How Much Square Footage Do I Need For My Family?

Computing Square Footage is Simple

With your tape measure and a pencil and paper in hand, start by measuring the rooms where you currently live as a point of comparison. The square footage calculation is simple. All you do is measure the length and width of a room. Then, multiply the two numbers. 

Here’s the full equation:

L x W = A, where L = Length, W = Width, and A = Area

To make a fair comparison with the houses you are looking at, only measure “finished spaces,” or those that are heated and cooled. In other words, even if you spend a lot of time in an enclosed porch that contains nothing more than a space heater, it shouldn’t count toward your house’s square footage. It won’t count on the listings, either.

Then put the area of each room in a column and add them up for the overall approximate square footage of the house.

Accounting for Uniquely-Shaped Rooms

Have a room that isn’t quite the typical rectangular shape? Find the area of certain sections of the room and add them up for the room’s total square footage.

Pro Tip: While you have the tape measure out, measure your larger furniture pieces, and even the size of your car. These numbers will come in handy when you visit a home in person and wonder how well your table will fit in the dining room or whether your car will fit in the garage.

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Deciding How Much Square Footage You Need

The amount of square footage you need depends on a variety of factors and it isn’t the same for everyone. If you live alone, you may not need as much space as you would if you were living with another person. When sharing your apartment with a roommate, consider how much space each of you will need to be comfortable (i.e., a private quiet space and a dining space). The amount of stuff you plan to bring along with you may also be a factor, along with the size of your furniture.

For example, if you must have a king-size bed, that will take up 42 square feet of your living space. Your eight-foot sectional will need at least a 12-foot wall. Measure the width and depth of your must-have pieces of furniture, and keep in mind that you’ll need some space around each item (roughly 30 inches) in order to move about.

How much square footage do I need per person?

The absolute bare minimum for a code-compliant tiny house in the United States is 88 square feet, but that’s not that much larger than the average modern prison cell, at 70 square feet. You could probably get away with about 200 square feet per person, but people need more than just places to eat, sleep and wash.

How much square footage you need as a single person depends on your lifestyle, budget and the amount of “stuff” you have. Ask yourself what you need to feel most comfortable in the place you’ll be living day in and day out.

  • If you work from home, can you effectively live in a studio with a dedicated office space? Or, do you need a room with a door?
  • Do you entertain and want a separate dining area?
  • Do you need storage space for large items such as a bicycle? A washer and dryer?
  • What’s your monthly budget? The larger your space the more you may pay in utilities — gas, water, electricity.
  • If you have a king-size bed and want to keep it, you’ll need a bedroom that’s at least 13 feet by 13 feet(169 square feet). Plus, you’ll need to make sure the shape of the room fits the bed. For example, a queen-size bed needs a 12-foot by 14-foot room, and a California king needs one that’s 14-feet by 12-feet — same square footage but different shape.

The Bedroom-Living Space Ratio

Despite that steady rise in square footage, design is so crucial that a smaller home might be a better fit for a particular buyer than a larger one, depending on “the way the square footage is assembled,” says Jay Kallos, vice president of architecture at Ashton Woods in Atlanta.

One important element is the ratio between bedrooms and living space. The bedroom count, Kallos explains, is “the primary driver” for total square footage.

“A rule of thumb that we have is: for every bedroom, you need to provide places for two people to sit in the dining area and living area,” he says.

Another of Kallos’ rules of thumb is that each generation — grandparents, parents and children — living in a home should have an “away space” that affords privacy from other family members. In an urban area, that space might be outside the home. In a suburban local, it’s more likely to be within.

Factors To Consider When Considering Home Size

When considering how much square footage you need, it can help to first break down your needs into the different types of space in a home.

Let’s look at the common spaces within a house, their average sizes, and what to consider about each. (Average sizes are based on a 2,480-square-foot home.)

  2020 Average Square Footage Calculations Primary bedroom 298 sq. ft. Primary bath 149 sq. ft. Kitchen 288 sq. ft. Dining room 184 sq. ft. Living room 213 sq. ft. Family room 285 sq. ft. 2 other bedrooms 417 sq. ft. 2 other baths 156 sq. ft. Laundry room 92 sq. ft. Foyer 84 sq. ft. Other finished spaces 315 sq. ft.

Bedrooms

To find out how many bedrooms you need while living in this home, ask yourself:

  • If you have children and/or plan to while living in the home, how many bedrooms will you need for them?
  • Will you need a bedroom(s) for relatives who will be living with you now or in the future?
  • Do you need a guest bedroom so you can have friends and family stay with you?
  • How much space do you want for the primary bedroom? Do you want two walk-in closets or a sitting area?

