43,560 square feet is a very odd number, but it just so happens to be the size of one acre.
So how did this random figure become the standard of land measurement in the US?
And is it really enough land to build a house on?
To farm on?
For a homestead?
Well, we have the answers to your questions below!
Where did the acre come from?
The acre is an old unit of measurement dating back to the Romans and is equivalent to 40 rods (or a furlong) by 4 rods.
In today’s measurements, that’s 660 feet by 66 feet.
Altogether, an acre was the area of land that a yoke of oxen could typically plow in a day.
The acre’s length (a furlong) was the maximum amount of land that a team of oxen could plow without taking a break.
And the acre’s width (4 rods) equaled the number of furlongs that the team of oxen could plow in a day.
A pretty elegant system for the time!
Elegant enough to still be used today.
The only problem is that the acre doesn’t translate nicely into feet.
This is because its base unit, the rod, is 16.5 feet.
It’s not clear why, but it seems the exact length of a foot changed since Roman times, but the length of the rod didn’t (a rod used to be 20 Roman feet).
So we now have an awkward conversion between acres and feet.
The English chain system
And a bit more for the history buffs (the rest of you can move down to the next paragraph).
The acre was ultimately adopted into the English chain system of surveying.
This system was developed in the late 16th century/early 17th century when the English monarchy began to consolidate power and needed to adopt a standard unit of measurement.
Around this time, surveyors began using iron chains of 100 links that were equal in length to 4 rods.
Making the chain divisible by 4 rods allowed it to easily measure furlongs (and also acres).
Simultaneously, the 100 links in the chain allowed any measurement to be divided by 10.
The chain also permitted the surveyor to calculate not only straight distances, but also nonlinear ones, so it was an easier way of measuring tracts of land under a variety of conditions.
This system moved to the United States, which is why you may still see some old metes and bounds descriptions referencing chains and rods.
Of course, nowadays we can use Google Maps, not chains, to measure land.
How big is an acre really?
But enough about history.
The more important question is, “how big is an acre in practical terms?”
It’s commonly said that an acre is the size of an American football field (not including the end zones).
This is not 100% accurate since a football field is 48,000 sq ft, but it is a close enough approximation.
But if you include the end zones, a football field is 1.32 acres.
Below are a few other comparisons to help you visualize an acre:
1 Square Mile is equivalent to 640 Acres.
An acre is ~60% of a soccer field (if we take 69,000 sq ft as the size of a soccer field).
~16 tennis courts make up an acre (a tennis court is 2,808 sq ft).
A little over 9 basketball courts could fit in an acre (a basketball court is 4,700 sq ft).
You could place 242 parking spaces in an acre.
Walking at 2MPH, you could walk the perimeter of a traditional acre in ~15 minutes or across its length in ~7.5 minutes.
You could technically fit almost 44 single-family homes on an acre (assuming each house is 1000 sq ft per floor and there is no space between them).
However, in practice, you get an average of between 2-3 single-family homes per acre in most subdivisions.
So is an acre big enough for me?
Unfortunately, the answer is, “that depends.”
Generally speaking, if you are just looking to build a single-family home, an acre should be enough.
That is unless you want herds of cattle roaming around and no neighbors in sight.
However, if you are looking for recreational land, you will likely need more than an acre depending on what you want to do on the lot.
You also do need to be careful since local building regulations vary substantially.
Below are a few items to consider when thinking about how much land you need based on property use.
You can also start by watching our video below on how to buy land and build a house.
Do you want to build a single-family home?
The three main points to consider when asking whether an acre is enough for a single-family home are as follows:
What utilities are available?
What are your preferences?
What are the local zoning and building regulations?
According to the American Planning Association, the following are the commonly accepted minimum lot sizes based on utility availability:
1/2 acre when both water and sewage systems are lacking
1/4 acre when either water or sewer systems are lacking
Less than 1/4 acre when water and sewage systems are both present
As you can see, in every one of the above situations, the minimum lot size for a single-family home takes up far less than an acre.
And for some context, new subdivisions have an average lot size of .20 acres.
However, it’s worth noting that the average lot size for a custom-built home is closer to an acre.
While there are few technical reasons why an acre wouldn’t be large enough for a single-family home, there may be other personal considerations at play.
Ask yourself the following:
How much land do you want?
How close do you want to be to your neighbors?
Do you want to do other things with your property, such as farming?
Do you want to raise domestic animals?
Are you looking to be surrounded by nature?
Do you want to build a fishing pond?
Depending on how you answer these questions, you could find that an acre really won’t cut it.
You may want to take some time and tour a few properties of various sizes to get a sense of what feels right to you.
Finally, it is also very important to check local zoning regulations.
Many cities or towns have minimum lot sizes that are larger than an acre.
For example, we’ve worked in a number of New York towns where the minimum lot size is 2 acres.
This means you would not be able to build on a lot that is less than this size.
Be sure to give the local zoning department a call to understand any restrictions around lot size before purchasing.
Do you want to build a homestead?
An acre may generally be large enough for a single-family home, but what if you also want to grow crops?
Can you really support yourself and your family on only an acre?
Again, the answer is, “it depends.”
According to the US Farm Bureau, “One acre of land can grow a variety of crops, including 50,000 pounds of strawberries or 2,784 pounds (46.4 bushels) of wheat.”
And according to wheatlife.org, “assuming a sandwich was eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, it would take 168 days to eat the amount of bread produced from one bushel of wheat.”
So technically, one acre can be enough to produce at least a significant portion of your daily calories.
Of course, you probably do not want to eat only bread for the rest of your life.
But the point is that it is technically possible to support yourself from crops raised on an acre of land.
