Houses still getting bigger and fancier instead of tighter and better

Suburban house
CC BY 2.0 For sale: single garage with single bathroom house

Sixty years ago, people bought little houses on big lots, usually with single garages, and about 3.3 people per household. Now, according to the US Census Bureau, the houses are twice as large and the average household is composed of 2.5 people.

This is all in a remarkable analysis of the data by Justin Fox on Bloomberg. Houses used to be mostly three bedroom designs, but now 46 percent are four bedrooms or more, and 37 percent have three bathrooms or more.

That's a lot of bathrooms; they used to be shared, sometimes even semi-divided because the fixtures, plumbing and finishes were really expensive. Now, everyone is like a little bit Kim Jong-un and wants their own.

front facade KB Homes, Florida/Promo image

And then there are the garages! Cars live much better lives than a lot of people do, getting 200 square feet per car. Now 85 percent of new single-family houses have two or more car garages, and almost nobody has the much healthier carport. Justin Fox writes:

None of the trends identified above will be shocking to anyone who has driven by a new subdivision in the past decade or two. It is interesting to see the slight downtrend in house size and number of rooms since 2015, which is probably due to the aforementioned rise in the number of millennials settling down and buying starter homes after a Great Recession-induced delay.

This is something we noted in the years after the Great Recession; since nobody had money except the very rich, the majority of houses were seriously big. But there also were not many houses being built; now that more people are in the marketplace, the houses that sell in greater numbers are smaller, and on smaller lots.

Justin Fox notes that there is more multifamily housing being built, but judging by his graph, not very much compared the continued recovery of single-family houses.

Alas, the Census data don't tell us what level of insulation people are paying for and whether they would rather have a high energy efficiency house instead of a third bathroom. I dug this up from an NAHB report which says people want greater efficiency, but it doesn't say whether they are actually willing to pay for it.


But we really shouldn't be building anything that isn't radically efficient, and it would help if a lot of them weren't in new subdivisions with three cars in those three-car garages because that is the only way anyone can get around. How long are we going to keep doing this?

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