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Homes are commonly referred to by their square footage, and the number of square feet a house has instantly conveys its size. This is a quick reference for real estate agents and others who want a simple and basic guide to help them understand square footage and how to explain it to clients.
Graphics and text in the book cover:
1. The definition of a square foot
2. How square footage is calculated
3. Which square footage to count for habitable space
4. Why some square footage counts while some does not
5. Common square footage found in many homes
6. Simple geometry that affects square footage
7. Historical square footages
8. Square footage of lots or parcels
9. The impact of zoning on square footage
10. How different building types can affect square footage
Square Footage Facts presents common examples and lesser-known facts that impact residential square footage in a brief summary that you may refer to again and again.

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Steven Corley Randel, Architect!

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www.StevenRandel.com

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One square foot is a two-dimensional measurement that is twelve inches by twelve

inches. This square unit determines the area in which a building occupies space, and is

a common reference to the spaciousness or overall size of a house. For example, if we

have a tiny house that is 10 feet wide by 10 feet deep, we multiply 10 times 10, and

conclude that it is 100 square feet.

10 X 10 = 100 square feet !

FIG. 1

is 10' x 10'!

9 Square Feet!

or 3' X 3' is a

Square Yard!

Deep

1 Square Foot is

12" x 12"

Square Foot

Square Yard

Wide

Figure 1 provides a scaled vision of the square foot. It is easy to see that a simple

square measurement can quickly multiply as the dimensions increase in both directions.!

It is also important to understand that a 3-foot by 3-foot area, or 9 square feet, defines a

square yard. Flooring materials are sometimes specified this way. 10 square yards of

carpet is the same as 90 square feet of carpet.!

10 (square yards) X 9 (square feet per square yard) = 90 (square feet)!

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SQUARE FOOTAGE FACTS

www.StevenRandel.com

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The total square footage of a house is a sum of all of its areas added together. In

Figure 2, think of this as the shape of a floor plan, each colored grid field is 100 square

feet. The red and white fields combined represent 1,400 square feet. Simply count the

number of grid fields, 14, and multiply times 100 to get 1,400 square feet. !

FIG. 2

14 (grid fields) X 100 (square feet per field) = 1,400 (square feet) !

Another way to arrive at the total square footage is to determine the perimeter

dimensions. Once you have these figures, you can determine the square footage by

calculating the overall measurements of each area and adding them together.

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!

The stated square footage represents the heated and/or cooled (conditioned) spaces.

Figure 3 shows us a plan where the conditioned habitable space measures thirty feet

wide and forty feet deep. The garage, which is not heated or cooled, measures ten feet

wide by twenty feet deep. Therefore, we know that the house is twelve hundred square

feet and the garage is two hundred square feet. The tax assessor will record the house

as twelve hundred square feet and the real estate agent can represent it the same way.

The garage adds two hundred square feet to the structure, but this is not represented in

the figures expressed by the tax assessor or the description of the size of the house.!

FIG. 3

BRM

BRM

KIT

40'

PORCH

LRM

DRM

PORCH

(House 30' X 40' = 1,200 sq. ft.) (Garage 10' X 20' = 200 sq. ft.)!

These figures are simplified for the purposes of the illustration, however, there are

elements that add to or take away square footage from the plan. Bay windows,

fireplaces, porches, and mechanical closets are just some examples that affect the

actual square footage of any house. Regional customs often mandate whether or not to

include or exclude specific areas. Consider this information a guideline and always

defer to the appropriate professional to determine the stated square footage.

www.StevenRandel.com

FIG. 4

the bay extends from floor to ceiling and is structural.

They do not count toward square footage when they

are an individual window unit that hangs within the wall

structure and does not extend the full height of the

adjacent wall. See Figure 4!

Similarly, the footprint of a fireplace does not count

toward stated square footage when it projects beyond

the outside walls, but does count when the fireplace is

positioned within the interior of the house. See Figure 4!

FIG. 5

Yes

No

Yes

No

Mechanical

closets and

chases or

walled in spaces count toward the stated

square footage if they are within and

accessible from the conditioned spaces of

the house. They do not count toward the

square footage if they are accessed from the

exterior or are adjacent to exterior spaces.