Here’s how one family did it in suburbia:
Having said that, the more self-sufficient you want to be, the more land you will need.
It is also important to note that the land’s productivity is going to be directly tied to its soil quality.
Not every acre of land will be able to support the same quantity, quality and type of crops!
If you are interested in extensive crop cultivation, you should consult with a professional or mentor who can help you determine whether a parcel of land has the right natural resources to support the kinds of crops you want to growing.
Also, if you are looking to raise animals, you are going to need a lot more space.
Do you want to raise livestock?
There is a lot to consider if you want to raise livestock on your property.
Before committing to rearing animals, you should start by asking yourself a few questions:
What is my primary goal in buying land? Becoming self-sufficient? Recreational use? Income generation?
What is the purpose of raising animals and how will they help me achieve my larger goal?
What trade-offs am I willing to make between lot size/herd size and proximity to town/employment centers?
How much time and effort am I willing to put into raising my animals?
Do I really understand everything that goes into animal care?
Do I have space for necessary out-buildings, equipment and machinery?
What is the local market like for the kinds of animal products I will be producing?
What nearby options do I have if I need to sell my animals?
How much capital am I willing to put into the enterprise?
What will my annual household consumption be for each kind of animal product I am looking to produce?
How many animals do I need to meet my basic household requirements?
What is my minimum profit requirement?
How many animals do I need to meet my minimum profit requirements?
Once you know what your goals are and how many animals you will need to meet your goals, you can then start evaluating properties to see if they will meet your basic requirements.
Realistically, you probably won’t be able to support cows (beef or dairy) unless you are buying substantial acreage, so the average homesteader or small farmer is likely looking at raising goats or sheep.
As a starting point, Texas A&M has a nice resource on livestock options for small property owners.
Now, to determine your minimum parcel size, you will first need to understand how much forage you need for the type and number of animals you are looking to rear.
Texas A&M’s resource can help you with this, but you should also consult a professional for help.
You will need to compare your expected forage requirements to the available forage on the property.
It’s important to note that forage production is heavily dependent on soil quality and terrain.
Poorer quality soils will produce less forage and can support fewer animals.
So, this is the point where you will absolutely want to consult with a professional if you haven’t done so already.
Only someone with local expertise will be able to give you an accurate estimate of the forage capacity of land in your area.
Your county Extension agent or Natural Resource Conservation Service representative can also be a tremendous help in determining how much land you need for different kinds of animals in your area.
Also, keep in mind that you should plan on keeping about half of the available forage land fallow at any one time to maintain healthy soil.
Do you want to use the land for recreational purposes?
When it comes to recreational land, size requirements will vary dramatically based on what you want to do.
However, it’s unlikely that 1 acre will be enough unless you are just looking for a camping spot.
Below are a few things to think about depending on the recreational use you are interested in.
If your goal is to find the perfect spot for a weekend camping getaway, the lot size you need depends entirely on you.
Below are a few things to think about:
How far away do you want to be from others?
How much variation do you want in terrain?
Are you thinking of building a cabin or are you just planning on setting up a tent?
Will you be bringing an RV to the lot? If so, can you get sufficient road access?
Generally speaking, the property will be your personal getaway, so you should follow your instinct when it comes to size.
Just make sure that you are allowed to camp on the property under all local zoning and building ordinances and laws.
Now, if you are looking to use the land for hunting, you’re going to need some acreage.
One acre is certainly not going to be enough!
To determine the size range you will need, you first want to think about the following:
What kind of wildlife do you want to hunt?
Will you be hunting with a bow or rifle?
How many people will be hunting with you on average?
For rifle hunting deer, the minimum acreage seems to be around 50 acres, although some folks are able to make it work with less.
Alternatively, turkey hunting can be done on as few as 5 acres.
But these are just rough rules of thumb.
You will also need to think about the characteristics of the property itself:
Does the property have the right kind of trees and plants to attract the animals you are interested in?
Does the property abut public land where hunting is allowed? If so, you may need less acreage.
Is there water on the land?
Is there shelter for the animals?
How much human activity is going on in the area?
Is the property in prime hunting territory? If so, you may be willing to accept lower acreage.
As you can see, a lot of factors are involved in making a smaller parcel a perfect hunting spot.
If you are not already an expert yourself, you will probably want to consult a professional.
Also, keep in mind that you absolutely must make certain that you will not be in violation of any local laws or ordinances if you use the property for hunting.
Fishing ponds come in all sizes, from half an acre to 10 acres.
However, even with a small pond, you are going to need more than an acre of land.
This is because you will need sufficient land around the pond to support it.
A general rule of thumb is about 5 acres of land for every acre of water in order to keep the pond full and healthy.
So, you will first want to decide on the size of the pond and then work backward from there.
Keep in mind that soil quality is very important.
Generally, clay is a very effective soil for ponds.
For more information, you may also want to check out our blog post on how to build a pond.
Finding your one-acre parcel
Now, if you’re ready to go out and buy your acre, check out our video below on where to find cheap land.
For more information on buying, selling, or investing in vacant land, check out our other resources below.
We’re here to help throughout the entire land buying and selling process!
If you are looking to buy affordable land, you can check out our Listings page.
If reading this article got you interested in land investing, you can check out our article on How to Get Started in Land Investing.
And if you are looking to sell land, visit our page on how to Sell Your Land.
If you are looking for Free Land, check out our free land giveaway.
Disclaimer: we are not lawyers, accountants or financial advisors and the information in this article is for informational purposes only. This article is based on our own research and experience and we do our best to keep it accurate and up-to-date, but it may contain errors. Please be sure to consult a legal or financial professional before making any investment decisions.