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ABC Special Report
Investigation: New Home Heartbreak
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Mother Jones: Houses Keep Growing
Saturday, 10 September 2005
This New House
The American Dream just keeps growing. Since 1970 the size of the average new home has ballooned by 50 percent. “Great rooms,” Viking ranges, 10-acre lots—can moats and turrets be far behind?

Mother Jones Magazine March/April 2005
This New House
By: Nathan Fox

News: The American Dream just keeps growing. Since 1970 the size of the average new home has ballooned by 50 percent. “Great rooms,” Viking ranges, 10-acre lots—can moats and turrets be far behind?

To view this article with Nathan Fox's illustration, as it appeared in the March/April 2005 issue of Mother Jones magazine, download the following PDFs:MJ026.pdf (7.6 MB)
MJ027.pdf (8.4 MB)

  • Since 1950, the average new house has increased by 1,247 sq. ft. Meanwhile, the average household has shrunk by 1 person.

  • The National Association of Home Builders’ “showcase home” for 2005 is 5,950 sq. ft. That’s 15% bigger than last year’s model.

  • The Unabomber’s legal defense team cited the size of his shack—10’ x 12’—to buttress his insanity plea.

  • 1 in 4 Americans want at least a 3-car garage.

  • 88% of American commuters drive to work.

  • 76% of those drivers commute alone.

  • The number of Americans with commutes of longer than 90 minutes each way has increased 95% since 1990.

  • Since 1982, 35 million acres—an area the equivalent of New York state—have been developed.

  • More than 50% of exurban lots are 10 acres or larger. Exurban homes account for 80% of residential development since 1994.

  • In 1950, 1 in 100 homes had 2.5 baths or more. Today, 1 in 2 do.

  • 14 million households own 4 or more TVs.

  • Americans spend more to power home audio and video equipment that is “off” but still plugged in than they do to power such devices while actually in use.

  • Such “energy vampires” consume 5% of the nation’s electricity.

  • Extreme Makeover: Home Edition recently gave a 6-bedroom, 7-bath, 7-television house to a family of 4.

  • Americans with cable TV have 30 hours of home-improvement programming available to them each day.

  • Sales of Sub-Zero and other “premium” and “superpremium” refrigerators have been rising by 15% a year.

  • 1 in 5 new homes is larger than 3,000 sq. ft.—the size at which it becomes unmanageable to clean without hired help.

  • The average cost of a luxury kitchen remodel is $57,000. That’s $10,000 more than it costs to build a typical Habitat for Humanity home.

  • Suburban and urban kids use illegal drugs, have sex, fight, and steal at the same rates, but suburban kids are more likely to drink and smoke.

  • 0.03% of U.S. homes are fueled by solar energy. 0.4% lack complete plumbing facilities.

  • People who live in cities use half as much energy as suburbanites.

  • If Americans bought only appliances with an“Energy Star” rating over the next 15 years, the reduction in greenhouse gases would equate to taking 17 million cars off the road.

  • 1/3 of a home’s heating oil is used for hot water. Multiple-head shower systems can drain a 40-gallon tank in less than 4 minutes.

  • The average new home requires 13,837 board feet of lumber and 19 tons of cement.

  • Since 1976, federal housing assistance has been slashed by 48%.

  • Last spring, the Bush administration proposed an additional $1 billion cut to the Section 8 housing subsidy.

  • 87% of homeowners are white.

  • Overall, blacks receive subprime loans 2.83 times more often than whites. The disparity increases when affluent blacks are compared to affluent whites.

  • If it were a state, New York City would rank 51st in energy use per capita.

  • Suburban white men weigh 10 pounds more than men in cities.

  • Only 2.7% of San Francisco’s teachers, 5.7% of its cops, and 4.2% of its nurses can afford to buy a home there.

  • 1 in 4 Californians are considering moving out of state to reduce their housing costs.

  • Rush Limbaugh’s Palm Beach estate is worth 15 times the value of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s Chappaqua, N.Y., home.

  • 7% of all homes are in gated communities.

  • 7% of all homes are mobile homes.

  • Since 2001, the number of Americans who have bought second homes has increased by 24%.



Sources:

Size of the average new home: U.S. Bureau of the Census, cited by National Association of Home Builders, "Housing Facts, Figures & Trends 2004."

