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So Many Square Feet, So Few People

by Nic Darling on October 20, 2008 · 68 comments

in Philosophy

Taking part in the comment conversation on a couple of posts I have written led me to consider the way we think about home size. Typically, as one reader complained, homes are merely judged by their square footage and disregard the number of occupants. Meaning, that the owner of a large home with a big family might be criticized by small home proponents, while at the same time small homes are shunned for offering too little space for a family. Perhaps, instead of thinking of how large a house should or should not be, we should consider how much space each individual needs, a sort of square feet per capita idea.

The best way to start is by gaining a little historical perspective. The average American home in 1950 was 983 square feet (source) and, according to Census data (PDF), the average American household size was 3.37 people. This means that in 1950 the average American had 292 sfpp (square feet per person).

Square Feet Per PersonIn the years that followed home size gradually grew and household size gradually fell until, in 2006, the average American household of 2.61 (source) shared a house of 2,349 square feet (source). So, in 2006, the average American had 900 sfpp, and that number has certainly grown in the last two years. I have heard average home size numbers approaching 2,800 square feet for 2008, but I couldn’t find a reliable source to quote.

So, seeing this wide range, the question remains . . . how much space do we need? Has the increase in sfpp seen a correlating increase in the quality of life? Are we three times more comfortable than we were in 1950? Are we three times happier? Could we, perhaps, manage to live in slightly smaller spaces than those with which we have become accustomed, particularly if it proves to have a positive impact on our environment, traffic congestion and other quality of life issues?

Obviously, there are a variety of factors that effect our need for space, and I’m sure many of these will come up in the comments. However, I would argue that, overall, our needs have become somewhat inflated. I would even say that in many cases we have taken our need for square footage into the realm of the absurd, and this does not simply apply to luxury home buyers. Our 1,200 square foot 100k House offers, to the average 2.6 person household, 462 sfpp (significantly more than was enjoyed in 1950), and yet we are constantly met with opposition based solely on size.  Our entire housing industry, from building, to furnishing, to financing, is bent in the direction of more, but is it necessary? Does it help us actually live better lives?

Let’s talk it out in the comments. How many square feet does the average person need, and how should that be reflected in the types of homes we build?

If you enjoyed reading this post I can promise you'll love our new writing over at Postgreen Homes. Yeah, we know that's the same thing your favorite band said and their new album is nowhere near as good as their early stuff, but seriously, we are actually still getting better.

There also isn't much conversation to be had here . . . at least not with us. So come on over to the Postgreen Homes Blog and tell us what you think of our new(ish) digs and crazy ideas. We will be sure to tell you what we think of your opinion.

{ 10 trackbacks }

Square Feet Per Person – Fort Worthology
October 20, 2008 at 1:07 pm
Why Bigger? - The Changing Role of the Home | 100K House Blog
October 23, 2008 at 4:14 pm
The Space Usage Experiment | 100K House Blog
October 29, 2008 at 5:18 pm
100K House « Scoop Scoop
January 5, 2009 at 11:29 pm
Bedroom Decor – Small Room, Big Design « Wicked Blogging
August 1, 2009 at 4:45 pm
Square Footage with a Twist · Pall Spera Company Realtors Blog
August 30, 2010 at 12:34 pm
Why Smaller Homes are Often Ignored in Todays Market — 100K House Blog
October 22, 2010 at 11:24 am
Your Questions About Mid Century Modern House Plans | Home Design News
October 5, 2011 at 9:11 pm
Factory-Built and the Tiny House Trend |
March 15, 2013 at 2:09 pm
Home Sweet Home - My Night Owl Life
April 19, 2013 at 5:50 pm

{ 58 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kris December 4, 2010 at 1:36 am

Before we started designing our new house, we drew up a list of the rooms in our current house, the square footage and the ways we use each room. Then we looked at whether the current square footage was too great, too small, or just right. We then gave that info our architect during the initial design meeting. It was very helpful in helping us keep focused. I also discovered that we are very, very busy people. We use our spaces heavily with various activities and projects. 1000 square feet would never hold us comfortably, but I am impressed by people who can do that. Our new house will end up with 2 spaces larger than we need but that is mostly because they are the area above my husbands workshop. He currently has a separate building (nearly 800 sq. ft.) and wanted similar space designed into the new house. The workshop space has been used for everything from building our own whitewater slalom canoes to restoring a Model T to woodworking projects and more. I think what is key is for people to be conscious of what they like to do whether that is just hanging out by the TV or whether it is entertaining or building stuff or ???. Then they can find a house that works for them.

