/ 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 !

In Europe it’s normal to have the exact sizes of a flat or house expressed in sqm on every advert. I’ve never seen somebody sell/let a house or flat without this information. However, in the UK I was surprised to find that they only state the number of bedrooms, which I think is a bit irrelevant. There is also no relation between the size and the price of the flat. In Paris, prices are quoted per sqm for instance. Surely that makes more sense as you want to make sure that your furniture actually fits in?!

My current flat is less than half the size of the new one I’m moving to next week. But they are both the same price. Obviously the location changed as well and the new area we’re moving to is less ‘posh’ but still doesn’t justify the relative difference in price per sqm which is now less than half the price of the previous flat.

I also did the Nest Test with my current flat. It states we need a minimum of 50 sqm (there’s two of us). Our current flat however only has 30 sqm and that’s without all the furniture that cloggs up space. In reality I probably live on 12 sqm!

I think it’s shocking how small current new build flats are. I was flathunting with a partner a couple of years ago and we ended up looking at so many tiny, cramped places which were effectively two rooms (one bedroom, one ‘kitchen/lounge’) and a bathroom. Little room for furniture and almost no room for people.

On a personal note, it especially annoys me that all the schemes designed to help people onto the housing ladder insist on people buying new build, which means those who are just getting onto the property ladder have to live in tiny cramped flats. As these are their only options, there’s no real pressure for developers to build things with a bit more space – they know the flats will be bought because if a young professional/young couple wants to buy they usually have to go for one of these schemes.

Coupled with this, builders are, and can, offer more incentives to get first time buyers into the market. So as lenders continue to refuse mortgages, people are going to house builders and get a great deal where beforehand they would have at least considered buying a “second-hand” house.

Estate agents cannot offer any incentive at all, therefore older houses with poorer insulation will never be as attractive as new homes. Hence house prices go down to try and sell them, rather than the estate agent offering any incentives because they want to pocket as much profit as possible. Builders just need to sell the houses so that they can build more.

For our new house, we got 10k off the asking price and 5% gifted deposit. Just pick the right house with the right size rooms for you. I am of course not commenting on London here, the prices just baffle me.


I only have a nine roomed house in London that I share with my three dogs. Just about big enough for the dogs to enjoy their chases through the rooms and into the garden and back again. The rooms on two floors have 12ft ceilings so almost spacious. I need ground floor rooms with concrete floors for the aquaria (over one Tonne of water) Then there’s the Studio – the main workshop – clean workroom – my photographic museum etc etc – I really need the rooms so as not to be stifled.

I’ve been in new builds and they are appalling with literally no room to swing a cat – I’ve been in post war privately built property and they are bad enough. The only ones I’ve considered reasonable were council houses which were built to minimum standards – sadly sold off during the Thatcher sell off. – Used to live in a spacious 25th floor Penthouse I bedroom flat with a superb panoramic view of the London Landscape..

I renovated my house years ago so everything is double glazed – draught proof and insulated – I think it may be worth a little – but really that’s meaningless – It is my home and I couldn’t really afford to move on my pension. and have similar accommodation.

Lets not forget the trend for shrinking window sizes too.

Why was the area of a house for sale not required to be disclosed when HIPs were introduced? I believe it was initially proposed but dropped because of opposition from the Housebuilders. Everyone should be able to choose the amount of space they require and the ability of being able to see the actual area based on a common formula would ensure everyone had the necessary information to make an informed choice. As it is you can be misled by clever marketing with smaller furniture/beds or doors being omitted.

We must move to prefabrication, designs for craftsmen to build in fine weather have had their day.
Here are some are some essential features:
1. The place for insulation is on the outside of the building, not inside or halfway.
2. Controlled ventilation with heat recovery as the foul air exits.
3. The internal structure should have as much thermal mass as can be devised to stabilise the air temperature. Heavy concrete blocks, rammed earth, panel walls with the voids filled with pumped concrete or dry sand cement mix ? Answers on a postcard.
4. Built in vacuum cleaning, The place to filter the dust is in the garage not in the living space.
Thanks to “Housebuilders Bible” for most of these suggestions.

One of the RIBA’s statistics which has been well quoted is that average house size has dropped ##% in the last decade.

