Do We Still Want Such Big Houses?—Space and Efficiency VS. Square Footage

Thankfully, in my opinion, the days of Hummer Houses, McMansions and Super-Size Me homes are numbered.  The housing trend that began in the 90’s toward larger and larger houses for smaller and smaller families is reversing itself.  This has something to do with the fact that in this economic climate, people can’t afford to buy or maintain ostentatious mini-mansions.  Keeping up with the Jones is a time-honored tradition in the US.  So until the housing bust, people were buying the biggest houses that a lender would give them a loan for, whether or not they needed or could  afford it.  But the downsizing also has something to do with a greater consciousness about how large our ecological footprint is, or should be.

Since the average family has declined so dramatically over the past half century, why do people want such big houses? The average American home swelled from 983 square feet in 1950 to 2,349 square feet in 2004!  According to census data the average household size in 1950 was 3.37 people giving each household member 292 square feet person.  By 2006 the average household was 2.61 and the average square feet of a home had jumped to 2,349, giving each family member 900 square feet!  Is this progress?  Is it our God given and Constitutional right to take up more of the planet than we need?  I’m just asking.



I think what most people really want is a feeling of spaciousness, not necessarily humongous square footage.  As I show homes around the Northern Virginia area it’s impossible not to show older homes built anywhere from the 20’s to the 70’s that have closed in, crampy rooms with lots of walls separating each room from the next.  Without a doubt, buyers today—especially young buyers want open and flowing floor plans.  They want a kitchen that opens into a family or great room and the formal living room, in many cases, has gone the way of the model-T.  Why not use that space for a library, office or spare bedroom.  Buyers want a kitchen that has lots of counter space and maybe an island but it doesn’t have to be gigantic—just super functional.

Now I’m not saying there’s no justification for bigger homes.  More people work at home part or full time.  So they need an office.  Relatives no longer live next door, around the corner or on the other side of town.  They may live hundreds or thousands of miles away and space is needed to accommodate family visits.  But this doesn’t necessarily have to translate into thousands of extra square feet.  For example, that formal living room that’s no longer needed is now the office, which can house a pull out sofa or futon to become a guest room as needed.  Since most of us use laptops, we can have a portable office located in the kitchen desk area or on the extended kitchen countertop.

Wouldn’t looking at a home from the standpoint of higher performance in terms of space usage and efficiency rather than number of square feet make more sense?  Remember the first cell phones carried around in vinyl or leather cases, that were bigger than today’s land-line phones?  Cell phones got much smaller, with higher performance and much more efficient—oh, and less expensive too.  I mean, nobody wants a bigger phone, right?  Or remember the first laptops—expensive, large and heavy.  Fast-forward to today’s smaller laptops, netbooks and the Ipad.

Fortunately, builders are getting with the program and consciously building smaller but very space efficient homes, both for financial reasons and because they are seeing the same trend.  And counties around the country are putting the skids on overly large homes with new zoning regulations, higher taxes for homes over a certain size and/or using a green building checklist that the builder must adhere to.

All in all this trend and the changing model for home sizes is good for the home buyer’s wallet and for the fragile planet that we share with 7 billion other people.



Gayle Fleming


My purpose is to serve my clients and advocate for their highest and best good, so they attain their real estate goals.

2 responses to “Do We Still Want Such Big Houses?—Space and Efficiency VS. Square Footage

  1. Gayle, I agree completely of course. Over sized homes are on their way out. There will always be some demand for them but nothing like we’re seen in the past.

    I’ve been contemplating what we are going to do with the exisitng McMansions. What do communities do with these monsters? I’ve collected a few ideas to repurpose them. But we need communities to come together and come up with workable ideas to keep these McMansions from going to waste.

  2. I agree wholeheartedly! When we renovated our typical Arlington colonial several years ago, we had a tight budget and no desire to create a McMansion, with higher energy bills and lots of wasted space.

    We were inspired by the “Living in a Small House” philosophy, where each room has multiple functions and family members actually spend time together, instead of in their own separate rooms wired to personal computers and TV’s. Our kitchen table is the dining room table and the homework table. The back screen porch is our alternate dining space three seasons a year. Who needs more than two places to eat? Some homes have a kitchen counter with stools, eat-in kitchen table, formal dining room, AND a porch or patio table. How do they choose?!

    We have a single flat screen TV on the family room wall. We either all watch together, or some watch and some don’t. Less choices, more time together. No soaring ceilings that waste energy, no multiple sitting rooms that no one ever uses. And best of all, now we feel good about our smallish rooms and even smaller closets — we’re eco-friendly too!

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