With a housing shortage, should we make room for micro homes?

Denis Minns, of DBS Homes, believes he will always use estate agents in his business

Denis Minns, of DBS Homes, believes we should be thinking small

The RIBA reports that the average home in Britain is smaller than those in The Netherlands and even Japan, where there are similar constraints on land.
It makes the case for minimum space standards.
The London plan has minimum space standards for affordable homes. Single-bedroom homes 50 square meters, three-person, two-bedroom homes 61 sqm and so on. The National Housing Federation is calling for minimum space standards for all homes, public and private.
Space standards like this have been with us in the past. The Parker Morris size standards were adopted for council homes in the 60s and 70s only to be abandoned in 1980 due to a need for more housing.
Indeed it is true that if we build smaller homes on sites we can build more of them. They will be cheaper, too, and I suspect that at a time when there are many single people trying to get in the housing markets a micro home is better than no home.
Micro homes are those around 30 sqm. They need not be substandard homes. They can be fitted out to very high levels of design and specification – it just takes a different approach.
Think of a hotel room or the cabin of a yacht… luxurious but optimum use of space.
A micro home would come fully fitted with no furniture required, ideal for the mobile tenant requiring a short-term let or the first-time buyer on a tight budget. It would be at a low rental cost or purchase price, too, and would be easy to maintain and cheap to heat.
There is the possibility of speeding up construction times by offsite prefabrication of micro homes to include all fitted-furniture wiring and piping. Simply stack the 30 sq m units into place and make the connections.
Convertible furniture built into walls is key to micro-home design. The Parker Morris standards, too, were originally derived from essential furniture. Today we would find ourselves again designing around essential furniture but with fitted units that require less space.
Some of the criticism levelled at the ‘bedroom tax’ is that we do not have a stock of smaller homes in the public sector for single tenants to downsize to. Why not, then, build micro homes to meet this demand and release larger, subsidised houses for families in need of them?
Micro homes are the supreme housing-design challenge. Optimisation of 30 sqm of space is not easy. It is the opportunity for architects to show us the way forward to a new enlightened attitude towards design of homes for single people.
We should reject the demands of those who would dictate space standards, limit densities and keep the cost of new homes high.
Micro homes have a vital part to play in the housing of tomorrow.

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