Rural America is witnessing widespread housing development, which is to the detriment of the environment. It has been suggested to cluster houses so that their disturbance zones overlap and thus cause less habitat loss than is the case for dispersed development. Clustering houses makes intuitive sense, but few empirical studies have quantified the spatial pattern of houses in real landscapes, assessed changes in their patterns over time, and quantified the resulting habitat loss. We addressed three basic questions: (1) What are the spatial patterns of houses and how do they change over time; (2) How much habitat is lost due to houses, and how is this affected by spatial pattern of houses; and (3) What type of habitat is most affected by housing development. We mapped 27 419 houses from aerial photos for five time periods in 17 townships in northern Wisconsin and calculated the terrestrial land area remaining after buffering each house using 100- and 500-m disturbance zones. The number of houses increased by 353% between 1937 and 1999. Ripley's K test showed that houses were significantly clustered at all time periods and at all scales. Due to the clustering, the rate at which habitat was lost (176% and 55% for 100- and 500-m buffers, respectively) was substantially lower than housing growth rates, and most land area was undisturbed (95% and 61% for 100-m and 500-m buffers, respectively). Houses were strongly clustered within 100 m of lakes. Habitat loss was lowest in wetlands but reached up to 60% in deciduous forests. Our results are encouraging in that clustered development is common in northern Wisconsin, and habitat loss is thus limited. However, the concentration of development along lakeshores causes concern, because these may be critical habitats for many species. Conservation goals can only be met if policies promote clustered development and simultaneously steer development away from sensitive ecosystems.