Compare Your Home’s Square Footage to Nationwide Surveys of Owners and Renters

Why should you care about your home’s square footage?

Because inevitably, bigger living spaces trigger bigger spending.

We all know that buyers of big homes suffer through higher down payments, broker commissions, and closing costs.

But that’s just the start of their pain.

After the deed to a mega-home is signed, the high costs continue as the owner pays more for: (1) monthly mortgage interest; (2) property taxes; (3) homeowners insurance; (4) maintenance and repairs (the more the house, the more that breaks); (5) utilities (bigger houses cost more to heat and cool); (6) furniture (more rooms mean more beds, chairs, and lava-lamps); (7) decorations (more paint, floor coverings, pictures, and Hummel figurines); and (8) cleaning expenses (3.5 baths means a lot of Tidy-Bowl, my friend).

Renters of big homes don’t escape these daunting fiscal burdens. Landlords charge more to recoup the costs of larger rentals. And just like big-space homeowners, big-space renters pay more out-of-pocket for utilities, furnishings, decorations, and cleaning supplies.

The Wrong Way to Compare the Size of Your Home

The most cited survey of housing is the Census Bureau’s Survey of Construction (SOC).  The SOC provides nationwide statistics on the square footage of new single-family and multifamily housing units.

But the SOC can be misleading because it surveys new housing only. The latest SOC, for example, reports that the median average floor area in new single-family houses is 2,453 square feet and the mean average is a whopping 2,657 square feet. See 2014 Characteristics of New Housing at p. 345. The press hypes this data as proof that Americans are crazy for big-box houses. But with its myopic focus on new housing stock, the SOC covers only a tiny sample of the overall housing supply. There are 133 million housing units nationwide; fewer than one percent of them are new.

If you’re curious about how your living space compares to others, you need a survey that covers the nation’s entire supply of homes, and not just its new construction. Perhaps you’ve been patting yourself on the back because you’ve seen the news articles and believe that your home is smaller than average. But the typical American home is much smaller than the media suggests. A review of better data might make you reconsider the frugality of your current living space.

The Right Way to Compare the Size of Your Home

A better measure for ranking your home’s size is the American Housing Survey (AHS). The AHS encompasses the nation’s entire housing supply—old and new—but is underreported by journalists intent on hyping the McMansion craze.

Published by the Census Bureau for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the AHS is conducted in odd numbered years and samples approximately 60,000 homes nationwide of all types and sizes—from tiny mobile homes to sprawling estates.

One of the basic AHS metrics, housing size, relies upon each respondent’s best estimate of square footage. As defined by the AHS, “square footage” includes all basement space (whether finished or unfinished) and excludes unfinished attics, carports, attached garages, and porches not protected from weather (such as screened-in porches).

How to Use AHS Owner or Renter Data

The AHS reports square footage data for both occupied and unoccupied housing units. Because the vast majority of homes are occupied (87 percent), that’s the data used here.

If you own your residence, consult the first table below. If you rent, consult the second table. Both tables use 2013 AHS figures (the 2015 results haven’t been released yet).

To see where your home ranks in the AHS survey (as expanded by a process of linear interpolation) simply scroll down the “Sq Ft” column until you reach the figure that’s nearest to but not over your home’s square footage (including basement space). The corresponding number in the next column, which is labeled “All Units,” shows where your current shelter ranks among all occupied units.

If you also want to see a percentile that applies to your specific type of home, consult one of the remaining columns. The column labeled “1 Unit Detached” reports percentiles for single-family, free-standing homes. The “1 Unit Attached” column reports percentiles for townhomes and row houses. The “2 to 4 Units” column reports percentiles for duplexes and small condos/apartments. If you live in a larger housing complex use one of the columns that follow. Finally, the column labeled “Manufactured / Mobile Homes” reports the results for mobile homes, manufactured homes, and trailers.

