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When is a house too big?

After 3 years of househunting, we have finally found a new home to fit our expanding family, but now I’m having second thoughts: do we really need more space? We will be going from about 1,200 to 2,800 square feet which will put us just above the national average home size of 2,459 square-feet, but given that the average back in 1970 was 1,400 square feet, I know even the average is not necessary.

Besides worrying about extra maintenance and cleaning for a larger home, I also know that our environmental footprint will be larger. Not just heating bills, but the embodied energy associated with the building materials goes up per square foot though since we are buying a second hand home, and not building ourselves, I guess this isn’t as significant unless a buyer we displace goes on to build a bigger new home somewhere else.*

I am comforted by the fact that our family of 4 is larger than the national average of 2.59, but my doubts stem from my knowledge that even as our family has grown by 2 over the past 3 years, we have accommodated the growth by putting a crib in our home office and have even managed to maintain a guest room.

While I hope our family grows by one more over the next year or two, I like the idea of our kids sharing a room. After all, some of my happiest memories were sharing rooms with nearly every one of my 5 siblings (one year we spent in a 3 bedroom condo with two sets of bunk beds in one room).

Knowing that one of my father’s favorite books is The Not So Big House, I called him to get his opinion. While he believes, like the book’s author, that you can pretty much have what you want by just being creative with a smaller house, I was surprised when he felt my impending increase in square footage was the right move.

He told me that moving from a 3-bedroom to a 5-bedroom home with us 6 children was the best decision he had ever made.
Not only did us kids, with our bedrooms a safe distance from our parents, have the freedom to set our own bedtimes and create our own lifestyles (including midnight dance parties), a bigger house also allowed my parents to open up their doors and our family to outsiders over the years: a Honduran immigrant, a homeless woman, exchange students from Belgium, Denmark and France and a cousin who became like a sister.

I doubt I will ever replicate my childhood, but I hope to have the freedom to invite guests into our home for extended periods. Whether it’s exchange students, displaced people or my siblings visiting for the summer from their homes in Australia or Barcelona, I know that a larger home will allow me to open my doors without fearing for a loss of personal space. 

To assuage any residual guilt about our larger footprint, I hope to learn from the example of my pre-carbon-offset-era parents: my father who installed solar panels on our roof in the 1970s (before they came into the vogue that they enjoy now) and my mother who insisted we layer on more clothes instead of turning on the heat.

Perhaps solar in Seattle isn’t ideal, but I’m ready to start researching rainwater capture options. 

* This February, the National Association of Homebuilders predicted that after over 3 decades of rising square footage, the home size growth spurt in the U.S. has finally come to an end.