Sydney has a growing housing efficiency problem with 600,000 homes having at least two bedrooms empty every night, a Department of Planning and Environment study has found.

Many of these underutilised larger homes are owned by empty nest older couples or singles in their 50s or older – including many in their 70s – who may prefer to downsize to terrace housing or apartments.

Another similar number of homes have one bedroom spare, bringing the total number of underutilised bedrooms across Sydney each night to a projected 1.8 million

The Department estimates the huge number of unused bedrooms in these homes is the equivalent of 20 years worth of housing supply based on 30,000 new housing completions each year.

Planning Minister Rob Stokes said the city at present had a shortage of 100,000 homes – and poor housing utilisation made the problem worse.

He said other research had shown many older people would like to downsize, including moving to terrace housing in their neighbourhood, if they had the option

“We need to find ways to make it easier for people who want to downsize to do so,” Mr Stokes said.

The research using 2011 Census data also found an overcrowding problem with six per cent of homes, mostly occupied by young families, having not enough bedrooms.

The Department’s analysis concludes that present trends, including a mini baby boom in recent years, suggest the housing efficiency problem will worsen.

Mr Stokes said older home owners who want an apartment or smaller home with reduced upkeep and maintenance stress should not be locked out of that choice.

“There is no suggestion anyone in a big home should be pressured to leave, absolutely not – but we need to look at how to ensure people have a choice.”

The study shows the housing inefficiency problem is most pressing in Sutherland, Ku-ring-ga, Hornsby, The Hills, and Blacktown local government areas.

In each of those LGAs, between 8000 and 9380 households headed by a person aged 65 or old have two or more spare bedrooms.

In the Local Government Areas of Ku-ring-gai, The Hills and Blacktown more than 70 per cent of households headed by a person aged 65 or older had two or more spare bedrooms.

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