Taking a stroll down memory lane always makes things look a little rosier in the past than they actually were. For example, homes in the past are heralded for their craftsmanship, you will often hear “homes ain’t built like they use to be.” While it is true there was a lot of craftsmanship that went into homes constructed in the past, but there was also a lot lacking, like air conditioning, and other creature comforts.
A comparison of today’s homes and homes in the past can help rip off those rose-colored glasses that we gaze at the past with. You will be surprised by the number of conveniences that just were not included in new home construction 50 years ago.
If you are thinking that houses have seemed to get larger over the last 50 years you are right on point. The on the large size, house size a half a century ago was about 1600 square feet. In 2018, the average new construction home was about 2600 square feet. In the 1960s a house of 1600 square feet was considered “sprawling” while the 2600 square foot house in 2018 was considered “average”.
A “huge” house in the 1960s is our average size house today. Why have we gone big on your homes? Lifestyle. In the 1960s there were no game rooms, playrooms, or home theater rooms. Television was relatively new, and family’s lived in much closer quarters than they do today. Homes in the past were constructed with the average American family’s lifestyle in mind, and it was simpler times. People owned less in the 1960s. No one needed large master closets for their extensive shoe collection.
The larger homes in the past would have had three bedrooms and two bathrooms. You would have been considered very well off if you lived in such luxurious conditions. Today most new home construction is at least three bedrooms and two and a half baths and usually includes a bonus room that can be converted into a fourth bedroom. Our most expansive homes (not including the popular McMansions) have five bedrooms and four bathrooms standard.
Only about 22% of homes in the past had two or more levels. Most homes were simple ranch style homes. Today, most new home construction homes are at least two stories. Homes started being designed in the late 1970s with two stories to help keep the living space and the bedroom space separate to give people more privacy.
Fifty years ago the thought of a “man cave” was preposterous. What man would want a place to hang out with friends away from his family? Wasn’t that what the den was for? No one in the 1960s considered setting up a playroom filled with games and toys for the kids. A home office in the 1960s? For what? Mom stayed home with the kid’s dad took commuted from the suburbs to the office. Typically families owned a single car. Single car garages were all the rage. Why would you need space for two cars when THE car was the family car?
Life was simpler back in the 1960s across the board. People never even considered doing their own taxes much less working from home. The amount of room that was needed to live in the 1960s was considerably less than it is today.
Of course, today there is the tiny house trend and reducing a family’s footprint trend by living in less space, but the fact is most American families strive for that elbow room and want bigger homes. We require more space because we do more things from home than ever before.
Today anyone can have a commercial kitchen installed in their home. Homes in the past did not have the options. Commercial appliances typically were not available to the public. If you were like Julia Childs you may have had a luxury kitchen but the average American had a refrigerator, stove, and some cabinets.
Today, a new home may not have a commercial kitchen but it almost certainly comes with a garbage disposal, over the range microwave, state of the art side by side refrigerator with ice maker, and a dishwasher. Homes in the past were rarely outfitted with state of the art kitchen equipment. Most homes did not have a dishwasher. Of course, given the fact that homes in the past did not have dishwashers they never had to worry about dishwasher repair services, still who wants to live without a dishwasher?
It seems a little mind-boggling that only about 30% of homes in the past from just 50 years ago had central air conditioners, and you paid extra for that. Can you imagine living without a method to keep your home climate comfortable?
Homes in the past were sans a lot of appliances and convenience that we take for granted today. Energy Star rated appliances did not show up till the 1990s. Most homes in the past were designed to use oil heat. There were no heat pumps or other heating methods available. Appliances were not built with energy efficiency in mind at all.
Homes in the past did not have security systems for protection beyond the family dog. Security systems were only used in commercial properties. Today, of course, we all know the value of a good security system, and most new home construction comes complete with a system already installed and ready to activate.
Electronic security was in its infancy during the 1960s and was very expensive. It was also not very user friendly. It depended on the telephone line and often was not reliable. No wonder no one wanted one in their home.
Size, appliance packages, and creature comforts were not the only thing homes in the past had going on that was different than homes today. Have you ever seen the style of the 1960s interior homes?
Wall to Wall Carpeting and Dropped Ceilings
In the 1960s no one was calling in a hardwood flooring contractor to install hardwood floors. In the 1960s homes, hardwood floors were considered “old fashioned”, wall to wall shag carpeting was all the rage for flooring.
