How much land do you need to build a house?
Would 43,560 square feet be enough?
That doesn’t sound like a lot of land.
But it is an acre.
So is one acre really enough to build a house?
To farm on?
For a homestead?
Well, we have the answers to your questions below!
1. But first some history – 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 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!
But today, it’s become a bit clunky.
That’s because the acre’s base unit, the rod, is equivalent to 16.5 feet.
So it doesn’t translate nicely into 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).
Thus, we now have an awkward conversion between acres and feet.
2. How big is an acre really?
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.
Below are a few other comparisons to help you visualize:
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 average size).
~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 on 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 3-4 single-family homes built per acre in most subdivisions.
3. So is an acre enough?
Unfortunately, the answer is, “it depends.”
Generally speaking, if you are 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.
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.
4. How much land do I need to build a 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 regulations and building codes?
The American Planning Association used to advise that parcels should have the following minimum lot sizes based on utility availability:
- 1/2 acre when both public water and sewer are lacking
- 1/4 acre when either public water or sewer are lacking
- Less than 1/4 acre when public water and sewage systems are both present
However, each jurisdiction has different regulations – some allow smaller parcels, others require larger lots.
For some context, new subdivisions have an average lot size of .20 acres.
Having said that, 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.
To determine how much land you will need to build your dream home, ask yourself the following:
- How much land do you want?
- What is your price tag?
- 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?
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 very important to check local zoning regulations to verify that you are entitled to build your chosen structure.
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.
Keep in mind that existing properties are often grandfathered in, so be sure to have a thorough conversation with county officials to make sure you aren’t missing any important exceptions that could apply.
5. How much land do I need to build a home and grow crops?
An acre may be large enough for a single-family home, but how much land do you need to build a house and 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.”
According to Ohio Corn and Wheat, “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 who can help you determine whether a parcel of land has the right natural resources to support the kinds of crops you want to grow.
6. How much land do I need to build a home and 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, 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.
To determine how much land you will need to build a house and raise animals, 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 should 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.
Thus, 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.
7. How much land do I need for recreational uses?
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?
- Will you be bringing an RV to the lot? If so, can you get sufficient road access?
The property will be your personal getaway, so you should follow your instinct when it comes to size.
Just make sure you are allowed to camp on the property under all local zoning and building ordinances and laws.
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 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 is 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 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.
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 an effective soil for ponds.
For more information, you may want to check out our blog post on how to build a pond.
8. Finding your one-acre parcel
Now that you have a starting point to think about how much land you need to build a house, hunt or homestead, you’re ready to go out and buy your acre.
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!
Additional ResourcesIf you are looking to buy affordable land, you can check out our Listings page. And before you buy land, make sure you check out Gokce Land Due Diligence Program. Don't forget to check out my latest Gokce Knowledge Class: 31 Lessons I Learned Selling My First 500 Properties Online.
If you are looking to sell land, visit our page on how to Sell Your Land.
Would you like to receive an email with our latest blog/properties every Thursday?
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.