"Shameful Shoebox Homes"

Hilary Grayson

Apparently the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) thinks that many new houses in the UK are "shameful shoebox homes" which are too small for family life.

According to a news item on the BBC website, RIBA says average three-bedroom houses are 8% smaller - the space of a single bedroom - than the recommended minimum. It looked at 3,418 three-bedroom homes in England and based its findings on building regulations which have come into force in London and discovered the average two-storey three-bedroom home for five people was 8 sq m (86 sq ft) too small. It claims the shortfall in space is the same size as a single bedroom with a bedside table, wardrobe, desk and chair.

RIBA chief executive Harry Rich said new houses were causing some people to endure a lower quality of life. The BBC reported, that he made the following statement:

"Our homes should be places that enhance our lives and well-being. However, as our new research confirms, thousands of cramped houses - shameful shoe box homes - are being churned out all over the country, depriving households of the space they need to live comfortably and cohesively."

It is difficult for me to comment on this claim. I have limited experience of new houses. I did watch a major house builder build a new estate just down the road from me during 2010. At the time I did wonder if the brickies should have been on site in the snow of the January of that year, throwing walls up (I use the term advisedly) without any noticeable guide for the window openings. I also wondered to myself if the demise of the Clerk of Works was necessarily for the greater good. (One wall in particular went up and down like the Grand Old Duke of York’s soldiers – to use a nursery rhyme reference. The outer leaf of the cavity went up the first time in stone blocks, the second time in brick and then the third time back in stone again. But I digress!)

The RIBA, to it’s credit, wants consumers to get better information from estate agents and house builders. Does this have a bit of a familiar ring to it?

Specifically, it is calling for the floor area to be included in marketing material and also suggests that floor plans should include furniture, so that people can get a clearer idea of the size of a property. (I am told, though this might not be true, that builders use ‘smaller furniture’ when they are ‘dressing’ a show house.) Apparently, and I was not aware of this, in the UK we buy homes based on the number of rooms but elsewhere in Europe and in North America, people know how many square metres they are buying where it is made clear on the sales information. RIBA suggests that this same information should be available to UK consumers.

Well – it is!  It’s on the EPC. So here is another good reason for anyone you know who might be looking for a new home, to ask for the EPC. While I would hope that they might be interested in the energy efficiency of the home and any improvements that could be made to make it more energy efficient, I realise that maybe I am a bit overly ambitious. But if the RIBA says that people should look at the floor area, then maybe they will.

So let’s all shout it from the roof tops! The floor area of the property is already available – all the prospective purchaser has to do is ask! Ask to see the EPC! And there, right at the top of Page 1 is the information that the RIBA wants us all to have! (Tis a pity they did not discuss this with us first).

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I agree with what RIBA are saying. We bought our house as a new development in 2003. Then along came kids and a dog, so we are cramped. We looked at moving, (OK the housing market is rubbish), but the problem we have is that second hand newish houses are 10 a penny, and all look pretty much the same. We don't need more bedrooms or anything, we just want more space in the rooms we have, but to get larger proportions means buying an older house.
The same also applies to the gardens, which these days seem to be almost non-existant...which is daft when you are trying to encourage people to compost their food waste, have water butts, etc, etc.
I know why Govt and developers want to cram as many properties as possible onto a site, but I don't think very much joined up thinking takes place.

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