Smarter Small Home


When 30-year veteran of the property and real estate industry Kevin Doodney thought about the housing affordability problem in Australia, he knew there had to be a solution. The Smarter Small Home™ is the affordable concept home that was the result of his vision – and chutzpah.

While Doodney was the catalyst for the project, the result is the product of an entire team. Spearheading the design smarts was designer Brett Blacklow. Doodney and Blacklow had met 15 years before and had since collaborated on a number of projects.

The pair agreed that their goal was to build an affordable home, defined as one costing around $300,000 for house and land package. With land often representing at least half the total cost of a home and land package, they knew a small lot size was crucial. They decided on a lot size of 10 metres by 30 metres; the challenge then was to design a livable, sustainable and affordable home on it.

The Smarter Small Home was the result.

It’s livable because the double-storey construction minimises the building footprint without sacrificing inside living area and leaving a sizable yard for outdoor entertaining and activities. Inside, no space is wasted and many do ‘double duty’.

The Smarter Small Home is also sustainable – it has a 5.5 star energy rating, uses a range of low-embodied-energy materials and smart power-saving devices to minimise homeowners’ running costs.

In addition, James Hardie asked Climate Friendly* to measure the carbon footprint of The Smarter Small Home. It found that significantly less CO2 was used to manufacture the materials used in the home, as well as to actually construct it, than that in a traditionally built home. Climate Friendly also found that the energy intensity was much lower than in a traditionally built home.

Very affordable
However, there are other homes that are livable and sustainable. The heart of the Smarter Small Home is its affordability. Here are the key ingredients to cost-effective construction that The Smarter Small Home embodies.

Design to fit, not cut to fit
Blacklow went looking for a number of key economical materials first, and then designed the structure of the house and floor plate around them. “Typically no-one approaches it like that. The builder or designer comes up with a floor plan and then he works out how to make it stand up,” Blacklow says.

Blacklow feels this is a recipe for adding all sorts of costs that aren’t immediately obvious into a building, because the designer or builder has to make the structure work. His approach means the design of rooms, heights and walls are to the size of materials available and any offcuts that are generated are re-used elsewhere in the design. This also helps minimise waste.

Minimise installation steps, and multiple trades Often, time is money, which means maximising the speed of
construction. A key way to achieve this is to select products that can be installed and simply finished; ones that involve the least number of construction layers.

For example, Blacklow chose an all-in-one Bondor® sandwich panel for the roof, which meant the roof was fully installed in half a day. “One product turns up to site,” he says. “When it’s finished, we have our roof structure, insulation, sheeting, ceiling structure and finished ceiling. Instead of having a scaffold up for two or three weeks, it’s all done in half a day.”

The sub-floor is another area where layers were reduced. Twenty-two steel screw-in piers were used instead of brick piers and joists or the traditional slab on ground. “While screw-in piers have been around for ages, hardly anyone uses them,” Blacklow says. “The beauty of them is that we don’t have to come out and make a flat area and we don’t have to dig or pour footings and box up the slab. We just screw these things into the ground, we put the posts on that afternoon, and on day two we start installing the floor framing.”

“Many of James Hardie’s products are sheet products and so a carpenter can cover an area of three square metres in 10 minutes. So we’ve chosen products that cover a big bit of area when they go on,” Blacklow says. After installation, they usually just need to be painted.

Choose highly flexible claddings to maximise repeatability
A key driver of the affordability of a development versus that of a single home is building the exact same floor plan. “When we’re doing this we want to make the outside of these homes look as different as possible, while still being essentially the same,” says Blacklow.

“The thing I’d say about these [James Hardie®] products is that you can give me one standard flat sheet like HardieFlex™, and I can give you five or six different finishes. It can be done without texturing or anything like that, but through using vertical or horizontal battens, or smooth ones or really protruding ones. These products just have a bucketload of flexibility at a really affordable price,” he says.

After researching exterior cladding materials, Blacklow and the team concluded that there is “nothing that can touch a few of the James Hardie products price-wise”.

The Small Smarter Home™ Case Book by James Hardie

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