Owner Data: Housing Unit Size for Homes Occupied By Owners

If your home is x square feet in size, then y percent of homes surveyed are smaller than yours

Sq All 1 Unit 1 Unit 2 to 5 to 10 to 20 to 50+ Manufactured/
Ft Units Detached Attached 4 Units 9 Units 19 Units 49 Units Units Mobile Homes
500 0.68% 0.38% 1.32% 2.67% 2.13% 3.02% 3.59% 3.46% 2.29%
550 1.11% 0.60% 1.68% 4.47% 3.62% 5.67% 5.90% 6.74% 4.02%
600 1.53% 0.82% 2.05% 6.26% 5.11% 8.33% 8.21% 10.03% 5.75%
650 1.96% 1.04% 2.42% 8.06% 6.60% 10.98% 10.51% 13.31% 7.48%
700 2.39% 1.25% 2.79% 9.85% 8.09% 13.63% 12.82% 16.60% 9.21%
750 2.81% 1.47% 3.15% 11.65% 9.57% 16.28% 15.13% 19.88% 10.94%
800 4.07% 2.29% 4.57% 15.06% 14.18% 21.86% 20.46% 24.67% 15.10%
850 5.33% 3.11% 5.98% 18.48% 18.79% 27.44% 25.79% 29.45% 19.26%
900 6.58% 3.94% 7.40% 21.89% 23.40% 33.02% 31.13% 34.24% 23.43%
950 7.84% 4.76% 8.81% 25.31% 28.01% 38.60% 36.46% 39.02% 27.59%
1000 9.10% 5.58% 10.22% 28.72% 32.62% 44.19% 41.79% 43.80% 31.75%
1050 11.48% 7.70% 13.48% 32.39% 36.51% 48.19% 45.59% 47.29% 35.59%
1100 13.85% 9.82% 16.74% 36.05% 40.39% 52.19% 49.38% 50.78% 39.42%
1150 16.23% 11.95% 19.99% 39.72% 44.27% 56.19% 53.18% 54.27% 43.25%
1200 18.60% 14.07% 23.25% 43.38% 48.16% 60.19% 56.97% 57.75% 47.09%
1250 20.98% 16.19% 26.51% 47.05% 52.04% 64.19% 60.77% 61.24% 50.92%
1300 23.36% 18.31% 29.76% 50.71% 55.92% 68.19% 64.56% 64.73% 54.75%
1350 25.73% 20.43% 33.02% 54.38% 59.80% 72.19% 68.36% 68.21% 58.59%
1400 28.11% 22.56% 36.28% 58.04% 63.69% 76.19% 72.15% 71.70% 62.42%
1450 30.49% 24.68% 39.53% 61.71% 67.57% 80.19% 75.95% 75.19% 66.26%
1500 32.86% 26.80% 42.79% 65.37% 71.45% 84.19% 79.74% 78.67% 70.09%
1550 35.36% 29.37% 45.71% 67.45% 73.60% 85.09% 81.18% 80.09% 72.00%
1600 37.86% 31.93% 48.63% 69.53% 75.74% 86.00% 82.62% 81.50% 73.92%
1650 40.36% 34.50% 51.55% 71.61% 77.89% 86.91% 84.05% 82.91% 75.83%
1700 42.86% 37.06% 54.47% 73.69% 80.04% 87.81% 85.49% 84.32% 77.74%
1750 45.36% 39.63% 57.39% 75.77% 82.18% 88.72% 86.92% 85.73% 79.66%
1800 47.85% 42.20% 60.31% 77.85% 84.33% 89.63% 88.36% 87.15% 81.57%
1850 50.35% 44.76% 63.23% 79.93% 86.47% 90.53% 89.79% 88.56% 83.48%
1900 52.85% 47.33% 66.15% 82.01% 88.62% 91.44% 91.23% 89.97% 85.39%
1950 55.35% 49.90% 69.07% 84.09% 90.76% 92.35% 92.67% 91.38% 87.31%
2000 57.85% 52.46% 71.98% 86.17% 92.91% 93.26% 94.10% 92.80% 89.22%
2050 59.64% 54.45% 73.42% 86.89% 93.37% 93.63% 94.44% 93.10% 89.86%
2100 61.43% 56.43% 74.85% 87.61% 93.83% 94.00% 94.77% 93.40% 90.51%
2150 63.22% 58.41% 76.29% 88.33% 94.29% 94.37% 95.10% 93.70% 91.15%
