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How to Calculate Square Footage

So, you’re getting ready to sell your house. And we know . . . there are so many things you need to do to get your house ready to show potential buyers. Getting needed repairs done, cleaning up the place, inspections, appraisals—each step is an important part of the process. But one of the most important parts is figuring out the square footage of your home.

Square footage (ft2) is a way to measure a flat area within a shape, like the floor of your house. Since homes vary so much in shape and size, home buyers, sellers and real estate agents use square footage as kind of a universal way to determine a home’s worth.

Calculating square footage is easy: Length multiplied by width equals square footage (L x W = ft2). Calculating the square footage of a home is a little more complicated—but not too complicated.

Remember when you were a kid and said to yourself, Why am I learning all this math stuff? I’m never going to use it. Well, now you know why. So let’s roll up our sleeves, get out our magic wand (also known as a tape measure), and do a little math magic!

How to Calculate the Square Footage of a Home

The basics of square footage are pretty, well, basic. Simple multiplication will give you the number you need. Like we said, length times width equals square footage.

Presto! You’ve got your total square footage.

The actual calculation may be easy, but this is where the process gets a little tricky (and not in the magic sense).

Here’s the thing: There’s no real national standard for how to get the total square footage of a house. Oh sure, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) does have guidelines, but they’re just that—guidelines. Sticking to ANSI’s standards is voluntary. And depending on the state, county or city you live in, you may have different rules. Your real estate agent and your home appraiser (who both measure square footage as part of their job) might also have their own preferences on top of your local area’s requirements.

Boiling it all down, there are two schools of thought for how to calculate the square footage of a home: those who measure square footage from the outside of the house and those who take the square footage from the inside of the house.

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Getting square footage outside the house is technically the easiest way, but it’s not necessarily the most accurate. Just get a really long tape measure (we’re talking multiple tens of feet long here) and run it along the length and width of the entire house. You can also get a rolling measure—a stick with a wheel at the end that runs on the ground and calculates longer dimensions.

If you have a single-story house, that’s it for you. Just multiply the length and the width. Kaboom! Square footage! But if your home has two or more floors, just multiply your first-floor square footage number by the number of floors you have (yes, people actually do that).

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The other (more accurate) way to calculate square footage is on the inside of the house. This method involves calculating the square footage of each room and common area and adding them all together.

So, let’s say you have a living room shaped like a regular old rectangle. Measure both the length and the width of the room with a tape measure. Next, multiply the two numbers together and . . . ta-da! You’ve got your square footage of your living room.

Of course, not all the rooms in your home are perfect squares or rectangles. Sometimes they have closets, alcoves, nooks and crannies (anybody getting hungry for English muffins?) that add to the room’s character and make for some great storage space. But the same rules apply for measuring square footage. It just requires a few more steps.

Divide the room into separate squares and rectangles. Measure all the shapes separately and get the square footage of each. Then add the square footage totals for all the shapes together.

Voila! You’ve got the total square footage of the room.

If you have a multi-story house, measure out each room and living space on the other floors just like the first floor. Once you have the total for the additional floors, add all the floor totals together to get the complete square footage of your home.

What Counts as Square Footage in a Home?

Before you start measuring on the inside, you’re probably wondering what spaces in your house actually count toward your square footage. We hate to do this to you again, but there’s no hard and fast rule about this either. It depends on where you live (sometimes even who you ask) since different areas of the country have their own rules about it.

But generally speaking, your home’s inside square footage includes the finished living area (FLA), which is all the livable space in the home that’s walled, insulated and can be heated and cooled with a central air system. This includes:

  • Bedrooms
  • Bathrooms
  • Kitchens
  • Living rooms
  • Dining rooms
  • Hallways
  • Lofts
  • Dens
  • Closets

Unfinished areas (areas without insulation, drywall, central air, power, etc.) of the house or structures detached from the main house usually don’t count toward your total square footage. These would be spaces like:

  • Attics
  • Garages
  • Storage sheds
  • Outhouses
  • Guest/pool houses
  • Basements
  • Patios/decks
  • Mud rooms

Like we mentioned, you’ll find exceptions to these depending on where you live and what’s actually in your house. Finished attics and basements could count as living space. So could enclosed patios (if they’re heated and cooled) and even your awesome craft room or man cave.

Stairs are the duck-billed platypus of square footage. Are they living space? Are they not? Some real estate agents and home inspectors count stairs as part of a home’s living space. Others don’t. It’s easy to see stairs inside the house could technically be part of the FLA because they’re part of the enclosed, heated and cooled areas of the home. Depending on where the stairs are located in the house, the folks who do count the stairs as living space measure the total space taken up by the flight at the base of the stairs—and they count them for both the upper floor and ground floor.

Whether you count the stairs or not, some people have a closet or storage space underneath their stairs (like the one Harry Potter called home). Those definitely count as square footage, so be sure to add them into your total.

One last thing: You can also usually find the total square footage of your house by pulling the tax records for your property from your local government body, which usually includes floorplans and/or blueprints. However, if you’ve made any modifications to the house that aren’t noted in the plans, the square footage won’t be accurate anymore.

What to Do With Your Square Footage Total

Knowing your home’s total square footage is an important part of determining your home’s worth. Most home listings feature the “price per square foot” so potential buyers can see if your per-square-foot pricing matches up well with other houses in the area.

The median price per square foot for homes in America is about $123, but that varies a lot from one local market to another.1 That’s why it’s important to have an accurate square footage total for your home and know the going price per square foot in your market—so you don’t overprice or underprice your home.

This is where having an expert on your side comes in. A real estate agent has the tools and the know-how (not to mention the knowledge of your local area’s measuring requirements) to get you the most accurate measurement and, in turn, the best price possible for your home. Most agents do the measuring themselves, and some of them even have really sophisticated tools like laser measuring devices (just don’t ask them to put on a laser magic show with it . . . ooh . . . aah!).

So take a look at some of our RamseyTrusted agents to help you out. These real estate magicians are part of our Endorsed Local Providers (ELP) program—agents in your area that we partner with to take care of you the Ramsey way.

Find a top real estate agent today!

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Ramsey Solutions has been committed to helping people regain control of their money, build wealth, grow their leadership skills, and enhance their lives through personal development since 1992. Millions of people have used our financial advice through 22 books (including 12 national bestsellers) published by Ramsey Press, as well as two syndicated radio shows and 10 podcasts, which have over 17 million weekly listeners. Learn More.

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