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Monday, May 01, 2006


"McMansion" Craze

According to an online article I just read, our suspicions have been confirmed: American houses are getting bigger. No big surprise, but here are the stats:

Average American home size in 1950: 983 square feet
Average American home size in 2004: 2,349 square feet

About a 140% Increase

Source: http://realestate.msn.com/buying/Articlenewhome.aspx?cp-documentid=418653>1=8012

That’s a notable increase. Moreover, it is not uncommon to hear about houses twice to four times the 2004 size.

Since the mid 1980’s the term “McMansion” has been used in describing houses that are large and about as different from one another as Big Macs are from each other.

So, what’s the big deal about McMansions?

They’re usually built cheaply and front-loaded, meaning that the budget allocation is highly skewed toward curb appeal and monumental entrances rather than efficient, livable, usable space. I’ve always thought they were built for the next buyer, not the current occupant.

Then there is sprawl. Most of these whoppers have been built in the suburbs, surrounded by acres of grass. The environmental impact of this sort of development is less than positive: irrigation, heating and cooling costs, energy inefficiency, herbicides, pesticides, high material costs, septic systems, commuting pollution, and the like.

But now, the trend is to come back into in-town neighborhoods, to tear down existing houses to build new, bigger houses. It looks very out-of-place and weakens the fabric of the neighborhood, but that’s not all. Density has been cut in half. Available housing inventory has been reduced. Property taxes go up and push out more residents. It’s a new kind of gentrification, but it doesn’t preserve any architectural heritage; perhaps the opposite.

The dollar cost of such a project will keep it to a minimum there, but not in less well-to-do areas. In poorer neighborhoods, homes and lots will be cheaper. Displaced residents will have fewer options for housing, and the lower-income housing stock is already in shortage world-wide.

Then, given the cost of energy these days, I’ve got to wonder how long the McMansions will survive before their own size and inefficiencies will bring them crashing to the ground, allowing them to rest in land filled peace next to those that fell to clear their way.

Should local ordinances pay attention to over-sized “McMansion” homes to protect our housing inventory and taxable values?

I live in an older neighborhood with modest homes on large lots (1/2 acre). Some of these homes have been expanded with additions, and some have been torn down and replaced with larger homes. Some of the expansions have led to results that are aesthetically unpleasing. Some of the new large homes that resulted from teardowns also seem out of place - for now. Eventually they will become the norm.

Yes, you are right. this trend could force me from the neighborhood because it results in my owning an asset I can no longer afford to keep. To put it another way, I may eventually decide to redeploy my newfound assets. So, I say, bring it on.

But here is my question. Some of my neighbors have put on additions to accomodate new or growing children. Others have enlarged their homes just so their grown children could find a place to live. If I have a half acre lot with a 1500 foot home and replace/add such that it is a 2500 foot home, How does that reduce density? It is still one residence per half acre, and maybe with more residents.

It is unlikely the zoning will change anytime soon. Don't you mean that it reduces the potential density, given that zoning changes might occur?
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