2200 65.01% 60.40% 77.72% 89.05% 94.75% 94.74% 95.44% 94.01% 91.80%
2250 66.81% 62.38% 79.15% 89.77% 95.21% 95.12% 95.77% 94.31% 92.44%
2300 68.60% 64.36% 80.59% 90.49% 95.67% 95.49% 96.10% 94.61% 93.09%
2350 70.39% 66.35% 82.02% 91.21% 96.13% 95.86% 96.44% 94.91% 93.73%
2400 72.18% 68.33% 83.45% 91.93% 96.60% 96.23% 96.77% 95.22% 94.38%
2450 73.97% 70.31% 84.89% 92.65% 97.06% 96.60% 97.10% 95.52% 95.02%
2500 75.76% 72.30% 86.32% 93.37% 97.52% 96.98% 97.44% 95.82% 95.67%
2550 76.71% 73.40% 86.81% 93.53% 97.57% 97.05% 97.45% 95.91% 95.80%
2600 77.67% 74.50% 87.31% 93.69% 97.62% 97.12% 97.46% 95.99% 95.92%
2650 78.62% 75.59% 87.80% 93.85% 97.68% 97.19% 97.47% 96.08% 96.05%
2700 79.57% 76.69% 88.29% 94.01% 97.73% 97.26% 97.49% 96.17% 96.18%
2750 80.52% 77.79% 88.79% 94.17% 97.78% 97.33% 97.50% 96.25% 96.31%
2800 81.48% 78.89% 89.28% 94.34% 97.84% 97.40% 97.51% 96.34% 96.43%
2850 82.43% 79.99% 89.78% 94.50% 97.89% 97.47% 97.53% 96.43% 96.56%
2900 83.38% 81.09% 90.27% 94.66% 97.94% 97.53% 97.54% 96.51% 96.69%
2950 84.33% 82.19% 90.76% 94.82% 98.00% 97.60% 97.55% 96.60% 96.81%
3000 85.29% 83.29% 91.26% 94.98% 98.05% 97.67% 97.56% 96.69% 96.94%
3050 85.74% 83.82% 91.50% 95.09% 98.10% 97.73% 97.60% 96.78% 97.00%
3100 86.20% 84.34% 91.75% 95.19% 98.16% 97.79% 97.64% 96.87% 97.07%
3150 86.66% 84.87% 92.00% 95.30% 98.21% 97.85% 97.68% 96.97% 97.13%
3200 87.12% 85.39% 92.25% 95.40% 98.26% 97.91% 97.72% 97.06% 97.19%
3250 87.57% 85.92% 92.50% 95.51% 98.32% 97.97% 97.76% 97.15% 97.25%
3300 88.03% 86.44% 92.74% 95.61% 98.37% 98.02% 97.79% 97.25% 97.31%
3350 88.49% 86.97% 92.99% 95.72% 98.42% 98.08% 97.83% 97.34% 97.37%
3400 88.94% 87.49% 93.24% 95.83% 98.48% 98.14% 97.87% 97.44% 97.44%
3450 89.40% 88.02% 93.49% 95.93% 98.53% 98.20% 97.91% 97.53% 97.50%
3500 89.86% 88.54% 93.74% 96.04% 98.58% 98.26% 97.95% 97.62% 97.56%
3550 90.32% 89.07% 93.98% 96.14% 98.63% 98.31% 97.99% 97.72% 97.62%
3600 90.77% 89.59% 94.23% 96.25% 98.69% 98.37% 98.03% 97.81% 97.68%
3650 91.23% 90.12% 94.48% 96.35% 98.74% 98.43% 98.06% 97.90% 97.75%
3700 91.69% 90.64% 94.73% 96.46% 98.79% 98.49% 98.10% 98.00% 97.81%
3750 92.15% 91.17% 94.98% 96.56% 98.85% 98.55% 98.14% 98.09% 97.87%
3800 92.60% 91.69% 95.22% 96.67% 98.90% 98.60% 98.18% 98.18% 97.93%
3850 93.06% 92.22% 95.47% 96.77% 98.95% 98.66% 98.22% 98.28% 97.99%
3900 93.52% 92.74% 95.72% 96.88% 99.01% 98.72% 98.26% 98.37% 98.05%
3950 93.97% 93.27% 95.97% 96.98% 99.06% 98.78% 98.29% 98.47% 98.12%
4000 94.43% 93.79% 96.22% 97.09% 99.11% 98.84% 98.33% 98.56% 98.18%