"Showcase home" 2004 vs. 2005: National Association of Home Builders and The National Council of the Housing Industry, "2005 New American Home" and "2004 New American Home."

Average household size: U.S. Census Bureau, "Average Population Per Household and Family: 1940 to Present."

Unabomber hut: Court transcripts at unabombertrial.com; "In fits and starts: Kaczynski throws the Unabomb trial into disarray," Time, January 19, 1998.

Extreme Makeover: Home Edition: "Kingston cheers as winners of TV show see new home," Seattle Times, November 18, 2004; "Fancy digs provide new lease on life," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 10, 2005.

Home-improvement programming: calculation based on recent TV and cable listings.

Suburban and urban teens: Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, "Sex, Drugs, and Delinquency in Urban and Suburban Public Schools," January 2004.

Solar energy and plumbing: U.S. Census Bureau, "American Community Survey, 2003 Multi-Year Profile."

Cities, energy and New York: "Green Manhattan: Everywhere should be more like New York," The New Yorker, October 18, 2004; "More Bang for the B.T.U.; New York Ranks Near the Top for Efficient Use of Energy," The New York Times, October 21, 2000.

Materials for new home: National Association of Home Builders, "Housing Facts, Figures & Trends 2004"; NAHB Research Center, "2001 Builders Practices Survey."


Housing in San Francisco. National Association of Home Builders, "Where is Workforce Housing Located? A Study of the Geography of Housing Affordability," December 8, 2004.

Californians considering moving: Public Policy Institute of California, "Special Survey on Californians and Their Housing," November 2004.

Federal housing assistance: National Low Income Housing Coalition, "Changing Priorities: The Federal Budget and Housing Assistance, 1976-2005," October 2004.

Proposed Section 8 cuts: "Big Spending Bill Makes a Winner of Mars Program but Many Losers Elsewhere," The New York Times, November 23, 2004.

Second homes: National Association of Realtors, "Profile of Second Homes: 2004 Update."

Suburban white men: "Obesity Relationships with Community Design, Physical Activity and Time Spent in Cars," American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2004.

Limbaugh and Clinton homes: Forbes.com, "Celebrity 100: Celebrity Homes."

White homeowners: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and U.S. Census Bureau, "American Housing Survey for the United States: 2003."

Blacks and subprime loans: Center for Community Change, "Risk or Race? Racial Disparities and the Subprime Refinance Market," May 2002.

Gated communities: U.S. Census Bureau, "American Housing Survey for the United States: 2001."

Mobile homes: U.S. Census Bureau, "American Community Survey: 2003 Multi-Year Profile."

Heating oil and hot water: National Oilheat Research Alliance, "Efficient Oilheat: An Energy Conservation Guide."

Multiple head showers: On The House with the Carey Brothers, "Tip of the Day: Shower Tower Luxury."

Energy Star: Federal Citizen Information Center, "Too ‘Plugged In’"

Size of new homes and cleaning: "Maid to Order: The Politics of Other Women’s Work," Harper’s Magazine, April 2000; "Monster Houses? ‘Yes’," Planning, May 2002.

Luxury kitchen vs. Habitat for Humanity: The Boston Consulting Group, "The New Luxury: Why the Middle Market American Consumer Wants Premium Goods and How Companies Create Them," November 2002; U.S. Habitat for Humanity, "What are Habitat Houses Like in North America?"

Sub-Zero refrigerators: "Trading Up (or Down?)," Appliance Magazine, July 2003.

TV ownership: The American Marketplace: Demographics and Spending Patterns, Sixth Edition, New Strategist Publications, Inc., 2003; Energy Information Administration, "2001 Survey Methods: The Residential Energy Consumption Survey (RECS)."

"Off" power vs. "On" power: Federal Citizen Information Center, "Too ‘Plugged In’"

"Energy vampires": "Snazzier houses bring energy crisis home to middle class," Christian Science Monitor, October 28, 2004; Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, standby.lbnl.gov.

Three-car garages: National Association of Home Builders, "What 21st Century Home Buyers Want," in "Housing Facts, Figures & Trends 2004."

Commuting: U.S. Census Bureau and Department of Commerce, "Journey to Work: 2000," March 2004.

Exurban homes: Economic Research Service/Department of Agriculture,"Development at the Urban Fringe and Beyond/AER-803."

Developed land size: National Resources Conservation Services, Department of Agriculture, "National Resources Inventory: 2002 Annual NRI."

 
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