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The Space Usage Experiment

by Nic Darling on October 29, 2008 · 8 comments

in Design,Philosophy

Those of you who have been following the conversation recently, particularly the one discussing square feet per person, probably heard my intention to track space usage in my own home. Basically, I said that use justifies space, and I was curious as to how my own lifestyle justified the space in which my wife and I live. Fortunately, my wife is accustomed to my crazy ideas, and over the last week we have tracked the exact time we spent in each room of our house.

Beginning last Tuesday my wife and I began tracking our use of each room in our home with a sign in/out system. Each room had its own sheet of paper where we would write the time we entered and exited the room (not including time spent sleeping or in my case . . . trying to sleep). The sign in sheets ended up looking like this:

Sign In Sheet

We divided our home into six spaces based on use. These included kitchen/dining, living room, bedroom, bathroom, art studio and patio. The change of weather and our lack of a heating option outdoors led us to eliminate the patio from the experiment, but in warmer months we spend a good deal of time out there.

The Darling House


These numbers are total “people minutes” meaning the cumulative time Marie and I spent in each room. So if we both spent an hour in a room it would receive 120 minutes.

Kitchen/Dining Room: 1,325 minutes – 46.7% of waking time
Living Room: 50 minutes – 1.7% of waking time
Art Studio: 325 minutes – 11.4% of waking time (just Marie)
Bedroom: 810 minutes – 28.5%
Bathroom: 325 minutes – 11.4%

Total: 2,835 minutes or 47.25 hours

What I Learned:

I learned several things from this experiment.

1. I spend too little time at home. Out of the total 336 hours (168 hours each) that comprised the duration of our experiment, we were only awake and at home for roughly 47.25 hours or 14% of the time, and my wife was there more than me. Granted, we were out of town for one night and the Phillies had us out on the town a bit more than usual, but this is still pretty low.

2. The design of our home greatly effects the way we use it. The front living room area is far more comfortable than the dining/kitchen area and yet we rarely spend time there. The break in the house caused by the stairway seems to corral us into one side. Also, the stair makes it impossible for someone in the living room to interact with someone in the kitchen. Since we are home so little, a good percentage of that time involves at least one of us cooking, cleaning or eating. The other wants to be close, and is thus sitting at the dining room table.

3. We could live in even less space than we do but it would be interesting to see how that effects are ability to entertain. I think the next time we have guests I will make the front room off limits and see how that effects our interaction.

4. Not having a television greatly effects the way we use space. I think our living room would have gotten more use if we had a TV. Instead, we watch Netflix movies on a laptop and head out on the town for sporting events.

5. You might be jumping to some strange conclusions about the large percentage of waking time spent in the bedroom. Go ahead and jump . . . but if you want the real story, it is largely due to the movie watching and the fact that I spend quite a bit of time reading in bed. I am starting to wonder if this is making my insomnia worse.

6. Marie, my wife, gets cranky when she only has 325 minutes in her studio, and if she wasn’t an artist, we never would have used that room. That said, the studio is also useful for housing guests when we have them.

7. I could spend a little less time in the bathroom.

I would be interested to see how an experiment like this would work for someone else. I’ll admit it is a bit of a pain to undertake, but if anyone wants to try it I would love to see the results.

Are there any conclusions, other than the ones above, that we can draw from this? Are we typical of a certain demographic, or are my wife and I an anomaly? Do you have any questions about the experiment or the results?

Let’s get into those comments.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Tim October 29, 2008 at 8:07 pm

You’re obviously very disciplined to undertake an experiment like this. I wish I’d tried this myself before starting to design a new home. Maybe it’s not too late.

Thanks for the really interesting information.

2 Scoats October 30, 2008 at 6:53 am

It’s an interesting and useful experiment, but you may have left an important aspect out.

You are only tracking quantity of time. I assert that you may want to work in some sort of weighting to capture quality of time spent in each room as well.

Another lesson may be that for many people the larger your house, the more likely you are to spend more time in it. And vice versa. I know I spend more time at home, now that I no longer live in a tiny house. I imagine that if I lived in a tiny apartment in Manhattan, I would never be home (living in NYC with so much to do 24/7 would justify living in a small space).

3 chad October 30, 2008 at 10:02 am

Scoats brings up an important factor that we don’t always speak about here. We are designing for a specific demographic that lives in an urban environment and doesn’t spend a whole heck of a lot of time at home. We are designing more towards singles and couples rather than full families of 4 or more at this point.

Our demographic is pretty far removed from many average families that don’t live in an urban setting. We are not trying to push this specific home on everyone in the country. Far from it. I think what Nic is pointing out is simply the way that we look at how much space we really need wherever we are and whoever we are. This will be different for our demographic (Nic & Marie) than it will be for many of our readers, but the basic philosophy remains intact.

4 Lisa October 30, 2008 at 10:35 am

I would try this experiment in a heartbeat if I still lived in a house. We are currently living in an RV for 18 months while we travel the country, trying to figure out where we want to live. We just know Florida is NOT it. After that we want to build a house ourselves, and want to maximize our use of space, and we need to figure out how much we really need. Although, after living in a shoebox, I might need 4,000 sq. ft. to be happy…

5 darin October 30, 2008 at 11:36 am


Great experiment! It would be interesting to see how a family with kids would shake out. 2 years ago, it was only me, my wife and our two dogs…I would imagine our results would look fairly close to yours. Now we have 2 kids. Time on the town has decreased, TV time has decrease and time in the kitchen and bedrooms (changing diapers, etc.) has increased.

It would be hard to make my 10 week old sign in and sign out though…maybe we could judge his time spent in a space by diaper count.

6 Russell October 30, 2008 at 12:54 pm

Great experiment. There are so many veriables in this though.
Examples: Number of people, lifestyle, work at home, existing floor plan design, dissabillities, culture, religion, even regional diffrences.
Any ideas on how to do a more generalized experiment? I think Nic’s experiment might even yied diferent results if the plan of his home was more open, or like he said “if there was a TV in the living room.

7 Nic Darling October 30, 2008 at 2:45 pm

This experiment was definitely less about producing useful data (for all the reasons mentioned) than it was about asking people to evaluate their own space and how they use it. It obviously doesn’t need to be done in as detailed a manner as my wife and I did it, but I think everyone could put more thought in this direction.

Quality of time spent in a space is a great concept, as is a broader ranging experiment. Obviously our lifestyle is a very specific case and it would be great to get a feel for other ways of addressing space.

As Chad said, the 100k home definitely has a specific demographic (probably much like my wife and I), but there is a more broadly applicable lesson here I think. Rather than asking, how much space can I possibly afford, we should be wondering how much we actually need to live comfortably. We should also be asking how good design could possibly lessen the needed space. The answer is going to vary greatly based on lifestyle, but the question is the same.

8 Rob October 31, 2008 at 12:58 pm

I wonder if there is a way to add the sf component back into this discussion. Like mins/sf per day or something to that effect. In addition I think this little experiment is really only telling to each individual household, as everyone’s will be slightly different.

While I didn’t track my girlfriend’s and my time as I said I would, I did pay more attention to how we use our home. And I can definitely see that our house is bigger than we can fully use at this point. That being said I know as we settle in, and as our child (yet to be born) gets older we will more fully utilize our space. This isn’t very definitive, I know, but it does reassure me that when we purchased our home 3 months ago, we looked far enough into the future to know that we will not out grow our home anytime soon.

I guess the question remains, what other considerations justify space? Visiting relatives? Lot size? Future family size?

For my girlfriend and I, a 2000 sf home is a bit large, but it will continue to serve us through well into the future.

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