Sunday 16 December 2012

Town Planning: Terraced houses

Two huge advantages of terraced housing over semi-detached or detached housing are as follows:

1. You don't absolutely need to lock your back door to the garden, and stuff which you have in the garden is far less likely to be nicked. This doesn't apply so much if you are at the end of the row, but it applies even more if your back garden backs on to the back gardens of another row of terraced houses behind. (The minor downside of this, as BJ points out in the comments, is that you have to be a bit careful carrying garden waste through the house).

2. You get less traffic noise when you are sitting in your back garden. I currently live in a detached house, and both my house and the building next door are built to within one yard of the fence, so the sound of cars going past is amplified if anything as it echoes through the gap. If you sitting in the back gardens between two rows of terraced houses, you notice the traffic noise much less, or at least, it is a steady background noise rather then you noticing individual cars.

3. The downside of living in a terraced house is that it doubles your chances of having an idiot neighbour who makes a noise. But assuming only a minority of neighbours do so (3%), the chances of not living next to and suffering from an idiot only goes down from 97% to 94.09%. This is the more relevant comparison.

4. A third more subtle point is that with a row of semi-detached houses, the strip of land between your back door (which in England is usually at the side, go figure) and the fence to your neighbour's house is either used to park the car or as access to a garage behind the house. This appears to be the least valued part.

In the heyday of semi-detached house building, cars were pretty leaky things, so it was good to park them in the garage when not in use, but nowadays, cars are much more resilient, and you can leave them parked outside to no ill effect. It is an absolute mystery to me why so many relatively new houses have inbuilt garages, it is a complete waste of space, you'd be better off leaving the car outside and having an extra room downstairs.

So when people want to extend their semi-detached houses, the first thing they do is a loft conversion (because that's the cheapest), and if they want to extend the footprint, they don't extend at the front (because that would spoil the appearance of the street and is usually against planning regulations for that very reason) and they don't want to lose any of their back garden, so they tend to build sideways, thus ending up with what is effectively terraced housing (image from Francis Builders):Usually this ends up looking a bit of a mess, it would usually have been better to build terraced houses with a wider frontage from Day One.

5. As we also know, on-street parking is in some respects better than in your own driveway:
a. Getting and out of traffic flows and crossing the pavement (half the time in reverse) is a right old faff, you have to be really careful about pedestrians, other motorists don't like it when you have to stop in the middle of the road to reverse in, and they don't like stopping for you when you have to come out again.
b. If your car is on your driveway, burglars know which house to burgle if they want to get the keys. If you have an old car in your driveway, you are at little risk of this, but if you have something swanky, it increases the chances you will be burgled. Apparently, some insurance companies offer lower premiums to people who park on the street.
c. You don't need to worry about some inconsiderate b*****d blocking you in on your driveway.

The obvious down side of on-street parking is that you can't always get a space right in front of your house (although parking spaces could be marked and allocated to houses, I suppose), which is not such an issue.

6. The two observations, that terraced housing is best and on-street parking is best can lead to a conflict if households on a street have more cars than will fit on the street.

Having paced this out on the street just now, I can report that cars parked lengthways on the street require about six yards of road. We also know that the average plot width of a typical terraced house is five-to-seven yards and of a semi-detached is about eight-to-ten yards. So as long as households only have one car on average, there is enough road space for everybody to park on the street; but every household has two cars, then the frontage would have to be about twelve yards.


Curmudgeon said...

Living in the frozen North, an important advantage of having a garage is that during the winter months you can get your car out and immediately drive off without having to de-ice it.

Also people tend to prefer semi-detached or even detached houses, given the choice.

Woodsy42 said...

"(although parking spaces could be marked and allocated to houses, I suppose"
Yes they do exactly that - they call them driveways!

Also many garages are used for storage/workshops etc. Unlike other countries our houses do not have useable basements - I don't understand why not, they revolutionise the way you use a house when all the messy bits can be banished to a basement.

