Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Irish house size, climate change and living space per person - Part 2

John Hinde (1916-1997), an Englishman who developed a postcard business in Ireland from 1956, published the 1960s image of children collecting turf (peat) from a bog in Connemara, Co Galway. This image of Rural Ireland has been replaced in the past 50 years by the so-called one-off large detached houses owned by urbanites. There are over 460,000 of these houses in 2021 contributing to air and groundwater pollution while getting public subsidies.
This one-off house near Kinsale. County Cork, is available for Airbnb bookings.

This year Eurostat, the EU's statistics office, reported that 69.6% of Irish residents were living in dwellings categorised as too big for their needs in 2019 based on excess rooms and more specifically bedrooms. This was more than twice the EU average of 32.7%. On average there were 2.1 rooms per person in Irish households compared with the EU average of 1.6 rooms.

Large detached houses in particular in rural areas are a factor, as is under-occupation resulting from the rise of single adult households without children and older individuals or couples remaining after their children have grown up and left the home.

However, Eurostat also noted in respect of 2018 that "space constraints on tenants were particularly apparent in Ireland and Luxembourg, where tenants had 0.8 and 0.7 fewer rooms per person than people in owner-occupied dwellings; in France, Austria, Slovenia and Sweden the corresponding gap was also high (0.5 rooms)."

House size of Ireland's urban-generated rural dwellers jumps 29% in period 2001-2017

Housing size

In 2012 Eurostat published average house size data for member countries and it has not been updated since. The average floor area per person in the EU was an estimated 42.6m² (square metres) per person.

The ratio of rooms per person is now published even though room dimensions differ in particular in countries where detached houses (e.g. Denmark) or flats/apartments e.g. Spain) are dominant.

According to the EU, Ireland has the lowest ratio of flats/ apartments at 8% of housing stock and the Central Statistics Office (CSO) appears to have sent underestimated size data to Eurostat in 2012 when the average housing size was put at 81m².

In the 1970s when local Irish councils built a third of annual housing output, social houses had a floor area of about 74m² (800 sq feet) while the government gave a grant for new private houses in the size range of 75 to 100m² (807 to 1,076 sq feet) — the government provided subsidies of almost a third of the price of a new house up to these dimensions including reduced mortgage rates and a holiday from rates (property tax).

Between 1977 and 2020 the typical Irish house size has grown by 45% according to planning authority data. In the 2001-2017 period the average semi-detached house size had not materially changed.

Ireland abolished property taxes, known as residential rates, in 1978. This move incentivised the building of large standalone houses in Irish rural areas, known as one-off housing.

In 1973, the median new American single-family house was just 142m² (1,525 square feet), according to the US Census Bureau. By 2018, it had jumped to 226m² (2,435 sqft) or 60% bigger in 45 years. At the same time, according to Statista.com the average US household in 1973 comprised 3.01 people, meaning the home offered 47m² (507 sqft) per person. The average household had fallen to 2.53 people by 2018 and each had 89m² (962 sqft) of individual living space.

Australia had the biggest houses in the world on average but in recent years the average has fallen behind the United States. In 2018/2019 new detached houses had an average floor size of 229m². Apartments were 129m² on average and all new housing units were at 189m².

In Europe, Ireland's current average total usable housing floor space according to a CSO estimate based on energy ratings is at 112m².

The average floor size more accurately using the data on the housing stock back to the period 1700-1899 result in the following: All dwellings: 112m²; detached houses 158m²; semi-detached 108m²; mid-Terrace 90m² and flats/ apartments 76.

According to Ireland's Census 2016, 42% of all dwellings in Ireland were detached houses and 45% were semi-detached/terraced houses, while just 12% of dwellings were flats/apartments (these were occupied while Eurostat has a total rate of 8% for all flats).

The German housing stock has 26% of detached houses; 56% of apartments and 18% terraced/semi-detached. Destatis says that the average *living space is 95m² while 38% of housing exceeds 100m².

Detached houses account for almost 60% of the housing stock in Denmark and Statistics Denmark says that in 2021 the "Average dwelling area per dwelling" is 112.5m².

Statistics Netherlands says "Terraced houses are most common in the Netherlands. Forty-one percent of the households live in terraced housing, 32% in flats, 15% in detached and 13% in semi-detached homes. In the major cities, most people live in flats; in Amsterdam, this is 86%. Detached and semi-detached dwellings are rare."

The statistics agency says that Amsterdam has the smallest houses of all Dutch cities. An average household in the capital has 74m² of usable space. For homeowners, the average is 67m². Tenants have more space at 92m². In the rest of the country, the average area of usable space is 140m² for owners and 87m² for tenants.

Statistics Sweden says "The average size of a dwelling in multi-dwelling buildings (flats) is 68m², while in one- or two-dwelling buildings, the average size is 122m².