All of these will impact the square footage you need. A master bedroom averages about 300 square feet while other bedrooms average about 210 square feet each.

Bathrooms

Consider how many bathrooms you want and what features they will include. Do you want a luxurious bathroom with a whirlpool bath, spacious shower, and closed-off toilet room? Or do you just want more affordable, standard bathrooms?

Consider if any of the other bathrooms will be half size rather than full size. The primary bath typically accounts for about 150 square feet while other bathrooms average about 80 square feet each.

Shared living areas

The next big consideration is the shared living areas, which include the living room, family room, dining room, and kitchen. Is having a spacious area to host guests important to you? Do you want that space to be open and connected?

Or perhaps you are prioritizing saving money with a smaller kitchen and living area, and no formal dining room or family room. Kitchens are typically about 285 square feet, while living rooms average about 215 square feet, and family rooms are typically about 285 square feet.

Additional rooms

In addition to the standard rooms, think about other rooms you want in the home. How will the layout design look? Do you want a foyer, laundry room, office, breakfast nook, home classroom, or hallway?

All the extra spaces on your wishlist add to your square footage. The average laundry room is about 90 square feet, while a foyer is about 85. Additional rooms for an office or crafting would be about the same as other non-primary bedrooms, with an average of about 210 square feet.

On average, extra finished spaces (aside from the laundry room and foyer) averaged about 315 square feet of a home’s space.

How to calculate the square feet of a house

When preparing to measure the square footage of a home, be it a house, condo, or townhouse, start with a few simple supplies:

  • Paper and pencil
  • Calculator
  • Measuring tape and/or laser measuring tool

If the property is a perfect rectangle, simply measure the length and width and multiply those two numbers together. For example, if your one-story house is 60 feet wide by 40 feet long, then your property is 2,400 square feet (60 x 40 = 2,400).

However, most properties have more complex floor plans. When this is the case, it’s helpful to follow these simple steps to measure square footage.

  1. Draw a rough sketch of your entire space, labeling all of the rooms you need to measure. Include hallways and vestibules as their own “room.”
  2. Measure the length and width, in feet, of each room. Then, multiply the length by the width to calculate that room’s square footage. For example: If a bedroom is 12 feet by 20 feet, it is 240 square feet (12 x 20 = 240). For each room, write the total square footage in the corresponding space on your sketch.
  3. Once each room is measured, add up all the measurements to determine your home’s total square footage.

Note: If you live in a tract home, condo or townhome community, you may be able to get architectural drawings or master builder plans of your floor plan. These may already have your square footage calculated.

What is the minimum square footage per person?

There are tons of people in the United States who currently live in small spaces. Just take a look at families in San Francisco and New York City, for example. According to an estimate provided by The Engineering ToolBox, the average person needs between 100-400 square feet within a home to feel comfortable. Again, this number depends on the person. Some people need a huge amount of space to feel like they have room to breathe, while others require very little. Some people prefer to have more privacy while in their home and enjoy experiencing domestic life farther away from others, whereas some people crave a more social form of cohabitation and surround themselves with family members more often.

We lived in a pretty large home when I was younger – three stories if you include the basement, along with a separate living and dining room.  I was the youngest in a family of four.  My brother and I had our own rooms in the upstairs, as did my parents, of course, in the master bedroom (also upstairs).

In 2014, even with a family of four, we had huge amounts of unused space. The guest room in the upstairs almost NEVER got used. The dining room only saw activity during Thanksgiving and maybe Christmas. The living room, again, almost NEVER got used.

The basement had our office and a huge open room, along with THREE other rooms that we used for a designated shop, storage and laundry room.

Truthfully, we only designated separate rooms for those things because we could.  There was so much space that we literally didn’t know what to do with it all.  Nevertheless, it all had to get paid for – every last square foot, used or unused.  Money down the drain.

Sometime around 2015 or 2016, we realized that we needed a house maybe half of that size – perhaps with only a quarter of the footage if we were feeling like a close-knit family. A kitchen / nook, a couple bedrooms and a family room would have provided more than enough space for us to live in perfect luxury.

Who truly NEEDS a 2000 square foot house?  Probably not many.

How big is your home?  Do you truly need all that space, or could you downsize to a home that was more typical of families back in the ’70s? Ask yourself, “really, how big of a house do I need?”

Related Articles about living small:

The downside of living in a 200 sqft Airstream

How living in a 52 square foot room improved this guy’s life

Be sensible, not minimal – why minimalism sucks

Editor’s note: To keep information updated, we periodically refresh our articles. This article was originally posted in 2016.

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