Affordable housing is established on two main costs, namely the cost of the land and the cost of the build.

The cost of land is a complicated issue which we’ll reserve for another post. However, it is worth noting here that, amongst other things, the size of the section/lot is a factor in its cost.

As for the build, to be both affordable and sustainable, there are four essential factors to consider: size, design, construction methods and labour.

Small size

House size is by far the biggest factor for affordable housing. The average new house in New Zealand is over 200 square metres. In comparison, the average new build in the UK is 76 square metres. Obviously, 76 square metres is a sufficient size on average. So, why do New Zealanders need all that extra space? The simple answer is that they don’t. However, the systemic problem is that there is a complex, profit-making supply chain that benefits from building big elaborate designer houses. It seems that people buy into the ‘system’ without fully considering the options. Building a smaller house in the way described here would change the whole system, and benefit most people.

A small-sized home will greatly reduce the amount of resources used and also the construction time, both reducing the cost. Significantly, a smaller house needs less land, which in theory would lower the cost of the land. A smaller house is also cheaper to heat and cool and to maintain in the long term, providing ongoing savings.

Simple design and layout

A simple shape like a square or a rectangle uses fewer materials and is easier to build. In fact, of any shape, a round house uses the least amount of materials relative to the surface area. Irregular shapes make the design more complex and therefore more costly. Interiors can be simple too, with open plan areas. In addition to savings in the build cost it will make design, plans and consenting quicker and easier as well.

Using passive solar design – including window size and placement, insulation and double-glazing – may not affect the cost of construction. Even if it does, you will recoup any extra cost with lower energy bills over the years.

Standard methods, sizes and components

Anything out of the ordinary costs more. People would generally prefer a house customised to their particular requirements and tastes. However, differing sets of functional and aesthetic values can still be accomplished using standard sizes, components and methods, and without unnecessary extra expense.

You can achieve good functionality by giving proper consideration to the layout especially in terms of flow and the size and placement of rooms. And also, you can decide the optimal placement of storage and utilities.

Special attention to proportion and the coherence of textures, shapes and colours will enhance the aesthetic of the house. You can add personal style with painting and decoration, furnishings, lighting, window placement, screens as well as outdoor design and indoor-outdoor flow.

DIY Build

Labour is the other major cost along with materials and components. The more you can do yourself the cheaper the cost. In the past, it was normal for people to be involved in building their own house and it provided the satisfaction of achievement and self-sufficiency.

Even if you have no building skills there is still a lot you can do. Project management, labouring, building site maintenance, plastering, painting, landscaping and so on. You could potentially save 50%, or more, of the overall labour cost by doing it yourself and with the help of family and friends.

If you also source cheap materials and components yourself, you could save a significant amount of money. As mentioned earlier, the house building industry is a long and complex supply chain with different suppliers and contractors adding a profit margin, as well as middlemen clipping the ticket.

Sustainability

A small, simple-shaped house is much more sustainable than a large, complex one because it uses much fewer resources. Sustainably sourced materials also add to the overall sustainability. A smaller interior space coupled with the effect of less exterior surface area, and maximal application of passive solar design, means that the house will use less energy to heat and cool.

Affordable housing provides systemic savings

Overall, a smaller house with a simple design, on a modest-sized section will be much more affordable, as well as being much more sustainable. The cost savings are systemic too. First, less initial cost requires a smaller deposit, meaning you can get into your own house much sooner, saving on rent. A smaller home loan means you can pay the loan off faster, and pay much less interest. As mentioned, a smaller house costs less to own because things like maintenance, energy costs and rates (especially if it is on a smaller section) will all be less.

You could translate these multiple savings into a better work-life balance and greater well-being for your whole family.