How to Calculate a Home’s Square Footage

Understanding how the square footage of a house is measured

To understand how the square footage of a house is measured, start by referring to your city’s building department records. Many city and county records are now available online, which makes getting this information much easier than it used to be. Some updates – like unpermitted remodeling – may not be reflected in the records, but it will still provide a good baseline estimate.

Then, familiarize yourself with basic ANSI guidelines for calculating square footage for single-family homes. Practices can vary slightly from market to market, but these rules apply to most areas in the country:

  • Below-grade spaces (basements, dens, etc.) do not usually count toward a house’s square footage. Even a finished basement oftentimes can’t be counted toward a home’s Gross Living Area (GLA), but it can be noted separately in the listing’s total area. More on this below.
  • The ANSI method specifies measuring from the exterior of the house, but the wall width is not usually subtracted to account for actual living space.
  • Stairways and closet areas are included in the house’s square footage length.
  • Finished attic square footage is included if an area has at least seven minimum feet of clearance.
  • Covered, enclosed porches can only be included if heated and using the same system as the rest of the house.
  • Garages, pool houses, guest houses, or any rooms that require you to leave the finished area of the main house to gain access are not counted in the square footage of a house.

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Square footage and the MLS

One way to find out more information about a home you’re interested in, including square footage, is through information from the Multiple Listing Service (MLS). The MLS is a service real estate agents use to publish their active property listings so that consumers and agents can search for-sale homes and view them online.

Each MLS has different rules on how to report and what counts as finished square footage, but they all seek to standardize housing data so that you have the most accurate information and can trust the listings you find online.

How To Figure Square Feet For Your Home

Calculating the square footage of a home is relati

Calculating the square footage of a home is relatively easy. To measure square feet, you just have to take it one room or space at a time. Measure the length, measure the width, multiply these two and you have the square footage of a space. For example, let’s say a bedroom in your home is 12 feet wide by 14 feet long. 12 X 14 = 168, so that bedroom has 168 square feet.

With one extra step you can easily measure square footage for odd sized rooms that do not end on a specific foot measurement. Let me show you how by slightly adjusting the example I used above.

Let’s say that bedroom is 12 feet 9 inches wide (or 153 inches) and 14 feet 9 inches long (or 177 inches). Notice what I did here. Ignore the foot measurement on your measuring tape all together. Instead, only look at the total inches for length and width. Here is the math with the extra step:

  1.  Divide each inch total by 12 (153 divided by 12 is 12.75 and 177 divided by 12 is 14.75)
  2. Multiply the two numbers (12.75 x 14.75)
  3. Answer: 188, the room is 188 square feet

What is included in square footage of a house?

The easiest way to calculate square footage is to measure all areas and rooms with a floor. If you can walk on it it counts. Square footage includes all of the spaces in your that is actual space. Your square footage total should include:

  • Bedrooms and the closets
  • Bathrooms
  • Hallways
  • Kitchens
  • Living or recreation rooms
  • Enclosed 3-season or all-season rooms
  • Unfinished spaces like a basement

Garages, outdoor areas, and unfinished attics do not count as square footage.

Finding the square footage of your home

To determine the square footage of you need some basic tools and to follow a few steps. The tools needed include:

  • Pencil
  • Paper
  • Measuring tape

Follow these steps to accurately measure the square footage in your home:

  1.  Measure every space except the garage, the crawl space, and the attic if it is not finished.
  2. Measure at the floor.
  3. Squaring off spaces is often the most practical way to capture all of the square feet.
  4. Multiply the length and the width of each space you measured.
  5. As you measure each space label each space as finished or unfinished and whether it is above grade or below grade

If you are shopping for a home to purchase, the square footage number you see in the listing or online is most likely the total finished square footage. However, it is important to know how much unfinished square feet is present and how much square footage is above grade or below grade. Each of these affect a home’s value.

Finished Vs. Unfinished Square Footage

Many people are confused about are basements inclu

Many people are confused about are basements included in square footage. The answer is yes, basements are included in square footage. However, that square footage should be further classified as finished or unfinished.

Finished square footage is most often defined as a space where the walls, ceiling, and floor are all covered. What does that mean? For walls, it is covered when you cannot see the wall framing. The skeletal structure, electrical and pipes are covered with some other material such as drywall, panelling, or plaster. For a ceiling, this is the same as with walls, you cannot see the skeletal structure because it is covered with some other material.

As for the floor, if you are above the ground, the base material is usually subfloor also known as oriented strand board (OSB). It looks like plywood. If you are in the basement or the home is a ranch on a slab, the base material is likely concrete. To be finished square footage, you should not be standing directly on that material. Instead, there should be some type of floor covering over the concrete or OSB like carpet, hardwood flooring, or tile, or flooring laminate.

When measuring your home to determine its square footage make sure you put each amount of square footage for each room or space into the finished or unfinished column.

Above Grade Square Footage vs. Below Grade Square Footage

Above grade square footage is square footage above the gradient line. The gradient line is where the earth meets the home. Square footage on the main floor and all floors above will almost always be above grade. This only gets a little tricky when the home is a bi-level, tri-level, quad-level, or hillside ranch.

These home models may have a basement, but the lowest level may be called the lower level. This happens because a level of the home is partly under the gradient line but also partly above it. Most areas consider a level like this to be the lower level and mark it as above grade square footage. Check with your local municipality, contractor, or a real estate agent for a certain answer to this question.

How can a real estate agent help?

