The Incredible Shrinking Home
When the Garden City new towns were first planned in the 1920s, the developments included plenty of green, outdoor space in an attempt to bring a semi rural aspect to an urban conurbation.
In the late 1940s and 1950s, housing schemes that were built in cities that had been badly bombed tried hard to ensure that there were playground areas for children and lawned areas and gardens for all residents. Today, many newly built blocks of flats or conversions of older warehouse properties provide little or no outdoor space at all.
Whilst planners want to preserve the “green belt” areas of Britain so that our countryside is not spoilt, many urban dwellers (and it is in the cities that population growth has been greatest) have less open space and fewer trees and planted areas to use. This became so obvious during the past few weeks of exceptionally hot weather as parks filled up and the streets became more densely populated with local residents trying to get a breath of air and maybe a little sun tan too.
At the same time, it came as quite a surprise to learn that the average family home has been rapidly shrinking. Today it measures 925 square feet. Almost a hundred years ago, in 1920, the average new home size was 1647 square feet so our homes have shrunk by over 43% in less than a century. In fact they have shrunk by 21 square feet (2 square metres) in the past ten years. The average size of a newly built home today is even smaller, down to 818 square feet.
To put this in context, new homes in Ireland are 125 square feet bigger and in Holland they are 425 square feet larger. In Denmark you get a staggering 650 square feet of extra space. In America, in the past 60 years, homes have grown over two and a half times the size (from an average of 983 square feet in 1950 to 2480 square feet in 2011). At the same time, the number of occupants per household has reduced from 3.37 people per household to just 2.6. So more space for fewer people.
This is the exact opposite of new developments in Britain so it is hardly surprising that a Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) survey in 2009 found that 70% of respondents found new homes to be too small and to have far too little storage space.
Our homes have shrunk and whilst the number of occupants that makes up a household has also reduced, so much of what we fill our homes with has grown in size. Just think of beds, television screens, fridges, sofas (even those without pull out footrests), wardrobes and coffee tables. Not to mention the growth in the number of appliances; dish washers, freezers, coffee machines and so on. Whilst some electronic gadgets have definitely reduced in size, we all own so many more of them and, indeed, we ourselves have grown in height and weight over the past hundred years. The smaller space of our homes may produce a lower carbon footprint in construction but the nature of our general purchases probably negates this, especially as our consumption of gas, electricity and water has increased so dramatically.
It’s hardly surprising then that the personal storage industry has exploded in the past fifteen years in this country. We now have over 800 major storage facilities (more than the rest of Europe put together). These are sometimes used to hold our belongings whilst we move to a new home but all too often end up being a “dump” for things that we don’t want to throw out but really don’t need to keep and simply can’t fit into our homes.
For our psychological health, we need more space, both inside and out and the challenge for house builders in these days of unparalleled house prices is to find a way to provide it.