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?
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. (please click on graph if it is not all visible)
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. (please click on graph if it is not all visible)
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 m2 per 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?
Lindsay Wilson is founder of Shrink That Footprint. Reproduced with permission.