This post will look at the ideal house size and layout to raise a family and live your best life.
With tens of millions of people experiencing sheltering in place, the value of a house has gone way up! Larger houses with views, yards, hot tubs, and pools are in demand. Home offices is also a must have for millions who work-from-home nowadays.
When you have a family, you simply want what’s best for your kids. Further, when you have kids, you will also desire to hav a lot more space so you can think!
A Change In Home Sizes
The only time I want a mega-mansion is when my in-laws or parents come to visit. I fantasize how it’d be nice to put my guests in a separate wing with their own kitchen, bathroom, and living area. This way, we can all keep our independence while also sharing family time every day.
We used to live in a modest 1,920 square foot home with three bedrooms and two bathrooms. It was plenty of space for my wife and me and our baby boy. Once we had our daughter and the pandemic hit, we decided to buy a ~3,000 square foot forever home.
The extra 1,000 square feet of space was welcome. So were the extra floors, ironically. You’d think an ideal layout would be all rooms on one floor. However, with the constant crying and whining of children, it’s been fantastic to have multiple levels for less disturbance.
We could have purchased a larger, more expensive home. However, it was already risky enough buying a more expensive home in mid-2020. Further, we also wanted to generate more passive income to avoid having to go back to work. Therefore, we are more than happy living below our means.
Every single room we have is fully utilized now that we have two children and both work from home. There’s a nice view of the ocean and enough space for a hot tub and kids to run around outside.
The neighborhood is also extremely quiet, which is a big change from our previous residence that recurrently experienced drunken frat bros screaming nonsense at 2am.
We’ve found the ideal home size and layout for the next 10 years. If you’re looking to find the same, please read on.
The Ideal Size And Layout For A Family House
In determining the ideal house size and layout to raise children, I’d like to operate under the confines of a middle class household.
To do otherwise would cause too much controversy and take away from the purpose of helping expecting families or existing families buy (or rent) the most family-friendly house.
To start, the median home price in America is roughly $370,000 or 5.5X the national median household income of roughly $68,000 as of 2Q2021. Therefore, wherever you are, owning a home equal to roughly 4X – 6X your household income puts you in the middle class.
Conversely, dividing your area’s median home price by 4 – 6 gives you an approximate middle class household income e.g. $300,000 household income living in a $1.5M SF home.
In the past, it was always a good idea to limit your house purchase to no more than 3X your household income. But due to a decline in interest rates since the 1980s, families have been able to stretch.
If you haven’t refinanced over the past 12 months, I highly recommend you at least check the latest mortgage rates. Mortgage rates have dropped to all-time lows in 2021, but are ticking back up on inflation expectations.
Check the latest mortgage rates with Credible for free. Credible is my favorite lending marketplace where lenders compete for your business so you can get the best rate.
I do not recommend spending more than 5X your household income on a home, especially given the real estate market has surged so much. 3X is what I suggest most readers pay with a 20% downpayment. Regardless, banks won’t lend you more than a 42% debt-to-income ratio (DTI) anyway.
Now that we’ve established some parameters, let’s get into the details.
The Ideal House Size And Layout
Owning a house equal to +/- 25% 2,422 square feet, the median size house as of 2021 gives you a typical middle class house size.
Since we don’t want to go outside the confines of the middle class, the ideal house size is therefore between 1,816 – 3,027 square feet. You can certainly go smaller, but there are some considerations that may crimp your lifestyle.
The ideal house size is one in which you feel comfortable while also having a high utilization of space. If you buy a house too big, you’ll have excess maintenance headaches, higher maintenance bills, more cleaning to do, higher heating bills, and likely higher property taxes.
Owning a house too big is like driving a diesel bus when there’s only four of you – a big waste of money. You won’t feel good about owning a non ideal house size with a bad layout.
Square Feet Per Person For The Ideal House Size
A smart way to figure out the ideal house size is to think in square feet per person. Will you feel comfortable having 400 square feet, 500 square feet, or 800 square feet of space to yourself?
I believe the ideal square feet per person is about 600 – 700. This means for a family of three, the ideal house size is 1,800 – 2,100 square feet. For a family of four, the ideal house size is between 2,400 – 2,800 square feet and so forth.
