February 19, 2015

Have US Houses Really Nearly Tripled In Size?


The Big Picture cited an info graphic from Treehugger that says that "avg. house size" of 1950 was 983 sq.ft. and in 2011 it was 2480 sq. ft.     So they're basically saying that home sizes have nearly tripled in America since the 1950's.     This is one of those examples where people say that houses have gotten bigger in the USA.  I dont' disagree with that point in general and I'm sure house sizes are bigger. But I might quibble on the details...

First, I'm not sure where claim that houses in 1950 averaged 983 sq. ft. came from.    Treehugger got the graphic from Mother Nature Network.   They cite the infographic as being courtesy of Masters in Human Resources.   I don't see any specific citation for that 983 figure for house sizes in 1950 from anyone.   And the infographic has been passed around the net and started with a site that seems to shill for online degrees.  

Now I'm not saying 983 is wrong but I just can't find a source for that number no matter how hard I search on Census or elsewhere.  I did found this paper that says :  "The average size of new houses increased from about 1,100 ft2 (100 m2) in the 1940s and 1950s..."    They talk about data from the Census and US Dept. of Housing and Urban Development.  The best I can find on the Census myself only goes back to 1973.    Median and average size of new construction.   They say the average new house was 1,660 in 1973 and 2,392 by 2010.   An NAHB paper says that the "typical" new home in 1950 was 1,000 sq.ft. or less.  This paper The U.S. Homebuilding Industry: A Half-Century of Building the American Dream has figure 5 that says the "Average Single-Family Home Size: 1,065 square feet They in turn cite the source as : US department of commerce bureau of the Census : US Department of housing and housing at the millennium facts figures and trends, a publication of The National Association of Home Builders"   They also have a chart for "Average New Single-Family Home Size, 1950 - 1972" showing the trend starting around 1,000 sq. ft in 1950 and going up to 1,634 in 1972.   They cite the US Department of Commerce Bureau of the Census as the source

I think thats enough data points to believe that the average new home size in 1950 was 1,000 to 1,100 sq. ft.  

But one thing to keep in mind that these are the stats for NEW houses built.    The size of a new house is not the same as the average size of houses in the nation.    Most people don't live in new houses and a lot of Americans still live in those 1,000 sq. ft. houses built in 1950.     Currently the median home size as of AHS 2011 data is 1,700 sq. ft.    People buying new houses are often buying bigger houses because they can afford them.   Plus if you're going to go to all the expense to build a new house then may as well make it a little bigger.   The additional cost to increase the sq. ft. is marginal compared to all the total construction costs and land.

Maybe its something unique to the city I grew up in but I recall a lot of older houses that were fairly big.   A relative of mine owned a house built in the 19th century and that was a really big old farm house that had 2 stories and 4 bedrooms.   That house is 2300 sq.ft.    Of course thats just anecdotal and maybe big old farm houses aren't at all the norm.     We also have an 1940's house that is a rental which is only about 830 sq. ft.   

I did a search of my home on Zillow for homes in one specific ZIP code.    I looked at only homes built in 1940's and homes built after 2000.   Just to compare those two specific timeframes.    This is what I found :



1940's 2000+
total 72 141
under 1000 6 1
1000 to 1500 24 42
1500 to 2000 23 45
over 2000 19 53
Median 1630 1770

This is just a small sample and very anecdotal.   Plus it ignores all the homes that were demolished in the past 75 years and the homes that were built in the 40's but then later expanded in size.    But in my small sample the difference in size is clearly not as stark as just saying houses are 2-3 times as big.    Houses are bigger.    There is a higher % of homes built in the 40's that are under 1000 and a higher % from the 2000 and later years that are over 2000.  But the median size is only a big larger.

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