The 1960s was really the beginning of the synthetic age when it came to home styling. Everything in the home was synthetic from avocado green Formica countertops to the synthetic shag flooring. Think a lot of plastics incorporated into the design of the home.
Today if you are looking at homes for sale and you see some outdated carpeting you may be thinking you can rip it out and refinish the hardwoods underneath, it largely depends on the era when the house was built if you are going to find those precious hardwoods or not. The 1960s designed homes did not have hardwood flooring.
Here is another amazing factoid about homes in the past, most people did not paint their interiors on their own. They hired interior painting service professionals to manage their painting needs. There was a lot of mystery in those days surrounding things like how you DIY interior painting. Homes in the past relied heavily on professional care.
The Improvements Besides the Obvious Things Like Comfort
Modern technology has had a nice effect on building materials. Roofing today is much more durable than it was in the 1960s. Insulation is better today than it was in homes in the past. Windows, doors, flooring, all of it is better made, more energy-efficient, and many people would agree, more durable now than it was back in the day.
A lot of changes have been made over the last fifty years in the building industry which has resulted in better capabilities. The building industry fifty years ago was literally built on a craftsman back. Today, builders rely more on technology than they do on brute strength. The result is an increase in capabilities, options, and speed at which a house can be constructed.
Building materials today are constructed to withstand high winds, large amounts of snowfall, and to use solar power to our advantage. In homes in the past, the options were just not there. Every home used the same materials.
The Infrastructure Of Homes In The Past
You know how your house has all the outlets that you need in each room to connect lamps, phones, TV and more? Houses in the past did not have that. Why? Simply because there were fewer things to plug in.
Homes in the past do not have the amperage that we use today for all of our electronic devices. In the 1960s amperage was updated to about 100 amps which was enough to run the fridge and a few other appliances on one circuit. That is not the only problem with electricity in older homes.
During the 1960s there was a copper shortage which drove the price of copper wiring up making it cost-prohibitive. Aluminum wire was used in place of copper wire in many of the homes from the 1960s. Aluminum is a great conductor of electricity and very affordable. Unfortunately, builders continued to use receptacles and switches that had copper fittings. Electrical fires increased because when two different metals are used on a circuit at connection sites the wiring will corrode which can result in electrical fires.
Builders did not know in the 1960s that connecting two different types of metal on the same circuit came with big risks. Luckily today we do. Another thing you will notice is absent from many homes built in the 1960s are the GFCI (ground-fault circuit interrupter) outlets that are normally found in kitchens and bathrooms today. Those are the outlets that have the push button on them. They interrupt the circuit when the circuit is overloaded or when the circuit comes in direct contact with moisture. They were not invented until the 1960s and did not become a requirement in new construction until 1987 that they were mandated to be installed in any area that was within 6 feet of a sink.
Homes in the past had GFCI outlets installed primarily outdoors around pools. Today they are installed in every bathroom, kitchen, garage, and outdoor area. They enhance safety.
Other infrastructure differences between today and homes in the past include:
- Heating system design. In the 1960s radiators were the primary heating source. Radiator covers were very popular to cover up these unsightly relics. Today, heating is designed to be as less obvious as possible. We use venting systems that are concealed in floors, walls, and ceilings.
- With the advent of plumbing material technologies that make pipes lighter and easier to conceal we do not have to live with pipes running up in the corner of the room.
- Windows and doors are different today than they were in the past. They are easier to maintain and are much more user friendly to open and close.
Everything seems to have changed for the better when you compare new homes of today and homes in the past. Yes, it is a romantic notion to think living in simpler times was better, but there is a lot you would have to give up to turn back the clock and live in a house unrenovated from the 1960s.
Homes in the past that were built to the times current standard fifty years ago were around $30,000, $40,000 if you got all the bells and whistles. Today, home prices are a bit more expensive. The average home costs about 900% more today than it did in the 1960s. Unfortunately, the average wage has only risen by about 67% in the same time period.
Today you can expect to pay on average about $200,000 for a four-bedroom house on a tenth of an acre of land. Of course, this cost can vary greatly depending on what region of the country you are looking for a new home in.
Homes in the past were a lot less expensive but so was everything else, and of course, you do pay for what you get. That whole no air conditioning thing really drives the point home of how uncomfortable life in the homes in the past must have been.