An acre is a unit used for measuring area. It equates to around 43,560 square feet or 4046.86 square meters. But how can we turn those abstract numbers into something we can understand? How Big is an Acre visually:
- Approximately the size of 1 American football field (without the end zone and the last 10 yards),
- Around 5/8ths of a soccer pitch,
- Just over 15 ½ tennis courts,
- A parking lot with around 144 cars,
- A grid of 436 trees planted at 10ft spacing,
- Around 18 average-sized homes,
- The land area that a farmer with a team of oxen could plow in one day,
- Equivalent land to a square with sides of around 208.7 ft (63.6 m),
- An area, the perimeter of which can be walked at 3 miles an hour in about 3 minutes, or that you can stride across at 4 mph in 35.61 seconds.,
- Average lot size in Louisiana.
The type of land, conditions to be found there, and what we do with it are most important. An acre of prime agricultural land can be far more valuable to us than an acre of wasteland or arid desert… But when contemplating a property purchase, or determining how much land we need for a homestead or other project, it can be useful to have a clear idea of what this unit of measurement actually means. So to get a better idea of what an acre is and what it looks like, read on.
Comparing An Acre To Things, We Know
When it comes to visualizing an acre of land, it can help to compare the size to things we have seen and are familiar with.
For US readers, the usual analogy is often the best one:
An acre is approximately the size of 1 American football field (without the end zone and the last 10 yards). An American football field is often described as an acre – but in fact, an acre is somewhat smaller. An American football field is actually around 1.32 acres. But take off the end zone and the last ten yards, and there you have it: an acre.
If you are not in the US, that comparison might leave you none the wiser. Some readers may find it helpful to know that an acre is around 5/8ths (somewhat over half) a soccer or football pitch. (There are 1.75 acres in a pitch.
Another comparison that might be helpful to you if you are not a football or soccer fan is that an acre is around 15.5 tennis courts.
Around 18 average-sized homes (of 2,400 sq ft or 222.9673 sq m) will fit onto an acre. (Though of course for gardens and amenity, fewer homes per acre is the norm in most rural or suburban areas.)
How many lots are in an acre very much depends on where you live. In the US, certain states have an average lot size of well over an acre. In Louisiana, 1 acre is the average lot size. While in other states, ¼ acre plots or smaller are average. In cities and in European countries, lots are often just 1/10th acre in size, or even smaller. The national average lot size in the US is a little over ¼ acre.
In a field space of one acre, it is possible to create a car parking lot with around 6 x 24 rows of cars. (144 spaces of approx 10x18ft or 3×5.5 meters plus access roads). So visualizing a parking lot with this many cars can also help you picture how large an acre actually is.
You might also be able to picture a grid of trees – 436 trees spaced in a square grid pattern 10ft (3 meters) apart will cover around 1 acre of land. (I am not saying that this is necessarily a good idea, just that this spacing might make it easier to visualize the space of 1 acre.)
Historical Definition of an Acre
An acre is a term that traditionally is defined as the area of one chain by one furlong. (66 x 660 feet).
The chain is a measurement that comes from the surveyor’s chain – first mentioned in 1579. In 1620, the polymath Edmund Gunter developed a surveying method which used a surveyors chain 66 feet long with 100 links. By 1675, the chain had been accepted as a unit of measurement.
The furlong (long furrow) is the length of the furrow that a team of oxen could plow before resting.
An acre was defined, in the Middle Ages, as the area that a farmer with a team of oxen could plow in one day. Of course – this won’t mean much or be easily visualized by many of us today.
In modern usage, an acre does not need to be this specific width and length. It can be an area of land in any shape, with varying dimensions. An area of land that is 43,560 square feet, or 4046.86 square meters, will still be an acre, whether it is a rectangle, a square, a triangle, or any other shape
Visualizing a Square Acre
It can be easier to understand how large an acre actually is if we visualize a square acre, with sides of equal length. An acre of land, whatever its shape and dimensions, is equivalent to a square with sizes of around 208.7 ft (63.6 m) in length.
If you laid the Statue of Liberty on its size, walking along the side of a square acre would mean walking along around 2/3 of the total height of the Statue and plinth. You would almost have walked the width of the Lincoln Memorial Building, which is 201 ft ten inches wide north to south at its widest point.
You could also imagine walking along a row of 5 greyhound buses parked in a line. (A greyhound bus is 40ft long, so you can fit 5 (actually 5.21) into each of the sizes of a square acre.)
Remember, however, an acre does not have to be square. It can be any shape and have sides of different lengths. Considering a square acre is just one of the ways to help you picture the amount of land an acre covers, and what that actually looks like in the real world.
Walking Around The Perimeter of an Acre Site
If you are still having trouble visualizing how large an acre of land actually is, it might be helpful to think about how long it would take you to walk around an acre plot.
A square acre, as described above, has sides of 208.7 ft (63.6 meters) in length. This means that to walk the perimeter, you would walk 834.8 ft (254 meters). Assuming that you walk at 3 miles an hour, this walk around the edge of the acre site would take around 3 minutes.
If you cross a square acre at 4 miles an hour (6.4 km an hour), it will take you 35.61 seconds to get from one side to the other.
What Can Be Done With an Acre of Land?
Once you have a clearer idea of how large one acre actually is, and what that looks like, you can begin to more clearly picture what can be done with that much land. Of course, planting trees on it is one excellent idea in many instances. However, it is important to take the characteristics of the land in question into account.
The land can be used, also, to grow a range of other plants. Food production is one potential use. But how much food one acre can provide will vary dramatically. It will depend on the characteristics of the land (and its location). And it will also depend on the growing methods that are used.
Typically, in the US, it takes over an acre to feed each person, based on current dietary and agricultural practices. There is not enough land for land-intensive diets, such as those currently practiced in the United States, to be applied globally.
Fortunately, it is possible, using low-impact, regenerative, eco-friendly farming practices to grow enough food for far more people per acre. It is possible for agroforestry and mixed silvoarable systems to feed 20 people per acre – or more – as long as they eat the right things. And intensive hydroponic and aquaponic food production can feed even more people in an even smaller space.
There are plenty of things that can be done with one acre of land, from renewable energy production to food production, to other projects to meet human needs in a sustainable way. The yield of a site is theoretically unlimited, or limited only by your imagination.