Our very own Professional Building Designer, Tom Rogers, took the time and wrote up a commentary based on a recent article he read:
I was reading this article the other day titled, “Why are Americans homes so big?” This article talked about how American homes are larger than those in the rest of the world and the various reasons as to why. Currently, the US home exceeds 2,000 square feet in size, while in many other countries, the size of the home can be as low as 1,000 square feet. Looking back, the size of homes in America has increased since World War 2 when the average square footage in the famous Levittown suburb was only 850 square feet.
This made me question why houses are bigger and what we could do about it.
Obviously, there are many reasons as to why the houses are bigger and it starts with the American attitude that we have in general, which is bigger is better; this is seen in food with larger portions and “supersized” choices. The biggest reason, however, is the whole “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality; the competitive nature of humans and the need to “one up” the other person (i.e. always having to be better than the other, having bigger cars, etc.).
For some reason, people feel the need to compete with everyone on everything and it seems that the same goes with houses.
People have this conception that the bigger house shows off prestige, and it shows off that you are successful or well to do, but at the same time, that larger home and the showing off comes with a cost. That cost creates a larger debt that people have when they purchase these larger homes. We also tend to forget that it is not just the cost of the homes that increase, it is the livability of the homes, furnishing the homes, and maintaining the homes that increase as well.
Think back to the home that many of us grew up in, which were anywhere between 1,000 and, if you’re lucky, 2,000 square feet in the average American suburb (obviously, homes in the cities were likely a bit smaller). Families were larger in size back then (average household in 1972 was 3.06 people versus 2.7 in 2017), and somehow, we all were able to live in those smaller houses. Lifestyles were also different back then with more time spent outside, in the back yards, in the parks, and on the patios and porches. We didn’t stay inside our homes as much, we got out and did more. We also kept everything within terms of our income.
Nowadays, everybody sits and talks about downsizing but they’re downsizing to homes that are 2,300, 2,500, or 2,700 square feet with rooms that are no longer needed in today’s lifestyle. The formal dining has changed in the past 30 years; the formal dining room and formal living room have been relegated to non-essential places. People are more comfortable with one eating area that can be utilized for informal or formal occasions. The need for a formal living room has all but died out, as families congregate in larger informal family room settings or in the kitchen, which has changed to a more open concept to the rest of the house.
The accumulation of “stuff” was different.
I guess in a way, life was less disposable; many times, you would just hold on to the furniture for life or refurbished it with new fabric. Once a product had used up its convenience or service, it was gotten rid of. If a new piece of furniture was bought, we discarded the old and did not keep it around for someone or save it to put in a secondary room. Our room counts should be smaller; however, our room sizes are larger. Master bedrooms have become “master suites” with sitting rooms and luxurious master baths, and secondary bedrooms have increased from 100 square feet or less to roughly 140 or 150 square feet.
The larger homes are not actually giving you any greater value based on size; they are just costing more because you can’t put the emphasis on the interiors in the finish that you could with the smaller house. Prices of homes are going up; square footage price per house could be anywhere from $125 a square foot to over $200 a square foot.
In the future, I hope to see a time where the house size gets smaller, style and finishes on the interior are greater, and we spend more time focusing on how we live and the quality of that in which we live for instead of the quantity or size of which we live it.