The land measurement used the world over, the acre, measures 43,560 square feet. For comparison, that's a football field plus 20 yards.
When shopping for a new home, you may feel confused by the lot size descriptions. Why do all of the yards consist of different measurements? Aren’t all houses plopped onto an acre of land? Isn’t that the standard measurement? How big is an acre in square feet?
An acre measures 43,560 square feet and that measurement does get used the world over to describe the land. That makes an acre roughly 208 feet wide by 208 feet long if you can visualize a square that size.
That still may not help you visualize what you get when the house listing in the MLS says the house sits on an acre or half an acre. Typically, in the city, an acre gets divided into about five lots. Each lot accommodates a house and a yard. Read on to find out more about how to visualize an acre and how much fits onto a single acre.
The Typical American Home Sits on One-Fifth of an Acre
The word acre refers to imperial measurement. Those pre-date the metric system, but if you want to know how big is an acre in meters, your answer equals 4046.85642 square meters. Although much of the world has switched to metric measurements, the acre has ensconced itself as the measurement of land, along with the Hectare. An acre comes close to equaling 1/2.5 of a Hectare. One hectare equals 107,639.104 square feet. In the old days, they measured it in terms of 10 square chains or one chain by one furlong.
When you read a home listing that describes a yard of 6,000 feet or so, that means they built a pretty normal-sized home on a normal-sized plot of land. When you divide that acre by five, you get five lots of 8,712 feet each. The average American home measures 2,598 square feet, so the homeowner built an average-sized American house on a typical lot.
When you read an MLS listing for a home on an acre or an acreage, this means that the homeowner had a larger amount of land to work with than the typical homeowner. But how would you visualize an acre?
How Big Is an Acre Visually: An Acre in Comparison to Common Structures
A massive square of 208 feet by 208 feet might not have helped you picture how big acre measures. If you watch sports, three types of sports fields offer useful comparisons. Each uses a rectangle shape or enlarged square. Here’s the caveat. An acre can take any shape as long as the final measurement of feet within it equals 43,560. So, how big is half an acre? About 21,750 feet roughly, or 40 yards of a football field.
Acre or Commercial Acre?
You could purchase an acre or commercial acre of land in the shape of a triangle, rectangle, square, circle, or irregular shape such as a rectangle attached to a square. By having the property boundaries surveyed, you confirm that the plot of land you purchase genuinely measures one acre.
What does a commercial acre of land mean?
A commercial acre of the land refers to an acre of land after its subdivision. During the process of subdivision, a large area of land undergoes division into acreages and plats. In city planning departments, they refer to this as platting the land.
Example Using a Square Mile of Land
Let’s say a developer starts with a square mile of land. One square mile equals 640 acres of land. Each of those acres requires access in the form of roads and streets. The developer divides the land according to the intended lot sizes. For instance, the development of mini-estates typically uses ten-acre plots, but a typical subdivision in a city uses between 0.20 to one-acre plots.
Each plot of land needs utilities and the utility companies or municipal organizations need a right of way to access the utility lines and service points. That requires the developer to also set aside portions of each land plot or plat for these purposes, which the municipality refers to as the easements. In this process, each raw acre becomes a commercial acre.
Although there’s a term called commercial acre, there’s no separate term for residential acre. An acre can take any shape, but if you buy raw land to create your own development, you’ll need to create a commercial acre from it. The shape doesn’t matter, but to give you an idea of the size, let’s consider the American football field, soccer field, and baseball diamond.
American Football Fields Measure 1.2 Acres
How big is a football field vs an acre? Any fan of NCAA football has viewed this scene before. This aerial shot of the Iowa Hawkeyes football stadium shows the entire football field and sidelines. To visualize an acre, ignore the sidelines. Only look at the interior measurements of the football field. It measures 20 yards longer than an acre. From one end to the 20-yard line of the opposing side, or 80 yards, equals one acre. We’re not counting the end zones.
Project Idea: If you want to build a youth league football field where you live, you’d need at least 1.2 acres for the field, but since you also need sidelines and stands for fans, you’d need 1.5 acres of land at a minimum.
Soccer Fields Measure Nearly 2 Acres
Check out the view of this soccer field from above. If it seems larger to you than a football stadium, that’s because it is. The game of soccer includes more distance running than American football or rugby. Cricket also doesn’t match it in terms of running. A soccer field takes up the space of about one and a half football fields.
Project Idea: If you want to build a youth league soccer field where you live, you need about two acres of land. A soccer field measures 1.8 acres for playing field, but you also need to include land for the stands which changes how much land you need.
Baseball Fields Measure More Than One Acre
It takes an acre and then some to build the average baseball field. If you overlaid an acre drawing on a drawing of a full-sized baseball field, you’d cover the infield only part of the outfield. The next time you go to a game or watch one on television, look for the aerial view. You can simply go to the top of the stands at a live game for a view of the full field. You’re looking at a space that takes up at least four acres.
Project Idea: If you want to build a youth league baseball field where you live, you’ll need several acres – at least four acres – because a baseball field covers about 125,000 square feet. A baseball diamond places 90 feet between the bases, but it also requires a 400-foot centerfield.
Picturing an Acre
Now that you know these important details and how a standard acre compares to common sports fields, home shopping hopefully becomes easier. If you read an MLS description of a one-story home of 4,000 square feet on a 0.2-acre lot, you now know that means a larger-than-normal home on a typically-sized plot of land. That home will have a smaller yard than normal.
A 1,500 square foot home on one acre of land means you would have a smaller than typical home with a rather massive yard. Your yard plus home would take up almost the same space as an American football field.
When you read a listing for an acreage, such as a 10-acre plot of land, you now know that you could fit two baseball fields and either a football field or soccer field onto that amount of land. That’s a pretty huge plot of land.
The smallest increment of land that most municipalities will allow you to build a house on measures 0.1 acres. Some areas divide the land into such small plots, or plats as they’re also called, that 10 houses and yards fit on one acre. Cities such as New York City develop housing at this density.
Before You Buy
Always visit land before you buy it. Hire a surveyor to measure a plot of land before you purchase it. Proper boundary surveys can stymy arguments between neighbors by ensuring the correct boundaries of land and its actual acreage for property valuation.
If you want to purchase land to build a home, have a survey conducted beforehand. You need to know the actual property size, especially if you purchase less than an acre. Most municipalities set limits on the number of square feet of the plot of land that you can use to build a home. Other laws limit how close to the lot line you can build and whether you must leave an easement for the city or county to use.