How Many Square Feet Should My House Be?

Average Square Footage of a House

The average house size is right around 2,500 square feet, but that doesn’t mean you should aim for the middle and hope for the best.

The answer to your specific home needs is likely to be more about your lifestyle than the specifications of different-sized houses, says Dennis Ouellette, vice president of operations at homebuilder Taylor Morrison in Dallas.

“Usually, buyers will tell us pretty quickly how the home they’re living in isn’t working for them and then we can demonstrate how to solve that concern,” Ouellette says.

Is 2000 square feet big?

For some families, like mine, the answer is “yes.” For other families, the answer is “no.” From what I’ve gathered based upon my own experience, coupled with extensive research, the level of comfort you can achieve in a home smaller than 2000 square feet is contingent upon three factors: 1. How many people you have living in your home spread across different generations?2. How you and your family conduct day-to-day living activities within the home?3. How intelligently the home’s floor plan is designed to best support those in-home activities?

Take a moment and think about your home and where your family spends the majority of its time. Are there rooms that rarely get used? More importantly, could you do without those rooms and extra footage and live in a much smaller, less expensive home?

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Figure out how much space you need

Say you have a family of four. The amount of space your family needs may be different than another family of the same size. The decision needs to be yours, based on how you want to live.

Be careful what you believe. Those offering home size recommendations are typically the people selling you a home. Ask yourself these questions to help you figure out how much house you need.

  • How many bedrooms do I need? While you can go larger or smaller, the average master bedroom in the U.S. measures around 225 square feet. The average additional bedroom is around 135 square feet.
  • How many baths do I need? The average master bath in the U.S. is around 160 square feet. You can figure about 40 square feet for a three-quarter bath and 20 square feet for a half-bath.
  • Do I want a single great room? If so, the average size is around 550 square feet.
  • How much space do I need in the kitchen? The average size in the U.S. is around 225 square feet. Another 40 square feet will give you a walk-in pantry.
  • Would I rather have an eat-in kitchen or a formal dining room? The average dining room size is about 220 square feet.
  • Are there any other spaces I want to add? The average laundry room is around 100 square feet (although you can save space by having one built into a hall closet), and the average foyer is around 100 square feet.

The Bottom Line: Bigger Isn’t Always Better

There are many factors to consider when buying a home, and lots of pressure to make “the right choice,” as if there is a one-size-fits-all answer to the kind of home you should buy.

Before buying, it’s important to think deeply about what matters to you so you can plan your budget accordingly and then find the home that fits your life. If you’re gearing up for a house hunt, make sure you start the preapproval process to get the best picture of what you can afford.

Ask The Pros

Learning how to calculate the square feet of a house can be a challenging task. Thankfully, there are experts to help you. It is common practice to hire a professional appraiser to accurately measure your home. Depending on the property’s size, the cost of an appraiser to measure the square footage can range from $100 to several hundred dollars. When an appraiser calculates the square feet of a house, they also only include areas that are heated and cooled. While two different appraisers will sometimes have different measurements on square footage, there is usually only a 1-3% variance. Appraisers will do their best to calculate square footage with scientific accuracy.

Think about your lifestyle

Growing families could benefit from an extra room for a baby, so opting for a property with more square footage, in this case, could be the right choice. Other needs should be kept in mind, too—would you like an office if you work from home, or is it more important to have space for a home workout studio? Ryshakov recommends asking yourself two questions: How much time do we plan to spend at home? Do we want to entertain often? Location is also a factor, notes Ryshakov: "City dwellers and suburban couples will think about space differently, so it depends," she says. "A city dweller may value convenience of location and public transportation more than square footage, for example. In contrast, a suburban couple might prefer a big backyard."

In most cases, more space is preferable: "Our latest research finds that people are more likely to increase space than to decrease space when moving to their forever homes," Fisher says. "This means it's usually preferable to have too much space versus too little." So, if you do have extra space, you can think outside the box and create a home gym, meditation space, playroom, or guest room.

The Ideal House Size And Layout

Owning a house equal to +/- 25% 2,422 square feet, the median size house as of 2021 gives you a typical middle class house size.

Since we don’t want to go outside the confines of the middle class, the ideal house size is therefore between 1,816 – 3,027 square feet. You can certainly go smaller, but there are some considerations that may crimp your lifestyle.

The ideal house size is one in which you feel comfortable while also having a high utilization of space. If you buy a house too big, you’ll have excess maintenance headaches, higher maintenance bills, more cleaning to do, higher heating bills, and likely higher property taxes.

Owning a house too big is like driving a diesel bus when there’s only four of you – a big waste of money. You won’t feel good about owning a non ideal house size with a bad layout.

How Much House Can I Afford?

That depends on your current life circumstances. But it’s easy to get caught up in thinking that the amount you’ve been preapproved for is an amount you can afford, without considering whether you want that much of your monthly income going toward the monthly mortgage payment.

