Wednesday, February 25, 2015

How new homes are changing our suburbs

Brick still rules in the building materials kingdom, but there are plenty of challengers.

A preference for bricks has resulted in fewer weatherboard homes. Photo: AAP

The face of new housing in Australia has been undergoing a quiet revolution in the past 15 years.

Yes, brick is still king when it comes to the external face of most new homes, but other materials have been added to the mix to give these residences a sexier look – particularly at street level.

This is helping to differentiate them from the old red-and-white brick veneer homes which populate many Australian capital city inner and middle suburbs.

These other materials such as weatherboard-style cement planks, timber battens, stone, ceramic tiles, rendered blueboard and polystyrene complement the brick veneer which still forms the majority of a new home's exterior.

Major volume builders say the bulk of prospective homebuyers settling in Australia's new estates still perceive a brick home to be the sturdiest type of residential construction.

Housing Industry Association economist Geordan Murray says brick veneer homes are still the most common form of detached or stand-alone house construction, accounting for around 65 per cent of new residences. He says double brick construction makes up a further 18 per cent.

The preference for brick has also seen timber weatherboard homes largely fade from the new home scene except in warmer, more tropical climes in Australia.


Modern houses have more elaborate façades. Photo: Shutterstock

Peter Hayes, the managing director of the Henley Properties Group, says the change to a mix of materials is positive and has improved the look of housing.

"It was pretty much brick veneer from the 1960s to the early 1990s except in Western Australia where 90 per cent of the market was and still is solid brick,'' says Mr Hayes, whose company builds homes in Victoria, Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria.

"In the 1990s we started to see the introduction of rendering – rendered brick – and more recently, in the last 10 years, the introduction of exotic materials such as weatherboard-style cement sheeting and ceramic tiles as façade features. In the two-storey homes it is still predominantly brick veneer, with lightweight tops reflecting architectural trends."

Mr Hayes believes these changes have made the "skin" of the house "certainly more aesthetically pleasing" and of equal, if not better, quality than their predecessors.

Orbit Homes director Paul Millson says timber weatherboard homes, which were so popular in Australian suburbs in the 1950s and 1960s, are "now virtually a thing of the past" when it comes to new housing.

Mr Millson says timber homes lost popularity because they required more maintenance than brick homes. He says the majority of new homes now are a combination of brick and compressed cement sheeting.

"We now have weatherboard-style compressed cement planks which come in a variety of styles," he says.

"A person from outside the industry would not be able to tell if they were timber or not.
 They are used sparingly in combination with brick and lightweight rendered materials.

"When they are used with a mix of materials they can add value to a home but too much may be a bit overwhelming."

But Mr Millson says, for the foreseeable future, brick will still be the main external building material.

"Brick is definitely here to stay, and now more than ever," he says.

Weatherboard houses are nowhere near as popular as they once were. Photo: Shutterstock

Dennis Family Corporation chairman Bert Dennis agrees that weatherboard homes make up only a small proportion of the new homes and are nowhere near as popular today as they once were.

"The home buying public are quite conservative by nature and still generally prefer to build with bricks and mortar," Mr Dennis says.

He adds that the bulk of new homes are fully brick or a combination of brick and lightweight cladding materials. The latter can provide either a traditional or contemporary look.

"Using a combination of materials has become increasingly popular in two-storey homes," Mr Dennis says.

"The lighter materials allow greater flexibility in the construction of the upper level."

The Dennis chief says the façades of homes have been transformed in recent years.

"Nearly every house built today features quite an elaborate façade, often utilising a combination of materials," Mr Dennis says.

"In particular, rendering and the use of tiles, stone and timber cladding within facades has come into vogue in recent years."

Mr Dennis also agrees that today's new homes are superior to those built 30 years ago.

"Back then we were building a lot on stumps and concrete foundations," he says.

"Today, the vast majority of the homes we construct are slab based and are considerably more permanent and stable."