2 John April 1, 2011 at 9:15 am

I live by myself in a 1920′s era 1200 square foot house. Daily, I use a PC in a corner of dining room for hours, a tiny corner of the kitchen for minutes, a change of underwear and bed in bedroom (sleep 7 hours), and a few bathroom visits. I occasionally use various parts of basement workshop (200 sf – but not included in 1200 SF size of house). WHOLE rest of house is ‘warehouse’. Almost NEVER used. I go elsewhere to visit people, places. I have SERIOUSLY studied Jay Shafer’s TINY HOUSE (some only 70 Square Feet, + bed loft) concepts – think I would mostly fit, except for workshop. That could mostly fit in a second ‘Tiny WorkShop’. Maybe ‘Tiny Garage’ so I could occasionally work on my car. Again – ALL the rest of the ‘stuff’ does not really need total enviro controlled (highly TAXED !) space. Should just have a small barn – if that. So … 80% of the space I pay for is wasted ! (or at least, excess cost) Working on changing that ! (REDUCTION !). Girlfriends house (3 kids) different analysis, but still issues like ‘living room only used on holidays’ !, or dining room only for dinner !

3 Melodie July 5, 2011 at 9:43 am

1200 square feet, with just the two of us, is more than ample, and it was fine when our sons, now grown, lived there, as well. I always wished for a second bathroom and a guest room a couple of times a year, but we always managed. Now we spend most of our time in three rooms, have ample closet space in our 1949 home, although not all where I would like it! I think the design and layout of the house is more important than actual square footage. I have a large kitchen due to a 1970s remodel (ugh), and all it gained was floor! square footage = floor if the space is not designed to human scale!

4 Alex October 10, 2011 at 7:41 pm

I think the greater concern should be the sociological effects of a house that is too big. I’m in the middle of constructing a thesis relating the increased square footage of our homes to the increased vaporization of our families. Drug use, teen pregnancy, and divorce are all on the rise. SEXTING, (ridiculous) is running rampid. I think most of these problems come from a disconnected family, a result of a 2700 sqft homes.

5 Brandon January 18, 2012 at 8:18 pm

Yeah, you don’t want to overshoot your house’s size. 900 sffp is plenty, anymore causes division in the family (in my opinion). I live in a house over 7000 sq. ft., and we only have 3 people in my family. We don’t even use one of the floors in our house and some rooms we hardly even use. I hate living in this house and want to downsize back to our 3000 sq. ft. house

6 Louis-Charles Martel May 3, 2012 at 5:17 am

Thank you for the info. I find the two comments about family division very interesting.
I was primarily concerned with energy use and had not thought about the sociological impact. I have a tiny little “sun” room (10×10) where I work on my computer, do my business work, socialize (the little that I do) and generally hang out. With all the talk of efficiency in automobiles, why is there not more talk about housing? A contractor once told me that the reason he built such large expenses houses was that they were just as easy to sell as a small cape and he made more money. As simple as that. Just like trying to promote public transportation is difficult, I can’t imagine how you could convince someone to give up their castle.

7 Genna May 8, 2012 at 10:46 pm

I live in a 1925 bungalow, that is 628 sq ft, with my husband and two children. There are two bedrooms and one bath with lots of built-ins and a 4×9 closet in the master. With all that storage and a walk- up attic plus the basement, we have plenty of room for the time being. Would be great to have an extra bed or bath in a few years when the kids get tired of sharing, but it really puts into perspective what’s important. On a very positive side our family is always together!

8 Karen November 4, 2012 at 8:05 am

There are ten of us living in app 1300 sf. Recently we were headed toward moving into a 3000 sf rental. When we were applying one of the people involved bucked at the idea of us and our 8 children living in that space,so we are back to square one.

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