To identify how much house you think you can comfortably afford, take into account whether you like to eat out, how often you like to travel and to where, and any other lifestyle choices that might impact your personal bottom line and your ability to pay for a home. If you’re not careful in this self-assessment, you could end up feeling house poor.

Bigger Houses Are More Expensive To Maintain

The bigger the house, the higher the cost to maintain it. According to HomeAdvisor, the average cost of home repairs can range from $3,944 – $19,984, depending on your location and other factors.

Of course, starter homes tend to be older and therefore can cost more to maintain, so you have to pay close attention to the home inspection report and ask the seller about their maintenance history. But if the home has been renovated and reasonably well-maintained, smaller houses should cost less in upkeep.

They Take More Time To Clean And Maintain

Aside from the cost, larger homes take more time for cleaning and upkeep. A 1973 homeowner only had 1,660 feet of floor to vacuum, but someone in 2019 spent 60% more time vacuuming their 60% larger home.

They Tend To Be Built Farther From Urban Centers

Bigger homes tend to be farther from urban centers, which can drive up transportation costs and commute times. During the pandemic, many people are working remotely, but it remains to be seen whether that trend continues indefinitely.

Some people don’t mind commuting and relish the time they can spend reading on a train or bus. Other people hate commuting and think of it as a huge inconvenience that detracts from the time they spend with loved ones. Ask yourself whether the extra square footage makes that time and expense worthwhile for you.

They Have A Bigger Impact On The Planet

When it comes to sustainability, more is almost always more. This is especially true for millennials, who bought 38% of all homes sold in 2020. This trend report shows that environmentally friendly features are very important to younger home buyers, as is affordability. Smaller, energy-efficient homes beat larger homes in the eyes of millennial buyers.

What to leave out

A good rule of thumb to ensure you’re taking proper measurements is to exclude space you can’t walk on or live in. These types of spaces do not count as “gross living area.”

“Someone might think, ‘If I get the measurement of my first floor and I have a two-story house, I just multiply that by two,’” Day says. However, if that first floor includes a two-story foyer, you can’t count the non-usable space.

Basements and garages, even if they are finished, don’t generally count toward total square footage. Basements are typically excluded because they are built below grade, meaning below ground level. If your state does allow basements to be included in the total square footage of a home, though, you’ll likely need an ingress and egress, or a safe way to enter and exit the basement to the outside.

Finished attic spaces — with some regulations, including ceiling heights — can count toward the total square footage of your home. If you are planning to sell your home, work with a real estate agent to craft a listing that accurately reflects your property.

About the Author

Dana George Dana has been writing about personal finance for more than 20 years, specializing in loans, debt management, investments, and business.

The Ideal Number Of House Floors

Having one floor with no stairs is ideal for babies, toddlers, and elderly folks. Stairs are a safety hazard. Every time I carry my baby up or down the stairs I hang onto him and the railing for dear life. I’ve missed a step or slipped before by myself, and I don’t plan to do so again with such precious cargo.

If land is too expensive to have a one story house, then two floors is the second best thing. Make sure the stairs are carpeted or at least comfortably wide and not too steep. The edges of stairs can cause a big  gash.

Four story houses are simply too much of a pain to navigate. You might enjoy these tall layouts without kids. However, as soon as you have a baby or a knee injury, you would rather have less levels. Therefore, if you have more than three stories, you may want to get an elevator if possible.

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.

Budget-Minded Choices

One obvious constraint against more square footage is the relatively higher cost of bigger homes.

Some custom-home buyers want what they want and are willing to pay for enough space to accommodate their desires, while others reconfigure their needs to fit the size of home they can afford within their budget, says Ryan Thewes, a residential architect in Nashville, Tenn.

“Typically, buyers say, ‘We would like a 3,000-square-foot house. We have to have a gym. We have to have a crafts room.’ All of a sudden their house is 4,500 square feet,” Thewes says. “We can quickly do the math and say, ‘Is that theater room really worth X amount?’ A lot of the time, the answer is no.”

The room most often axed is the gym.

“It takes up a lot of space,” Thewes says. “A lot of times that can get allocated to the basement.”

How do you calculate a home’s square footage?

To calculate your new home’s square footage, you’ll need to go room by room. Measure the length and width of a room, then multiply them together to get the square footage of that room. Once you have the square footage of all spaces within the house, add them together to get the total square footage of the home.

How Much Space Do You Need?

Now that you know how to calculate square footage and how to decipher your future home’s space, it’s time to determine just how much you need. Of course, everyone’s situation is different. It would be great to have one bedroom for each one of your kids, but it’s also important to consider the size of common areas.

Are your potential kitchen and living room big enough to comfortably fit everyone? Do you often host large parties or have friends over? You may want to consider investing in larger common areas. Depending on how often you spend time in those areas, you may want to invest in the larger space. 

Size andCost

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.

Valuation

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 ebookThe 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).

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