Source: http://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/ahs/data/2013/ahs-2013-summary-tables/national-summary-report-and-tables—ahs-2013.html, Table C-02-OO.

Renter Data: Housing Unit Size for Homes Occupied By Renters

If your home is x square feet in size, then y percent of homes surveyed are smaller than yours

Sq All 1 Unit 1 Unit 2 to 5 to 10 to 20 to 50+ Manufactured/
Ft Units Detached Attached 4 Units 9 Units 19 Units 49 Units Units Mobile Homes
500 7.30% 1.84% 4.80% 7.58% 8.80% 8.80% 14.64% 17.08% 5.17%
550 11.06% 2.79% 6.53% 12.10% 13.98% 14.33% 20.82% 23.82% 8.09%
600 14.81% 3.73% 8.26% 16.62% 19.16% 19.86% 27.01% 30.56% 11.01%
650 18.57% 4.68% 9.98% 21.14% 24.34% 25.39% 33.19% 37.30% 13.92%
700 22.32% 5.62% 11.71% 25.66% 29.52% 30.93% 39.38% 44.03% 16.84%
750 26.08% 6.57% 13.43% 30.18% 34.70% 36.46% 45.56% 50.77% 19.76%
800 31.11% 8.80% 17.47% 36.54% 41.71% 43.57% 51.26% 56.29% 26.01%
850 36.14% 11.04% 21.51% 42.90% 48.71% 50.69% 56.97% 61.81% 32.25%
900 41.17% 13.28% 25.55% 49.26% 55.72% 57.81% 62.67% 67.32% 38.50%
950 46.19% 15.51% 29.59% 55.62% 62.73% 64.92% 68.37% 72.84% 44.75%
1000 51.22% 17.75% 33.63% 61.97% 69.73% 72.04% 74.07% 78.36% 50.99%
1050 54.06% 21.24% 37.37% 64.73% 72.21% 74.45% 76.26% 80.05% 54.12%
1100 56.90% 24.73% 41.11% 67.49% 74.69% 76.87% 78.46% 81.74% 57.25%
1150 59.73% 28.22% 44.85% 70.25% 77.17% 79.29% 80.65% 83.44% 60.38%
1200 62.57% 31.70% 48.59% 73.00% 79.65% 81.70% 82.84% 85.13% 63.51%
1250 65.40% 35.19% 52.33% 75.76% 82.13% 84.12% 85.03% 86.83% 66.64%
1300 68.24% 38.68% 56.07% 78.52% 84.61% 86.54% 87.23% 88.52% 69.77%
1350 71.07% 42.17% 59.81% 81.27% 87.09% 88.95% 89.42% 90.22% 72.90%
1400 73.91% 45.66% 63.55% 84.03% 89.57% 91.37% 91.61% 91.91% 76.03%
1450 76.74% 49.14% 67.29% 86.79% 92.05% 93.79% 93.80% 93.61% 79.16%
1500 79.58% 52.63% 71.04% 89.55% 94.53% 96.20% 95.99% 95.30% 82.29%
1550 80.69% 55.06% 72.96% 90.15% 94.87% 96.43% 96.21% 95.52% 83.48%
1600 81.80% 57.50% 74.89% 90.76% 95.22% 96.65% 96.42% 95.73% 84.67%
1650 82.91% 59.93% 76.81% 91.37% 95.56% 96.88% 96.64% 95.95% 85.86%
1700 84.02% 62.37% 78.74% 91.98% 95.90% 97.10% 96.85% 96.16% 87.05%
1750 85.12% 64.80% 80.67% 92.59% 96.24% 97.33% 97.07% 96.38% 88.24%
1800 86.23% 67.23% 82.59% 93.20% 96.58% 97.55% 97.28% 96.59% 89.43%
1850 87.34% 69.67% 84.52% 93.80% 96.93% 97.78% 97.50% 96.81% 90.62%
1900 88.45% 72.10% 86.45% 94.41% 97.27% 98.00% 97.72% 97.02% 91.81%
1950 89.56% 74.53% 88.37% 95.02% 97.61% 98.22% 97.93% 97.23% 93.00%
2000 90.67% 76.97% 90.30% 95.63% 97.95% 98.45% 98.15% 97.45% 94.19%
2050 91.15% 78.18% 90.88% 95.82% 98.03% 98.51% 98.20% 97.53% 94.61%
