How big is a house? Average house size by country

How much is enough

How big is your house?  Is it big enough? Is there an optimum amount of floor space per person?  This post takes a look at average house sizes around the world and asks how much space is enough.

Last month the New York Times published a piece about Graham Hill’s 420 square-foot (39 square-metre) apartment in which he argued that having less space and less stuff can create room in your life for more important things.

From a carbon emissions point of view you got the feeling that his travel habit probably negated much of the benefits of having less stuff (as pointed out by Christie Aschwanden).  But that aside it raised an interesting question: how much space is enough space?

A smaller home requires less embodied energy to build, has lower heating and cooling needs, needs fewer furnishings, takes less time to maintain and requires less work to fund.

In terms of carbon emissions small is beautiful.  But how small is too small? And how much space is enough?

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Average house size by country

If you asked all the people of the world whether they would prefer a bigger or smaller house I’d guess almost everyone would plump for more space.  That makes perfect sense for people living in small and overcrowded spaces, but is there a point at which we have enough space?

To get a little perspective I’ve put together a graphic to illustrate how big the average new home is around the world.

The figures are in square-meters of usable floor space, and include data for both houses and flats.

How big is a house

Click to the image to expand, or if you prefer square-feet click this link.

In the countries I could get data for the average new home varied in size from 45 m2 (484 ft2) in Hong Kong up to 214 m2 (2,303 ft2) in Australia.

US home size has fallen a little since the recession, to 201 m2 (2,164 ft2) in 2009.  UK house size is relatively small at  76 m2 (818 ft2) while Canadian houses are quite big at 181 m2 (1,948 ft2).  For China the data only reflects urban properties, which now average 60 m2 (646 ft2) and have almost doubled in size in the last 15 years.

There are all sorts of reasons for these differences.  Wealth levels, urbanization rates, land access and climate all play a part.  Nonetheless the scale of the differences is pretty fascinating.

The thing that is really missing from this picture is people.

Average floor space per person

We can take our analysis a little further by looking at how much floor space this equates to per person.

Using data on average household size we can estimate floor space per inhabitant for new homes.  This analysis is a bit rough and ready, as it assumes new homes are being built for the average household.  Nonetheless it is useful because it helps to control for the considerable differences in household size between countries.

Here are the figures in square-meters.

Average floor space per capita

Click to the image to expand, or if you prefer square-feet click this link.

At just 15 m2 (161 ft2) a person in Hong Kong has just a quarter of the floor space of the average Australian or American.

If Graham Hill lives by himself then his trendy 39  m2 (420 ft2) is similar to someone from Sweden.  In fact in the range from 30-45  m2 (323-484 ft2) are the averages for Italy, the UK, Japan, Spain, Sweden, France and Greece.

At our place we have 110  m2(1,184 ft2) for a family of four, which is 27  m2 (291 ft2) per person.  Having previously lived in a few different flats of 50-60 m2 as a couple this feels pretty palatial, and is certainly more than enough for us.  But 30  mper person is much more generous in a four person family than it is in a studio apartment for one.

In London they have a new minimum space standard as part of the London Plan.  For new flats the minimum standards are 37 m2 (398 ft2) for one person, 50 m2 (538 ft2) for two people in one bedroom, 61 m2 (657 ft2) for three people with two bedrooms, 70 m2 (753 ft2) for four people in two bedrooms and 74 m2 (797 ft2) for four people in three bedrooms.  Are these enough space?

In my mind if you have decent ceiling heights, good windows, clever storage and not too much stuff a little space can go a long way.

How much space do you think is enough?

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  • James Geddes

    Yes, it is a learned cultural thing, if it is a custom in a society, tied
    into socio-economic status then people will aspire for the best status, with greatest area.
    But this does not always reflect the price, in some historic homes,
    or homes with amazing views, and location or homes of cutting edge
    or culturally important design, there is a premium on price. It
    would be interesting to do a study of small sized blue chip design homes
    and historically important, to see the affect on prices in a world wide comparison.
    It could tell us which country values design over size to the greatest extent. But it would be difficult to set up a comparable set of stats to work from.

    Great article.

    • Lindsay Wilson

      I think the idea of aspiration cuts to the core of it, where bigger remains better house size continues to grow. Personally I’m much more excited by spaces that just really work, squeezing the maximum function out of a given amount of space. On the stats front I’d imagine teasing causality out of that data set (if you could get it) would be an econometric nightmare :-(

  • http://www.cellomomcars.com CelloMom

    Nice graphics!
    They include only enclosed space. In those areas where the climate is human-friendly you don’t actually need all that much house, since you spend a lot of time outdoors. In our western experience think of going camping: my parents used to take us on 6-8 week road trips, where four of us were very happy in a VW campervan without extensions. That’s about 10 sqm.

