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Smart guide

Designing room by room

Smarter home improvements need to take into account the use and layout of your home, so are best done room by room.

What will you use the room for, does it have multiple uses, how many people will use a particular room at any one time? The answers to these questions can influence the size, layout and ideal orientation of a room, how the rooms link and work together and much more.

Grouping similar activities together

As a general rule, similar or linked activities should be grouped together in your home. An obvious example is food preparation and eating – it wouldn't be convenient to have your kitchen a long way from your dining area.

It's also worth considering:

  • grouping quiet activities together – sleeping and hobby rooms are best kept away from living areas where the stereo or TV might be playing loudly.
  • grouping utility/wet areas together – keeping the bathroom and laundry close to the kitchen and hot water system, can help reduce your plumbing and water heating costs and contain plumbing noise in one part of the house.

Reducing noise has more information.

Size does matter

Keep in mind that more rooms generally also mean a larger house. And the larger the house the more energy it will need to heat and cool.

Although it is tempting to have dedicated rooms for all eventualities, a smart design can create suitable spaces that don’t necessarily require additional rooms.

Room by room

Entryway

Because the entryway is where you'll greet guests and other people who come to your home it should be well-defined with a clear front path.

A porch or verandah will provide protection from the weather and allow you to interact with visitors before they enter your home.

If mobility is an issue for anyone in the household, there should be flat access to the front door.

Designing an adaptable home has more information on accessibility.

A separate entryway into a laundry or utility area can be useful for dealing with wet or dirty clothes and shoes after work, sport or outdoor activities.

For security reasons, the main entryway should be clearly visible both from the street and from inside your home.

Selecting my location and neighbourhood has more information on security.

Make sure the access to your unit or house is clearly identified for visitors, especially emergency services, where delays in finding your home could put occupants at risk.

The main entryway should be visibly separate from any service areas, such as where rubbish and recycling are kept. Separate access for vehicles and pedestrians into the property helps to keep children safer from reversing cars. Fencing the driveway off from the rest of the section is a good idea, particularly if you have children or pets.

Living areas

The size and layout of your living areas will depend on how many people use them, and what they're used for.

Your living areas might be used for any number of activities, including:

  • children's play
  • entertaining guests
  • home entertainment
  • quiet activities such as reading or hobbies
  • work and study
  • sleepovers
  • holding meetings.

All of these uses bring different requirements. A play space, for example, will require storage. And if you use your living areas for work or hobbies, you'll also need storage as well as a space to work.

If you often host people in your home, you'll need enough living or dining areas that are big enough to accommodate them. As a rule of thumb, a 6m by 5m living room is large enough for a gathering of up to 20 people.

If you have guests to sleep over in your living area it will need to be able to be kept warm throughout the night. It will also need to be well-ventilated.

Open plan or separate rooms

Modern homes are often designed with open plan living and dining areas. Opting for open plan can give you larger, more flexible living spaces suitable for many uses. It can also improve ventilation, but larger rooms mean that you may need bigger heating appliances to warm up the space.

However, there can also be drawbacks such as noise from one person's activities (like listening to music or watching TV) interfering with another person's quiet activities (such as studying or doing a hobby).

If budget allows, some families choose separate formal and informal living areas. Others choose separate living spaces for teenagers and adults. One approach is to have adjoining spaces that can be closed off from each other when needed – for example, when you have visitors.

Access to bathrooms

All living areas should have easy access to the bathroom and toilet. However, it is preferable that these rooms shouldn't open off the living areas or be directly visible from them.

Orientation

Living areas should face north and have a reasonable amount of north-facing glazing to receive maximum benefit from the sun.

You'll also want to consider views, privacy, noise and prevailing wind/breezes. If these considerations make you want to orient your living areas to the west, south or east, you may still be able to achieve passive heating gains through other methods such as insulation and heat collecting walls. These are called trombe walls.

Using thermal mass for heating and cooling has more information.

If you orient a living area to the south, it may be hard to heat – consider increasing the levels of insulation and the thermal performance of your glazing. This will help reduce heat losses and cold radiating into the space from outside. If you orient it to the west, it may get too hot on summer afternoons and you may get glare from the sun – shading may help. Of course some parts of the house will need to face in those directions, so it’s better to leave those for little-used rooms, such as bathrooms, laundries and garages.

For more information see:

Kitchen and dining

You may use your kitchen solely as a place to prepare coffee and breakfast, or you may be preparing large or elaborate meals for family and guests on a regular basis. Cooking may be a solitary activity or a social one.

How you use kitchen and dining areas will influence their size, layout and orientation, and determine whether the kitchen and dining areas are separate or combined.

An open plan kitchen-dining area can be good for entertaining and for families – but it can also mean kitchen mess is visible from the dining and/or living areas. Think about if this might be an issue for you, especially when you have guests.

Your approach to cooking/entertaining will also influence the amount and type of storage you need – but don't skimp. Kitchen storage is specialised, so it's worth getting advice from a designer or architect.

Think about waste sorting and recycling in the design of your kitchen – have an easily accessible place and separate disposal bins for food scraps, plastic, glass, etc. It’s a bonus to have a door leading off the kitchen to get to the compost bin or to gather some fresh herbs or veges from the garden.

In general, kitchens should be designed so that two people can comfortably work in it at the same time. If you are incorporating adaptable/universal design principles, ask your designer or architect to factor this in when designing the space.

Designing an adaptable home has more information.

