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Characteristics of New Single Family Homes

Characteristics of New Single Family Homes
In-Depth Analysis, September 11 2006
By Sanchi Gupta
New single-family houses are larger in size and have more amenities than ever before according to recently released in-depth analysis by NAHB that examines the characteristics of new single-family homes.
The analysis reveals that today’s new homes typically have more bathrooms and bedrooms but fewer come with decks, fireplaces, and basements.
NAHB’s economists analyzed the 2005 Survey of Construction (SOC), which was conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau [1]. The SOC collects detailed information on the physical and financial characteristics of newly-built houses from builders or owners based on a sample of 2005 building permits.
NAHB’s analysis of the SOC provides additional geographical detail, exploring differences between attached and detached homes and expanding exterior wall material categories to show fiber cement and concrete block separately.
Among the findings is that gas heat continues to be the dominant heating fuel, followed by electricity and oil. Similar to previous years, the warm air furnace is the primary heating system used in most of the 2005 units. Also, the analysis showed that the most common primary exterior wall material in 2005 was vinyl, although vinyl’s share has fallen in the last few years. Fiber cement as an exterior material is also gaining popularity.
The total number of single family completions in 2005 was a record 1.6 million, exceeding the previous record of 1.5 million in 2004. With many of the 1.7 million homes started in 2005 still under construction at the end of the year, completions in 2006 should set a new record despite a slowdown in starts. Table 1 shows that about half of the 2005 completions were in the South region and about one-fourth in the West. The share of new homes in the Midwest was 19 percent and in the Northeast was 8 percent. The for-sale share of single family completions was 79 percent, while about 12 percent and 7 percent, respectively, were contractor-built and owner-built homes constructed on the customers land.
The Census Bureau divides the country into four principal regions, each of which is subdivided into a total of nine divisions. For reference, the states in each division are shown in table 3.
Of the 79 percent of the homes that were built for sale, the most expensive homes were found in the Northeast region and the least expensive in the South region. Among divisions, homes in New England and the Pacific were most expensive [2]. In New England homes are expensive in part because the lot sizes were largest (primarily as a result of regulations). In the Pacific division, homes were expensive despite having much smaller lot sizes. Because of high densities as well as high cost per lot, the Pacific division had the highest cost per acre, well above the rest. This reflects the scarcity of land and high regulatory costs, including impact fees.
The size of new homes has increased steadily over the past decade.  Median square footage, which stood at 1,920 in 1995, increased every year since then until it finally topped 2,200 in 2005 (Figure 1). Between  2004 and 2005, median square footage increased from 2,140 square feet to 2, 227 nationally, and increased in all four of the principal census regions as well. The largest new homes in 2005 were found in the Northeast, followed by the West, South and Midwest regions. About 40 percent of the new homes had less than 2,000 square feet of finished living area, while 23 percent were  3,000 square feet or larger.
Figure 1. Median Size of New Single Family Homes, 1973-2006
Basements/ Foundations
Nationally, the share of new homes with a full or partial basement has fallen from 39 percent in 1995 to 31 percent in 2005. The share of homes built on slabs rose from 42 percent in 1995 to 52 percent in 2005, a 10 percentage point increase. In 2005, 16 percent homes were built a over crawl space (Figure 2). The remaining share, including homes built on stilts or pilings, accounted for less than 1 percent of homes completed in 2005.
Figure 2. Type of Foundation, 1995-2005
Among regions these shares differed significantly. Full or partial basements were the foundation for 80 percent of the units in the Northeast region and in 79 percent of the units in the Midwest. The shares with basements fell from 18 percent in 1995 to 12 percent in 2005 in the South and from 21 percent in 1995 to 16 percent in 2005 in the West. One of the reasons for the low incidence of basements in the South is the soil condition in many parts of that region.
