So What Exactly Is Included in Square Footage? Real Estate Experts Weigh In

Definition of Square Footage

Square footage is a measurement of area, and area is the measurement of any two-dimensional space contained within a set of lines. Think of it in the sense of a dance floor. Take a moment to imagine a dance floor that is 20 feet by 20 feet (6.09 meters by 6.09 meters). How do we express the area that it takes up? This one is easy, because the dance floor is a square. We simply multiply the width of the floor by the length of the floor, 20 feet times 20 feet equals 400 square feet. Therefore, the total area of the dance floor is 400 square feet (37.2 square meters). The equation is the same for a rectangle [source: MCWDN].

Area of a square or rectangle = Width x Length

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It’s important to keep in mind that a square foot doesn’t necessarily have to be shaped like a square. The dance floor above could be shaped like a triangle and cover the same amount of area. If you were asked to determine the area of a triangle or a circle, the equation would be different, but the concept is the same. Plug in the right numbers and you’ll get the right answer. Both equations are listed below.

Area of a triangle = ½ (Base x Height)

Area of a circle = 3.14 x radius2

So we’ve established that the square in square feet doesn’t refer to shape. All measurements of area are expressed in square units — the standard foot just happens to be the unit used in U.S. real estate.

Read on to find out how to calculate the square footage of a house.

It’s Hip to Be Square­­ Most houses are shaped like rectangles or squares, which makes calculating the square footage easy, whether you’re measuring outside or inside the home. But what if you need to measure inside a house that has an odd number of walls and corners that aren’t 90 degrees? That doesn’t have to be difficult either. Just break it down into smaller rectangles, squares and triangles. Then determine the square footage of each individual section and add them together.

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Is a porch included in a home’s square footage?

To be counted as finished square footage, a porch must be four-season. A four-season porch is much like any other room in the house, except that it provides clear views of the outdoors all year through a variety of windows. Four-season porches must have permanent heat sources to be included in a home’s finished square footage.

If a porch isn’t heated or only has screens (with no glass windows), then it is not part of the finished square footage count.

How To Measure Square Footage Of A House: FAQ

There is a lot of confusion surrounding the square footage of a home, likely because of misinformation and a lack of well-known guidelines. That being said, if something seems unclear, more often than not, someone has probably wondered the same thing. Below are some commonly asked questions about how to measure the square footage of a house.

Finished Vs. Unfinished

Generally speaking, unfinished areas of the home are not to be added to its total square footage. To be included, the area must be finished. For example, you can list unfinished areas — like basements — as unfinished bonus spaces, as long as you leave them out of the overall finished square footage calculation.

Are Basements Included In House Square Footage?

Basements have become the subject of many heated debates surrounding a home’s square footage. At the very least, the answer is, well, yes and no. You see, basements — whether they are finished or not — should not be considered in a home’s total square footage, according to ANSI. That said, it is completely acceptable for homeowners to list the size of their finished basement in a separate part of the listing (separate from the home’s actual gross living area). So while today’s standards advise against adding the square footage of a finished basement to the home’s GLA, there’s no reason you can’t include the actual size of it somewhere else in the listing.

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Does House Square Footage Include Garage?

Whether it’s finished or not, a home’s gross living area does not include the garage. According to ANSI, “garages and unfinished areas cannot be included in the calculation of finished square footage.” Most garages can’t count towards the square footage of a home because they are not typically on the same level as the home; they are usually lower.

How Many Square Feet Are In The Average House?

The average house has about 2,400 square feet. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the average square footage in 2017 was 2,426 square feet. In contrast, the average square footage was 1,660 in 1973. The number has steadily increased over the decades, reflecting Americans’ desire for more rooms and larger homes.

What Is The Square Footage Of A 12 X 12 Room?

A 12 X 12 room has 144 square feet. Simply put, square feet are calculated by multiplying the width by the length of a given room. Each room is then added up to get the total square feet of a house. Things can get complicated with add ons and other features that take away space from rooms. A good way to overcome any structural issues is to break each room into squares. Look for where walls line up and divide things in a way that makes square footage easier to calculate. You can then add up your smaller numbers to get a more accurate total.

Do Closets Count In Square Footage?

Closets do count in square footage, so long as they meet requirements applied to other areas of the house. What I mean by this is as long as closets are finished and meet the ceiling height requirements I mentioned above, they will count towards total square feet. The same logic can be applied to stairways, which are another gray area for calculating house square footage.

Total Area Vs Living Area

The total area refers to the full amount of space in a property, while the living area only includes rooms that rely on the main heating and air system. Living area is essentially another way to say square feet. On the other hand, total area will include garages, basements, balconies, and any other spaces that fall under the same roof. It is not uncommon to see both measurements given in a property listing or during an open house.

What Is Considered Livable Square Footage?

Livable square footage includes any room or space that uses the main heating and air system in a property. This includes bedrooms, bathrooms, closets, and more. The exact definition of livable square feet may be different from state to state. However, as a general rule, livable square footage refers to usable, heated spaces in a property. Keep this in mind as you calculate your house’s square feet, and ask a realtor or appraiser if you are unsure of your estimates.

What to leave in (and take out of) the square footage

But, of course, it’s not that simple.

Garage space is not included in square footage, and many standards do not count basements (even if they’re finished) in overall square footage. Either way, make sure to measure the basement’s square footage for your records — you can still include it in any future property listings.

Conversely, finished attic space that’s fit for habitation and boasts at least seven feet of clearance should be included in your GLA. The same is true for any additional stories in the house.

