Suburban American Garages Are Getting Smaller Just As Cars Are Getting Bigger

Image: Bradley Brownell
Image: Bradley Brownell

Everything in the world operates on boom and bust cycles, including the size of garages. From the 1960s to the 2000s the average standardized two car garage ballooned from 20 feet by 20 feet to 24 by 24, but in the last decade that growth has been completely reversed and new construction homes are back to a 20 by 20, and many builders are even opting for a single car garage. Developing new land is increasingly more expensive, and contractors need to fit as many homes per acre as they can to turn a profit, and garage space is the first thing to go.

The American landscape has been car-centric for decades now, especially in the suburbs where single-family homes with garages rule the landscape. But increasingly those homes aren’t built to comfortably house the cars we use everyday. With the average pickup truck now over 19 feet in length, and most cars exceeding eight feet in width, what was tenable in a 24x24 is now downright impossible in a 20x20 space. Cars and trucks sure as hell aren’t getting smaller any time soon, so what’s the point in a garage that won’t even fit your daily driver?


The above video from LRN2DIY on YouTube is a great introduction to the ridiculous pressures put on garage sizes. It’s difficult to believe that the U.S. is running low on areas for suburban dwellings to sprawl, but with more than half of U.S. land developed for the purposes of farming, it starts to make sense. With most of the good land already gone, anything left is getting priced into the stratosphere. To keep housing prices out of the seven figures, developers are forced to split the ‘burbs into smaller lot sizes.

A smaller lot means smaller square footage to work with. The local zoning boards set rules for where houses can be built, as they require a standard distance from the road, a standard distance from the neighbors, and often a standard back yard size. Once the parameters of a foundation have been set to a few feet smaller than they were before, it’s obvious that the garage is going to lose out, because a home buyer definitely doesn’t want to lose interior square footage. Instead of having a slightly smaller foyer or ditching the formal dining room they might use once every six months, they’d rather lose the covered parking space for their car that they use every day.

Surely American suburbanites would never do something that makes their every day tasks more difficult in order to work around something they might need someday.

You know what might fix all this? Increased development of multi-family housing and investment in public transit. If people could get around without their car, maybe they could choose to live in a place that doesn’t even have a garage. You know, the kinds of people who don’t care about cars or driving in the first place.

Or, uh, buying smaller cars.

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