An acre is a unit for measuring a surface area, most commonly a parcel of land. A single acre is equal to 1/640th of a square mile. To put it another way, a single square mile — which is called a section — is made up of 640 acres.
So an acre covers a pretty large area. The average single-family home, for example, sits on a lot that’s just 1/5th of an acre.
Because an acre is so big, it can be a little difficult to comprehend. Read on to learn some handy ways of visualizing how big an acre is, what an acre is worth, and how much acreage you need when building a house.
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How big is an acre?
So exactly how big is an acre? Well, let’s translate an acre into some other common units of measurement. For example, one acre equals:
- 1/640th of a square mile
- 4,840 square yards
- 43,560 square feet
- 4,046.86 square meters
- 0.404686 hectares
If those numbers seem random, they’re actually not! An acre comes from the Middle Ages. Back then, an acre was based on how much land a team of eight oxen could plough in a single day.
Fortunately, the definition has gotten a bit more precise since then, and you no longer need to invest in a herd of oxen to measure your land (although, by all means, don’t let us stop you!).
While in the past an acre was a rectangle that was one chain by one furlong — equivalent to 66 ft by 660 ft — today an acre can cover any shape of an area. Square, triangle, trapezoid, circle — as long as it’s a flat surface, you can measure it in acres.
What does an acre look like?
An acre is big. But it’s hard to truly grasp its size without having something to compare it to. Let’s look at how some common items stack up against an acre.
An American football field, for example, is 1.32 acres. If you don’t include the end zones, an acre takes up a little more than 90% of the field. The shaded area in the following picture is roughly equivalent to one acre:
If you’re more of a basketball fan, an NBA basketball court is equal to 0.11 acres. In other words, you could fit about nine basketball courts into a single acre:
If tennis is more your game, it might help to think of an acre as being equivalent to about 16 tennis courts:
Of course, you don’t have to be a sports fan to understand how big an acre is. If you live in the city, take a walk around your block. While the size of a city block depends on where you live, in New York City, the average city block covers about five acres.
Meanwhile, the average house sits on 0.19 acres of land — a figure that includes the footprint of the house plus the yard and driveway. So you could fit about five houses on one acre of land:
In comparison, the average apartment is around 900 square feet, small enough to fit about 48 of them into just one acre.
How big is a commercial acre?
Occasionally you might come across a unit of measurement called a commercial acre, especially if you’re looking for industrial or commercial property in big cities. A commercial acre is 4,000 square yards, compared to 4,840 square yards for a standard acre. That means a commercial acre is about 83% of a standard acre.
The difference is in order to account for aspects of the property the owner cannot modify, such as alleyways, sidewalks, and roads. A commercial acre is more common in large cities rather than in rural or suburban areas.
The term was originally invented by real estate agents. Over time it has become a legal term in a handful of states.
How much is an acre of land worth?
The cost of an acre of land varies a lot depending on location. One study found that the average value of an acre of land across the entire lower 48 states is about $12,000 per acre.
However, it’s worth keeping in mind that that figure includes land — like national parks and military bases — that is unlikely to go up for sale anytime soon, if ever.
You can see the average value of land for each state in the contiguous U.S. in the map below.
The biggest factor in determining how much an acre of land is worth is whether that land is in a city or in the countryside. The average acre of farmland, for example, costs $3,160.
However, the cost of an acre of land in America’s urban areas is $511,000 on average. That’s over 161 times higher than the cost of an acre of farmland.
In some cities, the price of an acre reaches astronomical heights. The center of New York City has the most expensive land in the country, for example, at $123 million per acre.
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How much land do you need to build a house?
The amount of acreage you need to build a house is going to depend on a lot of factors, including how big of a house you need, where you plan on building, and the cost of land in your area. For reference, the average lot size for a single-family home is about 1/5th of an acre.
A more useful way of thinking about how much land you need to build a house is to consider the land-to-building ratio. This is the ratio between the total size of your lot to the area taken up by your home. The average land-to-building ratio is between 2.5:1 and 3.5:1.
While the land-to-building ratio is primarily used in commercial and industrial real estate, you can also use it to figure out how much land you need for your house.
First, calculate how big of a house you want. That figure will depend on how big your family is, how many rooms you need, and how much house you can afford. Using that figure, you can then determine how big of a plot of land will comfortably fit your ideal house. Just multiply the square footage of the house by a figure between 2.5 and 3.5 to find out how much land you need.
Remember, when calculating the ratio, don’t use your home’s total floor space. Only use how much area it takes up on your property. Usually, this will be the square footage of the ground floor.
For example, if you need a 2,500 square foot house, but the first floor is only 1,500 square feet, use the 1,500 square foot figure to calculate your lot size. A lot that is 3,750 square feet will give you a land-to-building ratio of 2.5:1 since 1,500 multiplied by 2.5 is 3,750.
A real estate agent can assist you in figuring out how much house is right for you and your ideal lot size. Connect with a Clever partner agent who knows the real estate market in your area, and can help you find a property that fits your budget and needs.