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Building a small home is not just about the cost per square metre

Think small, but think quality - that's the recommendation for first-home buyers looking for affordable home options. Welhaus in Christchurch is about to start work on a series of small eco houses in Mt Pleasant, which will include the 60 sqm Evolve Mini designed by Jerram Tocker Barron Architect.

Everyone in the design and building industries would agree that quality matters when you are building a new home, and that applies to design, materials and construction.

But for a large number of consumers it seems the key focus is simply cost per square metre.

Talk to the experts, however, and they will say such comparisons make no sense when you are building a small home.

Brenda Kelly from IQ Container Homes has built the first 8 Homestar container home on a steep site in West Auckland.

Dan Tremewan, development director of Welpanel and Welhaus, a Christchurch company specialising in eco-friendly homes built from structurally insulated panels, says people can get caught up in the cost per square metre when they should be looking at the lifecycle of the house.

* First 8 Homestar container home
* Green project on track for first 10 Homestar renovation
* Welcome to Homed


"An affordable home doesn't mean the house has a low cost per metre, because much of the cost of building a home goes into services, such as the kitchen and bathroom. The kitchen in a smaller home will be a larger proportion of the overall home than it in a larger home. But the overall cost of the house will still be a lot lower than a larger one. It's all about affordability."


Tremewan says potential homeowners should also be looking at efficiency and ongoing energy costs. He believes first homeowners, especially, should consider reducing the size of their home in exchange for a quality construction, airtight, low-energy home.

"We find first-home buyers love the idea of a carbon-sensitive, eco-friendly home, but don't believe they can afford to buy one."

Kelly says the kitchen and bathroom in a small home will represent a larger proportion of the overall cost than in a larger home, but cost-per-square-metre comparisons ignore functionality and ongoing costs over a lifetime.

The company is addressing the problem with a selection of compact, inexpensive homes on the hill in Mt Pleasant, Christchurch, with prices from $395,000. "A larger urban home we built has averaged just $30 per month in energy costs over a year, so there are huge savings right there."

Brenda Kelly of IQ Container Homes recently built the first 8 Homestar container home and has a ready answer for people who do the cost-per-square-metre calculations and find such homes wanting.

"I say, don't compare," she says "People need to scrap such comparisons. I try and educate my clients to help them get out of the mindset of pricing a house on a cost-per-square-metre basis. With a small home you still have the kitchen and bathroom costs, which can't be offset by large, empty rooms that help to bring down the cost per square metre.

The MicroEco designed by graduate architect Diana Jung is another offering from Welhaus, a company specialising in structurally insulated panel construction.

"I tell people to look at the functionality, look at the overall cost and look at the longevity – the running costs over a lifetime."

Kelly says a well-insulated, eco-friendly small home (which may be two bedrooms) is cheaper to maintain and cheaper to heat than a larger home.

Many of the new high-quality smaller homes are now utilise prefabricated technology, which helps with cost savings. This includes structurally insulated panels made from cross-laminated timber (CLT).

Tremewan says such prefabricated panels tick all the boxes for quality, reduced on-site build times, sustainability and seismic strength.

"New Zealanders are early adopters of new technology and unfortunately, the local manufactures of these panels are victims of their own success. The demand is really hotting up, and many architects are being told there is a one-year wait for the products. Consequently, we have begun to import the parts we can't supply – we don't want to lose people back to traditional steel and concrete construction.

"Anything you can do with concrete, you can do with CLT."

And the overriding message for first-home buyers? Think small, but think quality.




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