As you review the variety of floor plans available online, the square footage will likely be one of the first things you check. You may read a property description that says something like, “A terrific one-bedroom apartment with 900 square feet of living space.” That sounds great, but how big is 900 square feet? How much square footage do you even need? While we’re on the subject, what is a square foot? Let’s get out our trusty rulers and start measuring!

WHAT IS A SQUARE FOOT?

A square foot is a square with each side measuring one foot (or 12 inches) in length. Standard floor tiles usually measure one square foot in size, so if you have tile flooring in your kitchen or bathroom, you can count them to get a general idea of the room’s square footage. (This only works if it is a standard floor tile, though. If you aren’t sure, measure one of the tiles.)

If you want to know the square footage of your entire apartment, start in your main living space. Using a tape measure, first measure the length of the room and then the width. Multiply those two numbers to get the area, or square footage, of that space. Do this in every room and then add those numbers together to get the overall square footage of your apartment.

Keep in mind that square footage is measured differently. Much depends on who is doing the measuring and what they are including. For example, the measurement could be by total space or by livable space. Total space includes areas like clothing and utility closets, while livable space measures just the areas you spend time in, such as the bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, and living room.

Square Footage Comparisons

If you are still wondering how much space you’ll have in that cute studio apartment you’ve got your eye on, here are some rough comparisons (these aren’t exact and are intended as a general idea only):

This Square Footage:Is About The Size Of:
100 square feeta doctor’s exam room
200 square feeta college dorm room
250 square feeta one-car garage
400 square feeta two-car garage
700 square feeta three-car garage
800 square feeta regulation racquetball court
900 square feetan elementary school classroom
1,000 square feethalf a tennis court

DECIDING HOW MUCH SQUARE FOOTAGE YOU NEED

The amount of square footage you need depends on a variety of factors and it isn’t the same for everyone. If you live alone, you may not need as much space as you would if you were living with another person. When sharing your apartment with a roommate, consider how much space each of you will need to be comfortable (i.e., a private quiet space and a dining space). The amount of stuff you plan to bring along with you may also be a factor, along with the size of your furniture.

For example, if you must have a king-size bed, that will take up 42 square feet of your living space. Your eight-foot sectional will need at least a 12-foot wall. Measure the width and depth of your must-have pieces of furniture, and keep in mind that you’ll need some space around each item (roughly 30 inches) in order to move about.

 AVERAGE HOME SIZE AND SQUARE FOOTAGE TRENDS

As an interesting side note, houses and apartments have changed in square footage over time. In the US, the average size of a single-family home is about 2,600 square feet. In 1970, the average house size was 1,660 square feet. In 1950, the average home was 983 square feet. (An interesting side note to the interesting side note, while homes are getting larger, family size is trending smaller. In 1940, there was an average of 3.6 people per household, according to US Census data. Today, it’s about 2.5.)

Conversely, today’s apartments average about 1,015 square feet, which is slightly smaller than the 1,117 square feet in 2011. This could be because more studios and one-bedroom apartments are being built and fewer two and three-bedroom units, according to CoStar data.

For some, smaller is better. There’s less upkeep, cheaper utility bills, and potentially less clutter. Perhaps this explains the recent trend of tiny houses and micro apartments, which is in direct contrast to the larger house trend. A tiny house is 400 square feet or less, while a micro apartment is usually between 100 and 300 square feet.

So … how much square footage do you need? Depending on who is living with you, the amount of stuff you have, the size of your furniture, and your personal preference, anywhere between 100 and 2,600 square feet … more or less.

Not helpful? Okay, you’ll probably want to narrow that down a little. When trying to figure out how much space you’ll need to be comfortable in your home, here are some factors to consider:

 APARTMENT FEATURES VS. SQUARE FOOTAGE

When you are home, what room do you gravitate toward? If you love to cook and spend as much time as you can in your kitchen, look for one that is relatively open. You might prefer an “L” or “U” shaped kitchen. If you spend most of your time in the living room, look for one that offers the right layout. For example, is there room for your sectional and your large-screen television?  If you prefer to be in the heart of the city or you want to live as close to the beach as possible, square footage might not matter as much as location. Knowing what you want will help you determine the amount of square footage you need.

APARTMENT SPACE AND HOW YOU USE IT

If you’re only using your apartment as a place to sleep, then a smaller micro or studio would probably suit you better than a large apartment. If you frequently entertain and love hosting dinner parties, you’ll want an apartment with a generous dining space. If your mom visits regularly from out of town and you need a place for her to stay, then you might want to consider a one or two-bedroom apartment rather than a studio.  If you work from home, consider what type of space you’ll need for your office and where you’ll want it to be located.

 YOUR APARTMENT BUDGET

Remember: you are paying for the entire apartment. If you are only using one room most of the time, you’re paying for that unused space. Utility costs depend a lot on your square footage, as well. If saving money is a top priority for you, this could be a factor when choosing square footage. The smaller the apartment, the less it will cost to heat and cool it. Square footage is a major factor in determining the rent price, so look for a floor plan that has what you need in a layout that makes sense.

APARTMENT LAYOUT VS. SQUARE FOOTAGE

The layout of the apartment is as important as the square footage, so look at how the apartment is arranged when deciding which place fits you best. You can adore a 250-square-foot micro apartment if the design works for you.  Look at the placement of the rooms and the hallways. If you are sharing the apartment, you might want a split floor plan, where the bedrooms are located on either side of the common area.

If you like a lot of natural light, look at where the windows are located. If you work nights and sleep during the day, you may not want a wall of windows in the bedroom. Do you prefer an open floor plan or do you like some separation of rooms? Do you want a patio or balcony? Try to find a layout that offers the right types of spaces for you, rather than a certain square footage. You might be surprised at what you find!

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