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Home design & building mistakes

MISTAKE NO. 1 - the "McMansion"

Why are these buildings still being constructed? It's become a blight in affluent societies. Every participant in the building industry - from home design conception, through to approval, sales and marketing - are contributors to this problem. 

There is no logic to these buildings. The only explanation is that people have greater spending power, and a lot more money, than the home owners of the 1970's. 

It is a sign of AFFLUENCE.

Since that time, instead of houses getting smaller, they have become significantly larger. Much of what is in these "mansions" are spaces (rooms) that are single-purpose for the pampering and entertainment of the occupants. Home theatres, games rooms, special library rooms, are just a few examples. These are rooms with very intermittent use. Another trend has been the expansion of the size of rooms where excessive open space is created with no purpose but to look at.

MISTAKE NO. 2 - building something that far exceeds the home owner's requirements

The "Australian dream" has got bigger … and bigger … and bigger! 
The new Australian home is now the largest in the world at 245 square metres. And still growing.

The image below is from a report published in November 2009, and the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics figures reveal that the upward trend has not halted. Excluding "apartment" dwellings from the equation and the result is 245 sq.m. 

In the graph below, note that in 1985 the floor area of a new home/apartment was 150 square metres. In less than 30 years this area has increased by more than 40%.

Now look at the next image.

The number of occupants in the average household in Australia has been 

declining for the past century - from 4.5 in 1910 to 2.6 today. That's more than 

40% decline.

Let's put these figures together.

40% increase in house area + 40% fewer occupants.


The "bigger is better" mindset is a byproduct of affluence. It is a big mistake! And it is largely condoned by governments - the ultimate "regulators" and policy makers.

This mistake is a huge hidden cost in terms of greenhouse gas emissions that are unaccounted for in Australia's greenhouse gas emissions and the high embodied energy of homes. 

The larger the home, the greater is the energy required to manufacture, transport, and assemble the materials for it.

The larger the home, the greater is the requirement to heat and cool the building. And this is generally because of poor design. 

It is still happening today, even though there is a minimum 6-star rating requirement.

What is going on? What has gone wrong?

MISTAKE NO. 3 - lack of understanding by home designers and builders and approving authorities about key design factors

Heating and cooling. These are the two primary needs of the occupants of houses and dwellings. And yet, when new homes are designed, aesthetics (how the house looks, it's brag appeal) is the primary consideration, not ventilation, nor materials, nor thermal mass, nor orientation, nor colour, nor heat reflectance, nor correct insulation use, nor windows type, nor shielding, nor vegetation. 

There are all the key factors in good design.

The list is long about all the things that, when in combination, can have a profound effect on the performance of buildings.

MISTAKE NO. 4 - not considering the impacts on the environment

We've already touched on the embodied energy in houses, and the energy that is consumed to run them. ENERGY from non-renewable sources in housing construction and operation has a huge environmental impact, not least of which is the increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

Waste produced from new housing construction is also a very big problem with much of it going to landfill. The larger the home, the greater the energy consumed and the greater the waste produced in its construction.

The expansion of Australian cities and towns is consuming productive agricultural land and bush at an unprecedented rate. Native habitats are being destroyed or upset. 

But who is thinking about that? Which of the regulators (i.e. our government agencies) is putting environment before development? 

MISTAKE NO. 5 - home owners not being guided with best advice

Where can you find a "sustainable designer" who doesn't cost the earth? 

Someone who can provide the absolute best advice for your new home design that will perform optimally and at the cheapest cost for the life cycle of the home.

It could be (but not necessarily) a mistake to take the advice of the cheapest designer, or to take a plan from a portfolio without proper site assessment to determine how the design will perform, or to not seek advice about the improvements that could be made to the design, or to decide on a plan that "looks good" without knowing its life-cycle costs.

These five mistakes are continuing to plague the housing design and construction sector. 

It is time to change. It is time for the public, the building industry, designers, and government authorities to make a step change to real sustainable housing.

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