An acre is a unit of measurement for land. When home browsing you’ll see property size denoted by acreage. This measurement can be as small as “a .25-acre lot” to much, much larger.
Not only is acreage useful for gauging how large a property is, but understanding exactly how big an acre is can also be helpful:
An acre is equal to 43,560 square feet.
Though land square footage is calculated differently than the way the interior space of a home is, it more or less remains width multiplied by length.
The history of the acre is very interesting. The unit of measurement has been in use for centuries, and according to Encyclopedia Britannica, the word “acre” comes from a mix of Old English and Latin words meaning “field.”
Finding the origins of the acre’s measurements requires going all the way back to the 16th Century. In an effort to standardize and accurately measure land across all of England, a measuring instrument known as a surveyor’s chain was created. The chain measured 66 feet long, and it quickly became the standard unit of length for surveying land in England. It eventually made its way to the Colonies.
Simultaneously, it was understood that an average farmer could plow a distance of 1/8 of a mile (660 feet) before his oxen needed a rest. That distance became known as a furrow-long or furlong (furrow being the word for the long, narrow trench made in the ground by a plow for planting seeds). After plowing that distance, the farmer and his oxen would turn around, move over slightly, and go back the same length they’d come. At the end of the day, the team would average a width of 66 feet...one chain.
Therefore, the average total ground covered by a farmer in a day was 660 feet long by 66 feet wide (i.e., one furlong by one chain), for a total of 43,560 square feet. This became known as an acre. Thus, an acre is equal to the average ground a farmer could plow in a day.
Five centuries later, we’re still using acres to measure land, primarily because the measurement works for any piece of property regardless of terrain. You can measure an acre whether land is flat or hilly, whether it has a mountain in the middle of it or contains a lake. When land is being surveyed and measured, the surveyor calculates the acreage using a universal method of basic geometry called plane surveying. This method allows the surveyor to look at any type of land and calculate the acreage as if the land was entirely flat.
While we might not be farming furlongs every day, acres are still critical to the home buying and homebuilding process since acreage quantifies the amount of land.