2100 91.62% 79.39% 91.46% 96.01% 98.11% 98.58% 98.26% 97.62% 95.03%
2150 92.10% 80.60% 92.05% 96.20% 98.18% 98.64% 98.31% 97.70% 95.45%
2200 92.58% 81.81% 92.63% 96.39% 98.26% 98.71% 98.37% 97.79% 95.86%
2250 93.06% 83.02% 93.21% 96.58% 98.33% 98.77% 98.43% 97.87% 96.28%
2300 93.53% 84.23% 93.80% 96.77% 98.41% 98.84% 98.48% 97.95% 96.70%
2350 94.01% 85.44% 94.38% 96.96% 98.49% 98.90% 98.54% 98.04% 97.12%
2400 94.49% 86.65% 94.96% 97.15% 98.56% 98.97% 98.60% 98.12% 97.54%
2450 94.96% 87.86% 95.55% 97.33% 98.64% 99.03% 98.65% 98.20% 97.95%
2500 95.44% 89.07% 96.13% 97.52% 98.72% 99.10% 98.71% 98.29% 98.37%
2550 95.61% 89.54% 96.28% 97.59% 98.73% 99.11% 98.73% 98.30% 98.39%
2600 95.78% 90.00% 96.44% 97.65% 98.74% 99.13% 98.75% 98.30% 98.41%
2650 95.94% 90.47% 96.59% 97.72% 98.75% 99.14% 98.77% 98.31% 98.43%
2700 96.11% 90.94% 96.74% 97.78% 98.76% 99.15% 98.79% 98.32% 98.46%
2750 96.28% 91.41% 96.90% 97.85% 98.77% 99.17% 98.81% 98.32% 98.48%
2800 96.44% 91.88% 97.05% 97.91% 98.78% 99.18% 98.83% 98.33% 98.50%
2850 96.61% 92.34% 97.21% 97.97% 98.80% 99.19% 98.85% 98.34% 98.52%
2900 96.78% 92.81% 97.36% 98.04% 98.81% 99.21% 98.87% 98.34% 98.54%
2950 96.95% 93.28% 97.51% 98.10% 98.82% 99.22% 98.89% 98.35% 98.56%
3000 97.11% 93.75% 97.67% 98.17% 98.83% 99.24% 98.91% 98.36% 98.58%
3050 97.18% 93.92% 97.70% 98.19% 98.83% 99.24% 98.91% 98.37% 98.62%
3100 97.24% 94.10% 97.74% 98.22% 98.84% 99.25% 98.92% 98.39% 98.65%
3150 97.31% 94.28% 97.77% 98.25% 98.84% 99.26% 98.92% 98.41% 98.69%
3200 97.37% 94.46% 97.81% 98.27% 98.84% 99.26% 98.93% 98.43% 98.73%
3250 97.44% 94.64% 97.84% 98.30% 98.85% 99.27% 98.93% 98.45% 98.76%
3300 97.50% 94.82% 97.88% 98.33% 98.85% 99.28% 98.94% 98.47% 98.80%
3350 97.57% 95.00% 97.91% 98.35% 98.85% 99.28% 98.94% 98.48% 98.83%
3400 97.63% 95.18% 97.95% 98.38% 98.86% 99.29% 98.95% 98.50% 98.87%
3450 97.70% 95.36% 97.98% 98.41% 98.86% 99.30% 98.95% 98.52% 98.90%
3500 97.76% 95.54% 98.02% 98.43% 98.86% 99.31% 98.96% 98.54% 98.94%
3550 97.83% 95.72% 98.05% 98.46% 98.87% 99.31% 98.96% 98.56% 98.97%
3600 97.89% 95.89% 98.09% 98.49% 98.87% 99.32% 98.97% 98.58% 99.01%
3650 97.96% 96.07% 98.12% 98.51% 98.87% 99.33% 98.97% 98.60% 99.04%
3700 98.02% 96.25% 98.16% 98.54% 98.88% 99.33% 98.98% 98.61% 99.08%
3750 98.09% 96.43% 98.19% 98.57% 98.88% 99.34% 98.98% 98.63% 99.11%
3800 98.15% 96.61% 98.23% 98.59% 98.88% 99.35% 98.99% 98.65% 99.15%
3850 98.22% 96.79% 98.26% 98.62% 98.89% 99.35% 98.99% 98.67% 99.19%
3900 98.28% 96.97% 98.30% 98.65% 98.89% 99.36% 99.00% 98.69% 99.22%
3950 98.35% 97.15% 98.33% 98.67% 98.89% 99.37% 99.00% 98.71% 99.26%
4000 98.41% 97.33% 98.37% 98.70% 98.90% 99.38% 99.01% 98.72% 99.29%

