Where did the three-car garage go? And what’s on the front of those houses?


Philip Langdon

New Urban Network


Could it be that American houses are giving less space to cars and making more room for sitting out front with the neighbors?

That does seem to be the trend.

The US Census Bureau recently released its Survey of New Construction, which presents data on the characteristics of new single-family houses from 1999 through 2009. The most interesting aspects of the survey, according to Philadelphia architect James Wentling, are the trends from 2005 onward — the period in which the effects of the Great Recession emerged.

The October issue of James Wentling Architects’  e-newsletter, Housing Perspective, traces what’s happened to house design from the peak production year of 2005 through 2009, the year in which housing starts reached bottom. Among the changes:

• Three-car garages fell by 18 percent.

• Porches were up by 16 percent, attributable, in Wentling’s view, to “increased focus on neighborhood design.”

• Decks and patios declined by nearly 11 percent.

• The median size of single-family houses slipped by 7 percent, from 2,268 sq. ft. to 2,100 sq. ft.

• The median sale price declined 18 percent, from $256,000 to $211,000.

• Median price per square foot declined l6 percent, from $112 to $100.

• Fireplaces were installed in 11 percent fewer of newly constructed houses. Even so, fireplaces were standard features in nearly 50 percent of new houses.

• Heat pumps were installed in 37 percent of new houses, up from 21 percent, because of concerns about energy costs and the environment.

What did not change significantly was the typical interior’s room count: 3.3 bedrooms and 2.2 bathrooms. The median lot size remained around 10,000 sq. ft., with a value of $40,000.

Another trend, according to Wentling, is the shift to an “oversize” one-car garage or a “downsized” two-car garage. With small cars becoming more prevalent, two cars can often fit into a garage 18 feet wide, he notes. Alternatively, a 14-foot-wide garage provides room for one car plus plenty of storage.

Despite the emphasis on space-conserving techniques in recent designs such as Marianne Cusato’s “Home for the New Economy”, Wentling says that 35 percent of new houses as of 2009 still featured two-story foyers. Even in the $150,000 to $199,000 price range, 25 percent had two-story foyers.

“Buyers still seem to appreciate volume spaces, including tray ceilings, lofts overlooking a room below, and sloped ceilings, although full two-story rooms are generally only seen in high-end product,” according to Wentling.

A longer analysis of the Survey of New Construction has been produced by the National Association of Home Builders.