/ Home & Energy

Does size matter when buying a new home?

Is your house big enough? According to a new report, many newly-built homes are dramatically smaller than recommended minimum sizes, but just how much do home buyers care about the size of their new home?

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has started a ‘national conversation’ with consumers about what we want from our homes in the 21st century – and they’ve launched it with a new damning report ‘The Case for Space’.

The facts speak for themselves. The average new one-bedroom flat is 93% of the recommended minimum size; that’s four square metres less space than the experts think you should have. While the average new three-bed house fares little better; it is now 8% under the recommended minimum size, with eight square metres ‘missing’.

What’s ‘missing’ from new homes

If your spatial awareness isn’t that great, RIBA has spelt out what this could mean in reality. In a one bed flat, it’s the equivalent space of a single bed, bedside table and dressing table with a stool missing from your newly-built flat.

Just think how small your bedroom and sitting room must be if this amount of space is missing compared to the recommended minimum size. And, in a three-bed house, it’s the equivalent space of a single bedroom missing from your house. Imagine how small the other bedrooms must be…

RIBA’s research also found that the top three things people look at when buying a home are: outside space, the size of rooms and proximity to local services.

So, with new homes often smaller than recommended minimum space standards, they’re failing to provide one of the top three things consumers are looking for. Plus, it’s likely to be the case, given the number of flats now being built, that many new homes will fail to provide outside space too.

Housing policy in the 21st century

But getting better housing is certainly not just a question of bigger designs – that’s just one on a very long list of issues. So RIBA’s report is very timely, following hard on the heels of the National Housing Federation’s report on the housing market in crisis, which showed home ownership falling and private rents soaring.

RIBA’s response is to set up a new enquiry – called the Future Homes Commission – to look at the challenging issues we face in getting a coherent housing policy. Which? magazine Editor Martyn Hocking is serving as one of its four commissioners to give a consumer perspective. The Commission will report later in 2012.

And that’s where you come in. We need your input on what you think are the key issues for the future of housing. Does size and design really matter that much, and are you ‘spatially aware’? Are enough homes being built and are they the right kind of homes? Vote in our poll and tell us more in the comments section to make sure we take note of your views.

Would you move into a home with rooms that don't meet minimum recommended sizes?

No (83%, 228 Votes)

Maybe (9%, 24 Votes)

Yes (8%, 22 Votes)

Total Voters: 274

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That’s really intersting, thanks Mark. I’m not sure if I would know if it was right or not. I guess you go on gut instinct. I do like my space (I’m a hoarder). But then it also comes down to what is available where and when you want to move.

Just did Riba’s ‘Nest Text’ to see if our new place will have enough space for the two of us, and am pleased that it will. Even if there were 4 of us it would be enough space (not that we’ve seen it yet – buying off-plan – so don’t know if I’d agree with that).

One thing I think is often lacking in new builds is the lack of storage. Our place has, according to the drawings, two large cupboards in the hallway. We chose to go with more floor space and storage space rather than a balcony, which we knew we wouldn’t use as often as the cupboards. The whole development wasn’t too bad for storage. I do think that if places aren’t going to provide storage then there needs to be enough wall space to add your own. However, I am slightly obessed by storage, and have been having dreams about cupboards and shelves since we signed to say we want to move into the flat!