    You might be interested in Peter Menzel’s “Material World” in which families are photographed with all their belongings displayed outside their homes. The contrasts are stark; the book includes places for which there are no house size statistics.

    • Lindsay Wilson

      I’m guessing you didn’t have the cello back then? Couldn’t agree with you more, and naturally the figures we get data for a typically huge compared to many parts of the world. Our yearly family holiday is camping with about 10m2 of tent, and its the best 10 days of the year by some distance. I’ll check out Menzel

  • Eric Gold

    Hi Lindsay,

    Typo here …

    “At just 15 m2 (484 ft2) a person in Hong Kong”

    15 meter*meter = 161.4 foot*foot

    • Lindsay Wilson

      Thanks. Thankfully it was correct in the image, that would have been a real pain

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  • DDD

    Australia has a fascination with bigger. Big country, big cars, big houses and ever increasing waistlines – quite like America I guess.

    Land is so expensive in the major Australian cities, even on the outer fringe where the bulk of new housing occurs. As such people are convinced (perhaps by developers and fit-out companies with vested interest) to build the biggest house they can to get “value for money”. A somewhat perverse thought process in my opinion.

    The newer, bigger houses are so close to the boundary that there is little or no room for any significant vegetation (shade providing tees), and sometimes design features like shade providing eaves are done away with. This leaves little space for outdoor living, to which Australia is well suited. In a country as hot as Australia (and getting hotter) the only alternative to these good design features is air-conditioning, which has significantly increased in the past 20 years. Suburbs now collectively hum as air-con units pump out more heat and CO2.

    In terms of how much space, one observation I will make is that our 60 year old home has bedroom of the standard size for that time and now my children comment on how small the rooms are compared to their friends. Super size everything is the consumerism mantra.

    • Lindsay Wilson

      Big Banana, big merino, big cheese . . . we certainly do dig the massive. I grew up mostly in Canberra but live in the UK these days. Our house is decent by UK standards but back home you can get a garage this size. Obviously the warmer climate makes it easier to build big, but I also wonder if it is a bit of a new world thing, with Canada, the US and Australia significant outliers in house size.

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  • D.B

    My family of 8 lives in a home that is just under 1200 sq ft. This leaves about 150 sq ft per person. Many people that enter my home are amazed first that we can all fit in here and that it looks so nice and functions as well as it does with how many there are occupying it. Of course it is a bit cluttered, which is a constant battle. Until recently we hand washed all of our clothing too so that took up a lot of room. I think it is a little crowded here, but not too bad. With better organization and constant up keep it can be quite cozy.

  • ProfessionalCitizen

    When was this article written? Thanks in advance to anyone who can help.

    • Lindsay Wilson

      April 2013, but the data is for new builds in 2009. So they will no doubt have moved around a little

      • ProfessionalCitizen

        Thanks a bunch! Do you have any Idea where I could find something that would include already made homes as well? Census bureau site is down, unfortunately.

        • Lindsay Wilson

          No. I’ve searched for that with no joy. I’m sure you’ll find it for single countries, US exists, not sure about anything cross country

  • Miss Macy

    My husband and I both grew up in small houses. We bought a 2,200 sq. ft. new home in Texas six years ago and it feels like a palace to us. We opted for a three-bedroom model with huge bedrooms. God, I love this house. Most families in the neighborhood have four, five or six people living in the same size space.

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  • Simon Brooke

    My house is about 30M^2. I’m extremely pleased with it; it’s small, granted, but it’s comfortable, and there’s only one of me. Best of all, it cost less than £7,000 to build. http://blog.journeyman.cc/search/label/Winter%20Palace

    • Lindsay Wilson

      lol. that’s awesome! You are making these £100k home people look like chumps

    • Lindsay Wilson

      I’m loving your place. The build cost is spectacular too! Need to do a post on tiny houses at some point

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  • ali

    bought a 280sq m house after having a 158sq m. Believe me size isnt everything. I miss the old place, it was cosy. Now my living room is like a warehouse and feels cold to sit in. As the saying goes its not the size that counts its waht you do with it.

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  • eeriku

    The values here are not correct. You must compare with the same units to get comparable values. This is not the case in this blog since different units has been compared as the same. Below you will see that there are a big difference in contrast to the indifference presented above.

    The living area for Sweden is 92.8 m²/person (2008). For Japan it is 94.1 m²/dwelling (2008). Also, in Japan there is an average of 2.51 persons/dwelling (2008) and in Sweden it is 2.09 persons/dwelling (2010).

