Square footage per capita per house is a useful metric?


Square footage or even volume Per Capita/house is a measurement of what?

Taking part in the comment conversation on a couple of posts I have written led me to consider the way we think about home size. Typically, as one reader complained, homes are merely judged by their square footage and disregard the number of occupants. Meaning, that the owner of a large home with a big family might be criticized by small home proponents, while at the same time small homes are shunned for offering too little space for a family. Perhaps, instead of thinking of how large a house should or should not be, we should consider how much space each individual needs, a sort of square feet per capita idea.

The best way to start is by gaining a little historical perspective. The average American home in 1950 was 983 square feet (source) and, according to Census data (PDF), the average American household size was 3.37 people. This means that in 1950 the average American had 292 sfpp (square feet per person).

In the years that followed home size gradually grew and household size gradually fell until, in 2006, the average American household of 2.61 (source) shared a house of 2,349 square feet (source). So, in 2006, the average American had 900 sfpp, and that number has certainly grown in the last two years. I have heard average home size numbers approaching 2,800 square feet for 2008, but I couldn’t find a reliable source to quote.

So, seeing this wide range, the question remains . . . how much space do we need? Has the increase in sfpp seen a correlating increase in the quality of life? Are we three times more comfortable than we were in 1950? Are we three times happier? Could we, perhaps, manage to live in slightly smaller spaces than those with which we have become accustomed, particularly if it proves to have a positive impact on our environment, traffic congestion and other quality of life issues?

Obviously, there are a variety of factors that effect our need for space, and I’m sure many of these will come up in the comments. However, I would argue that, overall, our needs have become somewhat inflated. I would even say that in many cases we have taken our need for square footage into the realm of the absurd, and this does not simply apply to luxury home buyers. Our 1,200 square foot 100k House offers, to the average 2.6 person household, 462 sfpp (significantly more than was enjoyed in 1950), and yet we are constantly met with opposition based solely on size. Our entire housing industry, from building, to furnishing, to financing, is bent in the direction of more, but is it necessary? Does it help us actually live better lives?

Let’s talk it out in the comments. How many square feet does the average person need, and how should that be reflected in the types of homes we build?

Of course, what the house comes equipped with makes a big statement too.