This New House

The American Dream just keeps growing. Since 1970 the size of the average new home has ballooned by 50 percent. “Great rooms,” Viking ranges, 10-acre lots—can moats and turrets be far behind?

To view this article with Nathan Fox's illustration, as it appeared in the March/April 2005 issue of Mother Jones magazine, download the following PDFs:

MJ026.pdf (7.6 MB)
MJ027.pdf (8.4 MB)


  • Since 1950, the average new house has increased by 1,247 sq. ft. Meanwhile, the average household has shrunk by 1 person.
  • The National Association of Home Builders’ “showcase home” for 2005 is 5,950 sq. ft. That’s 15% bigger than last year’s model.
  • The Unabomber’s legal defense team cited the size of his shack—10’ x 12’—to buttress his insanity plea.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

  • 1 in 4 Americans want at least a 3-car garage.
  • 88% of American commuters drive to work.
  • 76% of those drivers commute alone.
  • The number of Americans with commutes of longer than 90 minutes each way has increased 95% since 1990.
  • Since 1982, 35 million acres—an area the equivalent of New York state—have been developed.
  • More than 50% of exurban lots are 10 acres or larger. Exurban homes account for 80% of residential development since 1994.
  • In 1950, 1 in 100 homes had 2.5 baths or more. Today, 1 in 2 do.
  • 14 million households own 4 or more TVs.
  • Americans spend more to power home audio and video equipment that is “off” but still plugged in than they do to power such devices while actually in use.
  • Such “energy vampires” consume 5% of the nation’s electricity.
  • Extreme Makeover: Home Edition recently gave a 6-bedroom, 7-bath, 7-television house to a family of 4.
  • Americans with cable TV have 30 hours of home-improvement programming available to them each day.
  • Sales of Sub-Zero and other “premium” and “superpremium” refrigerators have been rising by 15% a year.
  • 1 in 5 new homes is larger than 3,000 sq. ft.—the size at which it becomes unmanageable to clean without hired help.
  • The average cost of a luxury kitchen remodel is $57,000. That’s $10,000 more than it costs to build a typical Habitat for Humanity home.
  • Suburban and urban kids use illegal drugs, have sex, fight, and steal at the same rates, but suburban kids are more likely to drink and smoke.
  • 0.03% of U.S. homes are fueled by solar energy. 0.4% lack complete plumbing facilities.
  • People who live in cities use half as much energy as suburbanites.
  • If Americans bought only appliances with an“Energy Star” rating over the next 15 years, the reduction in greenhouse gases would equate to taking 17 million cars off the road.
  • 1/3 of a home’s heating oil is used for hot water. Multiple-head shower systems can drain a 40-gallon tank in less than 4 minutes.
  • The average new home requires 13,837 board feet of lumber and 19 tons of cement.
  • Since 1976, federal housing assistance has been slashed by 48%.
  • Last spring, the Bush administration proposed an additional $1 billion cut to the Section 8 housing subsidy.
  • 87% of homeowners are white.
  • Overall, blacks receive subprime loans 2.83 times more often than whites. The disparity increases when affluent blacks are compared to affluent whites.
  • If it were a state, New York City would rank 51st in energy use per capita.
  • Suburban white men weigh 10 pounds more than men in cities.
  • Only 2.7% of San Francisco’s teachers, 5.7% of its cops, and 4.2% of its nurses can afford to buy a home there.
  • 1 in 4 Californians are considering moving out of state to reduce their housing costs.
  • Rush Limbaugh’s Palm Beach estate is worth 15 times the value of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s Chappaqua, N.Y., home.
  • 7% of all homes are in gated communities.
  • 7% of all homes are mobile homes.
  • Since 2001, the number of Americans who have bought second homes has increased by 24%.