Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Costing the Earth broadcast on Radio 4 on 15 April (available on iPlayer)analysed the costs and benefits of small homes down to about 12 sq m (a QB2). In fact the planners in London have minimum standard of 37 sq m. There are no minimum standards elsewhere. Googling 'tiny house' will reveal an assortment of homes in the 30sq m range. The costs are obvious - limited storage, the juxtaposition of functions that are normally in different spaces and the challenges of sharing and entertaining. However, with a minimum build cost to Passivhaus standards of £12k the advantages are also pretty clear. The living costs can be very low with the QB2 being a net exporter of electricity from the PV as the space is heated even in winter by body heat, appliances (although LED lighting and TV emit virtually no heat) and cooking. The programme did not touch on perhaps the greatest incentive to popularise microhomes that would be set into a c--housing scheme where the issues of limited private space are offset by the ability to share storage, guest accommodation, laundry, books, garden areas and some eating. So long as these shared areas are also designed and used efficiently the overall development could be very energy efficient, exceptionally sociable and relatively affordable. All planners should recognise these factors as the three limbs of sustainable development for which we all know there is a presumption in the NPPF. While the Royal Institute of British Architects and others claim that the UK is building the smallest dwellings in Europe, planners should be putting the case for this trend towards sustainability. The programme described the extent of under-occupation in terms of rooms (from one each to three for each of us in the last 100 years) and I hope that policy makers were taking note of the positive messages of compact and low carbon living that would be facilitated by microhomes. It would be for the downsizers and new households to explain that a co-housing setting would make these a mainstream alternative. Some homes of this size can be moved as a caravan to enjoy different locations - in fact thousands already live contentedly in static caravans/mobile homes, boats, pods and even converted sea containers - none of which encouraged by the planning system.