But in most other respects I have to say (unusually) that I agree with you. My first house was a terraced one and it was an absolutely ideal starter home. Efficient use of space, cheap to heat and run, minimal outdoor maintenance, but with privacy from the road at the back and a garden.
I have watched their stupid Pathfinder scheme destroy acres of such cost-effective housing round here, along with the communites in them, and replace them with characterless semi detached boxes that the displaced owners could not afford to buy instead of renovating them.
But the problem comes when you need an extra bedroom, virtually all traditional terraced houses are a similar 2 bed design.

Bayard said...

"But the problem comes when you need an extra bedroom,"

Loft conversion?

benj said...

Taking the rubbish/garden waste through the house is a pain. It really buggers the fitted carpets.

Real homey think there Mark

Mark Wadsworth said...

C, there may be call for integral garages in the frozen north, but that's not the whole of the UK. And even then, it's only a few days a year, is it worth losing a whole downstairs room in exchange for not wasting five or ten minutes for five or ten days a year scraping ice?

W42, I covered the merits of on/off street parking. Another merit of on-street is that if a household has two cars, it can probably find space, if the house/garden-garage was planned with one car in mind then that's it.

As to basements, agreed of course, but that has nothing to do with terraced-versus-semi or detached. But there's a rule of human behaviour that says "more space, more crap".

As to terraced houses only having two bedrooms, that's nonsense. Round my way, the bog standard terrace has thee bedrooms. So let's compare a 3-bed terrace with a 3-bed semi to level the playing field.

B, yes, loft conversion is usually cheapest and best, but that applies to terraced as well as semi so is irrelevant for these purposes.

Mark Wadsworth said...

BJ, yes, some of what you gain in security from burglars you lose in having to be a bit careful when you take garden waste through the house.

In all honesty, the advantage of the former vastly outweighs the downside of the latter, unless you have a huge back garden which generates a huge amount of clippings, in which case land is not at a premium (or you are rich and can afford detached) and you buy yourself a detached. It's all trade-offs.

Kj said...

Agreed. In colder climates, an added bonus to terraced is that it shaves quite a bit off the heating bill.For the parking issue, the better terraced houses I've seen have separate plots with rented/reserved parking, much more efficient and you can allocate more of the street frontage to gardens or place the house closer to the street and make larger back gardens.

Curmudgeon: I live in such a place as well, but the garage is too valuable for the car, better used as storage/workshop. I use one of those nylon hoods for the car. In the morning I just start up the car, heat on full, remove the hood in 20 sec and I'm good to go.

Curmudgeon said...

My garage is in a separate block, so not usable as an additional room apart from storing crap in it.

Mark Wadsworth said...

Kj, yes it also reduces heating bills, if you want to reduce them further, have blocks of flats.

Kj, C, as to separate garage blocks, they really are rather grim. They never look nice and they never really feel like 'home'.

DBC Reed said...

"other road users don't like it when you stop in the road to reverse in".Then don't do it!!.It is maddening when somebody stops dead in front of you ,then starts reversing with no warning, then fails to make it first go and starts jiggling around in front of you,especially into parking bays in supermarkets!Most drivers can't back in to save their lives but insist on doing it for some perverse reason.I always assume they are totally conformist ,have huge mortgages and cannot afford to heat their houses.(This may be jumping to conclusions somewhat)

treble9man said...

Why not build terraces of 3 or 4 storey properties? Ground floor IS the garage cum workshop, with direct access through the garage to the garden so making it easy to move rubbish from back to front of house. A space in front of the garage could act as a (second) parking space.
Additionally, some of us ride a motorbike, which really needs secure parking to reduce theft and so street parking is a no-no.
Going for 3/4 storeys means plenty of space to put in spare rooms which could be configured for living or bed space as needed.

Mark Wadsworth said...

DBC, I can back in to my own drive. I know that I have to go full lock when my shoulder is level with the neighbour's post box and it works every time. In the meantime, I slap on the warning lights long before I slow down and stop.

T9M, agreed, but you are not comparing like with like. Of course, for a given plot size and footprint, 3 or 4 storey (i.e. cellar + 2 + convertible loft) is better than 2 storey, that is a separate debate, and there is also a trade off if you have too many floors with too few rooms on each as you spend half your time running up and down stairs.