If you have small children, you'll want your kitchen and dining area located so you're close to the rooms they play in. And you may want it oriented so you can see children playing outside.

It may be best to avoid west-facing kitchens  bright sunlight can stream in while you're cooking the evening meal, making the room uncomfortably hot and create glare on the benchtops. East-facing kitchens are more likely to catch the early morning sun and be shaded in the hotter parts of the day.

Bedrooms

The number and size of bedrooms depend on the number of regular occupants and whether people share rooms.

Consider your future needs too  you may want to build in space for another child, grandparent or extended family member coming to stay regularly or permanently.

If possible, bedrooms should be oriented for privacy and away from sources of noise.

Children's bedrooms should provide for play and study space. You'll need to provide storage for clothes and other personal effects. Children's bedrooms will need storage for toys, books etc.

Bathrooms and toilets

The number and location of bathrooms and toilets will depend on permanent household members, whether you frequently have guests over, and the size and structure of your home.

In a home split across more than one level, it’s handy to have at least one toilet or bathroom on each floor. Likewise, if your home is large you may need more than one bathroom.

Having a separate toilet with a washbasin is more flexible than combining the toilet and bathroom, but may not be ideal in terms of adaptable/universal design.

Designing an adaptable home has more information.

If you are incorporating adaptable/universal design principles, the ground floor bathroom should have an accessible shower space built in.

Bathrooms and other wet areas such as laundries aren't in constant use, don't need the sun, and generally won't have large windows. Often, designers will locate these rooms on the south side of the house so that other rooms you use more often maximise the sun. Well-placed windows placed to catch breezes will help ventilate and dry wet areas.

Indoor and outdoor living (including flow)

Providing easy access to the outdoors relieves pressure on living areas and promotes healthy living. Outdoor living areas can be created by using decks, verandahs, porches, patios and so on.

You may want to provide for outdoor cooking and dining areas. Cooking areas might include a barbecue, hangi area, a bench for food preparation, and facilities for washing and preparing food.

Easy access to living, kitchen, dining and bathroom areas from the outdoor areas is important. You may want to have the outdoor spaces opening directly off the main living area.

Any design features such as porches and verandahs, and doors opening onto outdoor living spaces, should be located to take account of sun, breezes, views and privacy.

Other rooms and spaces

Laundries and utility rooms

Laundry activities and appliances may be included in kitchens or bathrooms if space is restricted, or can be separate areas usually located on the south side of the house (they don't need sun). A separate laundry with its own entrance means water and dirt from outside activity can be contained, and cleaning products can have dedicated storage.

Consider installing lockable cupboards or high cabinets for cleaners and hazardous household items.

Multi-purpose rooms and spaces

Mezzanine floors, family or games rooms and studies or offices and sleepouts can all provide flexible spaces for multiple uses.

A study, for example, can double as a guest room. A mezzanine floor or sleepout can be used as an office or guest room depending on your needs at the time.

By providing for multi-purpose spaces you may be able to save yourself the extra costs from having to build additional rooms

Studios and sleepouts

You might have a studio, sleepout or granny/kaumatua flat to accommodate extended family or friends. This will give them their own space and independence, while having you close by for support.

If permanently occupied, a separate flat should have its own kitchen and toilet, bathroom or combination. You could consider having a second bedroom so a grandchild or caregiver can live with the relative.

Access is important, especially if the flat is used by an older person or someone with a physical impairment. The flat should be on ground level with easy access, both from the street and from your home.

Garages

Some garages double as workshops or storage areas. Make sure there's enough space to accommodate all needs.

Some families use garages as multi-purpose living areas to accommodate extra guests. If you are building a garage with this in mind, the garage should be lined and insulated with insulation under and around the floor slab edges will help keep it warm and dry.

Insulating your home has more information.

If you’re thinking of converting an older garage, check that a damp proof course was used under the concrete floor – if not, the garage should not be used as a multi-purpose space. Make sure you check with your council under which conditions you are permitted to use garages as living spaces.

It is also important to have a gap, two doors, or a self-closing door between the garage and internal areas so vehicle fumes don't enter the house. It’s also a good idea to make sure internal garages have good ventilation to the outside to get rid of any lingering fumes once the garage door closes. Ideally, bedrooms should not be above or opening onto internal garages.

Thermally insulated garage doors and insulation for the back of garage doors are now available in New Zealand. These help to improve energy efficiency and reduce noise.

Working from home

If you work from home, you'll need to consider where you'll be doing your work and how it will fit into the rest of your household's activities.

Will you have a separate study/office or will you do your work in a shared room such as a living area, dining area or bedroom? This may be possible if you live in a small, quiet household, but you may need a separate, quiet space if you have young children or a large extended family living with you.

You may also need to consider where you'll store the materials and files you need for your work, access to phone and internet connections, security for confidential work, and space for meetings.

Consult with your builder or designer

Talk to your builder or designer about what would work best for you and your family.

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Other resources

  • Housing New Zealand design guides

    Housing New Zealand developed a series of design guides for its housing and for Maori and Pacific housing. These can be downloaded in PDF format.

  • Lifemark

    Visit the Lifemark website for resources on accessible and adaptable home design, and how to make best use of space. Lifemark will independently assess your house plans against the relevant standards.

Note that this document is published by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment Chief Executive as Guidance under Section 175 of the Building Act 2004. This is a guide only and, if used, does not relieve any person of the obligation to consider any matter to which the information relates according to the circumstances of the particular case.