How much house do you need?

How much house do you need?

For more than a decade, Jay Shafer of Tumbleweed Tiny House Company has lived in an 89 square-foot home.

His decision to live in a tiny house came from concerns about the effects a larger house would have on the environment, and his desire to not maintain a lot of unused or unusable space.

Obviously Jay's home is at the extreme low end of how small one can go with living space, but it meets his needs and allows him to live the simple lifestyle he was seeking. While it may seem impossibly small to the majority of people, 89 square feet is Jay's right-sized home.

Contrast this with the average American home, which in 2004, was 2349 square feet, up from 1695 square feet in 1974. In 30 years, the size of kitchens doubled, ground-floor ceilings grew by more than a foot, and bedrooms increased by 54 square feet. In 2004, the average family size was 2.6 people. Thirty years ago, it was 3.1 people. Our homes have been getting larger while our families are getting smaller.

But earlier this year USA TODAY reported a change in that trend:

New homes, after doubling in size since 1960, are shrinking. Last year, for the first time in at least 10 years, the average square footage of single-family homes under construction fell dramatically, from 2,629 in the second quarter to 2,343 in the fourth quarter, Census data show.

The average size of a new home is approximately 15 percent smaller than it was just a year ago. Architects and designers believe this trend toward smaller homes was caused by the economic meltdown — but they expect it to be a lasting change.

Too Big, Too Small

I've mentioned that my husband and I will be building a home soon, and we've gone back and forth with our architect on several sketches, trying to find our right-sized home. Most of the designs have been appealing, but some have been bigger than we need, and others smaller.

Buying or building too much home has a lot of drawbacks, including:

  • Environmental effects
  • Higher mortgage payment means more energy goes into paying for housing
  • Higher taxes and insurance
  • Requires more time and money to maintain and clean
  • Higher utility bills
  • More rooms to furnish

Buying or building too small is economical, but can cost in other ways. If your house is too small, you might face some of the following challenges:

  • No room to expand if you have kids.
  • Lack of storage space, even for basic household items.
  • Not enough room to entertain friends and family. (If you enjoy entertaining, that is!)
  • Lack of space for an office (if you work from home) or hobbies.
  • Feeling like you're living on top of your family members, with no personal space.

Finding a Size that is Just Right

Too big is a waste, and too small is a headache. How does one find a Goldilocks house — sized just right? There are many considerations, such as the following:

    • Lifestyle. Do you work from home and need office space? Do you travel a lot? How often do you entertain?
    • Family. Do you have children? If not, do you plan to have kids (and plan to stay in the same home)? Are there elderly relatives who live with you or might need to in the future?
    • Hobbies. Some hobbies require a bit of room, even if it's just a sewing cabinet or a dedicated space for a piano.
  • Future goals. Do you plan to live in the house for a long time? Do you want to travel? What are your savings goals?

Calculating the Size of your Goldilocks Home

Once you have an idea of what you need your house to do, you can calculate your magic number. In the article “Square Feat: Foot Steps”, architect Dan Maginn recommends starting with your current home and following these five steps:

    1. Measure and record each of the rooms in your current home, thinking in terms of the functions of each room. Include cooking, dining, bedrooms, closets, bathrooms, living, storage, circulation, and mechanical/utility space.
    1. Note whether each space feels too big or too small.
    1. Write down how your needs for each function might change in the future. For example, if you plan to stay in the house and have kids, bedroom space is a consideration.
    1. Given how the spaces currently feel and your future needs, adjust the sizes until the spaces feel right.
  1. Add up the adjusted numbers.

Right now our number is around 1800 square feet, with a loft that can be built out later if and when our needs change. That number sounds big to me, but looking at the plans, spaces, and considering our future needs (we don't plan to move from this house), it might just be our right-sized house.

What is the square footage of your right-sized living space? Do you currently live in more space than you need, or could you use some more room?

J.D.'s note: I love the Tumbleweed Homes. I want one.

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