I wrote a post back in April on the benefits of designing energy-efficient houses, which is something that any aspiring blogger would presumably be interested in so that we can reduce annual expenditures. My wife and I are particularly interested in this issue because we will renovate/extend our investment property in the near future and turn it into our long-term home. It’s therefore in our interest to make the renovated house as energy-efficient as it can practically be, but we need to get a balance between lowering ongoing utility costs, and not spending a gazillion dollars to make it super-mega-hyper-energy-efficient.
This project is getting closer now, and as part of the planning process we are having plans drawn up to submit to the local council for approval. One thing that I have had to consider is the size that we want the house to be and why, and I have come to see that the size of a home can have a huge effect on one’s lifestyle, but not for the reasons that you might think.
The explosion in house sizes
I think that most people would have some notion that houses are much larger nowadays than they once were, but they might be shocked by just how much of an increase has occurred in our lifetime.
I did a bit of quick research into this issue in Australia, and was quite surprised to find the following facts:
- Australians choose to live in the world’s largest houses, with an average size of 243 square metres or 2614 square feet.
- The biggest average home size of any country in Europe in 2011 was Denmark at 137 square metres or 1474 square feet.
- The average size of an Australian house increased from 162.2 square metres (1745 square feet) in 1984 to 243 square metres (2,614 square feet) in 2011.
- Three in every four homes has a spare bedroom, and the average home had 3.11 bedrooms in 2012.
- The average size of a household decreased from 4.5 people in 1911 to 2.6 in 2011. That’s a decline of 42% over the century.
Now when you read all of these facts, you can only come to the conclusion that everyone is spending a whole lot more to buy bigger houses so that they can fit less people in them. This trend has coincided with the explosion in our mortgages since the early 1990s, and when you combine these two issues, the logical inference is that the whole large house idea is completely destroying our ability to achieve financial independence.
Rethinking our house
These realisations made me rethink the renovation/extension of our house and how big it really should be. Because it was built in 1953, it’s very small by today’s standards at only 116 square metres or 1247 square feet. The extension that we are adding on is a further 106 square metres or 1145 square feet, bringing the extended house to 222 square metres or 2392 square feet.
Now I know that this house is still quite a considerable size compared to what many in the FI/RE blogging community have, and people may well be ridiculing me for it, but it’s a lot smaller than it could have otherwise been. If this had been a typical renovation/extension then the house could have easily ended up at 280 square metres (approximately 3000 square feet) or more, at which point it would really be starting to waste serious cash.
While I could easily live in a house much smaller than 222 square metres (that’s what we do now after all), I feel like the size of this house is effectively showing some restraint compared to what it could have been. Another way of thinking about it is that we will have four people in 222 square metres, which is 55 square metres per person. This compares to the Australian average of 93 square metres per person.
So it’s a bit ridiculous by FI/RE standards, but a lot less ridiculous than the Joneses. That’s what I tell myself anyway.
Why bigger houses are bad
In Australia people seem to think that bigger houses are the way to go, with statements like “it’s the bigggest investment you’ll ever make” and “you can never have too much storage space” being common slogans that builders and real estate agents use to sell homes. And the Australian people buy into it.
But what a lot of people don’t actually realise about big houses is all of the negatives that come with them, including:
- You don’t actually need the space, so it’s a waste of money and years of your life spent paying for it;
- They encourage you to accumulate more crap, which costs you more money to buy and creates more rubbish going into landfill when you throw it out;
- There is a lot more space to heat and cool, so your utility bills will be much higher than they otherwise would have been. If you’re an environmental crusader then it’s even worse;
- There’s a lot more space to furnish, so you’ll need to buy more furniture to stop the rooms from looking empty;
- If you have the average number of people in your house, you will have one, perhaps two empty bedrooms which is of course a huge waste of space; and
- Bigger houses take up more land, and encourage more urban sprawl. Urban sprawl is bad for a whole stack of reasons, not least of which is that it encourages people to commute from way out on the city fringes into the centre of a city for work. And we all know that a long commute (and the transportation and time costs that it brings) is one of the biggest barriers to early retirement and a good lifestyle that you will need to overcome.
Despite all of these negatives, the 2000s and beyond have seen an explosion in the number of McMansions built on the fringes of Australia’s lagest cities, with many of these homes being quite poorly designed in terms of energy efficiency as well. I just hope that none of our FI/RE community owns a home in this category!
So what’s the verdict? Is the house too big?
When I started writing this article I found myself trying to rationalise our decision to build a house of this size, and in the end I found that it was quite difficult to do. I had originally thought that we had shown some restraint with the size of the house, and while it is indeed below the average size, it’s not that far below.
Even though the house is only just below average size, its relatively energy efficient features and close proximity to the important things in our lives (our jobs, the kids’ schools, supermarkets and family) must be redeeming features.
Maybe I’m being too hard on myself though? What do you think?
And how big is your house? Is the size of a house an important consideration for you?