NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
For many Americans, bigger is better when it comes to their homes. The facts speak for themselves: According to the Census Bureau, the average home size has swelled 40 percent since the early 70's.
According to National Association of Homebuilders, 19 percent of homes built in 2003 were 3,000 square feet or more. But the appetite for larger and larger homes has run afoul of some. Namely those who've watched super-sized structures crop up next door.
How can you fight "McMansion" expansion where you live? Here are today's 5 Tips.
1. Find out what needs fixing.
As land becomes scarcer in desirable neighborhoods, teardowns and extreme renovations have become more common. 55,000 teardowns take place every year, and often, what crops up isn't pretty.
But the downsides aren't just related to aesthetics. Critics say the "bash and build" tactic leads to a scarcity of starter homes. And soon a "one class" community emerges.
When you buy a home, you're investing in a community. If zoning laws aren't in place or up to date enough to protect your investment, you could find yourself living next to an ugly house.
Investigate the zoning restrictions in your town. Your first stop should be your town's zoning and planning office. Is there a waiting period before residential tear downs can happen? Are there restrictions designating how close homeowners can build to their property lines or how big new homes can be? Once you have answers to these questions, you can plot a course of action.
2. Strength in numbers.
If you are worried that a "bigfoot" home could muscle its way into your neighborhood, you may have an ally in your neighborhood homeowners association.
These groups generally try to protect their communities, their unique characteristics and address quality of life issues. Adrian Scott-Fine of the National Trust says some of these groups are ad-hoc; with people getting together in each other's living rooms.
Others, in sub-divisions and planned communities, are more sophisticated -- with elected officers, written mission statements and bylaws. These groups even place restrictions everything from fence heights to the kind of vehicles you can park in your driveway.
If you don't have a neighborhood homeowners association, you may want to look into starting one. Talk to your neighbors. Find out if they're concerned about what structures could be built in your area. Build a consensus about aspects of your community that you want to protect.
A collective voice among stakeholders can give you leverage and credibility when you approach local officials about zoning issues. For more information on homeowners' associations visit Community Associations Institute at www.caionline.com or American Homeowners' Resource Center at www.ahrc.com.
3. Deal the monsters a setback.
Most city zoning codes stipulate a minimum distance that new houses must be set back from the street. These rules may not be consistent with building patterns on the actual street. So you may need to talk to your zoning commission about bringing the two standards in line with each other.
Once front setback lines are set, side and rear ones can be determined. These standards can be used to limit the size of a new house.
Many communities also require that a certain percentage of a lot be maintained as "open space." Clarifications are often needed to define whether driveways and porches qualify as open space.
As a concerned resident, you may want to update or clarify language about garage and driveway size and placement.
4. Play the waiting game.
A demolition moratorium makes it illegal to demolish properties in a community or neighborhood during a defined period, usually from six months to a year.
These delays establish a required waiting period before "demolition permits" are issued. These delay tactics can buy time for residents and local governments to negotiate alternatives and potentially limit teardowns.
According to the National Trust, in Newton, Massachusetts, a one-year demolition delay period was instituted to slow the pace of teardowns. In Highland Park, Illinois, the delay period is specifically used to determine whether a property merits preservation.
5. Meet in the middle.
In the end, there may be little that can be done to prevent a "bash & build" situation on your block.
But the cosmetic damage can be minimized. You may be able to work with your zoning board to come up with certain design standards that would force newer and bigger homes to blend in better with their existing neighborhoods.
According to Marya Morris, Senior Research Associate at American Planning Association, these standards can include stipulations about roof height and type, architectural style, building materials -- even paint colors.
Zoning boards can designate these measures as guidelines, meaning they're strictly advisory. Or they can be ruled binding standards, and become law.
Monster homes may not be all bad. Morris says property values can rise community-wide and on blocks where teardowns have been replaced by trophy homes.
Other proponents say they represent "smarter growth" because undeveloped areas aren't being bulldozed to make way for new homes and sprawl is minimized. For more information on fighting teardowns, visit www.nationaltrust.org.
Gerri Willis is a personal finance editor for CNN Business News. Willis also is co-host of CNNfn's Open House, weekdays from Noon to 12:30 p.m. (ET). E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.