For example, suppose you’re describing a two-story home with a 1,500-square-foot first floor, 1,000-square-foot second floor, and 800-square-foot finished attic. You could list it as 3,300 square feet with 1,000 square feet of unfinished basement and a 600-foot garage. But to describe it as a 4,900-square-foot house would mislead potential buyers about the size, and unfairly boost the property’s value.

Why Is Square Footage Important?

Square footage is important in real estate because it is the clearest representation of the total area of livable space in a homeowner's property. Here is an overview of the practical reasons that square footage is important.

  • 1. Home value: Square footage is one of the variables factored into setting the listing price or determining the fair market value of a house. If you order an appraisal for your new house to determine its fair market value, the appraiser will factor the square footage of this house to similarly-sized homes in the area.
  • 2. Securing a mortgage: Most mortgage lenders will require homebuyers to get a home appraisal before granting them a loan to protect the lender from promising more money than the house is worth. If your appraiser finds that a home is worth less than it is listed for—potentially because of a square footage discrepancy—the buyer may not get a loan for the house unless the listing price is adjusted to affect the appraisal value.
  • 3. Property taxes: Assessing your home and measuring the square footage can help gauge whether a homeowner is paying too little or too much in property taxes. Your property’s square footage directly impacts the assessed value of the house, which influences property taxes you’re required to pay.

Convert among square inch, square foot, square yard and square meter

You could, for example, perform all of your measurements in inches or centimeters, calculate area in square inches or square centimeters then convert your final answer to the unit you need such as square feet or square meters.

To convert among square feet, yards and meters use the following conversion factors.  For other units use our calculator for area conversions.

  • Square Feet to Square Inches
    • multiply ft2 by 144 to get in2
  • Square Feet to Square Yards
    • multiply ft2 by 0.11111 to get yd2
  • Square Feet to Square Meters
    • multiply ft2 by 0.092903 to get m2
  • Square Yards to Square Feet
    • multiply yd2 by 9 to get ft2
  • Square Yards to Square Meters
    • multiply yd2 by 0.836127 to get m2
  • Square Meters to Square Inches
    • multiply m2 by 1,550 to get in2
  • Square Meters to Square Feet
    • multiply m2 by 10.7639 to get ft2
  • Square Meters to Square Yards
    • multiply m2 by 1.19599 to get yd2

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How is square footage measured? 

To calculate square feet you multiple the room’s length by its width. For example, a space that measures 10 feet by 10 feet totals out to 100 square feet.

Length x Width = Area Ex. 10 ft. x 10 ft. = 100 square feet

While this may sound simple enough, it can be complicated measuring the square footage of a house due to odd-shaped spaces and living space gray areas.

“Here in North Carolina, square footage is calculated to the outer edge of the dwelling. So to properly calculate the square footage, an owner would need to calculate the area by multiplying the length by width, and including the wall thicknesses in their measurements,” explains Matt Harmon a North Carolina-based, state-certified property appraiser.

“For example, if a square house measured 20-foot by 20-foot when measuring to the interior walls, and the walls were 0.4-foot thick, then to calculate the area, you’d need to multiply 20.8 by 20.8 to find the exact square footage.”

However, if you’re selling a condo in a multi-family unit — meaning that you only own the interior space, not the exterior building — you would only measure square footage from interior wall to interior wall.

Finished basements and attics do not add to the primary square footage

The square footage of a finished basement that is below grade (underground) adds less value than the square footage of above grade living space.

So if your home is 2,000 square feet, and you have an additional 1,000 square-foot finished basement, you cannot claim to have a 3,000 square-foot home if your local area values basement spaces at a lower dollar amount than the rest of the house.

In this instance, you would list your home at 2,000 square feet and then include the additional 1,000 square feet of living space in your finished basement in the listing notes.

The same is true of finished attic spaces. If the space has sloping roofs, inadequate windows, and forms of egress, then the area may not count towards your overall square footage.

To determine if your space makes the cut, consult an appraiser or an experienced real estate agent.

Source: (Point3D Commercial Imaging Ltd. / Unsplas
Source: (Point3D Commercial Imaging Ltd. / Unsplash)

Does a basement count as square footage?

As a general rule of thumb, basements usually do not count towards the square footage of a house. For a basement to increase a home’s square footage, it must meet certain criteria to be considered livable space, and such criteria can vary between states. Your local county assessor’s office determines whether appraisers can choose what is considered square footage towards a home’s Gross Living Area. Below we highlight some of the most common criteria a basement may have to meet to be included in your home’s total square footage.

  • A portion of the basement is above-ground – Basements that are 100% below ground usually do not count towards the square footage of a house.
  • The basement is finished – Flooring, walls, lighting, and other features must be similar to the main living areas of a house.
  • The basement is heated and conditioned – You cannot use a space heater to heat up a basement. 
  • The basement has legal ingress or egress – To account for safety, a legal escape point is necessary in case a fire breaks out. This could be an egress window or walkout door that leads to the outside.

Get in touch with a real estate agent or appraiser to best understand if your basement can be counted towards the square footage of your home.

When in doubt, ask the pros

If calculating the square feet of your particular property feels overwhelming, consider hiring a professional appraiser to do it. The average appraisal cost for a single-family home typically runs about $350. A condo appraisal fee is generally between $300 and $500, and multi-family home appraisals can run anywhere from $600 to $1,500.

While two different professional appraisers could evaluate the same home and come up with slightly different square footage figures, they do all aim for scientific accuracy. “We’re always shooting for somewhere between 1 to 3 percent variance,” Day says.

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