How Big a House Is Big Enough?
At some point in homeowners’ lives, owning a big house is just about everyone's dream – but what constitutes “big”? Also, is a large house really that coveted when you consider long-term heating and cooling bills, property taxes, and the thought that the kids will be moving out ... someday (hopefully)? If you are looking for a big house, check out our home plans with 5 or more bedrooms.
On the flip side, you don't want a house where everybody in the family is cramped together, and the home won't have any resale value to anyone who has children. So knowing “how much square footage do I need” when building or buying is something every potential homeowner absolutely has to consider. Even if you find the perfect style of home, the question that’s always asked is, “Is it big enough?”
A lot of self-evaluation goes into determining “how big of a house do I need” when building or buying. You have to live in the now, but you also have to plan for the future. Some questions that need to be asked include:
• How long are you going to live here?
• Do you plan on having children?
• If you have kids now, how much longer are they going to be living with you?
• Do you have elderly family members who may be moving in someday? If so, you may want a one-story house or at least space on the first floor to accommodate them.
• Do you have extended family who will often visit and require guest rooms?
This Farmhouse/Craftsman home plan is just under 2,400 sq. ft., but it has a main-floor master, bedrooms upstairs, and a bonus room for future expansion, perfect if you want to keep your future options open for a growing family (House Plan #117-1124).
Family Size and Square Footage
Of course, it's virtually impossible to predict your future and the number of people who will be living with you at any given time – and thus what size house you will require. However, there are some industry averages, and you've likely got a good idea of either your long-term children or housemate goals.
To start, the average household size is 2.6 people, according to the most recent United States Census report. That number may seem low, especially when you think of the huge families of the past. What's even crazier is that the average house size has actually increased even though families are seemingly getting smaller. In 1973 the average square footage of a home was 1,660 square feet but now has risen to 2,631 square feet, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2017 Characteristics of New Housing, though that's down slightly from 2015s record-breaking 2,687 square feet. When you see an online estimate for a new roof or similar household renovations, it's usually based on 2,500 square feet.
Out of 795,000 single-family homes completed in 2017, 93 percent of them featured central air conditioning, and 46 percent had four bedrooms or more. This data and the favored home designs suggest that many homeowners are building what we call “forever homes” to serve and accommodate their needs with growing families and aging elders.
Obviously, some households have more than 2.6 people – and some have less. While 2,631 square feet may seem like a mansion to some, it might be more like a broom closet to others. Based on the national family and house-size averages, it could be estimated that about 1000 square feet per person should be calculated.
So if you are thinking about building a new home, you need to think seriously about whether or not you want to live in a home that's larger than 2,600 square feet.
Today's typical home features a gable roof and inside, a fireplace, dining room, guest room, family room, and main-level laundry.
Inside the home, trends are suggesting a desire for high ceilings, lots of windows that bring nature indoors, and flex spaces such as a great room, combined dining, and kitchen space. Homes with two or more stories represented about 50 percent (400,000) of homes completed, while over 37 percent (296,000) featured three or more bathrooms. Other trends included:
• About half had a floor area of at least 2,400 square feet.
• At least two garage bays were in almost 65 percent (517,000) of homes, and about 20 percent (163,000) had three or more garage bays.
Measuring right at the 2015 average house size of 2,687 sq. ft., this 3-bedroom, 2.5-bath Country Farmhouse home plan offers an open floor plan downstairs and a spacious master suite that has a fireplace and sitting area to spoil the owners (House Plan #126-1294).
Layout Trumps Size
Calculating out 1,000 square feet per person doesn't always work, however, because the perfect home for you and your family is more about design. This is where more self-evaluation comes into play. Real estate agents say that the kitchen is the most valuable room in selling a house, but what good is a large kitchen if you aren't a family that really cooks or entertains? On average, homeowners dedicate a little more than 10% of the house size to kitchen space. This percentage also depends on the number of rooms you have in total.
The difficult part about estimating how much square footage you need in a home is that you have to prepare for now – but also be aware of value when you sell down the line. Even if your family doesn't do a lot of cooking, a bigger kitchen is going to offer you value down the line, so it's an excellent investment.
The second most important room in the home, according to real estate agents, is the master bedroom. You may be surprised to learn that the average square footage of a bedroom – a master bedroom – is roughly the same as what should be allocated for your kitchen. Therefore, about one-fifth of your house is just a kitchen and a bedroom. That's misleading, though, based on layout. A kitchen might be attached to a dining room, for example, and some master bedrooms are much larger if they have a separate bathroom attached.
