Aspen’s McMansions bigger than the rest |

Aspen’s McMansions bigger than the rest

Jordan Curet/The Aspen Times
ALL | The Aspen Times

PITKIN COUNTY ” Aspen and Pitkin County are 25 years ahead of the rest of the country when it comes to the size of their McMansions.

The average size of a new house built in the U.S. topped 2,400 square feet in 2005, the Associated Press reported recently, citing data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Aspen was truly ahead of its time. New houses built in Pitkin County topped that level 25 years ago, according to data from the Pitkin County Assessor’s Office.

People constructed homes in the 2,000-square-foot range in the 1960s in Aspen and Pitkin County. That level climbed above 3,000 square feet by the mid-1970s and temporarily plateaued throughout the ’80s.

In the 1990s, homebuilders said, “supersize me.” Houses built in 1991 topped an average of 4,000 square feet for the first time and by 2000 the average size of new homes hit 4,692 square feet.

The average new home now cracks the 5,000-square-foot barrier ” twice the size of the national average, the assessor’s data showed.

The demand for larger homes is fueled by land costs, said Brent Waldron, a partner at the Aspen real-estate firm Coates, Reid and Waldron. Homesites sell for $400,000 and more, he noted. Homebuilders, particularly speculative builders, often construct as big of a house as local government regulations allow.

“You have to maximize the build-out to justify the investment,” Waldron said.

The compact size of lots in Aspen places a practical limit on the size of houses. The wide-open expanses of Pitkin County were unregulated until last year when county commissioners adopted a 15,000-square-foot limit, after house sizes soared in the 1990s. The latest land-use code establishes a limit of 5,750 square feet, although builders can build more by acquiring transferable development rights ” eliminating building rights in some places and transferring them to different places.

Another factor influencing house sizes in Pitkin County is an increase in the time second-home owners spend here, Waldron noted. Vacation homes used to sit empty most of the year. Now aging Baby Boomers are reversing that trend.

“People are spending more and more time here,” Waldron said.

And when they spend more time here, they want and need more space, he said. They need more space for their toys and to accommodate more visitors.

The trend isn’t limited to the upper Roaring Fork Valley. In the midvalley, the average size of all types of new residences jumped 800 square feet between 2006 and so far in 2007, according to research by Wendy Lucas, the owner of a Basalt-based real estate firm.

Using data in the Aspen-Glenwood Springs Multiple Listing Service, Lucas found that the 126 residences built in the Basalt/El Jebel/Missouri Heights area in 2006 averaged 2,036 square feet. Those were units that were sold, are under contract or are for sale through the MLS.

The 70 units built so far in 2007 averaged 2,801 square feet, she said.

In Willits, where Lucas has the listings for units built by the developer, she said the original single family homes were about 2,100 square feet a decade ago ” less than what regulations allowed.

“Today you wouldn’t be leaving a square foot off of it,” she said. New homes are commonly between 2,800 and 3,300 square feet.

Aspen architect Michael Ernemann said he cannot identify a trend in house-size requests from his clients over the 35 years he’s been in business. “I see all sides of it,” he said.

Some clients want large homes; some seek small spaces. What has changed, he said, is an awareness of sustainability issues. More clients want to take advantage of solar-orientation and some even use solar photovoltaic and micro-hydroelectric energy systems, he said.

Ernemann said he and friend and fellow architect Harry Teague advise clients whenever possible to go with less square footage and make the most of it. Ernemann said they try to follow a favorite quote, which he attributed to Leonardo da Vinci: “Small rooms and houses discipline the mind. Large ones weaken it.”

Scott Condon’s e-mail address is

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