Be It Not Even Marginally Humble, There’s No Place Like a New Home

New houses in America have more of everything (except residents). It’s counterintuitive, given the shrinkage in average household size, that the nation’s houses would get larger. But that’s just what they’ve done, as documented in the Census Bureau’s newly published Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2002. And even as new houses get bigger, people stuff more and more amenities into the country’s older housing stock.

Let us begin our house tour in the bathroom. If owners of new houses aren’t a well-scrubbed lot, it’s not for lack of a place to do the scrubbing. Looking at privately owned single-family homes completed in 2001, the report finds 56 percent of them have 2.5 or more bathrooms—up from 45 percent of new houses in 1990 and 25 percent in 1980. Just 6 percent of 2001’s new houses make do with 1.5 bathrooms (or fewer). A similar pattern emerges as we move along to the bedrooms. Back in 1980, before the typical U.S. household had the forethought to dispense with multiple children, just 20 percent of new houses had four bedrooms or more; 17 percent had two or fewer. In 2001, when kids were more scarce, the proportion of new houses with four or more bedrooms had risen to 37 percent, while those with two or fewer bedrooms had dwindled to 11 percent. It’s hard to accommodate all these rooms on a single floor, so the proportion of new houses with two or more stories is up from 31 percent in 1980 to 53 percent in 2001. Central air conditioning has become more common in new houses (63 percent in 1980, 86 percent in 2001). The proportion of new houses with at least one fireplace has remained high (56 percent in 1980, 58 percent in 2001).

Of course, relatively few Americans live in such new homes. Looking at all categories of dwellings (including multi-family buildings), the Census puts the median year of construction at 1970. What are the characteristics of the nearly 120 million housing units covered in the report? A majority have 1.5 bathrooms (15 percent) or a single bathroom (41 percent). The other 43 percent have two or more bathrooms. In a majority of dwellings, the total number of rooms is four (19 percent), five (23 percent) or six (21 percent). Cataloguing the “amenities” of the nation’s dwellings, the report says 33 percent have a usable fireplace and 47 percent have a separate dining room. As for more utilitarian amenities, 56 percent have a dishwasher, 76 percent have a clothes washer and 73 percent have a clothes dryer. Fifty-eight percent of housing units have a central air-conditioning system, while 25 percent have one or more air-conditioning room units.