As to your other suggestions, I have spent the last hour working these up into a proper diagram to illustrate the point and I have come to the same conclusions as you. You are quite right, but I like pictures better than explanations, so I have to faff about with a spreadsheet first.

Lola said...

T9M/MW. Three / four storey terraced houses are called 'town houses'. Very useful. (If I can get to Felixstowe I'll send you some pictures of two excellent sites my old dad developed in this way). Other than that, my, what complicated lives you big city boys lead. Out 'ere in the backwoods there are no neighbours (well not within 500 yds) and I can accommodate ooooooo 10 cars at least off the street, and I bet my home is not much more pricey than a decent sized semi in the Big City.

Old BE said...

There are houses in my area which are standard terrace width but which have a garage on the ground floor and I assume the front door opens up to a staircase.

I prefer terraces for all the reasons mentioned in the post plus I think they foster more of a community feel.


James Higham said...

Good article.

The downside of living in a terraced house is that it doubles your chances of having an idiot neighbour who makes a noise

True but that applies to flats and closely built housing anyway.

Mark Wadsworth said...

L, BE there are quite a few 'town houses' round where I live, nearly all were built with integral garage and half of them have converted that garage to be an extra downstairs room.

For the life of me, I can only think of one house where somebody converted a downstairs room into an integral garage.

JH, but somehow noise is ten times more annoying if it comes through the party wall than if it wafts across the fence.

DBC Reed said...

There is the general point about why a car is necessary in a well-designed town.Round here many of the semis were n't built with garages and ,there has been a lot of kerb-lowering and conversion of front gardens into parking lots which means wandering revellers can piss aginst up front walls when wending home from the pub (wait a minute most of the pubs have gone and all.Progress!)
The Bucks County Architect designed a North Bucks New City with scattered communities linked by monorail(!) paid for out of the rates and council house rents in order to minimise car use.But they built Milton Keynes instead.Progress!!

Mark Wadsworth said...

DBC, you are starting a completely different debate.

As you know perfectly well, it's all a trade off; live small, compact and convenient in the town centre and walk everywhere (or take 'bus or train) [high land values] or live out in the sticks where gardens are bigger but you need a car [low land values].

I've done both and I prefer the former, but each to his own.

Mark Wadsworth said...

DBC, as to monorail and buses and so on, greater minds than mine have calculated that there is a certain minimum population density required to make these worthwhile.

Bayard said...

"I've done both and I prefer the former, but each to his own."

Must be your continenetal upbringing. C20th "town planning" shows, that on, the whole, the British prefer the latter, probably because of the FBRI, hence all those empty properties in town centres and all the problems that spring therefrom. They don't have this in France, what about Germany?

Mark Wadsworth said...

B, Germany is far more like France than it is like Britain. And they just don't have NIMBYism on the scale that we do.

And it's nothing to do with continental upbringing. I grew up in a nice commuter suburb near Leeds/Bradford* and I just never really saw the point, in Germany I lived in a larger commuter suburb, almost a town*, I've lived in London Zone 3** and now I am out in the sticks again*.

* Places where you needed a car.

** Place where you don't need a car. Fourteen years quite happily without one.

DBC Reed said...

The paper you cite actually says the complete opposite. Abstract "The results reveal only a very weak correlation between density and public transport use."
(I would n't have thought I was changing the subject: which is,more or less ,"Why not convert integral garages into rooms?" Not really possible with true terraces:no garages,TSTBBO)

Mark Wadsworth said...

DBC, OK, let me rephrase that:

"there is a certain minimum population density required to make these commercially viable without a subsidy"

I do not mind subsidies for public transport, especially if they are paid out of LVT, but again, it's easier to rustle up the extra LVT if you build new stations in fairly densely populated areas. So if public transport (or indeed new or better roads or a by-pass) will fund itself out of LVT, then to my mind that project IS commercially viable.

Lola said...

That's a VERY good point. Currently, it seems to me, that subsidies are more about buying votes than real improvements in either infrastructure or production. LVT would tend to force politicians to spend tax money better. Well, I suppose we can hope that that would be the case.

benj said...


In the future, and if Grand Designs is anything to go by, in the future, we may all be living underground.

