European Home Ownership

Europeans primarily value a suburban home that has a feeling of spaciousness, is comfortable, gives them a sense of control and safety, and provides them with a sense of pride and identity. Home challenges in Europe include a lack of space, a lack of comfort, the feeling of having to keep up with the neighbors, not being able to own a home, and unhealthy homes. Europeans mostly believe that it is safer to rent a home than to own one compared to past generations and homes have generally become smaller over the last 50 years. Homes impact the environment in a variety of ways, including climate change, water resource depletion, and land use. Furniture waste is a major issue since there is very little market for second-hand furniture items in Europe. Homes in Europe, particularly in the UK, are being designed to address light, indoor air quality, temperature, functionality, and exposure to noise. Further details are in the analysis below.

Home Values

1. Suburban Living is a Priority

  • According to Porch, Europeans value suburban living (50.9%) over both rural (28.5%) and urban (20.6%) living.
  • In fact, 51.9% of Europeans want a waterfront property; 38.6% want a view of the coast, city or hills; 20.9% would like to live in the mountains, and nearly 25% want to “live in a greenbelt surrounded by nature.”
  • However, few Europeans want to live in gated communities (5.5%) or on cul-de-sacs (3.0%).
  • According to the Healthy Homes Barometers report, if they have the ability to do so, Europeans generally “move to the suburbs to be close to work opportunities and cultural activities, while seeking a better quality of life in terms of housing cost, pollution, noise and more space.”

2. Features

  • The ideal home for over half of Europeans is new construction, with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and an average of 1,589 square feet over 0.9 acres.
  • Their top choice for their home’s layout is ranch style, followed by cottage, Mediterranean, and farmhouse.
  • The most preferred features of Europeans’ homes are solar panels (64.2%), a swimming pool (58.2%), a library (54.3%), and central air conditioning (47.2%).
  • In the bedroom, Europeans desire a balcony (53.3%), an en-suite bathroom (39.1%) and a walk-in closet (37.0%) over any other features.

3. Space and Comfort

  • Europeans value spacious homes and in the GoodHome Report, a study of European homeowners, the Happiness Research Institute found that “a feeling of spaciousness is three times more important than actual size.”
  • Comfort is second only to safety when it comes to emotions people experience in relation to their homes, at 85%. The majority of respondents to the GoodHome survey spoke about their homes in terms of a “sanctuary” or a “safe haven.”

4. Safety and Control

  • The GoodHome Report found that 86% of Europeans experience the feeling of safety in relation to their homes.
  • According to the report, safety “doesn’t just mean feeling safe from physical threats. It can also be about the condition of [a] home, such as whether the structure is sound or if the roof leaks.”
  • Additionally, 73% of respondents indicated that they felt a sense of control in their homes, which suggests that people want to be able to control what happens in and around their homes.
  • Control is even more important than owning a home, as even renters said they were happy as long as they “feel a degree of control over home improvements and tenure.”

5. Pride and Identity

  • The Goodhome Report discovered that 64% of Europeans felt a sense of pride about their homes and 63% felt that their homes were an extension of their identity.
  • Pride is the “core emotion that best explains happiness in general and happiness in the home,” so having a home that one can be proud of provides Europeans with a sense of accomplishment.
  • Pride also comes from the desire to upgrade a home and perform improvements. Research has shown that 74% of people who are “both interested in and spend time doing home improvements are proud of their home.”
  • Europeans see their homes as a place where they can freely express themselves and their personalities, whether it’s through the color paint they choose for the exterior of their home or through the furniture they choose inside.
  • Those who intend to stay in a home longer are also more likely to be happy with their home compared to those who only plan to stay a short time. This is because Europeans get emotionally attached to where they feel settled, and these emotions increase both pride and feelings of identity.

Home Challenges

1. Lack of Space

  • According to the GoodHome Report, the biggest issue Europeans have with their homes is a lack of space, with 20% citing this challenge.
  • The lack of space does not necessarily mean indoor space, as the survey found that “having access to some kind of green space, like a garden or balcony, is universally important.”
  • Moreover, the report indicated that actual size of a house is not as important as a feeling of spaciousness.

