What is a McMansion?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

Few homeowners would ever want to describe their home as a McMansion. The use of the term appears to have started in the 1980s, as more and more upper middle class families began seeking larger homes in the suburbs. A McMansion is generally described as an oversized home containing at least 3,000 to 5,000 square feet (279 to 465 square meters) of living space. Such houses are designed to fill the gap between the smaller "starter homes" and the custom-built mansions found in exclusive neighborhoods.

Many home buyers don't consider the cost of heating and cooling a large home.
Many home buyers don't consider the cost of heating and cooling a large home.

The allusion to the McDonald's restaurant chain is important to understand when it comes to a McMansion. The name suggests that, much like the hamburger chain's franchises, a McMansion could spring up anywhere at any time. Builders rarely consider factors such as local architectural traditions when contracted to build a house like this. A 5,000 square foot (465 square meter) McMansion with numerous gables and boxy additions could appear next to a traditional ranch-style home, creating a noticeable change in the neighborhood skyline.

The term "McMansion" describes a house that could pop up anywhere at any time, much like a McDonald's restaurant.
The term "McMansion" describes a house that could pop up anywhere at any time, much like a McDonald's restaurant.

Improvements in home building designs and techniques encouraged the popularity of McMansions among young professionals with growing families. For relatively the same price as a traditional two bedroom house, potential homeowners could have a spacious two-story McMansion built on a lot far from city life. Hundreds of planned communities with idyllic names such as "Pleasant Grove Estates" or "Hickory Hills Place" sprang up all over the United States, each offering lots and other amenities for buyers.

A McMansion may come equipped with a two-car garage.
A McMansion may come equipped with a two-car garage.

Proponents of the McMansion phenomenon say the homes feature a number of amenities previously considered unaffordable by middle and upper middle class families. Such houses are often prewired for advanced sound systems and home theaters. The kitchen space in a typical McMansion contains an abundance of workspace on granite counters, along with the latest appliances and storage concepts. The garage can often accommodate a two or even three car family, or can be converted into a workshop or recreational room.

Critics of the McMansion craze say the homes often come across as ostentatious and antiseptic. The similarity in design often means that there is nothing to distinguish one from another architecturally. While the floor plans may call for large, open great rooms or a generous supply of windows, the heating and cooling demands can be considerable. Builders may not orient a McMansion to take advantage of the sun's natural arc, for example. It may also be difficult to use the open space in a typical McMansion for any real purpose, such as creating additional bedrooms or a home office.

Some have called a McMansion the architectural equivalent of the gas-guzzling sports utility vehicle, or SUV. The owner of a McMansion may consider additional utility expenses to be the negligible cost of owning a status symbol. Critics of this mindset, however, consider the homes to be more ostentatious than practical, with functional rooms rearranged for maximum aesthetic value instead of convenience or practicality.

McMansions are strongly associated with U.S. subdivisions.
McMansions are strongly associated with U.S. subdivisions.
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


Think about the quality of the build, or rather, the lack of it. McMansions are frame houses, a quality but tasteless front facade and cheap vinyl cladding on the sides and rear. Cheap, crappy build and materials, pointless external features - often plaster encased styrofoam. Service life: 30 years? Maybe.


Sunshine31-I agree with you. I see Mc Mansions for sale all of the time and often wonder what do the people that own these homes do for a living in order to own these homes in the first place.

Many of these homes are in waterfront communities and are often at least 7,500 square feet. There was a McMansion documentary that talked about these types of homes and communities.


Oasis11-I don’t understand the McMansion backlash.

While the size of the homes may seem large, as long as the owners can pay for the home, it does not bother me.

I think that some of the backlash might be a little jealously on the part of the neighbors. Although, I would never have a Mc Mansion no matter how much money I have, I think that people have a right to spend their money how they see fit.

The only problem I would see with it is if the owners of the large home started defaulting and lost their home. Homes of this size are harder to sell and homes that remain empty over time invite crime. Aside from that, I have no problems with the Mc Mansions.


The Mc Mansion backlash stems from the fact that people in the community feel that these oversized homes lack architectural charm and drive the property taxes substantially higher.

Many want to limit the size of these homes, and a community in Colorado was looking to limit a home's size to 15,000 square feet after the Saudi Family bought a 55,000 square foot mansion.

Post your comments
Forgot password?