Source: http://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/ahs/data/2013/ahs-2013-summary-tables/national-summary-report-and-tables—ahs-2013.html, Table C-02-RO.

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So what does the NHS tell you about the size of your current living space? Has it “moved” you to consider a switch to smaller quarters? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

And if you’d like to explore other Frugal Fringe calculators, click any of the following:

Photo Credit: Chris Waits (cropped to fit format)

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  1. Wow! Quite a difference between renters and owners when it comes to square footage! I was surprised to be at 67% for the home we own. We know it’s too big for us but it’s a real eye opener to realize just how big. I wonder what the numbers would look like as a square footage per inhabitant. I’m guessing that for a DINK couple, it would be shameful.

    Thanks for the insights the above offers. Truly eye opening!
    Free to Pursue recently posted…The Hidden Costs of ConvenienceMy Profile

    • F2P:

      I’d bet your ranking would be much lower than 67% if we were working with Canadian instead of USA housing data. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

      Noonan

  2. I read in the bureau of labor statistics survey that the % of the average family budget spent on housing went from ~20% in 1900 to 35% today, mostly because the avg single family house size went from 1600 sq ft to 2600 sq ft. Amazing how many financial problems could be prevented if people just lived smaller!
    Millennial Moola recently posted…Promposing Costs Are Out of ControlMy Profile

    • Which produces a happier home life: excess living space or an excess of savings?

      Thanks for stopping in Travis!