‘That’s a crazy amount of floor area’, says top architect on boom in big homes

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Her comments coincide with a trial in NSW requiring architects entering the state’s annual architecture awards to complete a mandatory sustainability checklist.

Entries won’t be judged unless they detail the floor area, occupants per square metre, energy consumption, use of gas and green power, air tightness and renewable energy.

Completion of the checklist will be a condition of entry for consideration for all categories, ranging from the best new home to commercial property. Previously, only architects vying for an award for sustainability were required to detail a project’s carbon footprint.

The chairman of the NSW awards committee, architect Sam Crawford, said sustainability had always been an important part of the awards.

“But we are getting to the crunch time,” he said. “We have less than 10 years to get our act together. All buildings need to be carbon-neutral. If concrete were a country, it would have the third largest footprint in the world.”

In addition to carbon emissions, the impact of large buildings includes the loss of landscape, vegetation and biodiversity, and increased water run-off, he said.

Architects entering the NSW Chapters’ annual awards this year and next will only be required to complete the checklist to enter. In 2024, though, the sustainability of a project will be included in the judging of all awards.

“You can have the most beautiful project in the world, but if it can’t meet the sustainability threshold, the project won’t [be considered for an award]. That will be controversial no doubt,” Mr Crawford said.

Ms Battisson said there was a “desperate need to stop filling our suburbs with homes designed around maximum size instead of building just enough”.

She also called for greater diversity in the type and size of houses and apartments to cater to people with different needs and budgets.

Commsec’s research shows that, since 1985, the size of new houses across Australia has grown from an average of 162 square metres to 229 square metres.

Ms Battisson said her new home in a greenfield development had a much smaller footprint than other homes nearby. It also had an eight-star energy efficiency rating out of a possible 10, hard to achieve in a severe climate like Canberra’s, she said.

“Every square metre you build has an impact. You can help mitigate that by building as absolutely as sustainably as you can.

“An eight-star house that’s 300 to 400 square metres is going to be using a large-house size worth of energy. Even the most efficient house, the bigger it is, the more energy it uses.”

Many new homes were too big for the blocks, leaving little space between houses. That created hard surfaces, heat islands and other problems. Earlier this month, for example, a huge storm that blew over quickly caused so much run-off that it created a massive environmental issue of its own, Ms Battisson said.

Although most homes have two to three residents, Commsec’s research said builders regularly sought to include four bedrooms with a master en suite, walk-in robes, butler’s pantry, home theatre, study, mud room and alfresco dining.

Summing up the report, CommSec’s chief economist Craig James said the trend to larger homes and apartments was a response to COVID to accommodate people wanting space to work at home.

“It’s not just COVID-19, but also environmental considerations as well as power needs that have implications for home builders, trades, building materials, homeware stores, electrical stores and housing fit-out businesses including kitchen and bathroom fixtures and fittings,” Mr James said.

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