It’s up to you to decide how much space you’re most comfortable with up to 3,027 square feet (if you consider yourself middle class). If you live in a big city, due to high housing costs, you may be forced to adapt to smaller apartment living.
Related: To Make Money In Real Estate Focus On Expansion
The Ideal Number Of Bedrooms
Ideally, your house should have enough rooms per person to sleep individually + one room for guests or an office. In other words, if there are two adults and one baby, the ideal number of bedrooms would be four. For two adults and two kids, the ideal number of bedrooms would be five and so forth.
After working together as a team feeding and changing diapers every 1 – 3 hours for the first three months, one or both spouses will need to go back to work.
Having the option to sleep alone in your own bedroom is important given babies often wake up multiple times during the night the first year, and sometimes up to the first three years. It’s nice for at least one partner to get a full night’s rest and be more productive at work the next day.
So far we have had my wife’s sister, wife’s parents, my parents, and my sister visit. Any more than two people staying with us at one time is too crowded. Even two for more than a week feels tight.
With our current three bedrooms + nursery, having one guest is the ideal guest count where we still have enough space to feel free.
The Ideal Number Of Bathrooms
In a perfect world, each bedroom will have its own attached bathroom. With only one bathroom upstairs at our house to service the occupants of two bedrooms and day guests, we have to keep the bathroom cleaner than we normally would.
Further, when overnight guests are over, there is sometimes a wait period since it seems we all tend to wake up and need to go to the bathroom at the same time.
On the the living and dining room floor, there should ideally be at least a half bathroom for non-overnight guests. It’s efficient and easier to keep clean. It feels a little weird having guests use our toilet, especially when they need to take a growler.
Having a his and her sink is a great feature for the master bathroom. Further, having a separate shower and tub plus a private toilet stall really opens up the space.
The Ideal Number Of House Floors
Having one floor with no stairs is ideal for babies, toddlers, and elderly folks. Stairs are a safety hazard. Every time I carry my baby up or down the stairs I hang onto him and the railing for dear life. I’ve missed a step or slipped before by myself, and I don’t plan to do so again with such precious cargo.
If land is too expensive to have a one story house, then two floors is the second best thing. Make sure the stairs are carpeted or at least comfortably wide and not too steep. The edges of stairs can cause a big gash.
Four story houses are simply too much of a pain to navigate. You might enjoy these tall layouts without kids. However, as soon as you have a baby or a knee injury, you would rather have less levels. Therefore, if you have more than three stories, you may want to get an elevator if possible.
The Ideal House Layout
If you have a baby, it’s important to keep him or her close by. The nursery should share a wall with your master bedroom. Or the baby can sleep with you in your room for the first year of life. If you have small children, the ideal house layout is all on one floor. But that’s hard to come up in expensive cities.
As for the other bedrooms, ideally no other bedrooms will share walls for added privacy and sound proofing. With a one story house, each bedroom would ideally be on each side of the house. If two bedrooms are on the same floor, it should be buffered by a closet or a bathroom.
For two or more story houses, you don’t want to have your bedrooms on top of each other. Instead, have one or two bedrooms in the front of the house. Then have one or two bedrooms in the back of the house.
The master bedrooms should be in the rear of the house away from the street. It is unbelievable how much our sleep improved (before the baby) after we moved into our new house which situated our master bedroom in the rear. Every time I nap, I also fall asleep quicker and sleep more soundly in our rear facing bedroom.
If you work from home, having a great house floor plan is vital. Ideally, you don’t have bedrooms over common areas. Further, it’s good to have offices on different ends of the house or on different floors for more privacy.
Related: The Best Time To Own The Nicest House You Can Afford
The Ideal House Grounds
Ideally, your home will be surround by flat land. The larger the buffer between your house’s front entrance and the sidewalk and road, the better for noise and safety.
Flat land is much more valuable than hilly land. When searching for a house, always ask how much of the lot is flat.
If you are on a hill, like we are, much of our land in the rear was unusable. As a result, we created about 1,200 square feet of flat tiers. We now use one of the tiers for the hot tub, one tier as a playground, and another tier just for plants.
Living near public parks, playgrounds, and libraries is definitely a plus. The ideal house surroundings should have a lot of outdoor activities.
