U.S. Houses Are Big, But Not The Biggest

We’ve heard a lot about the rise of the “tiny house,” and fascinating as the phenomenon is and cool as so many of them are, there’s a way in which these extraordinarily small, one-room abodes – almost inevitably in places like Portland or Boulder, constructed by smart, young, enthusiastic DIYers – threaten to become a distraction.

After all, the real-life question for families with some means – and these are the people who have a choice about what sized home they live in – isn’t whether to live in a 400-square-foot home; it’s whether they need more than 2,000 square feet or not.

Two-thousand square feet? Yep, this is where the size of American homes has gone, according to information pulled together by Lindsay Wilson at the website Shrink That Footprint.

Actually, as Shrink That Footprint notes, they used 2009 data to make their chart, so the figure for the U.S. – an average size of 201 square meters, or 2,163 square feet – was down a bit due to the recession. But last June, the Census Bureau released data saying that in 2012, the median home in the U.S. hit an all-time record of 2,306 square feet (the Census Bureau had the 2009 median at 2,135; see this PDF). So it looks like Americans have gotten right back on the bigger-is-better house horse, the one that helped the median house size rise steadily from 1,525 feet in 1973.

How does this compare with the rest of the world? Well, as you might expect in the land of the McMansion, U.S. homes are big by global standards, even compared to wealthy nations. The Shrink That Footprint chart shows the U.K. coming in at 818 square feet, Sweden at 893 and France at 1205.

But the U.S. isn’t the king of big houses, at least not using the 2009 data: Australia won that (perhaps dubious) distinction, at 2,303 square feet.

Taking into account the size of households didn’t really shift the data too much, with Australia, the U.S. and Canada still the big three in the big space department when measured by floor space per resident.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

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