We have looked at loads of new homes on estates and in smaller developments and rarely do they provide the basic room sizes that we need or sufficient storage. These new houses are often “presented” to give an illusion of space with minimal furniture [e.g glass tables to pretend they take up no space] and dinky chairs and cabinets. When you actually sit down with a scale plan and try to plot your own furniture onto it you realise the bed will have to be up against the wall on one side, the wardrobes [and most of their contents] will have to be disposed of, and there is only one possible arrangement in the main living room if you don’t want to sit on top of the television. To make houses appear more spacious they are now going up into the roof space so there is no headroom for wardrobes, more stairs to be carpeted and cleaned, and a poky shower-room with sky-lights. Why is there this obsession with providing an en suite including a WC for at least one and sometimes two bedrooms in every new house? – This is a waste of space and it would make more sense to have a second main bathroom accessed from the hall or landing [anyway, who wants to go to the toilet in a cupboard opening off the bedroom in the middle of the night?]. Kitchens are often over-sized because there is a notion that they are also breakfast rooms [with tiny table & two little chairs “for illustrative purposes only”], or are social spaces “where you can converse with friends while preparing dinner”, and they are over-fitted with integrated appliances that you would not choose yourself and means you have to ditch your original fridge/dishwasher, etc. And do we all need a cooker-hood fitted as standard? – More waste. Sometimes there is a downstairs “study/4th bedroom”; we call it the telephone box because that’s about all its good for; it usually has a boxed-in stack pipe in one corner through which the bathwater runs and the upstairs toilets flush . . . most amenable when you’re having a quiet conversation!
Some new 4/5 bed properties have four WC’s, two baths, two showers, and four wash-hand basins plus two-and-a-half sinks, with all the attendant plumbing, so the house will be awash with cleaning materials “hidden” behind pedestals and resting on window cills [and don’t say it can go in a cupboard because [a) there isn’t one, and (b) that’s not what happens]. And then there’s “storage”: with any luck they’ve managed to leave a tiny space on one side of the hot water tank in an upstairs cupboard where you might just be able to slide in a miniature ironing board. Of course, the arrangement of tanks, valves, pumps, and pipes, means there is nowhere inside this cupboard where you can actually store all the bedding required for three or four beds plus your spare towels, and the other laundry when you’ve managed to find enough space to do some ironing. There might also be a crevice under the stairs where you should be able to insert the vacuum cleaner if you take the tubes off and put them in first and throw all the accessories in afterwards; that is so long as you don’t have a Henry or a Vax because the tiny hatch is made just one centimetre too small to take it. Never mind, every time the meter-reader calls and crawls inside you can ask him to have a look for that special nozzle you can’t find. And where are you supposed to put your small collection of DIY essentials, a few tins of paint [Not needed! New house], the suitcases, the floor mops, brushes and other paraphernalia that modern society cannot exist without? Oh yes, . . . the garage. And where is that? It’s either round the corner in a battery with someone else’s car parked in front of it or it usefully takes up more than half the frontage of the house with an up-and-over door that you can only open if you move the car forward onto the pavement and which has a one inch air gap all round it when closed. You could try putting the car in the garage but it will soon be obvious that (a) it’s too short, (b) it’s too narrow so you have to crawl out through the tailgate, and (c) you can’t close the garage door unless you drive in backwards [which means you can’t crawl out through the tailgate . . .].
Other than that, all new houses are marvellous, the perfect accommodation for sophisticated living in the 21st century. We aim to emulate the really smart set who keep half their possessions out of sight in a storage facility ; so chic! so spare!

Eeva Tuulikki says:
31 October 2011

I agree 100% with what John Ward has written about new houses having too many bathrooms and no storage!!! What are we suposed to do? I have been looking for a new house to buy for some time now but have not found one that I can comfortably move in to. One stupid estate agent said ” get rid of some of your clohes”. As John Ward says, the builders never seem to allow room for the cleaning materials and vacoomb cleaner!!! Underfloor heating would be practical as it saves space not having to have radiators.
I also would like a separed space for a washing machine and ironing. It is really unhygenic to bring dirty washing into the kitchen.

Rachna says:
4 April 2013

Less head room is another tactic to give the illusion of space. Some of the new builds we saw, my partner could not have a shower standing up straight and he is not 6ft!

Mark Oliver H+H says:
14 September 2011

There is a lot of comment about houses we are building today being smaller than what we have built in the past, but there are also fewer people living in them. The average number of people per dwelling is currently around 2.25 compared with around 5 in the 1920s and 3.5 in the 1950s, so they might well not need to be as big. Perhaps we should be looking at space per person? And do larger homes fit with our need to reduce carbon emissions?

Rachna says:
4 April 2013

I agree with the need to reduce our space requirements and hoarding of consumables in order to reduce carbon emissions. Just wish builders supported that with using eco-friendly materials/ technologies and, more importantly, showing good workmanship so that there aren’t 1-2cm air gaps around doors, windows and room vents. There is ample evidence that good air-tightness and insulation goes a longer way at reducing heating costs than reducing space by 10%. The fitting of state-of-the-art technologies (such as integrated speakers) to increase sales of new homes does not help carbon emissions either, considering that these cheap gimmicks often need replacing in a couple of years. Also, I have yet to see a builder provide rainwater harvesting or grey water recycling so that we are not using precious drinking water to flush toilets.


We move into our new house in November and the style we chose used the space in the most efficient way. It’s double fronted with 2 large downstairs rooms either side of a large hallway with good understairs storage.

Upstairs, the 2 small bedrooms can both fit a double bed and furniture, or a drum kit and computer, however you look at it. The master bedroom is fairly large but not massive.

We personally don’t like houses that are too big anyway, far too much cleaning to do!


I wonder how many people actually use all the bedrooms of a house as bedrooms and dont use one as a study/workroom.
So the concept of minimum size related to number of bedrooms is flawed.
Minimum size related to occupants is more realistic.
Encouraging the disclosure of floor area in adverts would be a big step forward and help get the round the issue highlighted earlier of lack of built-in storage.
A few years ago we rented a newbuild Barrett 3 storey town house with “4” bedrooms, was probably just right for a couple and 1 child. One bedroom had to be used as a laundry room – the kitchen was tiny – 2 people max, and one bedroom as a study. The design wasnt helped by the mandatory groundfloor toilet !