well as 2.7m-high ceilings in living areas and a passive solar heating system which allows sun to shine onto the insulated, heat-retaining concrete floor slab.

Smith acknowledged the houses wouldn't suit everyone. "But equally not everyone in the market needs a big family home of the type that has predominated new housing development in recent decades."

He said it was important to have diversity in the market.

Sunday Star Times