Figure 3 shows differences by division. Of the three divisions that make up the South region, the West South Central has lowest share of new homes (less than 0.5 percent) with a full or partial basement. The basement shares in the other two southern divisions, the South Atlantic and East South Central, were 16 percent and 20 percent respectively.
Figure 3. Type of Foundation by Division in 2005
Homes with crawl space are more common in the West (21 percent) and South (19 percent) than in the Northeast (6 percent) and Midwest (6 percent).
Construction Methods
The vast majority (over 90 percent) of new single family homes were site/stick built in both 1995 and 2005. Site built homes may include some factory components such as roof and floor trusses, wall panels, door frames etc. In 2005 about 96 percent of new homes were stick/site built, 3 percent were modular and 2 percent were panelized or precut.
Single family new homes with no garage or carport are disappearing while garages for multiple cars have become the standard. Of the 2005 units, 9 percent had no garage or carport, 6 percentage points lower than in 1995. The incidence of no garage was lowest in the West, only 3 percent in 2005. Most garages in single family homes are built for 2 or more cars as seen from a share of 84 percent in 2005, 9 percentage points above ten years earlier.
A notable feature is the growing proportion of newly built single family homes with garages for 3 or more cars (Figure 4).
Figure 4. New Homes with Garage Space for 3 or more cars 1992-2005.
In 2005 20 percent of the units had garage space for 3 or more cars — 7 percentage point increase from 1995. Among the four principal census regions, the share of new  homes with garage space for 3 or more cars was highest in the West (33 percent) and Midwest (32 percent), somewhat lower in the Northeast (11 percent) and South (10 percent).  At the division level, the West North Central (Midwest Region) had the highest share (42 percent). In the West region, both the Mountain and Pacific divisions had garages for 3 or more cars in about one-third of the units completed in 2005. Garages for 3 or more cars are still rare among attached homes. The share in detached homes was 23 percent.
The SOC collects data on principal and secondary exterior wall materials. The principal type covers more than half the exterior. The secondary type (where present) covers the remaining part, not including trim, shutters and woodwork around openings.
Nationwide, vinyl was the most common primary exterior wall material, used in 34 percent of all homes completed in 2005, followed by stucco (22 percent), brick (21 percent), fiber cement (10 percent), wood (8 percent), concrete block (4 percent), and aluminum (1 percent). Figure 5 shows these shares for the years 1999 through 2005.
Figure 5. Principal Type of Exterior Wall Material, 1999-2005
The use of various exterior materials shows considerable regional variation (Figure 6). Vinyl is the dominant material in the Northeast (New England and Mid-Atlantic) and Midwest (East North Central and West North Central), but stucco is most popular in the West (Mountain and Pacific). Brick is most popular in the South (South Atlantic, East South Central, and West South Central).
Figure 6. Principal Type of Exterior Wall Material by Division in 2005
The share of new homes with brick as the primary exterior wall material has fallen from 39 percent in 1970 to 21 percent in 2005. However, this share has remained fairly constant in last 10 years at about 20 percent. Another 17 percent of homes completed in 2005 had brick as a secondary material. Again, there are some regional differences. Brick is used extensively as the primary exterior wall material in the South region (38 percent) and minimally in the West (1 percent). In 48 percent of the homes where brick was the primary exterior there was no secondary material, but for those where a secondary material was reported, fiber cement was the most common choice, appearing on 21 percent of primarily brick homes completed in 2005.
The use of fiber cement as a secondary material in brick homes was concentrated in the West South Central Division (35 percent) in the South region. Brick’s use as a secondary material (e.g. brick front) was greatest in the Midwest, typically in homes with vinyl as the primary material.
The use of wood as the primary exterior wall material has decreased significantly from 25 percent of new homes in 1995 to only 8 percent in 2005, displaced by vinyl in the Northeast and Midwest and by fiber cement and stucco in the West. In new homes where wood was the primary exterior material 19 percent had brick as a secondary exterior wall material. As recently as 1988, over 40 percent of new homes had wood as the primary exterior wall material. Aluminum as a primary exterior wall material has almost vanished with a share of only 1 percent of new homes in 2005. This was true of all the four regions. In the 1970’s, the share of new homes with aluminum exteriors averaged about 11 percent but by the mid-90’s, aluminums share fell below 3 percent.
