Saturday 18 November 2017

How 'mini-homes' can provide a solution

The €25,000 house in Co Leitrim designed by Dominic Stevens
The €25,000 house in Co Leitrim designed by Dominic Stevens
Mark Keenan

Mark Keenan

As the Celtic Tiger toppled, the radical Irish architect Dominic Stevens went right back to basics in Leitrim.

He produced a universally acclaimed design for a three-bedroom, 600 sq ft house which could be built for €25,000 - the price of a family saloon car.

Inspired by a traditional Irish cottage, it was fabricated with a timber frame, insulated and coated in Onduline - a sustainable, plant-based material that looks like corrugated iron sheeting and absorbs heat.

It was put up in just over 50 days by Dominic and his friends in a field. The architect works in this dwelling and lives in it mortgage free - the whole point of the exercise.

Despite looking a little unusual from the outside, it is regulation compliant and a 'normal' home in all ways.

"The future in housing, I believe, is the combination of self-build and high-quality prefabricated manufacturing," said Stevens.

But could Dominic's little Leitrim project hold the key to the accommodation crisis in Dublin, Cork and Galway?

Some years ago I had a home office built in my back garden in suburban Dublin. Spanning close to 200 sq ft, it holds a substantial office space the size of a mid-sized bedroom, while the second room (about the size of two bathrooms), fulfils the garden shed function.

It has electricity, is well insulated and lit and ventilated by two double glazed windows and a part-glazed door. The outer shell is corrugated steel with a green plastic coating and, five years on, it still looks brand new.

It cost just over €5,000, the price of a two-week family holiday. Though not as well designed, nor as eco-friendly, as Stevens's house, it could be a house for one if a bathroom and kitchen were installed.

One evening I sat down to work out if you could accommodate a small house in my garden - albeit half the size of Dominic's family-friendly three-bed.

By adding one-third more space to my home office I could have a reasonably sized living and kitchen area, a small bathroom with a shower and a box-room sized bedroom - pretty much the layout of a one-bedroom city apartment.

Low slung - so as not to peeve the neighbours - it would easily fit lengthways and leave adequate garden space.

Almost every city semi has the potential to have a 200 sq ft to 300 sq ft 'mini house', if they follow Dominic's model.

At a cost of €13,000 to build and a rent of €500 a month - allowed tax free under the Rent a Room scheme, though the Government would have to adjust the rules - the 'mini-house' would pay for itself in just over two years.

It would also supply a decent additional income to the host family, offer students and singles a better deal than the current house and apartment share regime, as well as plenty of comfort.

It would facilitate fast and decent housing at no cost to Government and relieve the rental and homelessness crisis.

So, instead of a 'not in my backyard' approach, a temporary solution to the crisis can be found in doing just that.

Could there be any losers?

Irish Independent

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