Honey, I stretched the house -- again
More bathrooms. Bigger kitchens. The latest numbers show home expansion is still going strong.
By Les Christie, CNNMoney.com staff writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Whether or not Americans are better off these days is a loaded political question. But one thing's for sure - their homes keep getting bigger.

According to the annual American Housing Survey released this month by the Census Bureau and other reports, Americans are building bigger, fancier houses and loading them up with more features and systems than ever.

Growing gains
The average new home has grown - a lot.
Year Average new home (in square feet)
1973 1,660
1976 1,700
1979 1,760
1982 1,710
1985 1,785
1988 1,995
1991 2,075
1994 2,100
1997 2,150
2000 2,266
2003 2,330
2005 2,434
Source:Census Bureau

The average new home grew to 2,434 square feet in 2005, according to the Census Bureau, up 3.6 percent from 2,349 square feet in 2004 and up 46.6 percent from 1,660 square feet in 1973.

Gopal Ahluwahlia, of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)says early stats for 2006 indicate an additional increase to 2,455 square feet this year.

Really big houses, 3,000 or more square feet, have gone from relatively uncommon - 11 percent of new homes in 1988 - to practically mainstream; 23 percent of new homes are now that big, according to the Census Bureau.

"Consumers still like to buy bigger and bigger space," says Gopal Ahluwahlia, research director of the NAHB, "even though families are smaller." Ahluwahlia says family size shrunk 20 percent but new houses have expanded in size by more than 50 percent since 1970.

Filling it up

Houses have had to grow just to fit all the new rooms and amenities being packed into them.

Take bathrooms. Back in 1973, reports the Census Bureau, 40 percent of all new homes had fewer than two baths. By 2005, 95 percent of them had at least two baths and a full 26 percent of them had three baths - or more.

Kitchens may not be expanding in number, but they are definitely expanding in size. The compact 9-by-10 kitchens of the 1950s have given way to the current 285 square foot average, according to the NAHB. Oversized and additional appliances, food-prep islands and breakfast bars and nooks have all contributed to the kitchen's expanding girth.

And there are lots of different rooms that barely existed when Beaver Cleaver was growing up. Family and/or entertainment rooms, where everyone gathers around the hearth or projection TV, have made the old fashioned living room an afterthought. Many people rarely use them any more except for the occasional soire when special guest are invited.

Separate laundry rooms and butler's pantries - replacing dank spaces in unfinished basements - are also high demand items for new homes. Few people had these facilities in the old days.

Then there are the sleeping arrangements. Children are a lot less likely to share a bedroom then when your daddy - or even you - grew up. Census Bureau stats indicate that back in 1973, a big majority - 64 percent - of all homes were three bedrooms arrangements. Only 23 percent came with four bedrooms or more. By 2005, though, four or more bedrooms had become commonplace; 39 percent of new homes built had at least that many.

New features

It's not just the size of the new houses that has changed; the houses also feature a whole lot of new comforts and conveniences that grandma and grandpa would have gladly installed, had they been available for a decent price.

Air conditioning has become well-nigh indispensable in the modern world, especially because so much of our population growth has occurred in the sun belt. Some 89 percent of all new homes now come with cooling systems, compared with less than half in 1973.

The American love affair with the automobile has not waned, judging from the Census Bureau stats on garages. Back in 1971, 39 percent of homes came with garages that could hold more than two cars; now 84 percent do.

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