Data for vinyl siding were first reported separately in 1992, when the share was already 23 percent. The share of new homes primarily clad in vinyl siding grew to 40 percent in 2002. But vinyl’s share has been declining since then, to only 34 percent in 2005 losing share primarily to fiber cement. Vinyl’s market share has not fallen (yet) in the Northeast region, where it captured 83 percent in 2005, followed by Midwest (64 percent). For both the divisions in the Northeast region -New England and Mid-Atlantic- vinyl siding was used in over three fourths of all new homes in 2005.
The share of new homes with stucco was 22 percent in 2005, 6 percentage points higher than in  1995. The largest increase in stucco has occurred in the West region where the share of homes with stucco as the primary exterior wall material grew from 50 percent in 1995 to 62 percent in 2005, a 12 percentage point increase.
A clear trend is the growing popularity of fiber cement. Fiber cement is made from cellulose fiber, Portland cement, ground sand, and select additives, mixed with water and formed into siding panels. Fiber cement (sold mainly under the Hardiplank brand) had a 2 percent share in 1999. In 2005, fiber cement was the primary exterior for 10 percent of all new homes in the nation and for 21 percent in the Pacific division. Fiber cement has also made major inroads in the West North Central and West South Central divisions, used as the primary exterior in 12 percent of new homes. In the West South Central Division, another 28 percent of new homes had fiber cement as a secondary material.
Outdoor Features
In 2005, 52 percent of new homes had a porch, compared to 40 percent in 1995. The share of new homes with patios increased from 35 percent in 1995 to 46 percent in 2005. Over the past decade decks have become less common, however, appearing on only 26 percent of new homes in 2005 compared to 33 percent in 1995 (Figure 7).
Figure 7. Presence of Outdoor Features, 1995-2005
Porches are more common in the South and the West than in the other two regions. Patios are present in slightly more than half of all units in South and West regions. The incidence of decks is concentrated in the Northeast region (51 percent) and especially predominant in the New England division within that region. In New England, 71 percent of all new homes had decks.
Bathrooms and Bedrooms
In 2005, 95 percent of all new homes had at least 2 full bathrooms, but only 25 percent had 3 or more full bathrooms and only 5 percent had 4 bathrooms or more.
The pattern of bathrooms and bedrooms followed square footage. The largest homes were found in the Northeast and West and hence the incidence of bathrooms and bedrooms was greater in the Northeast and West as compared to the other regions. Homes with 4 or more bathrooms were most common in the Pacific division (West) where the share was 7 percent. In addition to having (typically) 2 full baths, about half of new homes had a half bath. Homes in the Northeast were most likely to have one or more half bath (“powder”) rooms.
Among homes with 4 bedrooms or more, 51 percent had 3 baths or more. The share of homes with 4 or more bedrooms rose from 29 percent in 1995 to 39 percent in 2005. The largest incidence of 4 or more bedrooms was in the West region (44 percent) followed by the South Region (40 percent). In the Pacific division, which falls under the West region, about half the homes had 4 or more bedrooms.
For sale units are more likely to have 4 or more bedrooms (42 percent) than the contractor built (33 percent) and owner built (28 percent) units. Contractor built homes are homes built on the owner’s lot with a builder hired as a general contractor. Owner built homes are those where the owner himself acts as the general contractor. Also, detached units have a greater incidence of at least 4 bedrooms (44 percent) than attached units (7 percent) (See Table 2).
