Owning a really big house still dominates the American Culture. The average family size shrank from 3.37 members in 1950 to 2.5 members in 2016 according to the Census Bureau. The square footage of the single family home has doubled.
Why the Big House?
After researching several articles, questioning myself and friends the answer is pretty lame. “Because we can!” Treehugger reports this on the McMansion situation in 2013
Money is cheap. Natural gas is cheap. The trades are cheap. What could possibly go wrong?
The dip in interest rates to 3-4% after 2008 maybe some of the cause, but the house sizes have steadily been on the rise from 1950 forward.
Average House Size in America
In 1950 the average house measured 1000 sq. ft. with 2 bedrooms and a single bath. The 70’s saw a jump to 1,500 hundred square feet with and increase in a bedrooms and bathrooms. Can you guess the average house size for 2016? Watch the 1 + minute expanding house video below from CNN to find out.
The National Census Bureau estimates that in the West houses jumped from 1895 sq. ft. to 2,798 sq. ft. from 1973-2016. With the shrinking size of the family that is about 1000 sq. ft. per family member. United States Census Bureau 2016 Characteristics of Housing pg 349
Comparisons with the Rest of the World
American house size is certainly a first world problem. In comparison to other first world countries the Average American Big House still out ranks all other countries except Australia.
What is the Cost of the Big House?
After the actual cost of the house itself think about time, energy and use. How many days a week do you have to work to afford the house? How much time do you actually spend in the house? Andrew Morrison explores this with some neat equations for figuring your time on the “work wagon” to afford the average America BIG HOUSE.
Do You Work for Your Big House?
My husband and I owned a 2400 sq ft house. On an average day, I left the house for jobs and school at 7:30 am and returned at 5 pm. Four days a week for 9.5 hours my family and I were not in the house. Plus on top of normal house maintenance and cleaning, the house required 10 cords of wood split and cut for the winter season and continual snow removal.
While the house did give shelter and a lot of space for 4 people, it required a tremendous amount of time and money to maintain.
Why build a Home to a Smaller Scale
As Dave Ramsey says “just because you can do something does not mean your should”.
The median price for a home in 1950 in inflation-adjusted dollars was $44,600, according to the Census Bureau. Compared to the current median price, that’s an increase of almost $192,000 in 67 years! –Dave Ramsey
Even more telling is a quote from Brazilian business man, Ricardo Semler, in his book 7 Day Week End about a house a neighbor built on San Palo. Semler describes the house as the size of a South American dictator’s compound.
da Vinci Constraint: a human cannot possibly feel at easy in such a disproportionately sized house.
Certainly my neighbor can live there, open it to photographers from design magazines and be admired from a far. But in winter, he will huddle in the tiny TV room on the second floor withdrawing from the cavernous rooms to seek more human scale.
How many owners of the Big American House find themselves huddling in a corner of the house? Drawn to the cozy niche that invites closeness on a human scale rather than a 1000 sq. ft. of distance between you and those who live in your home.
Currently living in 1000 sq. ft. space with two bigger sons than when we lived in 2400 sq. ft., I have asked myself why I felt I needed all that room? My only real answer is to provide “comfort for house guests” 3-4 times a year.
It seems silly to focus a whole housing plan around 6-8 weeks of guests per year. In reality 94% of the year the 4 members of my family could sprawl out in 600 sq ft apiece.
Is Home Debt Acceptable Debt?
Before the 1930’s a home buyer could only finance about 50% of their home purchase. The terms were short too– 5-15 years. After WWII, the 30 year fixed term loan became relatively standard and afford buyers the opportunity to finance up to 95% of their loan. More money over longer terms meant the ability to buy more house.
At present rates in a 30 year mortgage you will end up buying your house 3 times before you finish the payments. A $250,000 house becomes a $750,000 house even with low mortgage rates.
Does anyone else feel duped by a broken system?
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