Related: Why The Housing Market Won’t Crash Any Time Soon
The Ideal Direction A House Faces
You know how some houses feel really warm and cozy, while others have an uncomfortable vibe? Location and layout have a lot to do with how a house feels, but so does its direction. This is called good feng shui. You can just feel the good feng shui when you enter a house.
The quieter the street your house is located on, the better. Think veins instead of arteries. My old house was on a busy artery next to the biggest artery in all of San Francisco. My current house is on a vein in a neighborhood where there are no apartment buildings. The difference is night and day.
You want your main rooms to either face east or west. Some people like to wake up to the morning sun (east). While others like to wind down to a lovely sunset (west). Decide what type of person you are and then see if the main rooms face your preferred direction. How light fills your house is an extremely important part of the feel of your house.
A house facing north tends to be the least desirable since the least amount of sun enters the house. That said, if you have windows on all sides of the house, it doesn’t really matter. A house facing south gets the most sun throughout the day, which is generally positive. However, too much sun can often be overwhelming and too hot, even if you live in more moderate climates.
Related: Income And Net Worth Requirements To Buy A House At Different Price Points
Buy A Slightly Larger House Than You Think Is Ideal
A baby really does shrink the size of your house by ~30%. Above is a picture of our old 1,920 square foot house. Right smack dab in the middle of our living room was a big play pen.
We also turned another bedroom into a playroom and our office/walk-in closet turned into nursery. At the time, we wish we had an extra half bathroom and family room.
If and when we move to Hawaii we’ll probably look for another 3,000 square foot house on a flat lot with all the above attributes in mind. We’re looking into the future when both my wife and I get old. Further, we’ll have to take care of one or both sets of parents.
If money isn’t any issue, we probably still won’t buy a house bigger than 3,000 square feet. Instead, we will focus on buying a newly constructed property with more flat land, better insulation, and fewer problems. With land, you never need to call the plumber!
The ideal house size and layout is one where you can truly enjoy your home. You want to have enough space for everyone. You also don’t want to feel a tremendous financial crunch every time you have to pay the bills. Once you have kids, you’ll find that the value you your house goes way up.
As the work-from-home movement grows, the ideal house size and layout will likely continue to grow. The ideal home will expand to make room for a home office and a children’s play area.
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Hi, we are currently in the process of building our custom home. it should be completed in 6 months. the home is about 3400 sqft , one story with all rooms downstairs and bonus upstairs, 3 car garage located on .8 acre, private with only one neighbor to the right and in a gated community. is it crazy that we are moving from our 1800 sqft home to this large home for 2 adults (husband and I) and our 7 month old baby ? $ 1.1mil
we are also looking at homes that are slightly smaller 2900-3000 sqft in the city. price is similar $850k convenient but less land .
Financial Samurai says
Congrats! All rooms on one floor is a fantastic.
You’ll probably get used to the 3,400 sqft in no time, so it’s not crazy.
And if you followed my 30/30/3 home buying rule or net worth buying rule, you’ll feel good about your home. The intrinsic value of a home has increased a lot since the pandemic began!
I have a question. Is your calculation including finished basement square footage or only above grade?
Financial Samurai says
You might need to put a discount on the square footage for an underground basement. Here in San Francisco, where I live, there are really no underground basements. It’s usually just first floor.
Jim Davis says
Currently living in a 2000 square feet house, the top floor is for me and my family while I rent the bottom floor. It’s a great way of having both passive income and having a backyard and room for my kids.
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I like your analysis of rooms per person.. however we are a family of 7…we have learned that most homes are not built for a family our size. We are currently in 4500 sq ft in the Midwest, but some of the siblings are sharing as we have 4 bedrooms. I have found myself wanting to downsize but I think for my sanity I can’t.
Sarah Meadows says
My family of 7 is currently living in a 3/2 1,000 sq ft home quite comfortably. We have a big yard with a playground to entertain the 5 children(twin toddlers to a 10 year old), and 4 labs. The 1 car garage is not for bikes and other outdoor toys, although a few friends have used it to hold things during a move. Sometimes I’d like a bigger house, but the thought of how much time would be spent cleaning it usually stops those thought!! Other times I’d like to go tiny and travel(not with the dogs though ) I do agree that babies take up a lot of room, but you really over estimate how much space you really need. (Although I have only ever used a pack and play as a bed…)
Sarah Meadows says
*more for bike
Flat land -you have to be careful of flooding and rain, you want to have the house on a slight hill at least.