In my opinion probably as a result of more 1 and 2 bedroom flats/houses being built to meet the demand of an increasing “singles” population.

So if average no of bedrooms has come down then average house size will come down – nothing to do with less space per person.

Karin Lesnik says:
29 September 2011

I was actually looking for the ‘futurehomes’ site listed in Which? magazine to comment on what people want from future homes, but have only been able to find this conversation. I wanted to say that I find it completely incredible that new homes are built with so little environmental awareness. In a few years energy prices are going to be unaffordable (never mind oil and gas running out altogether), and demanding that new homes are built with optimal insulation and ready-installed solar panels would future-insure people and give them really comfortable homes (i.e. warm and damp-proof), as well as benefit the whole economy. In terms of the conversation here about room-sizes and space: my partner and I originally come from Holland (although many years ago), and I must admit when we first moved to the UK we were shocked by how small and dark rooms were as well as by the overall very poor build-quality of both old and new houses compared to Holland. It took us countless viewings to find apartments with large rooms, big windows and high ceilings, although we did succeed in the end, but after literally years of searching (many UK people do not believe this is so difficult, but this is because what you see as large and light is not so for us! Even now when people see our current home they all comment on how large they find the rooms). So: much better build-quality, more light and space, and future-proof in environmental terms, please.

Fiona Holloway says:
8 October 2011

I feel very strongly that architects should all take time to go and meet with narrow boat builders. we have a 66ft long by 6ft 10inch wide boat and I have more storage space on that than most people have in flats. Every possible inch of space is used yet one does not feel cramped or hemmed in. For example the shower cannot be adjacent to the side of the boat as the sides slope inwards and one would lack head room so the shower sits approximately 1ft in from the side, therefore I have 3 shelves above waist height from the back of the shower to the side of the boat and a pull out drawer below for dirty laundry. In a flat the architect/builder would probably put in an infill panel as it would be too much bother to think or to make the shelves to fit. It is attention to detail in boats that makes all the difference to a boat being extremely well finished or not. If Mr Hocking and his commissioners are interested we would be happy to take them to our boat and I am sure our boat builder would also be happy to show them his boat building in progress.

Colin Leonard says:
8 October 2011

With the dire shortage of building ground in the UK, why can’t new houses be constructed with a cellar and an attic that has a flat concrete floor and the rafters do not intrude into the attic room area? This would double the floor area of all new buildings.
I lived in Germany for 7 years and all houses/flats are built in this style. It more space for very little extra cost.
I suspect the reason is because the developers want to minimise the costs and maximixe their profits.

Bah Homebug says:
29 October 2011

Where I live is small but the decent size garage and garden (sole use!!) give us as much space again and I can’t rate it highly enough. Your own bit of outside space, not a shared strip of grass measured in inches, nor a park with half the town in it, can make such a difference to quality of life. I became an enthusiastic gardener through wanting to make the garden better and find it gives one a bit of head space, which is essential therapy in a city.

Looking around a bit recently as we’d like to move has been a depressing experience. Anything with character and a bit of space that’s anywhere we might actually want to live in costs an absolute bomb (yeah, I know, wake up and smell the coffee). For those us with the income of a mere mortal, newer homes are cramped, characterless and suffocate the human spirit. Housing appears to have become a set of boxes to make the maximum money for someone off the minimum space. This is markedly at odds with people, who want a home that works and that they can respond to on a human level, enjoy and feel proud of, where they can do things like potter in the garden, stick a climbing frame out the back for their kids, fiddle with something in the garage, listen to music knowing the neighbours are further away than a wall the thickness of cardboard, etc. I’d better stop before I start talking about jumpers for goalposts!

Richard says:
16 November 2011

We live in a 5 bedroomed house of around 200sqm. There are myself, my wife, our daugher and a lodger. When we get older and our daughter moves out, it would make sense for us to move to a smaller and more modern property that doesn’t have any stairs. However, relatively few flats of an appropriate size and configuration are being built. I reckon we would need over 100sqm to provide space for the possessions we would want to keep, plus adequate living space. This would include 2 separate living rooms (as I can’t abide the TV that my wife watches most of the time), one bedroom with a truly huge wardrobe for my wife’s clothes, and one or two bedrooms for vistors.

