Bigger is better; that’s been an American mantra for a century. Atlantic Magazine writer Joe Pinsker nailed it:
“America is a place defined by bigness. It is infamous, both within its borders and abroad, for the size of its cars, its portions, its defense budget—and its houses.”
— Joe Pinsker, the Atlantic, 2019
“And its houses…” Talbot Park, Seaview, Emerald Hills, and other large-lot neighborhoods have featured bigger homes for years. But now the trend is full swing, close to downtown, and in more modest neighborhoods. Builders and homeowners are supersizing new homes.
The latest eye-catcher is this new home along Edmonds’ iconic Sunset Avenue. Concrete slab walls, steel beams and a house that fills every inch of space that’s allowed. The original house, built in 1910, sat on a rare 12,000-square-foot waterfront lot, and the ground floor footprint only took up a little over 10% of the lot.
The new house, as permitted by city code, can cover 35% of the lot, or up to 4,200 square feet — on the ground floor alone. Everybody walking Sunset stops to gawk. “I think it’s crazy, it’s just too big,” Art Runkel told me. “Look at everything else.”
Paul Nelson had a unique take: “I’m wondering if there is a tsunami coming or why he’s building the way he’s building there… and if a tsunami comes, can I come here?” Angel Dorr hit a nerve: ”It seems like it might block some people’s views.” It might, but the new house has checked off every box on the city’s building code list.
And, Art Runkel conceded, “It’s their property so I don’t have anything to say about it.”
No, we don’t have a say. City of Edmonds Senior Planner Brad Shipley told me, “it’s the economics of development. People don’t like the size, but because of land value here, in order for developers to make money, they have to build them out to the max.” And they are.
The Sunset house meets city code for height, not more than 25 feet tall. It meets the allowed housing footprint on that sized lot – four times larger than the old house. And the city does not have architectural design standards for single-family homes. “Single-family development is exempt from design review,” said Shipley, and “the house met all the required development standards… no particular architectural style is required.”
America has been supersizing homes for a century. In the 1920s, the average home size in the U.S. was a little over 1,000 square feet. But, just between the 1960s and now – average home size has nearly doubled.
Average U.S. home size:
1960: 1,289 square feet
Neighborhoods throughout Edmonds feel the impact – older, smaller homes, close to downtown, demolished – new, bigger homes built right up to the lot line setbacks – which in smaller lots is just 5 feet from the next-door neighbor’s property line.
The most visible supersized home may be this five-bedroom, five-bath house on the west side of 9th Avenue South. Built five years ago on a half acre, the house is 8,000 square feet and valued at $5 million. But, year by year, other lots across the city are filling up with homes that go property line to property line.
Along Edmonds Way, builders shoe-horned threenew homes on what had been a big lot with just one old bungalow on it. Each house here meets city standards for individual 6,000 square-foot lots. The old house and land sold for just over $1 million in 2016; the three new homes are listed at more than $1 million apiece.
Edmonds has been a hot housing market for years. Our current real estate cool down might cause a pause in supersized home building. But it will be just that – a pause. To make a profit, high land prices and the increased cost of materials equals a simple formula for contractors. “It’s becoming more and more common to just max out the building,” said Edmonds Senior Planner Brad Shipley.
“Maxing out” has an impact on the rest of a neighborhood. The city does review every plan, but Shipley cautions that “city planners don’t have any way to say what’s out of scale for a neighborhood since there are no architectural standards” for single-family housing.
— By Bob Throndsen