Considering the importance of square footage, first-time home buyers should not be afraid to reach out for help. There are appraisers that specialize in valuing homes in most areas.

For sellers without an agent (commonly known as FSBOs), a well-qualified appraiser is essential for accurately advertising the property. Seasoned real estate agents are familiar with a home's spacing and can often estimate square feet without a tape measure.

Clever has knowledgeable and experienced full-service agents all over the country who would be happy to help answer your questions, including helping you calculate the square footage of a house. They will sell your home for a flat $3,000 or 1% over $350,000. Say goodbye to traditional real estate commissions and contact us today!

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.

Do insurance agents calculate square footage the same way?

You may also wonder how square footage is calculated or used within a homeowner’s insurance policy. We reached out to Scott Teece, managing producer at Edina Realty Insurance, to get the details.

When creating an insurance quote for a client, Edina Realty Insurance typically pulls from the MLS listing to ensure they are assessing the same square footage as indicated in the property records. But while homebuyers care mostly about finished and unfinished square footage, insurance agents take special notice of a different breakout — above ground square footage and below ground square footage.

“When offering coverage to a homeowner, we calculate the total replacement cost of the property,” explains Teece. “Both above ground and below ground square footage are factored into that calculation, but the cost to replace the above ground square footage is typically somewhat higher. That’s because, for example, if a catastrophic event like a tornado or fire should occur, you’d likely have to reframe the first floor and above, but not the basement.”

In other words, a 2,000-square foot house without a basement would likely have a higher replacement cost than a home with 1,000 square feet of above-ground living space and a basement sized at 1,000 finished square feet.

When Teece and the Edina Realty Insurance team draw up a homeowner’s insurance quote, they rely on the MLS’ breakout of above ground square footage and below ground square footage to make their assessment.

Have additional questions? Contact the team at Edina Realty Insurance for more information or a personalized quote.

What to leave in (and take out of) the square footage

But, of course, it’s not that simple.

Garage space is not included in square footage, and many standards do not count basements (even if they’re finished) in overall square footage. Either way, make sure to measure the basement’s square footage for your records — you can still include it in any future property listings.

Conversely, finished attic space that’s fit for habitation and boasts at least seven feet of clearance should be included in your GLA. The same is true for any additional stories in the house.

For example, suppose you’re describing a two-story home with a 1,500-square-foot first floor, 1,000-square-foot second floor, and 800-square-foot finished attic. You could list it as 3,300 square feet with 1,000 square feet of unfinished basement and a 600-foot garage. But to describe it as a 4,900-square-foot house would mislead potential buyers about the size, and unfairly boost the property’s value.

What Is Included In The Square Footage?

In measuring the square footage of a house, it is crucial to know what can and can’t be included in the calculations. Not every foot of your home enclosed by walls will count towards total square footage. Instead, you are trying to determine the gross living area — or the livable parts of your home. Keep reading to learn more about the specifications for measuring square footage:

Height Requirements

There is one measurement far too many inexperienced “appraisers” forget about: ceiling height. That’s not to say you measure the area as a three-dimensional space, but rather that the ceiling is one of the criteria I already alluded to. You see, for an area’s square footage to count in the home’s overall square footage, the ceiling above it must be a certain height. According to ANSI’s American National Standard For Single-Family Residential Buildings, finished areas must have a ceiling height of at least seven feet, “except under beams, ducts, and other obstructions where the height maybe six feet and four inches.” On the other hand, Angled ceilings must rest at the previously discussed seven feet for at least half of the room’s total floor area. If the ceiling is at least seven feet for at least half of the room’s floor area, total square foot calculations should include every area where the ceiling is at least five feet tall.

Garages, Protrusions, and Unfinished Areas

No matter how much you may wish your garage was included in the total square footage of your house, it’s not. I repeat, garages are not included in the total square footage of a property, even if they are finished — that’s because they are not the same level as the home itself. Similarly, chimneys and window areas are not included in a home’s square footage; not only are they not finished, but they are not on the same level.

Finished Home Connections

If you have a finished area connected to the house by a finished hallway or stairway, the subsequent area may be included in the home’s total square footage. However, finished areas connected in any other way (like by an unfinished hallway or staircase, for instance) won’t be included in the home’s total square footage.

Basements & Attics

Basements do not typically count towards a home’s gross living area regardless of whether they are finished. Since they are below the rest of the home, basements can’t be included in the total square footage. That said, homeowners may note the size of a finished basement in a respective listing elsewhere. On the other hand, attics may be counted in a home’s total square footage if they are finished and meet the height requirements stated above.

Covered, Enclosed Porches

Covered, enclosed porches may be included in a home’s gross living area if they are finished, and they are heated using the same system as the rest of the house.

A final word on square footage 

A final word on square footage 

Be aware that condominiums have fewer established rules and no ANSI guidelines. To start, you can visit your city’s building department and ask them to pull the home’s plans and permits for the property; all builders are required to include square footage for each unit. If that info is hard for you to get, you may want to hire an appraiser. If you’re a seller, it’s best to pay an appraiser to provide a square footage assessment, so your listing is as accurate as possible. Finally, consult an agent. Agents usually see dozens of homes a week and have a pretty good spatial sense, and can often give you a ballpark estimate of any home in question.

Finally, remember that while square footage is important to your home value, don’t focus on it at the expense of style or your emotional response. Do you like the design and floor plan? How about the location? Are there rooms you absolutely love? Numbers are important, but they are no substitute for the intangibles that make a house feel like a home.

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