A step-by-step guide to calculating your property’s square footage

You might think that figuring out the square footage of your property is a boring task, but you will use this measurement a lot when running your short-term rental property business. Aside from the fact that future guests will want to know how big the rental is, you will also need the exact size for many different applications, documents, and legal processes. In short, you should finish this task as soon as possible, and it may not be as hard or boring to figure out as you think.

This post will show why it’s important to know how big your property is in square feet when you need to say how big it is, how to measure it, and what you should and shouldn’t include in the total. We’ll give you all the necessary information to start measuring and feel sure about your final number.

How to figure out how many square feet your rental is

With a few things you already have at home, some simple math, and a little bit of patience, you should be able to figure out how many square feet the property is. Even though it’s not required, having someone else help you with this might be helpful, especially if you have a big property.

How to use what tools

You don’t need fancy equipment to determine your property’s size. If you have a laser measuring tool, that’s great, because it will make your job even easier. But you don’t need one of these devices at all to do this calculation. All of these things are probably already in your house:

  • A measuring tape
  • You can use the one on your phone if you don’t have one.
  • A large sheet of paper
  • A pencil

How to do it

With just a few steps, you can easily figure out how big a house is. First, on your big piece of paper, draw a rough outline of the floor plan. Make sure to draw each floor on a separate piece of paper. This doesn’t have to be exact or to scale; it’s just to help you keep track of measurements as you go. If you have the actual plans from the builder, you can use those as a guide. Also, likely, the square footage is already in the builder’s plans. Before you start, make sure to check!

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Next, use your tape measure to figure out how long and wide each room and hallway is. Write down each measurement as you go. Then, multiply the length and width of each room to figure out how much space it has. The final step is to add up the numbers for each room to get the total. Read on to find out which rooms can be counted toward the total square footage and which ones can’t.

You could also download one of the many apps for measuring square footage that is available for your smartphone. Even though these apps might not seem as reliable as traditional measuring tapes, they can still help you figure out how big a room is or how far apart two walls are. You should change along with the times.

How to figure out the square footage

Try to divide your space into as many squares or rectangles as you can, especially if your floor plan is complicated. This will help you avoid having to do math equations that aren’t necessary and are hard to understand. For example, if a room has an alcove, you should measure it as a separate space and add it to its square footage.

Be careful to preserve all your measurements in several locations! You don’t want to go through this process only to lose your calculations and have to start over. You should keep track of the total square footage of the property, the square footage of each room, and the length and width of each wall. This will help if/when you need to buy furniture for the room.

Because of this, you should also measure the door frames to make sure your furniture will fit. This will help when you’re setting up your vacation rental.

What does the square footage include (and what doesn’t)?

What does the square footage of the property mean? Property owners have many questions about what can and can’t be used in the calculation. Most of the time, the square footage can include any space that can be used for living.

A space is considered “liveable” if its walls, floor, and ceiling are all finished, it is connected to the main heating and cooling system of the house, and its ceiling height meets a certain standard. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) made these rules, but following them is optional, so they are more of a suggestion. There isn’t an official way to measure square footage yet, so people have different ideas and methods.

Remember that different states may have different rules about what you can include and what you can’t. Before submitting official proof of the square footage, it’s always best to check the rules in your state. You don’t want to make a mistake in your math that will cost you later. But to give you a general idea, here are some “extracurricular” spaces that can and cannot be counted toward the total square footage.


Since garages are often empty, they can’t be counted toward the total square footage. Garages can only be counted toward the total square footage if they are finished (according to the above standards) and legally count as living spaces.

Even though you can’t count unfinished spaces toward your total square footage, you should still measure them. It’s useful information to have in case you decide to finish the space in the future. Since you already have the measuring tape out, you might as well.


In this case, ceiling height is the most important thing to watch out for when it comes to attics. First of all, the attic needs to be finished like any other room.

“Finished areas must have a ceiling height of at least seven feet,” says ANSI. However, the ceiling height under beams, ducts, and other obstacles can be as low as six feet four inches, and there is no height requirement under stairs.

If a room’s ceiling is sloped, at least half of the finished square footage in that room must have a vertical ceiling height of at least seven feet. No part of the finished area with a height of fewer than five feet can be counted as finished square footage.”

An important point to make clear is that the height of the ceiling should not be factored into the square footage equation. This is because the height of the ceiling makes the room a three-dimensional space. It’s just a guideline to make sure the space fits in that box before adding it to the total square footage.

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Only finished basements that meet the definition of “liveable” can be included (finished walls and floors, are connected to heating and cooling, and meet the ceiling height requirement). Even if you have a pool table and a mini-fridge in the basement, you can’t count that space as part of the total square footage. They have to be finished and connected to the house’s main body.

Even if the basement is finished, there are still some places where it is not counted toward the total square footage. Whether or not you can count the finished area of your basement in the total square footage, you should still measure it for your records and to include it in listings for guests.

ANSI does make a difference between finished square footage above grade and finished square footage below grade. If you want to follow their rules, you should count the finished square footage of the basement as square footage below grade.

Other ways than counting the square feet

You might be able to find the square footage on the plans from the builder or in the property records that your city keeps. This will only help if you know the measurement is correct and up-to-date and doesn’t plan to make any changes to the property. Before measuring the square footage, you should look at it.

If you don’t want to measure the property, you can hire an appraiser to do it for you. Even though is the correct choice, it costs more. You might be able to justify the cost if you need a very precise measurement, like if you want to sell the house.


Square footage is easy to figure out on your own and will come in handy in many different situations in the future. It only needs a few things, some quick math and sometimes a little creativity. This is one of the first things you must do as a short-term vacation rental property owner.

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