New Houses Get a Little Smaller

  • Huge houses are on the decline. (Photo courtesy of Brendel Signature)

The American dream of home ownership has become a trend of bigger and bigger houses. The square footage of new, detached houses crept upwards for decades even though families shrank. Recent economic troubles have stopped the big house trend. Shawn Allee reports:


You might not know it but the American dream of home ownership has translated into bigger and bigger houses.

The square footage of new, detached houses crept upward for decades, even though families shrank.
Shawn Allee reports recent economic troubles have stopped the big-house trend.

Housing stats kinda say it all.

Just after World War II, brand new single-family detached homes were about 1100 square feet.
By 2007, they were twice as big.
One builder, Andrew Konovodoff, says 2007 was the peak.

Konovodoff: My analogy is, you go to McDonalds, you can up-charge or supersize your meal and get a couple hundred extra french fries.

Alee: People did that with homes?

Konovodoff: Yeah. Money was available. People bought more home than they needed. Now, I think people have trended back the other way.

Konovodoff’s right.
The U-S Census bureau says brand-new homes shrank for two years straight, and home builders say they’re going to build smaller for at least another year.

That hasn’t happened in decades, and builders like Konovodoff are adjusting

In the smaller square footages you won’t see a formal dining room … you’ll have an eat-in kitchen. We’ve pushed out the formal dining room.

Konovodoff says he’s considering even smaller designs.
He says it’ll be trickier to make a good living, so he’s not exactly happy with the trend.
But there are people who are glad houses are getting smaller.

One of them’s Alex Wilson.
He edits a magazine called Environmental Building News.

Wilson: In building a house, we need lumber, new windows and a whole range of building materials. It’s just common sense that a smaller house will use less materials. Even with any material, a so-called green material made from recycled content, there’re still impacts from manufacturing that product and shipping it to the job site. So, when we use less, we reduce environmental impact.

Wilson says the size of new homes has dropped just a bit … maybe the equivalent of a big closet or a tiny, tiny dining room.

He’d like homes to see homes get even smaller, but that won’t happen until our heating and cooling bills jump higher.

Wilson: I think if we were paying five dollars a gallon for gasoline and equivalent prices for natural gas and heating oil, then we would see a much more dramatic drop in house size.

Wilson says most of us won’t demand or build small houses until we truly fear a life-time of high utility bills.

For The Environment Report, I’m Shawn Allee.

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