At the end of 2019 42% of dwellings in Sweden were in one (detached)- or two-dwelling (semi-detached) buildings; 51% were in multi-dwelling buildings (flats), 260,406 (5%) were in special housing and 2% were in other buildings.

There were around 468,000 homes in Stockholm in 2018 according to the city government. Of these, approximately 402,000 are apartments in blocks, 44,000 are houses and 22,000 are specialist housing.

According to data compiled by the Brainsre big data real estate platform, each Spaniard has an average of 42.7 square metres of space in their respective homes, where an average of 2.5 people live. The City of Madrid average is 35.7.

Based on the number of Energy Performance Certificates, the average usable floor space for houses and flats result in an average of 80m² for London and 90m² for England and Wales.

In 2014 research at the University of Cambridge claimed that "The UK has the smallest homes by floor area in Europe: the average newly-built home is just 76m², compared to 137m² in Denmark."

However, these figures are not comparable and the reason for the Danish high average "is that, in Denmark, the housing area is calculated as the exterior gross floor area, which means that the thickness of exterior walls and, for flats, a portion of the staircase area is included. In order to obtain truly comparable figures, the Danish figure must be reduced by about 15%" to compare with other European countries.

*Useful floor space/area is floor space of dwellings measured inside the outer walls, excluding cellars, non-habitable attics and, in multi-dwelling houses, common areas.

Living space per person comprises rooms such as bedrooms, sitting rooms, dining rooms, study rooms, playrooms, and the like, but exclude kitchens, hallways, shower rooms, bathrooms, and toilets. A kitchenette that is part of a living room is included. For flats/apartments common areas are excluded.

The mainly rich member countries of the OECD have an average 1.8 rooms per person: Canada 2.6; US and New Zealand 2.4; Australia 2.3; Belgium 2.2; Ireland and Norway 2.1; Finland, Denmark, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Japan, Spain, Switzerland, and UK 1.9; Germany and France 1.8; Sweden and Portugal 1.7; Austria 1.6; Italy 1.4 and Greece 1.2.

House size and climate change

Katherine Ellsworth-Krebs of Lancaster University, UK, says "To meet the growth in floor area with higher demand for warm homes, the International Energy Agency suggests energy efficiency would need to improve by 30% by 2025. With this in mind, some energy researchers have argued that without limiting the average dwelling floor area per person, it is hardly imaginable that there could be an absolute reduction in household energy demand."

The Building Energy Rating (BER) system administered by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) requires that since January 2009 a BER certificate and advisory report is compulsory for all homes being sold or offered for rent. A BER cert is also required for new dwellings that apply for planning permission on or after 1st January 2007.

SEAI says there are approximately 1m homes in Ireland — 50% of the housing stock (occupied and unoccupied) — with poor insulation and inefficient heating systems and there were almost 924,000 unique domestic BERs (one per dwelling) completed in the period 2009 to the end of December 2020.

A 2020 Irish Government report stated:

"Ireland’s homes are still an outlier in European terms. Ireland’s energy consumption per dwelling is among the highest in Europe and the typical Irish home emits 7% more energy and 60% more greenhouse gas emissions than the EU average. This is due to larger than average homes which are typically poorly insulated and heated via carbon intensive fuels, such as oil. Approximately 51% of the Irish housing stock assessed for their BER have a rating of D1 or worse, while just 7% have a rating of B2 or better ...the majority of detached homes are located in rural areas, leaving them away from the gas grid thus encouraging the use of less efficient fuels such as oil, coal and peat.

Ireland had the highest carbon emissions per dwelling in the EU between 2000-2010 and again in 2015. As of 2018, the average Irish dwelling emitted 60% more energy-related CO2 than the average EU dwelling. This is primarily due to the fuel mix used in Irish households which has a high carbon intensity of fuel used, in addition to above-average energy consumption per dwelling. Ireland has a large portion of 'one-off' homes, which are typically poorly insulated and heated by carbon-intensive fuels such as oil."

526 homes have completed deep retrofits under SEAI’s pilot programme to date. The average total capital cost to upgrade a home from an average BER rating of F rating to an average A3 rating is €60,229.

Estimates of the cost of a retrofit in 2021 are in the range of €30,000-€80,000.

The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) can provide a government grant up to a maximum of 35%. SEAI did provide a 50% deep retrofit grant from 2017 to June 2019.

There are about 1.7m occupied homes in Ireland and there were 6.2m tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions from homes in 2018. This equates to about 10.2% of national emissions or 24% of energy-related CO2 emissions.

German minimum living space: 9m² for adult & 6m² for a child

Living area per person

Germany's average living space per capita is 47m² and it has risen from 20m² in 1960. The rate in Berlin is over 38m².