2. Lack of Comfort

  • As indicated in the values, feeling comfortable in one’s home is critical for Europeans; however, many housing challenges make comfort an issue.
  • An unsatisfying temperature was named as a problem in 16% of European homes, 14% cited poor humidity and 9% cited poor air quality. All three conditions can be uncomfortable.
  • Approximately 6 million Europeans live in homes that cannot be adequately warmed.

3. Keeping Up With the Neighbors

  • Neighbors can be a positive aspect of a home, but Europeans also indicated that trying to keep up with the neighbors can cause unhappiness in a home.
  • The GoodHome Report found that Europeans’ “expectations are influenced by how the people around [them] live,” so if they fail to meet those expectations, it can result in dissatisfaction with one’s home.
  • For instance, a person who rents a house, but is surrounded by neighbors who own their homes is more likely to be unhappy in their home.
  • However, in a country like Germany, where 50% of the population rent their homes, a renter would feel more satisfied with their home.

4. Not Being Able to Own

  • Despite the fact that the GoodHome Report showed that renters can be just has happy as homeowners in their homes, Europeans still desire to own a house instead of rent.
  • An ING survey of Europeans found that 65% of non-homeowners “considered owning their own place to be a symbol of success, suggesting that buying is not just a financial decision.”
  • Ian Bright, a senior economist at ING stated that the survey’s findings suggested that “many people may become disenchanted with their lot,” since most people have a desire to buy a house. When they are unable to accomplish this goal, they may “feel incredibly frustrated with their housing choices in the future.”
  • Even young adults who believe owning a house is risky still believe it is the ideal situation, especially for family formation.

5. Unhealthy Homes

  • About 80 million Europeans live in unhealthy homes, according to the Healthy Home Barometers report.
  • Of that 80 million, 33% are children, with 26 million European children living in unhealthy homes.
  • A healthy home is one that has “good air quality, sufficient access to daylight and adequate ventilation.”
  • Mold, dampness, and poor ventilation are the primary culprits of unhealthy homes in Europe and have been linked to “higher levels of asthma, allergies, eczema, and lower and upper respiratory conditions.”
  • The Healthy Homes Barometers report found that 11.5 million children in Europe live in houses with leaky roofs, damp walls, or mold, which eliminates the safety requirement for a happy home.
  • Another 4.2 million Europeans live in homes that do not get enough daylight and 13 million are exposed to excessive noise pollution from neighbors or traffic.

Change in European Homes Over Time

1. Urban Versus Suburban

  • Between 1961 and 2011, suburban growth has increased 47% compared to urban growth, which has increased only 30%.
  • In Paris, the urban core has “shrunk from nearly 3 million people in 1954 to about 2.2 million today,” while the suburban population has boomed to 10 million.
  • The urban-to-suburban shift is evident across Europe, “though less spectacularly.”

2. Safer to Rent

  • Compared with 2007 respondents, more Europeans feel it is safer financially to rent a home than own one because “you can move out if your salary gets cut” or “it allows you to adapt to an unstable future.”
  • The “ease of entering homeownership” in the past made it a safer bet than renting, but following the mortgage crisis has now made entering (mortgaged) homeownership risky.

3. More Difficult to Complete Home Improvements

  • The ability to improve one’s home is the cornerstone of pride, which is a main factor in whether Europeans are happy in their homes.
  • Prior to 2008, securing a loan for home improvements was not difficult; however, since the recession in 2008, “lenders are less active in facilitating this type of investment, and there is a lack of available information about financing.”
  • Additionally, renters are less likely than homeowners to renovate their homes due to their anticipated length of stay. Now that there are more renters in the economy than there once was, home improvements have a lower priority for many Europeans.