If we can’t find a suitable flat at the appropriate time, we will continue to live in our big old house until one of us dies. Meanwhile, poorer families will remain couped up in what have been described as rabbit hutches.

I recently read that:-
One third of properties in England are under occupied, defined as having at least 2 spare bedrooms.
A significant cause of fuel property is people living in homes that are too big for their needs.

There are so many impediments in the way of house builders supplying the kind of homes people actually want. I would not normally be an advocate for this particular sector but they are uniquely able to solve one of this country’s major problems if we would only let them. They have the land, they have the capital, there is a skilled labour force, and there is strong demand. Yet councils force them to satisfy all sorts of subjective design aspirations, to make massive ‘planning agreement’ payments, to incorporate unwanted facilities in their specifications, and to provide a ratio of “affordable homes” – even in areas which have hundreds of such properties on the market.
I generally trust housebuilders to know what buyers want – decent-sized houses with the right amount of storage, good quality interiors, good spacing between properties, good estate layout, and an absence of contrived social engineering. I am not sure that new houses are the right starting point for new entrants to the housing market and it seems unhelpful to insist on such provision on all new developments. Once some of these shackles are removed I believe the housing market would spring into life. [Metropolitan areas might be different – I am writing from a rural/provincial perspective.]

Waggy Aggy says:
6 December 2011

When developers plan an estate, they are usually required to dedicate a percentage of houses as affordable homes, these affordable homes must meet a minimum standard as regards space etc. Tthe result is that they cost more to build and take up more space than the open market housing on the development. Also, for anyone who can be bothered to read the Regional Planning Strategy documents, Local Planning Authorities usually seem to contain a provision to require higher density housing to save the green belt. (have they asked us if that is what WE want?) The result is that councils and developers are all for smaller open market housing and buyers have no choice but to buy them, what else are they going to buy?
We have all put up with being squeezed into too small boxes for too long. Where is the sustainability in forcing people to live in spaces which let’s face it, have to be the slums of the future. It is a scandal, we need quality new homes, not doll houses.
Whilst planning is in the news lately in the form of the National Planning policy Framework, it would be good to raise awareness of what is wrong. I have a lot to say about our planning system, it does not benefit those who have to live in what is built. We need more space, bigger gardens, bigger rooms, less density and more development in the countryside. Not everyone wants to live in a town.
The latest scheme cooked up by the Government in the form of more affordable homes and a mortgage guarantee scheme is designed to help developers and housebuilding companies, not the housing market. The scheme traps more buyers into the new developments, which they will not be able to trade out of (where is the equity growth to come from?) and the scheme removes the first time buyers from the open housing market causing more stagnation, not less. The Government is being very ingenuous about the focus of the new house buying schemes, it has been cooked up to prop up the bleating building firms not to help the housing market.

Felicity says:
17 January 2012

I’m writing comments on behalf of the dsicussion group of Henleaze Bristol Townswomen’s Guild.
Minimum sizes of rooms should be mandatory. House builders try to make greater profits by getting as many homes on a site as possible. Whatever happened to the Parker -Norris standards?
Architects/developers need to know that storage for items such as clothes airers, ironing boards, buckets and mops, clothes peg bags, dusters, window cleaning items, vacuum cleaners is essential and not in the kitchen! Coats, shoes, bags of family members need cupboards in the hallway or lobby. Larger windows that let in light are better psychologically than small windows. (See recent Channel 4 programme). We do not like internal kitchens or bathrooms i.e. without windows. Please deign adaptable homes, that can be changed as the family changes or for parents who remain when the children leave home – downstairs space that can be a bedroom with walk-in show and loo. Not all older people wish to move into a tiny flat with a front door opening onto a long corridor which is like living in an institution. Please, architects, remember a small garden or a communal garden is much more pleasant and allows neighbours to meet and chat. Drying clothes on an outside clothes drier rather than in a machine saves energy. Good insulation is, of course, now essential – what about triple glazing especially for widows facing north or east. If spaces must be smaller then built in wardrobes and drawers would be essential. A space for a car would be necessary for most homeowners – please stop on-street parking.