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Report: Safer, healthier and more environmentally-friendly apartments – and smaller

Ministry of the Environment
Publication date 15.9.2021 10.11
Press release

VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland has studied how new apartments have changed in 15 years. Now the buildings are safer, healthier and more energy-efficient. Growing focus on small apartments has responded to the demand, but due to the smaller floor area homes have become more difficult to adapt to different needs.

A study conducted by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland examines the changes in housing production between 2005 and 2020. Besides efficient land use, technical improvements and smaller average size of apartments, the characteristic changes in housing production include space savings and lower energy consumption. The production has successfully responded to the growing demand through effective zoning and housing policy, but this development has also led to a less diverse building stock.

With the growing numbers of small apartments, more research is needed e.g. on how long-term residents feel about living among frequently changing neighbours. The predominance of small apartments in a certain area should also be taken into account when studying the segregation of residential areas.

Healthier, safer and more energy-efficient apartments

Guidance by the authorities and product development have improved the health and safety aspects and energy efficiency of apartments. The change can be seen e.g. in better indoor air quality and sound insulation and in moisture control during the construction processes. Property-specific waste management has also advanced as the sorting of biowaste and glass and metal waste has become increasingly common, but small minimalist kitchens may not be easy to adapt to the needs of materials recycling.

More efficient heating and heat recovery have reduced the energy consumption of apartments. Despite the higher price of electricity, the residents pay less for energy because of the lower heating costs.

The building of single-room apartments has multiplied

In the past 15 years 301,500 apartments in blocks of flats and 54,000 in row houses have been built in Finland. The building of blocks of flats grew very strongly towards the end of the 2010s. Both the number of apartments per building and the number of floors have increased. The distribution of the types of apartments changed quite dramatically in 15 years: the number of single-room apartments in block of flats built at the end of the period was six times their number in the beginning of the period. The production of small apartments has been investor-driven: besides rental apartments, more than half of the single room apartments in housing companies have been sold to investors.

In recent years large numbers of single-room apartments with a “student flat concept” have been built in blocks of flats with a deep frame. These are characterised by similar floor plans, scarce opportunities to vary the furnishing solutions, and windows that open in just one direction. The darkness of the inner part of the frame is partly compensated for by the larger window area.

Former two-room (plus kitchen) apartment is today’s three-room apartment

Changes have also taken place in how the space has been designed. Now the floor area of a former two-room (plus kitchen) apartment has been divided into an apartment with three habitable rooms, one of them with an open kitchen. The habitability and functionality of the apartments and how well they are equipped are about the same, but especially in small apartments small bedrooms mean less life cycle flexibility. In this context this refers to how easily the bedrooms can be adapted to the residents’ needs in different stages of their life cycle. A flexible bedroom accommodates not just one bed but also a crib for a baby or a desk, and there is enough room to move about with assistive devices.

Combining the kitchen and living room has become increasingly common in both blocks of flats and row houses. Now hardly any separate kitchens are being built, except in large rental apartments in blocks of flats, which has made kitchens somewhat darker and more difficult to ventilate. In addition to separate kitchens, there are also no saunas in small apartments, and since 2010 much fewer shared saunas have been built in residential buildings. Some of the storage spaces have moved from basements and attics to the landings. 

VTT’s study provides information for discussion and decisions

“The study gives us comprehensive information on the trends and identifies issues where further study is needed. The housing barometer to be launched next year will tell us about the residents’ experiences and will provide us with an even more holistic view of the development needs related to the quality of housing,” Minister of the Environment Krista Mikkonen says.

The study by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland produces information on the trends in the quality of housing production in support of discussion and developing guidance in the sector. The aim was to find and analyse the causes for the changes and examine the impacts of the changes on the functionality, safety, healthiness, environmental properties and attractiveness of residential buildings and apartments. The study also covered the interdependencies between the quality, costs and prices of apartments. The previous study on the trends in the quality of housing production covered the years 1990 to 2005 and it was published in 2008.


Harri Hakaste
Senior Architect
Ministry of the Environment 
+358 29 525 0074

Terttu Vainio
Senior Scientist 
VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland
+358 20 722 3419