Houses: More Space Equals More Waste

There has been a growing trend (pun intended) in the United States over the past few decades. Average home sizes have increased even though the average household size has decreased. The more house you have the more you need to heat/cool, clean and light. It increases your carbon footprint and your bills.

Average Home Square Footage By Decade

1950 – 1000

1960 – 1200

1970 – 1500

1980 – 1575

1990 – 1900

2000 – 2250

2010 – 2550

2013 – 2600

Our desire to live in bigger and bigger houses is leading us down a road of less and less sustainability. In the 1950’s and 1960’s we had families of three or four living in houses half the size of what some families of two are living in today.

Average Family Size by Decade:

1960 – 3.67

1970 – 3.58

1980 – 3.29

1990 – 3.17

2000 – 3.17

2013 – 3.12

The average household size has decreasing across the country. So why do we need twice the space and three times as many bathrooms? As a building contractor, I worked on a 3000 square foot luxury home for a retired couple with no kids at home. That didn’t include the three car garage. It had five bedrooms and three bathrooms for two people. That’s not the biggest house I worked on during my life as a builder, but it was definitely the most square footage per person.

Why Houses Are Still Growing?

One of the reasons oversized homes are still being built is because current home buyers are wealthier today. Due to the housing collapse, the banks are not giving out loans as easily. The people with less money are not qualifying for a mortgage which statistically raises the average income of a home buyer. People with more money want to self indulge without thinking of the overall consequence. The other reason we still see massive homes being built is because they are in demand. Contractors generally only build what’s selling and big homes are what people want. A study by online real estate company Trulia showed that people want an average of 17% more space than they currently have. So big will likely continue.

The Good News:

The green movement is bigger than ever and like the current home size, it too continues to grow. Issues such as climate change and our individual carbon footprint have become household ideas. Owners of large homes are feeling the burden in their pocketbook and are upgrading to high efficiency appliances and LED lighting. Awareness for sustainability in homes has created a new trend in Tiny Homes. There are large groups in the United States who live in houses in the 100 – 500 square foot range that are designed for efficiency and creative space management.

What We Can Do:

Educating people is one of the first things we can do to help reduce demand for oversized houses. If your folks are retiring and thinking about building a massive luxury home, remind them of the negative aspects and talk to them about reducing the size. Encourage them to put that extra money into environmentally friendly upgrades. Solar panels, high efficiency spray-on insulation or geothermal AC unit are all extras that are green, help lower bills and increase value in the house.

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