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Addition Woes: Bigger Yard or Bigger House?

Need more space at home? Are the quarters getting a little cramped? The logical step is to create a more livable space by increasing the square footage of your home. But you’ll have to cut into your backyard a wee bit. That’s the dilemma, how much yard should you use when building a new addition?

The general rule of thumb from an aesthetic point of view is to use 1/3 of the yard. Anything more and your house may look too big for the property. This approach strikes a balance between the yard and home. Less is more. This approach will also help control your home’s energy intake. Obviously, smaller homes take less energy to heat and cool. Reducing your home’s carbon footprint is a fine reason to use less square footage when building an addition.

Still, homes have been getting bigger and lots have shrunk. In 2005, The Seattle Times published a terrific article on growth and development in the high population areas of Washington State. I’ll cite some important stats used to explain home building trends over the last 25 years.

According to the U.S. Census at the time, the average size of the median home has increased 29 percent from 1978 to 2003. At the same time home lots have shrunk by 13 percent. The Census also showed that the West has the smallest lots in the country.

In a nutshell, homebuilders believe the Growth Management Act of 1990 spurred on the decreasing size of lots nationwide, but in particular, the high density areas of the West. In the Puget Sound area, builders had limited space to develop and high demand for housing. This forces the value of the land to go up, thus shrinking the size of the lots to build on. The belief is this trend will simply continue. So, if you do have a big yard to build on, take pride, because there’s a good chance your numbers are shrinking too.

Take a look at the increase size in homes, courtesy of the U.S. Census Bureau and The Seattle Times.

Homes vs. lots

Median homes have grown nearly 29 percent in the U.S. since 1978, while lots have shrunk 13 percent.


Home sq. ft.

Lot sq. ft.



















Source: U.S. Census Bureau





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