If someone asks you to describe your dream home, you can probably rattle off a list of features that fill you with real estate envy. Maybe you crave big windows that admit pools of natural light, or perhaps you desire a gourmet kitchen with double ovens and sleek countertops.

You might not, however, think in terms of square footage. You can make just about any home size work if you love everything else about it, which inspires the question with which many families struggle: How big of a house do I need? 

Average Home Sizes

Residential square footage has increased every decade since the 1950s, according to Wisebread. From 1973 to 2012, the average house size jumped more than 62 percent. You don’t have to follow the trends if you prefer small-scale living, but it’s interesting to note that Americans seem to become increasingly enamored of big homes as time passes.

Family Size

Maybe you live by yourself or with a spouse, or perhaps you’re expecting a houseful of youngsters in the near future. If your parents or other older relatives experience declining health, will you invite them to move in with you?

Grandparents with grandchild

Image courtesy of surlygirl

Your family’s size should play an integral role in deciding how much space you need. Remember, however, that you must frame this consideration in the context of your own lifestyle.

For example, you might prefer your children to share a bedroom rather than have their own spaces. On the other hand, if you work from home, you could use a spare bedroom as an office. Consider how you intend to use your home when selecting the number of bedrooms and the amount of living space.

Heating and Cooling Costs

In almost any climate, smaller homes translate into lower heating and cooling costs. Where we’re located in the Carolinas, summer temperatures can climb into the 90s. High humidity levels from the nearby waterfront can make the outdoor temperature feel even warmer, so you’ll likely run the air conditioner on a regular basis. Similarly, winter lows in the 30s and 40s make your furnace indispensable.

When buying your first house, consider how much you want to pay in utilities each month. A home with a smaller footprint requires less energy to heat and cool, which translates into lower bills.

Dedicated Space

Do you have a collection of treasured objects, such as dolls or books? You’ll need a place to store or display those items. Do you play an instrument or enjoy a hobby that takes up space? These factors require consideration when determining the ideal home size.

Woman with dedicated home space for her piano.

Image Courtesy of Lars Plougmann

Some items or activities require dedicated spaces, but in many family homes, one room pulls double or triple duty. For example, a formal dining room that serves as your home office could be transformed into an elegant space for a dinner party or family meal after you quit for the day.

Conversely, if your family prefers to eat meals in front of the television with portable trays in your laps, a dedicated dining room might prove unnecessary. In fact, the Huffington Post reports that dining rooms are becoming extinct. You don’t have to choose a home with a certain subset of rooms and spaces. Instead, choose a home that serves your family and the way you prefer to live.

Cost and Effort

A large home costs more to maintain than a smaller one and requires more effort on the part of the homeowner. For example, if your house sits on two acres of property, you must mow, weed-eat, and landscape all that space. Similarly, you’ll have to clean and maintain the interior rooms.

As square footage increases, so do taxes, repair expenses, and mortgage bills. Your roof will cost more to replace if it starts to disintegrate and you’ll pay more to re-clad the home in new siding.

This doesn’t mean you can’t purchase a large home. When shopping for houses, however, calculate the total cost of home ownership rather than just the “sticker price.” You might find that your income can’t support it.


In addition to cleaning and maintaining your home, you must also furnish it. A three-bedroom home that occupies just over 1,500 square feet requires far fewer furnishings and accessories than a five-bedroom home of 4,000 square feet.


Do you invite your extended family to your home for the holidays? Do your friends stay at your place when they pass through town on vacation? If you love to entertain, you’ll want a house that can accommodate your guests comfortably.

Remember that you’ll want your living and dining rooms to offer sufficient space to accommodate the same number of people. For example, if your dining room seats 12, it’s best to have at least 12 seats in your living area. That way, when you finish your meal and seek a more comfortable place to converse, nobody will have to sit on the floor. If your living room is too small, you’ll be stuck in the dining area.


Many large homes feature enormous footprints but use space inefficiently. Instead of searching for a bigger home, look for one that uses space well and accommodates your needs. For example, a 2,038-square-foot home with a country kitchen allows you to prepare meals while the kids finish their homework at the breakfast table. That house might seem small, but it uses its square footage appropriately.

A mixed use space that serves as a kitchen, dining, and living room.

Image courtesy of Susan Serra, CKD

Look for homes with separate areas that flow naturally into one another. For example, a dining room located next to a kitchen creates a more seamless avenue for bringing dishes to the table. Even if your home is smaller, it will feel more accommodating.

Custom Homes

If you can’t find a home that meets your needs, falls within your budget, and occupies the right amount of square footage, you might want to consider a custom home. You decide how many rooms you need, how much space they should take up, and where they should be located.

Working with a custom home builder gives you more control over your future and your home’s aesthetic and practical characteristics. Maybe you prefer a certain house style or need a particular room dedicated to a hobby or craft. Custom homes allow you to design your home around your family and lifestyle.

Some people find the idea of a custom home intimidating, but you don’t have to start from scratch. Use a Madison Homebuilders floor plan as a jumping-off point for your own design. You don’t have to conceptualize every aspect of the structure; tweaking an existing blueprint makes a far more manageable task.

The right size home for your family might not be the size your best friend, sister, or boss chose. Don’t let other people’s preferences influence your own; instead, figure out how much space you truly need, then make it work with your budget.