Sweden's national rate is 42m² and 33m² in Stockholm while the average floor space available per person in the Netherlands amounts to 65m². Netherland Statistics says that there are large differences between regions and the available living area per household type. "The average space per person is generally smaller in the Randstad (consisting primarily of the four largest Dutch cities) conurbation than elsewhere. The smallest living space is found in the larger cities; in Amsterdam, the average is 49m² per person."

Denmark has a living space per person of 59.6m² for detached houses; terraced/semi-detached 50m² and multi-dwelling 45m².

The total residential area must be at least 20m² per person.

In Austria, the average housing size in 2020 was at 100m² and the per person living space in Vienna was 35m².

The Swiss average is 46m²: Multiple person households with all Swiss national members have an average living space of 44m² per person. The average living space for multiple person households with all foreign national members comes to 31m² per person.

According to data compiled by the Brainsre big data real estate platform, each Spaniard has an average of 42.7 square metres of space in their respective homes, where an average of 2.5 people live. The City of Madrid average is 35.7m².

The average household size in Ireland was 2.6 persons in 2019 compared with 2.0 in Germany and Denmark, and 1.8 in Sweden.

Using the average Irish total usable floor space of 112m² as stated above and discounting by 15% for kitchens, bathrooms, hallways and landings, the per person average living space is 36.5m².

The South China Morning Post reported in 2017 that the typical living area per capita of Hong Kong’s subdivided flats was only 4.6m² (50 square feet), with rent costing around 40% of household income.

The living area per person in Japan is just over 22m².

According to Reuters, the average home in the Tokyo prefecture is at 65.9m² (710 square feet) in usable floor area compared with 80m² (860 square feet) in London. However, the average does not tell the whole story.

The living or "dwelling" area has an average of 41m² space. This consists of living spaces such as bedrooms, lounge areas, kitchenette and dining areas.

In Tokyo the average per person living area is 20.2m² (square metres)


Ireland and Britain ex-Scotland have set minimum standards for apartments from 37m². Scottish building regulations do not set requirements for minimum dwelling sizes but there are provisions "intended to make all new homes accessible and better suited to adapt to the changing needs of occupants, this includes minimum sizes for the main living area, apartments, kitchens and accessible sanitary accommodation and circulation areas."

In the past two decades, capital and big metropolitan cities have had significant rises in populations in particular in the central areas, resulting in housing unaffordability. According to the OECD, just 1% of all metropolitans have more than 5m inhabitants but these 94 metropolitan areas are home to 26% of the global population that lives in metropolitan areas.

What are called micro-apartments are a response to the high rentals and overcrowding in standard apartments. Single adults, young workers and students can avoid commuting and be near services, their place of work or study.

Typically, in the United States, the size is from 21 to 35m² (225 to 375 square feet). In New York, zoning requires at least 14m² (150 square feet) for an apartment, but in Seattle, they may be as small as 8.4m² (90 square feet.)

Cushman & Wakefield, a real estate firm in a report on Germany notes, "Micro-apartments are mainly found in the central districts of metropolitan areas or in university towns and generally have good public transport connections. Most micro-apartments have around 20-25m² of space (including bathroom and kitchenette), with larger types extending to 35m² and attracting a price premium which limits their potential tenants almost entirely to working-age professionals.

Another characteristic of micro-apartments is an all-in monthly rental including all bills (e.g. electricity) and costs for furnishing and facilities (everything from bedclothes to broadband). The overall concept is that residents should be able to move in with a suitcase and start living in the space immediately."

On Ireland's climate change challenge, the collusion over a half-century between the gombeen men of both the Irish Farmers Association and rural TDs (members of parliament) to support the building of so-called one-off houses has been very costly and continues to be so: air and groundwater pollution; infrastructure such as electricity and phone services at multiples of the cost that would incur in a village cluster and the slow death of villages; the cost of the postal service and now public grants for energy retrofits and fast broadband.


European Housing Crisis: Ireland is not alone - Part 1

House size of Ireland's urban-generated rural dwellers jumps 29% in period 2001-2017

Key Irish housing statistics 1971-2020

Irish real house prices up 175% in 50 years, UK +405%, Germany 1968-2016 -1% : However, in Germany’s “big seven” cities — Berlin, Hamburg, Düsseldorf, Cologne, Munich, Frankfurt and Stuttgart — house prices for existing homes rose by 123.7% on average in 2009-2019 according to Deutsche Bank. The lowest rise was 97% in Düsseldorf, while Munich saw the highest jump at 178%. In 2013 the average price of a Berlin home was at €2,526 m² and in 2020 €4,634. Irish prices rose by about 18% in 2009-2019.

Eurostat's regional handbook 2020: Capital city growth: All the areas with especially high purchasing power are capitals, notably, London, Paris, Brussels, and Oslo. In Central Europe: the Ilfov region surrounding Bucharest has residents'  purchasing power in stark contrast to the rest of Romania.

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