4. Houses Have Become Smaller

Environmental Impact of European Homes

1. Direct Impacts

2. Energy Efficiency

  • According to a Better Places for People report, 75% of detached or semi-detached homes in Europe are not energy efficient.
  • In Northern Europe, the housing sector accounts for 40% of total energy consumption.
  • Despite these statistics, the European Environment Agency indicates that energy consumption of EU households decreased by 8% between 2005 and 2016.
  • Numerous initiatives have been put in place by the European Environment Agency to encourage energy efficiency, such as the Energy Labeling Directive, which encourages “producers and consumers to favor more energy-efficient appliances.”

3. Waste Production

  • In 2016, each European citizen generated 5.0 tons of waste, 45.7% of which was landfilled and 37.8% was recycled.
  • Households contributed 8% of the overall waste generation in the EU, which totaled 2.5 billion tons.
  • Iceland households contributed to 40% to its country’s waste generation, more than any other EU nation. Turkey and Portugal followed at 37% and 33% respectively.
  • Finnish households contributed just 1% to its country’s waste generation, the lowest of any EU nation. Bulgaria, Estonia, and Romania all contributed 2% to their countries’ waste generation and Sweden was just behind at 3%.
  • Four European cities have achieved significant progress in waste reduction:

4. Furniture’s Impact on the Environment

  • Approximately 25% of the world’s furniture is manufactured in the EU and in “most of the European countries the furniture sector represents between 2 and 4% of the production value of the overall manufacturing sector.”
  • The EU also accounts for 45% of the total world furniture trade, between 40% and 45% of world furniture imports, and between 30% and 35% of world furniture exports.
  • EU member states consume about €68 billion worth of furniture per year. Most in demand is wood furniture at nearly 3 million tons, kitchen furniture at 2.5 million tons, and mattresses at 1.75 million tons.
  • Kitchen furniture has an average carbon footprint of 31 kgCO2e (cabinets, countertops, drawers).
  • In 1990, UK furniture manufacturers generated 3.1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. This was reduced to 825,300 metric tons in 2017.

5. Furniture Waste

  • In EU countries, 10 million tons of furniture are discarded by businesses and consumers, the majority of which will be incinerated or deposited in a landfill.
  • Furniture in the EU accounts for over 4% of all municipal waste and only 10% of discarded furniture in Europe is recycled.
  • Germany wastes the most furniture at 2.25 million tons, followed by France, at just under 1.5 million tons.
  • Malta has nearly zero furniture waste, as does Luxemburg, Estonia, Cyprus, Latvia, Slovenia, Lithuania, Croatia, Slovakia, and Ireland.
  • Major challenges to circularity for furniture in Europe include lower quality materials and poor design, weak specifications, REACH regulations, a lack of consumer information on recycling and reusing furniture, limited furniture collection infrastructure, the high cost of repair, and low demand for second-hand furniture.

Home Designs for Health

1. Light

  • Natural light is important for mental health and it has been shown to “improve quality of life measures, quality and quantity of sleep, and reduce sick leave.”
  • People generally feel a sense of well-being in daylight and sunlight and feel more aware of the passage of time, which keeps the body’s rhythms in tune with nature.
  • Mental illness has been linked to abnormal circadian rhythms, according to the University of Oxford, which has led to the promotion of design that “harmonizes with nature and the seasons, has variety and stimulation, and has a particular focus on the role of light in supporting circadian rhythms.”
  • In the UK, designers are being trained to consider where daylight and sunlight will be the most useful in a residential structure. Specifically, controllability of lighting and the color of electric lighting are both key design issues.
  • External lighting is also critical for safety reasons and should be controllable based on the level of light required at specific times of the day or night.

2. Indoor Air Quality

  • As air quality is a main challenge to homes in Europe, design considerations are being implemented in residential house design.
  • Home openings and outdoor spaces should be oriented away from pollution sources when possible and landscaping features should be implemented to “reduce the impact of the poor external air quality.” It is always better to receive fresh air over filtrated air.
  • Moisture is a major issue in Europe, so homes need well-ventilated drying spaces to minimize the risk of moisture and mold.
  • Secure ventilation systems are necessary to provide homeowners with a sense of safety, particularly if windows cannot be kept open at night.
  • Air intake systems should be oriented as far away as possible from outside pollution sources.

