Compact Housing Presents A More Sustainable Way Of Living


Density is the catchcry of many urban local governments. With many of Australia’s largest cities facing limitations to their physical growth, density is the only way cities can sustain more people on the land already allocated.

Density in Australia has traditionally meant apartments, but a number of developers are testing compact housing models in their urban developments that might in fact spawn a new product category across Australia not yet broadly recognised in planning schemes – the ‘compact house’.

Until fairly recently, compact housing has been something most Australians and councils found largely unappealing. The Undue Subdivision of Land Prevention Act in Queensland in 1885 even prevented subdivision below 405 square metres/16 perches as an effort to deliver desirable urban form.

However as housing prices have risen out of reach of many Australians, this new category has emerged in both greenfield and infill projects.

This is a rebasing of the market with a new junior product type – below the apartment, below the house, below the townhouse, that is aspirational because you can still own your own piece of land without the encumbrance of body corporate.

Across the world we are all seeking better land use, better resource use, and more sustainable building and construction techniques, ultimately trying to drive down the total cost of construction and decrease the impact our housing has on its surroundings, thus creating more sustainable communities.

Developers who are increasingly cost-sensitive in this competitive residential market are looking to maximise yield, delivering more homes, more customers and more opportunities from every project. This combines to make small lot or even micro-lot housing very appealing to buyers and developers.

The median average house price of a three bedroom house at Caloundra in 2013 was almost $400,000. At that time however, Stockland were marketing the Bower Series at Bells Reach in Caloundra, targeted at key workers in the region, from $205,000.

Needless to say, they were remarkably successful, selling out in three days to 70 per cent owner-occupier-buyer and being awarded the 2014 UDIA National Award for Excellence in the category for affordability.

This accelerated rate of sale, targeting a buyer previously excluded from home ownership or even apartment ownership in Australia, presents a massive growth market for housing developers throughout the country with land banks.

The density in these developments also allows developers to accelerate their delivery of retail, commercial, and education facilitates that might have required larger populations for feasibility.

This shouldn’t be considered as the last roll of the dice for large lot housing. In fact this is the first meaningful step towards a whole new housing category in Australia that until now we haven’t needed. But in building this we need to consider the sustainability advantages that matter inside small lot developments.

These include:

  • reduced costs of maintenance due to smaller lot and housing sizes;
  • reduced costs of operation – less heating, less cooling;
  • smaller homes are by necessity more thoughtfully designed to maximise the use of space, making the internal floor plans more effective and efficient;
  • less landscape to provide and maintain;
  • acoustically more efficient, as they are often attached in form, reducing the need for windows and screening; and
  • greater access to more considered design of public realm and parkland, recognising that in this environment public meeting spaces are the shared backyard.


This article first appeared in the Urbis Think Tank. Urbis is an interdisciplinary consulting firm offering services in planning, design, property, social planning, economics and research. Working with clients on integrated or standalone assignments, Urbis provides the social research, analysis and advice upon which major social, commercial and environmental decisions are made. With over 300 staff Urbis is uniquely positioned to handle projects from the simplest to the most complex.


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