Space quest: no decline in size of new homes

Are homes really getting smaller, or are we just trying to fit more into them? July 26, 2016 / Isla MacFarlane
Space quest: no decline in size of new homes

Britain frequently gets berated for building the smallest homes in Europe. However, contrary to some reports, houses are not getting smaller. The latest English Housing Survey challenged the perception that new homes scrimp on space. Instead, modern residents simply try to pack too much into them.

Initial impressions suggest that homes are shrinking; homes built between 2005 and 2014 were indeed smaller compared with older homes, however there has not been a steady decline, over time, in the size of homes.

The average usable floor area of homes built during the 1980s was not significantly smaller compared with the average for homes built in 1965-80. In addition, the survey revealed that the average floor area of homes built from 1990 (92m²) was larger compared with homes built over the 1945 to 1990 period (the average of the latter ranged from 84m² to 88m²).

Although the average usable floor area was highest among the oldest homes built before 1919 (107m²), there is no clear evidence to conclude that each cohort of English homes is, on average, smaller than the cohort before it.

Due to the changing expectations and requirements of our homes over time – for example, higher demand for en-suite bathrooms, utility rooms, a study for home working etc. – one key question is whether we are trying to fit more rooms into our newer homes.

The survey also revealed that, in 2014, around 1.3 million of the dwellings in the English housing stock (6%) were new homes built in or after 2005. A large proportion of new homes were flats (44%), far higher than the proportion found among older homes (18%).

Over half of these homes were owner occupied (57%) and almost a quarter (24%) were in the private rented sector. The remaining 19% were social rented homes, the majority of which were owned by housing associations.

New homes in the private and social rented sectors were more likely to be located in the London area than new owner occupied homes. While just 8% of owner occupied new homes were located in London, 28% of new private rented home and 26% of social rented homes were in the capital.

The distribution of homes in locations outside the capital also varied by tenure. Privately rented new homes (22%) were more likely to be located in urban areas than social sector new homes (12%). Owner occupied new homes were most likely to be situated in suburban and rural locations compared with new rented homes.

The survey also found that new homes were more likely to contain fewer habitable rooms than older homes. Just less than half (44%) of these homes contained three or fewer habitable rooms compared with roughly one quarter (23%) of older homes.

Although the proportion of new and older homes with six or more habitable rooms was similar, new homes had a lower proportion of dwellings with either four or five habitable rooms. These findings are likely to be a reflection of the high prevalence of flats among the new homes.

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