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.
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.
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.
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.