Average Home Size Might be Turning the Corner: Geller

In an article hinting at one of the major challenges to suburban planning, both currently and in coming years, Michael Geller discusses trending changes in the average size of North American homes. The statistics he drops could also likely serve as ammunition for proponents of laneway housing:

According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., the average size of a Canadian house in 1945 was just over 800 square feet; in 1975, it was 1,075 square feet; and by 2000 it was 2,266 square feet. According to the National Association of Home Builders, the average home size in the United States more than doubled from the 1950s to 2,330 square feet in 2004, up from 1,400 square feet in 1970.
During the same period, the average household size decreased.

This trend, which encouraged low-density suburban sprawl (perhaps reflecting, or further enabled by, an accompanying cultural shift in aesthetic tastes), leaves us the unfortunate legacy of a sprawling and inefficient suburban infrastructure dependent on that abundant and inexpensive energy source - fossil fuels. This is all well known.

However, he remarks, the trend appears to be changing:

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median size of a new house dropped to 2,114 square feet in the fourth quarter of 2008, down more than 100 square feet from the first quarter of the year.
In Canada, according to CMHC, the size of the average new house has shrunk to under 2,000 square feet over the past year.

This could signal the beginning of a correction of this misdirection, par of which is one of the more interesting and important developments in planning, made more difficult due to the fact that this type of housing continues to be valued by many of those entering the housing market in the present day.

I find it fascinating that the average size of a new home in 1945 was around 800, and as late as 1975 was under 1100 square feet. 800 square feet is a big condo by today's standards, and hardly considered large enough to raise a family in - and families of today certainly aren't what they were in the postwar period. The biggest difference seems to be that we just have so much more stuff than we used to. I consider 1200 square feet an absolutely huge amount of space.

My own favourite houses, spotted while riding through the streets and alleys of East Vancouver, tend to be the prewar boxes, the low-key bungalows, even the old cottages. They tend to be under 1000 square feet and often below 800. The only problem is that, without the space to rent out the basement, they are simply unaffordable.

Laneway housing, rowhouses, and mid-rise apartments have so far seemed like part of the answer for increasing density - perhaps now the 'tiny' house will rise to become another: it would be interesting to see how the typical Vancouver lot could be turned into two or more, and your typical suburban lot into four.

>> photo by Robert Ciavarro.