    Now we calculate the exclusive living area per person:
    Sweden: 92.8 m²/person
    Japan: (94.2m²/dwelling) / (2.51person/dwelling) = 37.5m²/person

    A difference by 250%

    And reverse, we calculate the average flat size:
    Sweden: (92.8m²/person) * (2.01persons/dwelling) = 187m²/dwelling
    Japan: 94.1m²/dwelling

    A difference by 200%

    From here we can se that Swedish flats are approx. the double in size according to Japanese. Also you can see that the japanese are approx. 2.5 times more crowded than the swedes.

    I suggest that you take the values proposed above with scepticism and not as the truth unless you get some reliable AND comparable sources.

    What is up with your source critics? Do you have references? I do:

    Swedish housing stats:
    http://www.scb.se/statistik/_publikationer/BO0801_2012A01_BR_BO01BR1201.pdf

    Japanese housing stats:
    http://www.stat.go.jp/data/nenkan/zuhyou/y1801000.xls

    • Lindsay Wilson

      Hello Eeriku.

      There is nothing wrong with comparison or calculation I have done here, but it is possible that study I used a source data was incorrect. I double checked it for Australia, the US, UK . . and it seemed fine so was happy to use it. From what you are saying the value for Sweden is not correct.

      If this turns out to be the case I will happily correct them. My original source for most of these statistics is the following research for the Commonwealth bank in Australia. Here is the link:

      http://images.comsec.com.au/ipo/UploadedImages/craigjames3f6189175551497fada1a4769f74d09c.pdf

      To the data in question:

      In my figures above Japan is 95m2/dwelling and 35 per person. Almost identical to your source, no issue there. For Sweden my source says 83m2/dwelling, implying 40m2 per person. Your saying 187m2, which is a giant difference, so the study I used could well be wrong?

      The data source I used claims 83m2 is the average size of new dwelllings in Sweden in 2008/09 (both apartments and houses). This could be because many apartments were built that year, but the difference is so huge that seems unlikely. I look into it further, including your link and if you figures are correct I will change the chart.

      Lindsay

      • Lindsay Wilson

        The numbers you have sighted for Sweden are completely incorrect. They come from a Dutch study whose tables were poorly copied to the Swedish one.

        The figures from original Dutch study are as follows, for all housing stock:

        Sweden: 92.8 m2 per dwellling, 45 m2 per person.

        My original Swedish figures 2008/09 builds are:

        Sweden: 83 m2 per dwelling, 40 m2 per person.

        Not identical, but completely reasonable. Here is the study (page 51):

        http://abonneren.rijksoverheid.nl/media/00/66/040531/438/housing_statistics_in_the_european_union_2010.pdf

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  • JLD

    For me one of the key factors is how houses are sold or rented. Here in Germany, houses are sold first on size and then on number of rooms (there is also a strict convention on what counts as a room, if it is not big enough it or the ceiling isn’t high enough it cannot be marketed as a full room). The end result is that when people talk about houses the area is the most important factor – and bigger is better.
    In the UK, the first factor is number of rooms and what Counts as a room is less well defined. size is an afterthought . Most people don’t even know how big, or little, a house they have. End result, smaller houses with lots of rooms.

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  • Christopher

    I am a French man living in China, before coming here I was expecting ridiculously small apartments but in fact I realize that because China use verticality a lot most apartments have a decent size (50~60sqm) even in poorer communities. Of course even here in downtown Shenzhen where the land is scarce you can still get massive apartments, I rent a 185sqm triplex (three floors) apartment next to the city’s landmark (Kingskey 100 tower) on a high floor for about 950euro per month.

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  • Amelia Smith

    I just looked up this article because a friend was over and said that the house seemed “very European.” Turns out that when it comes to size, she was right. We have a 1200 sq ft house for 4 people with minimal storage space. I expect that when the kids get to be teenagers it will feel pretty crowded, but for now it’s great — and our heating bill was literally 1/10th of what another friend of mine paid this winter, in a large old house 1 town over.

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  • Andygsept

    As far as I’m concerned people can build their mini-castles if they want, it’s no skin off my nose.
    Personally I’d be far happier with a small rural off-grid cabin and very
    little if no debt/mortgage and a much lower heating bill to boot.

    It’s my strong suspicion that a lot of other people would also be
    happier with this more minimalist, debt free approach thought they may
    not know it, and continue ignorantly with their therapeutic consumerism.
    Again, their choice.

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  • Starbuck007

    Typical log house during pioneer times was was from 10x 10 log cabin up to 24 x 32 house with sleeping loft for a family often with 8-12 kids. Average home in Hong Kong today is 464 sq. ft. Average home in most of Europe today is around 800 sq. ft.

    Starting out my career as a single I was comfortable in a 500 sq. ft. mobile home and later an apartment the same size.

  • kelly

    omg best thang thaer is

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  • Mohunch

    My wife and I live in a house that gives each of us 1,400 square feet. Our son just bought a home that gives him 2,500 square feet just for him.

    We keep our home at 74° year round. We consume 16,000 kwh each year.