Another reason that it's so hard to predict how much square footage you'll need is that you may have totally different intentions for a room than the previous owner did. Is that spot upstairs an extra bedroom or an exercise space? Is that area downstairs a formal living or a home office? Percentage-wise, the National Association of Home Builders states that this is how much you should allocate for each type of room:
• Master bedroom – 12% (300 square feet)
• Other average bedrooms – 16% (432 square feet)
• Master bathroom – 6% (154 square feet)
• Kitchen – 12% (300 square feet) Dining room – 8% (192 square feet)
• Family (great) room – 12% (296 square feet)
• Living room – 9% (223 square feet)
According to the building industry, you should assign about the same amount of square footage to the kitchen, great room, and master bedroom in a new home. This spacious kitchen includes an eating area at the island (House Plan #142-1168).
The rest of the average home square footage is dedicated to other types of finished space, which might include a basement, pantry, laundry room, spare bathrooms, foyers, and more. To know how much space you need, you can add or subtract each type of room – including planning (or subtracting) for future household members. Keep in mind, though, that these are estimates to help with planning.
Square Footage Tips for New-Home Building
Obviously, the most control you'll have over square footage comes from when you are building new. You can not only add space and rooms but also dictate the layout. While building a new home is usually done as a long-term living solution, remember that the layout has to be flexible for when it comes time to sell as well.
In this regard, it's valuable to devote square footage to your kitchen whether you do a lot of meal prep or not. Bedrooms are also very appealing mostly because future buyers have the flexibility to convert one to a home office, for example, if they prefer. Bigger may not always be better, however. For example, a smaller bedroom actually adds value if it saves you enough space on your lot to devote to a deck or patio. Are you having a tough time visualizing the interior of your home? Some pre-drawn house plans include virtual reality house designs or walk-through videos that allow you to see the interior of the home.
This beautiful 3-bedroom, 2.5-bath Country style home plan is smaller than average, at just over 2,000 sq. ft., but offers a well-thought-out layout inside, as you can see in the floor plan, and plenty of room for outdoor living, with its covered front porch, covered rear porch, and outdoor kitchen area for entertaining (House Plan #142-1158).
Size and Cost
There are hundreds of variables in determining how much square footage you need. The national averages state that
• A small house is anything less than 1,000 square feet
• An average home is in the 2,500-square-foot range
• Large homes are 4,000 square feet and larger.
But does bigger necessarily mean better? Of course, size is directly correlated to how much you're going to spend on the home, and the budget is always important. So the answer to that question is no, it doesn't.
Smaller versus Larger Homes
Historically, smaller homes have been the norm. In 1950, the average home size was 983 square feet. By the year 2004, during the building boom, the average home size was 2,340 square feet. These days, as we've noted, it is over 2,600 square feet. [Source: The Survey of Construction (SOC) is a partially funded analysis by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).] Here are some pros and cons to help you decide how big your new home should be:
Cost factor. A smaller home costs less to build – and to run – than a larger home. Heating and cooling are significant factors. Home improvements like painting, roof replacement, or changing the carpeting or flooring cost more in a larger home, and let’s not forget home furnishings. On the contrary, smaller houses cost less thanks to square footage – think monthly utility bills, home improvement, and furnishings. Another pointer: a smaller home requires significantly less time to clean and maintain, and that includes the landscaping.
Better quality materials. Choosing a smaller house plan means you would never have to sacrifice quality in building or remodeling materials such as tiles, countertops, cabinets, flooring, etc. People who build McMansions often skimp on quality to save money.
Easier to sell. An oversize home's value will depreciate over time, plus energy costs make them harder to sell. A smaller home will be much easier to sell.
When it comes to how much value you can expect from your home, a single-family house sold last year for an average of $384,900 compared with $292,000 on average in 2012. What’s more, construction is at a seven-year high. Although the 795,000 new single-family homes built in 2017 are just under 49 percent of the 2006 total of 1,645,000, the numbers are up from 447,000 in 2011.
You can expect to pay roughly $123 per square foot for your new home, on average. This is a good way of initially determining how much house you can afford before you get into the nitty-gritty of the budgeting process.
Determining the actual value depends on the location (near schools, jobs, etc.), the other homes in the neighborhood, the age of the house if you’re buying an existing home, and more. In Detroit, for instance, you might pay $24 per square foot of your home, but that could balloon to $800+ on the coasts.
Figure out what you need to be comfortable with regard to your home size – but don't overdo it. And be sure to maximize the space you do have (finish a basement, create an outdoor living space, fix up a garage) and you'll buy with efficiency – and sell with profit. Connect with our home resources page to learn more about how to make homeownership – and renovation – a reality with a house that suits your needs. To learn more about the home building process, check out our ebook, The Ultimate Beginners Guide to Building Your Home.
Footnote: The lead image of this article is of a 1,250-sq.-ft. Country-style home plan with 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. For more information, click here (House Plan #142-1053).