See Figure 5!

framing of pitched roofs. Ceilings in these

circumstances slope with the pitch of the

roof. When the ceiling slopes to less than 5

feet above the finished floor, the remaining

space should not be considered part of the

stated square footage. See Figure 6 !

FIG. 6

Yes

No

> 5'

< 5'

footage only if they are conditioned and

completely finished. Screened porches do

not count either, but glass-enclosed

sunrooms would if they are conditioned.

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!

Spaces are not always square or rectangular. Knowing some simple geometry helps to

understand circumstances where you want to know the area of a bay window, for

example. If you have a bay window which projects past the primary wall by 2 feet, you

can determine the area by calculating the triangles formed by the shape. The area of a

right triangle is simply the multiplication of its rectilinear dimensions divided by two. !

FIG. 7

6'

!

2 X 2 = 4, & 4/2 = 2 square feet!

2 square feet + 12 square feet + 2 square feet = 16 square feet!

OR!

(2' X 2' = 4'/2 = 2 sq. ft.) + (6' X 2' = 12 sq. ft.) + (2' X 2' = 4'/2 = 2 sq. ft.) = 16 sq. ft.!

If necessary, break down the area into smaller pieces to arrive at the total square

footage. For example, add all three shapes of the bay window together. You now have

the square footage of the bay window and you can simply add that to the square

footage of the rest of the plan. See Figure 7!

!

SQUARE FOOTAGE FACTS

www.StevenRandel.com

!

The square footage of some rooms is usually similar. Having knowledge of common

room sizes helps you relate to, and understand, how much space a particular house

might have. You can either state square footage with walls, or within the walls.!

A very common bathroom layout has a 5

foot wide tub/shower at the end of the

room with a water closet next to the tub,

then a vanity at the doorway of the room.

The layout in Figure 8 requires 5 feet of

width and 8 to 10 feet of length within the

walls. From these dimensions, we know

that the interior square footage required

for a common bathroom is between 40 to

50 square feet.!

FIG. 8

Large Bathroom 8 X 10 = 80 square feet!

Secondary bedrooms are usually at least 10 feet wide and 10 feet long, or 100 square

feet. More spacious bedrooms will be around 12 feet wide and 14 feet long for a total of

168 feet. Master bedrooms are frequently larger. A bedroom that is 14 feet wide by 18

feet long will be 252 square feet. !

FIG. 9

Master Bedroom 14 X 18 = 252 square feet!

Garages frequently have similar square footage. A common

dimension used to design a garage is an interior dimension that

is 10 feet wide and 20 feet long for each car. Therefore, you

know that a 1 car garage is at least 200 square feet, a 2 car

garage is at least 400 square feet, a 3 car garage is at least 600

square feet, and so on. See Figure 9!

20'

Two Car Garage 200 square feet X 2 Cars = 400 square feet

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!

US Census data indicate that the average square footage of newly constructed singlefamily houses in the United States increases each year. Recessions slow the pace, but

when the economy recovers, the acceleration returns. For example, the 2005 average

square footage reached 2,432. By 2010 that number had fallen to 2,392, but that is only

a 2% decline. New statistics are already showing an increase above the 2005 average.!

FIG. 10

1975!

1,645!

!

!

1985!

!

1990!

!

1995!

!

2000!

!

2005!

!

!

!

!

!

!

!

!

1980!

1,740!

1,785!

2,080!

2,095!

2,266!

2,434!

2,392

2010

YEAR BUILT

In the graph, Figure 10, the year is indicated to the left and the average square footage

is indicated to the right. Each square of the horizontal bar represents 100 square feet.!

Consider that in 1975 the average square footage was 1,645. If you compare that to the

current approximate average of 2,400 square feet, that is an increase of 46% in 35

years. In one generation we live in one house, and a half more, than did our parents.

What these figures do not reveal is that we also have fewer people living in each

household. This means that we are each living in significantly more square footage per

person than did our predecessors.

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!

The lot, also known as a site or a parcel, on which a single-family house is built, can

also be indicated by square footage to represent its size. Sometimes size is expressed

in acreage, which can be translated into square footage. See Figure 11!

One Acre = 43,560 square feet.!

FIG. 11

Less Than!

1/4 Acre!

10,000 Sq. Ft.

Placed On Each Parcel Size

100'

208.7'

One Acre!