Also southern facing windows give you heat and light in winter, west facing will cook you out in the summertime.
Sabrina Addams says
My sister just found out that she is expecting a baby boy in August and is so excited! She and her husband are wanting to find a single-family home for sale that would be best to raise their little family in. I appreciated your wisdom that you should have enough rooms per individual in the family to sleep in, plus one for either a guestroom or office space and that one-floor homes are good for babies.
James Borst says
My wife and I have a two-year-old boy and we are considering buying a new home before having another child. It is interesting that you recommend 700 square feet of space per person. We may also talk to a real estate agent to help us decide how big we want our house.
lol at the privilege here. in Eastern Europe, it’s common for a family of four to have less than 800 square feet.
Yes, Jeff, and in Jamaica the folks living in huts made of scrap metal would consider the Eastern Europeans privileged. There’s always a bigger victim.
C Hunter says
Have you ever been to Jamaica?
Contrary to what you are selling Jamaica has fine homes. What is it with you?
I agree! Home sizes are ridiculous here! We are privileged and looking to buy a good house in a good neighborhood… but they are all grossly large, at least 2000 sq ft.
Gennadiy from Belarus says
My niece and her husband and their 3 children live in apartment 333 foot or 31 m2
Financial Samurai says
Are they comfortable and happy in that space?
Wait. You DON’T want most of the windows to face east or west. You will either get glaring light in the morning or evening when the sun rises or sets directly in your windows.
You want most of the window to face south, with a smaller amount facing north.
Light from the south is high up in the sky during summer months, so you don’t get the glare you think you will get. You get a very nice light, but not a glaring light because the sun doesn’t rise in the south.
Financial Samurai says
No. Facing south is way too hot all day. East/West is the best feng shui. Look it up in ancient Chinese history.
facing south maximizes light while minimizing heat seasonally. in the winter, the sun is farther south (lower on the horizon) and heats the house. In the summer, the sun is farther north (higher on the horizon) and will hit more of the roof. Maybe its a function of where you live – i grew up in the desert SW and if your home faced directly west, your home was a hotbox until late evening.
I know wikipedia isn’t the best source but it seems to suggest “ancient chinese history” suggested north-south axis as well. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feng_shui
As a Canadian with large south facing windows… I fully endorse this!
Kamm Q. says
Absolutely, Joe. Our main windows all face south. They provide both heat and light in the winter, and good light in the summer. On the one large east facing window, we have European-style roll-shutters to keep out the morning light. The other east facing windows and patio doors have window films and solid vertical blinds to do a similar job. The south facing garage windows provide some heat in winter and decent light the rest of the year. It is important when contemplating a house to find property that allows this orientation. We plan to put a solar array on the south facing roof slope for additional benefits. We live in SE BC.
Kamm Q. says
PS. We are a “family” of two in a 1280 sq ft home.
I think needs change over time. Layout is perhaps more important than square footage. We live in a 3 bedroom 2.5 bath 2000 sq foot townhome with a full basement.
We are a family of 4. While I don’t think our home is small by any means, we definitely feel the need for an office space and a 4 th bedroom. The basement can technically serve as both, but not ideal. Now that both kids are teenagers, they love the basement space to hang out with their friends, sleepovers, move nights etc.
Especially in the cold winters when they cannot hang outside, the teen space is very useful.
I think if we had a 4th bedroom and a guest bathroom it would be ideal considering that as our parents age they stay with us for longer periods of time.
However the property taxes in NJ are a killer.
Even a 1350 sqft three storied town house is enough. Convert or finish basement into full suite with Bathroom. You will gain more space 4 kids. Two big rooms in private floor are enough.
The main floor with Kitchen, drawing dining should be enough. What will you do with a 2500 sq ft house is beyond logic. Yes prestige and accomplishment definitely but utility, I don’t know. An American house with 1350 sq ft on ground and 1st floor each is enough to live peacefully
stephanie Thompson says
Yes NJ taxes are crazy. I feel like his middle class income is off. I think most middle class have a house of 1400 to 2100sf at least in NJ especially with car payments and other expenses.