american homes

In a welcome change of news from the last, oh, 20 years, it turns out that American homes are actually shrinking in size, according to recent reports.

No doubt this is almost entirely due to the recession and the implosion of the American real estate market, which sucked so much of the (artificial) value out of homes that there’s really no direction that new building can go in but reverse.

Let’s look at this a little more in depth.


Why Did US Homes Get So Big?

Lots of reasons, really. America has lots of space, and “bigger is better” is a general trend that, once it catches on, tends to go and go until there’s a crash, or until things become too big as to become untenable.

The popular concept of McMansions was basically that – taking what once used to belong to the exceedingly wealthy, the idea of a large house with so many rooms that it would take a small staff to maintain – it was an idea that developers were able to, with the help of cheap, nearly-endless credit, bring to the “average” American homebuyer.

Suddenly, people who 50 years ago might have even considered buying apartments (oh good lord no!) were buying massive, 5-bedroom houses for – well, no one’s exactly sure what a huge house is really for.


What Are The Downsides of a Huge Home?

One of the problems with buying a huge house is that an empty home really does kinda look like crap with nothing in it. Having room after room of freshly painted nothingness isn’t the nicest thing in the world, so a huge house almost compels one to buy, buy, buy – and since the damn house cost so much in the first place, a whole lot of that stuff is pretty much definitely going on credit.

Also, the fact that these homes are huge means that they’re demanding more and more from our already over-used utilities – more air conditioning, more heating in the winter, and more electricity throughout the entire house. There’s no question this a big downside, at least from a green perspective.


Can We Turn Back the Clock?

The one thing about this new trend is that it’s just the preliminary signs of something that a lot of people think is already too late: we’ve over-built our suburbs and the periphery of our cities, and these communities, dependent as they are almost entirely on oil-based forms of transport, are going to have a hell of a time adjusting when the world runs out of oil (well, not runs out but is unable to stop purchasing it because it’s become so scarce).

So what becomes of all these huge houses, when the day finally comes that we all return to cities or townhomes or apartments or god knows whatever else kind of configuration is in store?


The Flaw of Cheap Materials

Well, there are many flaws, really – but the saddest thing about building homes cheaply and quickly, entirely based on speculative, ballooning values, is that it’s very hard to retrofit these homes or expect them to last beyond a certain number of years. There are 500-year-old apartments all throughout Europe still in use. Apartments from the 1920s are incredibly frequently throughout places like Italy, Germany, and Spain.

But in North America, we’re not so lucky. Our building boom coincided with a rise of cheap materials, and old homes are often woefully unprepared to be gutted, divided, rented out, changed around, or any such number of things that more robust buildings can survive.

No one really knows what the suburbs are going to look like in the future – especially the ones that have been so badly designed against public transportation. But this is the first bit of news about building trends that leaves you with, if not optimism, at least not a thundering amount of pessimism for the future.


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