Narrow blocks are the way forward so how do home builders maximise the available space

The great Australian dream may be to own a house but in many parts of Sydney the size of that future home and the land it sits on are shrinking.

A growing number of blocks in newer subdivisions have narrow frontages as developers squeeze more into their estates and keep a lid on prices.

Freestanding homes with block widths of 12.5 and even 10 metres are becoming increasingly common in the new estates in Sydney’s northwest and southwest.

Buyers of these narrower lots have to find floorplans that will fit their block’s tight dimensions and display home builders with existing narrow lot designs have been busy meeting that demand.

But as the trend towards narrower lots shows no sign of abating, building companies are developing new floorplans that maximise every square metre of those narrow sites.

The Leaton 28, by Clarendon, suits narrow sites while still feeling spacious.


Rawson Homes procurement and innovation manager Paul Callaghan says Rawson sees narrow lots as the way of the future in new areas.

“From everything we’re seeing, only about 20 per cent of blocks in the new suburbs will be over 12.5 metres in Sydney,” he says.
“All of it is just driven by getting it down to a price point where we can attract the biggest pool of buyers.”

He says blocks are not only becoming narrower but shallower as well in Sydney’s growth centres.

“The land price per square metre is so expensive that they’re reducing the lot size so the house and land product is close to an affordable price for people,” he says.

“I think anywhere in Sydney if you can get a house and land package around the $700,000 mark, you’ll sell it well, it will be sold quickly.

“If you start getting over the $700,000s, into the 8’s or 9’s, there are just not enough purchasers in the market to sell house and land at that sort of value.

“Sub 300 square metre blocks are becoming quite common but they’re still freestanding homes.”

The Huntley, from Rawson, packs in four bedrooms and still fits slim sites.

Clarendon Homes NSW sales and marketing manager Tim Redway says Sydney has actually been slow on the uptake as far as narrow-lot housing goes.

“The trend in Sydney to 10 and 12.5m lots is about 10 years behind Victoria and South Australia,” he says.

“Ten and 12.5m lots have been popular in Victoria and South Australia since before 2000, so Sydney’s actually been very slow with that.”

Champion Homes sales director Barry Kelleher says his company’s narrow designs are not only in demand in newer areas; homeowners in older areas of Sydney are opting for knockdown rebuild projects, rather than costly renovations.

“In the older suburbs such as Mascot, there are quite a lot of narrower blocks there, in fact they’re spread all over Sydney,” he says.

“With houses built in the 1920s, ’30s or even older, renovating is not an option for a lot of people, it’s too expensive, so unless the house has some sort of council heritage listing it’s more economical to demolish and build a brand new home.”

Barry says a newly built home in an older area will offer its owners the mod cons that new houses have such as air-conditioning.

“Plus they’ll have the design they want,” he says.

Architect David Boyle David says narrow sites, which in older suburbs of Sydney often come with semi-detached or terrace homes, present challenges as they are landlocked on either side, but these obstacles can often be overcome.

“You need to look at any opportunity to make the site seem larger than it is,” he says.

“Linking materials of adjoining properties, borrowing landscape, and screening neighbours are ways to do this.

“Avoid the gun-barrel effect by creating a series of consecutive interlinked spaces, changing the scale of each room.

“A clever way to do this is to increase ceiling heights and add skylights; although this may reduce floor area upstairs, it brings in valuable light and cross ventilation to your main living areas which makes them seem larger.

“We also suggest maximising the outdoor space with strong connection from the inside.

“Side courtyards can create light wells in the centre of the block and provide light, aspect and ventilation to living spaces or bathrooms.”

Champion Homes has a range of designs for narrow lots including the Toscano 339.

Barry from Champion Homes agrees designing for a narrow lot presents unique challenges.

“The main consideration is solar access, so ideally the developer will initially start the subdivision by planning such a way that the rear yard and rear of house will get maximum solar access,” he says.

“So then the houses are designed so all the living areas, kitchen, dining, alfresco are all at the back of the house.

“Towards the front of the home, you put things like studies, bedrooms, where solar access is not as important.”

McDonald Jones Homes director of sales Phil Haigh says one result of the move to narrower lots has been an adjustment to planning rules by some developers in newer areas.

Under those changes, building part of the house on the boundary, known as a zero lot boundary, is allowed on one side of a home, meaning an increase in internal space.

McDonald Jones’ Edenvale at Gregory Hills.

“They also allow you to build on one boundary when it becomes a 10m or 12m wide block,” Phil says.

“Rather than have a conventional 900mm from the boundary, you are allowed to put the garage on the boundary.

“You’re also allowed to build a bit closer to the street and that sort of thing so it’s quite a good outcome.”

Rawson Homes’ four-bedroom Huntley design has taken out both HIA and MBA awards and is the company’s most popular design for narrow lot building.

It’s offered with four floorplan options, with the Huntley 24 the narrowest, at 7.68 metres including a single garage.

The level of demand for narrow lots recently prompted Rawson to run an in-house competition, inviting their design staff to come up with new floorplan designs for narrow blocks.

The results will be hitting the market in the coming months, with a total of 12 new narrow-lot designs currently being built, effectively doubling Rawson’s narrow-lot offerings.

Eleven of those 12 new designs are double storey, including one called the Mayfield, a 6.5-metre wide three-bedroom home with two bathrooms and an alfresco area included under the main roof.

McDonald Jones Homes’ Edenvale design maximises solar access.

Paul says the company has focused on making the most of every square metre with its new designs.

“In the past you could get lots under 12.5m just by making a single garage but you end up having a lot of wasted space behind the garage where you’re not using up every single square metre, right up to easements or right up to boundaries,” he says.

“Because the blocks are getting so small we’re basically setting the parameters based off the block of land and we’re filling up the full footprint that we possibly can to get a bigger house on the block.

“You can’t afford to lose even a few square metres of usable space on blocks of this size.”

Barry from Champion Homes says they have more than 50 designs suited to narrow blocks, including some for terrace-style housing.

Champion Homes were one of the builders involved in Thornton at Penrith, where terrace-style housing as narrow as 4.5 metres wide has been sold.

“Back in 2011 we realised the need for narrow lot designs so we prepared a whole range of them from 4.5 metres right up to 12.5m, all that range is considered narrow lots,” Barry says.

“We are constantly developing new designs which improve features, responding to the demand we get from our clients.”

Popular freestanding narrow-lot designs by Champion Homes include the four-bedroom single-storey Novara and the four-bedroom double-storey Toscano.

Built with a single garage, study, living space, rumpus and media room, the Toscano 270 has a width of just 8.51 metres.

At Clarendon, popular narrow-lot designs include the five-bedroom, two-storey Paddington 31, the four-bedroom, two-storey Ariel 27, the four-bedroom two-storey Leaton 28 and they’ve just opened the two-storey Bronte 28 at Jordan Springs.

McDonald Jones Homes have about 20 designs suited to narrow lots and the most popular is the single-storey three-bedroom Hamilton design, which is on display at Gregory Hills.

The design is available with five different floorplans, the narrowest being 8.45m with a single garage.

Article by: Jennifer Veerhuis – Home Magazine / Daily Telegraph

Photo Credit: Bob Barker