Redefining “enough space” – average house size around the world
How big is your house? Is it big enough? Is there an optimum house square footage of space per person? This post takes a look at the average house size around the world and asks how much space is enough.
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 square footage is enough space for a house? We also cover the contributors to the carbon footprint of a house here if you’re interested.
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 square footage. 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 footage of usable floor space, and include data for both houses and flats.
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.
The average house size in the US was 225 m2 (2426 ft2) in 2017. The average house size in the UK is relatively small at 76 m2 (818 ft2) while the average house size in Canada is 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.
Average US house size has been increasing over last 50 years
In the US, the average house size has been increasing since the 1970s. The peak was actually in 2015 at 2467 sq ft (229 sq meters) and then it dropped over the next two years. Our most recent data (in 2017) are from the US Census. Here we show a chart of the trend over time. House sizes continue to increase. One thing is for sure. Larger houses demand more heating and cooling. Unless increased demands are offset by other gains, we will see greater carbon emissions from residential energy needs.
There are ways to mitigate both heating and cooling demands. These include better insulation, and greater efficiency of heating and cooling technology. We cover ways to reduce heating and cooling demands.
Average house square footage of floor space per person
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. 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.
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.
The Graham Hill house is not so remarkable in certain countries
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 m2 per person is much more generous in a four person family than it is in a studio apartment for one.
London’s minimum space standard
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.
Smaller houses take less energy to build and keep habitable
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?
How much space do you think is enough?
I founded Shrink That Footprint in November 2012, after a long period of research. For many years I have calculated, studied and worked with carbon footprints, and Shrink That Footprint is that interest come to life.
I have an Economics degree from UCL, have previously worked as an energy efficiency analyst at BNEF and continue to work as a strategy consultant at Maneas. I have consulted to numerous clients in energy and finance, as well as the World Economic Forum.
When I’m not crunching carbon footprints you’ll often find me helping my two year old son tend to the tomatoes, salad and peppers growing in our upcycled greenhouse.