How would this affect my LVT bill?

Mark Wadsworth said...

L, ta.

BJ, a) why would we do that, and b) that still needs land, probably more land than if we live multi-storey.

benj said...

I don't know. Something to do with preserving the beauty of views across glorious our countryside. I think.

But, if you did live underground, you wouldn't be excluding anyone from access to the land above. People could still walk their dogs, go camping, fly kites etc.

In so far as LVT is about compensation for exclusion, I'm just seeing if underground dwellers still get a bill?

Kj said...

BJ: you are certainly excluding someone from building in the ground you are building. Exclusion is not about access to kite-flying or jogging, or that's just a small part of it, it's about excluding from economic opportunity.

benj said...


Ok, what about a Tardis? I've got you there, admit it!

Btw, LVT is supposed to be unavoidable, what about Gypsies?

I'd like to see you give them an LVT bill. Good luck with that one.

Mark Wadsworth said...

Bj, but you are still excluding other people from living underground in that location, so they have to dig a hole further away from wherever it is they'd like to dig a hole. As Kj points out.

You might as well ask "If I turf over my roof and allow the neighbour's kids to play on it, would I get and LVT discount?"

Tardis would of course be LVT free.

As to gypsies, don't forget that a) they don't mind paying site rental fees as long as they get left in peace and quiet.
b) they tend to occupy lower value land/small plots.
c) they would also be entitled to Citizen's Dividend.

The chances are, their CD entitlement would cover their site fees/LVT, so what's the problem? There'd be little or nothing to collect from them.

benj said...

So the Gypo's end up paying no tax.

Typical!!!, and you wonder why the public will never vote to introduce LVT?

Kj said...

BJ: A Tardis is what actually breaks the otherwise airtight case for LVT, you did it!

Mark Wadsworth said...

Bj, gypsies would end up paying the same amount of tax as anybody else who is prepared to live on a grotty camp site in the middle of nowhere, it's not special treatment for minorities.

In fact, about half the population would end up paying no tax under a full-on LVT/CD system.

Kj, although Tardis owners would pay no tax as such, they still have to meet up somewhere, like place of work, a pub, a nice beach, shopping centres, so the rental value of those places would be much higher than they are now.

Old BE said...

Tardis owners might have to pay LVT on the bit of pavement they are occupying for short periods, but longer term they would simply park in an age where there is no such tax and pop out to the future when necessary.


Mark Wadsworth said...

BE, sure, but what happens if all gypsies live underground in Tardises?

benj said...

Space and time are a natural resource too.

If we were to have a STLVT, that bloody doctor Who won't get away with it!

Ok, gypsies end up not paying any tax. Can we at least take away their right to vote? The Mail just won't swallow otherwise.

Mark Wadsworth said...

Bj, in practice "right to vote" means being on the electoral roll at a known address.

How do we check whether a person lives where he claims to? By checking whether the LVT is being paid. Hence if no LVT being paid, assume the address is unoccupied and hence the person is lying and strike him off the roll. And cancel his CD payments.


Old BE said...

How do we know that the gypsies don't already live underground in Tardises? After all, I never notice them when I'm out flying my kite.

Would we need LVT at all if we all lived equally-spaced throughout the space-time continuum? If we need to go jogging we can just go to a place and time with the requisite open space.


Kj said...

Second Life or whatever it's called is kind of like Tardis world isn't it? There are rents there as well.

Mark Wadsworth said...

BE: "How do we know that the gypsies don't already live underground in Tardises?"

We don't know for sure, it's just a working assumption that they don't.

"Would we need LVT at all if we all lived equally-spaced throughout the space-time continuum?"

If space and time are infinite, then no. The only animals that can slip between dimensions are deer, they'd be LVT exempt.

Kj, apparently so. More realistically, advertisers are prepared to pay more for some websites than others (although the value of a website is largely self-created, ignoring abuse of inevitable monopoly powers).

Lola said...

By the time you turn up to collect the LVT from tardis livers they will be somewhen else. And I don't think its 'tardises', I think it's tardii.

Bayard said...

Surely it's "tardes".

Lola said...

B. Your latin is better than mine...