Thoughts on Australian Houses

by Chris Lang on June 5, 2012

Australian house

The following is an article by our expert guest writer Anthony Braun, who shares his opinion about the quality and the standards of typical Aussie houses.

At present, as many commentators suggest, housing prices have reached their peak and took a time-out from the upward trend they maintained for decades, the much-needed break to think – which way from here? Up, based on lack of confidence and the urge to “get in now” before the houses become even dearer, or down – based on frustration of those who can’t make the ends meet and give up their dream of home ownership?

This raises the question – what exactly is this commodity, which takes a lion’s share of any newspaper? What is on offer on this market – a market that became the favorite playground of every other person in this country? Let’s take a look at the most typical house – the house of a middle class Australian family.

Considering its current cost – around the $400,000 mark – it becomes clear that a person must save for a house for 15-20 years, or service a big mortgage for the same duration.
This is the main asset of a family, a future inheritance of their children and grandchildren, and its importance can’t be overestimated. Consequently, the requirements for this ‘commodity’ should be very strict.

In the building industry one of the basics has always been the principle of capital construction. This principle involves the size of funds being invested, the longevity of the construction, its fire-resistance, the quality of the materials, and the ability of the walls to conserve heat and be soundproof.

For an extreme example let’s compare a house to a shed. We require a house to have the life expectancy of 80-100 years, fire resistance no less than 2 hours, the walls should stop any sound below 50 decibel, and preserve temperature – so that with -10 °C outside it would be 22 °C inside. With +40 °C outside the house should also be able to keep 22 °C inside, with minimal usage of cooling/heating to save natural resources.

Our requirements for a shed would be entirely different. Its life expectancy should be 30-40 years, fire resistance – half an hour, and there is no soundproofness or temperature retention required.

If we examine the common Australian house with the principle of capital construction in mind, it resembles a shed much more than a house.

Why? You can be the judge.

A 40 year-old house is good for nothing, and the mere thought of its fire resistance makes my hair stand on end – in periods of drought and heat many victims of house fires simply had no time to leave the house to save themselves. The temperature retention qualities of standard houses don’t stand criticism – homes are hot and suffocating in summer, and cold in winter. Large number of enormous, single-glazed windows from floor to ceiling makes the matters worse – there is absolutely no reason to have those, other than the intent to make construction cheaper.

The style of construction doesn’t help soundproofness – everything is made very light, with large hollow spaces, so every car driving by the house is heard as if it was going through the living room. The houses are imperfect to the extent that any pest, such as a rat or a possum, often becomes a problem for the home owner. They easily find their way into the hollow walls, with all the imaginable consequences.

And now we can rightfully ask: are such houses worth the money? And the answer is no, no, and no I’m afraid.

These days, for the money consumers pay for houses, they should get a completely different product, made of different materials, with different walls and windows, different inner walls that would at least hold a nail, with a different ceiling and foundation; the builders should follow the capital construction principles. Traditions have always been respected, and we should preserve them as much as possible, however, this particular “traditional” way to build houses lacks common sense and the outcome is affecting each and every family.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Brian June 7, 2012 at 6:57 pm

I think what the builders do is provide astonishing value for money. In the last 20 years, since I came to Australia, in real terms the cost of houses seems to have come down while the price of land has gone through the roof. This has been achieved by lighter construction which requires less skilled tradesman.

That’s not to say the houses couldn’t be better built. I think that smaller but better built houses is a much better way to go than what happens presently.

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