3. Thermal Environment

  • Comfort is a key factor in whether people in Europe feel happy in their homes, and temperature is a primary indicator of comfort.
  • About 24,000 deaths in the UK each year are attributable to excess cold, which has prompted the NHS to issue guidelines for home design. According to the NHS, homes should be at least 18°C in winter for people who have decreased mobility, a lung or heart condition, or are 65 years or older. For healthy individuals, the NHS has set the guideline at between 18°C and 24°C.
  • Design elements can help heat a home naturally by orienting houses to “allow for a balance of sun and shade: ideally homes would be designed to receive low level sun in winter and block out high level sun in summer.”
  • Opting for thermal mass inside homes can also help regulate indoor temperatures.
  • Insulation, thermal bridging, and air tightness that go beyond building requirements are also necessary design features that will help regulate the home’s comfort level.
  • The UK’s traditionally mild climate meant that in the past, heat had been allowed to escape homes in a “fairly uncontrolled manner.” However, in recent years, “concern over energy costs and carbon emissions have led to increasingly airtight, thermally insulated homes.”
  • This focus on airtight homes, though, has led to the risk of overheating, which must be mitigated by design features as well.

4. Functionality

  • Functional homes are critical for reducing stress and protecting physical health.
  • Storage space is currently at a premium in the UK, and specifically storage and space for drying clothes tends to be the first cut when space is an issue.
  • The Nationally Described Space Standard for England has “minimum built-in storage requirements for varying size homes,” but it is only applied when Local Planning Authorities have indicated a need for its adoption.
  • Another functionality issue that is facing Europeans is a lack of outlets, which has become a problem due to the increase in rechargeable devices. This is also a safety issue in that overloaded outlets can cause fires.
  • Many European homeowners have also indicated that their homes’ systems are too complicated to operate, which means they will be less than functional. They may not be able to properly control their temperatures or cause them to use more fuel than necessary. This lack of control leads Europeans to feel uncomfortable in their homes.
  • Design guidelines to address these issues include planning a dedicated space for people to dry their clothes, even if it’s an outside line; the inclusion of a “generous number of sockets spread across every room in the home,” and the installation of “simple and effective controls that give residents the freedom to adjust their home controls, increase the opportunity for meeting comfort requirements while allowing self-regulation of health and well-being.”

5. Noise

  • The exposure to unwanted noise can cause both short- and long-term health issues.
  • In the short-term, noise can cause activity disturbance, the inability to hold conversations, and the disruption of sleep patterns.
  • Long-term health issues related to noise can include an increased risk of cardiovascular issues due to the stress that noise can place on people.
  • Likewise, the absence of control over noise in their homes can lead to “learned helplessness,” which can then trigger clinical depression.
  • Therefore, acoustic design is a key element of homes in Europe to enhance homeowners’ comfort and feelings of control in their homes.
  • The WHO, in conjunction with British guidance, has established recommendations that for external noise that is based on the room type. For example, bedrooms should be quieter, especially at night, whereas living areas can be exposed to more noise.
  • The design of windows and ventilation vents must be carefully balanced among light, temperature, air quality, and noise concerns. For instance, windows are often designed for light and ventilation, but if the owner cannot open the window because there is too much noise, the benefits for ventilation may be negated.
  • Sound insulation between buildings is regulated by local building codes, but design guidelines recommend going beyond the minimum requirements to “avoid occupant dissatisfaction with sound traveling between dwellings.”
  • The use of sound-absorbant materials should be considered to help mitigate internal noises from transmitting to other rooms in the house.
Glenn is the Lead Operations Research Analyst at The Digital Momentum with experience in research, statistical data analysis and interview techniques. A holder of degree in Economics. A true specialist in quantitative and qualitative research.

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