Teardowns McMansions responsible for the big American homes of today?

A story about a family who has downsized links teardown McMansions to the big American homes of today:

At a time when smaller, older homes are routinely torn down to build sprawling new “McMansions” — the median American home size has soared 250 percent from 1,000 square feet in 1950 to 2,500 in 2008 — Lindsay and Sue took the opposite approach when they remodeled their 1920 Arts and Crafts style bungalow in 2011. They actually lost square footage, about 40 square feet.

Just how indicative are teardowns of bigger American homes? They can be viewed as a symptom of longer and larger trends, particularly when looking back to 1950. Over the course of 60 years, the average new American home expanded by a factor of 2.5. This is significant as it led Americans to have the largest average new homes in the world. And all of this has happened as the average American household shrunk – perhaps suggesting Americans like even more space and more stuff in that space. Across the board, Americans now consume more than their counterparts in the 1950s – and this includes houses.

But, there might be some merit to linking teardowns to a larger average house size. Teardowns are still relatively rare. They occur most frequently in wealthier or gentrifying neighborhoods where there is money to spend on buying a home, destroying it, and constructing a whole new home. Yet, the average new house size might continue to be pulled up by the luxury housing market that may not have been hit as hard during the economic crisis. Look at the distributions of new homes by square feet from 1999 to 2012: 34% of new American homes in 1999 were over 2,400 square feet (17% over 3,000) compared to 45% over 2,400 square feet in 2012 (26% over 3,000).

On one hand, McMansions are often the whipping boys of the early 21st century American consumer culture. On the other hand, their presence may have helped keep the average new house size high even as the lower end of the housing market has had more difficulty recovering.

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