43,560 Sq. Ft.

100'

208.7'

Acre (43,560/2) = 21,780 square feet!

Acre (43,560/4) = 10,890 square feet!

The median lot size for a single-family home increased in the 1960s, leveled in the

1970s and 1980s, and then began to decline toward the end of the 1990s and continues

to do so, according to the US Census. Currently the median lot size for single-family

homes stands around of an acre, or about 10,000 square feet. Larger houses on

smaller lots are the trend.!

!

SQUARE FOOTAGE FACTS

www.StevenRandel.com

!

Local zoning ordinances restrict square footage that is allowed to be built on a particular

lot. Most properties have building setbacks, height restrictions, and some have

easements. Building setbacks establish an area at which a structure can be built away

from its property lines. Height restrictions limit the overall height of structures, which

often limits the number of floors that can be built. Easements are not always present,

but when they are, the effect on square footage has to be determined through

coordination with the local planning department. See Figure 12!

FIG. 12

!

Property Line!

Side Setback

Rear Setback

equals the area of the lot!

!

Footprint

Of House

Area within setbacks equals

area allowed to build within!

!

Front Setback

Easement Line!

Area of easements prohibits

area to build within

encounter a situation where you need to know these limits, check with the local planning

department to determine what is required for each property. Be sure that you

understand that the planning department is separate from the building department.

Each city government has both, but they oversee and perform different duties. As a rule

of thumb, just remember that the building department issues building permits, and the

planning department administers zoning ordinances. If this issue is critical, you may

want to invest in hiring an architect or another professional who is experienced in

dealing with the question of how much square footage is allowed on a specific property.

www.StevenRandel.com

!

The previous examples illustrate square footage for single-family structures, but what

about condominiums or other multi-unit dwellings? They are similar, but there are a

handful of differences that you will want to know and understand.!

There are two highlighted condominiums in Figure 13, one yellow and one pink, which

indicate the extent of their areas. Corridors in common are not counted as part of the

stated square footage of a unit. Neither are elevators, mechanical chases, and utility

closets accessed through common spaces. The square footage of a unit goes to the

centerline of adjoining units, or it goes to a certain dimension beyond the interior wall.

For example, where walls may be two feet thick, the measurement may extend to only

six inches into that thick wall. Customs vary from one region to another. Structural

columns within a unit may be very thick, but these are considered part of a unit's square

footage if it occurs within the boundaries of that unit. Consult with a real estate

appraiser, architect, or other professional who knows how to calculate square footage if

this issue is in question. !

FIG. 13

CORRIDOR IN COMMON

BRM

ELEV

KIT

KIT

BRM

LRM

BRM

UNIT 631

LRM

BRM

UNIT 633

www.StevenRandel.com

10

!

Steven is a licensed architect in California where

he has worked in residential design since 1987. He

is also a contributing writer at HOUZZ.com where

his articles appear regularly. On his own he has

completed more than 100 projects ranging from

condominium remodels to new homes in 10

counties and 25 cities within California. His home

designs have been built in Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois,

Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York,

Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Wyoming,

and Manitoba, Canada. !

Steven attended Texas A&M University earning a

Bachelor of Environmental Design in 1986. During

junior year he participated in the School of

Architecture's study abroad program. "We lived in a rural compound near Florence, Italy,

made up of dorms and classrooms with a monastery bordering one side and a church

on the other. It was an enriching experience and we studied incredible architectural and

cultural sites throughout the country."!

Summer internships were spent in Dallas and Washington, DC. By invitation of a college

friend, Steven visited California in 1986 and has since called it home. "California's

diverse and extraordinary landscape enchanted me then, and still does."!

Since working independently, Steven has designed new homes on challenging hillsides

and extraordinary locations. He has created remodels and additions that respect the

existing character of the original house, and that are in keeping with the scale of the

neighborhood. "I'm often asked what style I design. I design any type of architecture as

long as it belongs in its context. Fashions of architecture have their own vocabulary,

which are not difficult to follow, but style should be determined after the fact, not before."!

415 336 3255!

Randel Residential Architecture, Inc.!

350 Townsend Street, Suite 742!

San Francisco, California 94107!

steve@stevenrandel.com

www.StevenRandel.com

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