Number of Stories
The share of new homes with 2 or more stories increased from 47 percent in 1995 to 55 percent in 2005. This share is based on large gains in popularity in the South and West, where the shares climbed from 40 percent to 51 percent and 44 percent to 57 percent, respectively, from 1995 to 2005. About half the units in the Midwest, South and West regions had 2 or more stories. However, in the Northeast region, 2 stories or more were especially pronounced with a share of 79 percent, including 84 percent in New England. About 44 percent of the 2005 units nationwide had 1 story, while the split level share of homes was less than 0.5 percent.
Homes with one story were more common in non metro areas, while 2 or more storied homes were common in metro areas. Homes with 2 stories or more were most likely to be found among for-sale units (57 percent) and in the units built for-rent (47 percent) as compared to the contractor and owner built units.
Central AC Installed
Central air conditioning has been a standard feature of the South region, where almost all units have Central AC installed, but now it seems to be a standard feature nationwide as 90 percent of all units completed in 2005 had a Central air conditioning (Figure 8). The share of homes with Central air conditioning has increased from 46 percent in 1975 to 70 percent in 1985, 80 percent in 1995, and 90 percent in 2005.
Figure 8. New Homes with Central Air Conditioning Installed (1973-2005)
The share of homes with central air conditioning was highest in the South region (100 percent) followed by the Midwest (92 percent) and the Northeast (79 percent) and West (73 percent).
The share of single family new homes with one or more fireplaces has fallen from 63 percent in 1995 to 55 percent in 2005. The share declined in all regions. The largest decline came in the South region where the share fell from 64 percent in 1995 to 50 percent in 2005. Fireplaces seem to be most popular in the Pacific division where the share was 72 percent.
While the percentage of new homes without a fireplace has grown, the percentage of homes with 2 or more fireplaces has remained virtually constant at 5 percent in the last decade.

Heating Fuel
Gas heat seems to be a standard feature in the Midwest and West regions where about 90 percent of the units had gas heat in 2005. In the Northeast, the share of new homes with gas heat increased from 55 percent in 1995 to 73 percent in 2005. Electricity is more popular in the South region where the share was 58 percent in 2005, well above the rest. The share of new homes in 2005 with electric heat was only 5 percent in the Northeast, 9 percent in the Midwest and 9 percent in the West region.
Oil was used in 22 percent of the new homes in the Northeast region down from 31 percent in 1995, and is almost non-existent elsewhere. Of the two divisions within the Northeast region, the share of homes using oil as a heating fuel is 40 percent in New England and 15 percent in Mid-Atlantic.
Heating System
In 66 percent of the homes completed in 2005 the primary heating system was a warm air furnace. Another 29 percent had heat pumps. The share of new homes with warm air furnaces  increased from 67 percent in 1995 to about 71 percent during the next few years, but the share has declined since.
There are some regional differences.  Warm air furnaces are most popular in the Midwest and West regions–used in 88 percent and 87 percent of new homes, respectively. Warm air furnaces  are also gaining popularity in the Northeast (where they currently account for 68 percent of the market) at the expense of steam systems.
Heat pumps have a dominant 53 percent share of the market in the South, while the share in other regions is below 10 percent. Nationally, hot water or steam heating systems were installed in only 3 percent of new homes in 2005, a 2 percentage point decline from 1995. Hot water or steam systems are still used in almost one-fourth of new homes in the Northeast region, however of the 66 percent of homes with warm air furnaces, 93 percent use gas as the primary heating fuel. The most common heating fuel in homes with hot water or steam systems is oil (40 percent).
As this article has shown, new homes continue to get larger and include more amenities. This is a function of demand as well as supply, as builders respond to the market and build the type of homes their customers want.

[1] For purposes of this article single family homes include detached as well as attached side-by-side rowhouses, and townhouses. For an attached unit to qualify as single family, it  must be separated from adjacent units by an unbroken ground-to-roof wall and not share utilities with other units. Return to Article
[2] See Table 2 at the top of this page for characteristics by division. Return to Article

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