Hannah Drake

American Houses vs. British Houses

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I’ve been thinking a lot about this as we consider buying a house. It’s come up in a few conversations I’ve had with American friends who live here and especially my little brother when I post something on Instagram like my kitchen sink and he can’t believe there are two different taps. I wanted to compile a list of the differences that I’ve noticed from my experience living in Colorado (in houses and a townhouse) and in Birmingham, England (in a terraced house, also visiting flats and semi-attached houses). This is only my experience in the places I’ve lived, so it might not—probably doesn’t—apply to everywhere in the UK or the US.

THE TYPES OF HOUSES ARE CALLED DIFFERENT THINGS

We live in a terraced house, which is basically what a townhouse would be in the States. In the city, these are really common and actually most of our friends live in terraced homes. My mom moved into a townhouse in the States when I was a freshman in high school, so in a lot of ways, I’m used to that type of house. You know, not having windows on two sides of the house, sharing a wall with the neighbours, etc. My mom’s house, though, was one of five in a separate building, even though the whole street is lined with townhouses. Our house, on the other hand, is one of I don’t even know how many. The building pretty much runs continuous down the street. Unlike the States, you’re more likely to have a decent sized back garden (yard). My mom basically just had a patio with a couple of flower beds while we have a small patio (I guess you could call it that even though there’s no space to put patio furniture) and a longer yard.

In the UK, what would be considered duplexes are called semi-attached. They seem to be a lot more common than duplexes, at least where I’m from compared to where I live now. To be honest, I’ve always found the thought of a duplex a little strange. But in Birmingham, with them being so common, it’s just kind of a fact of life. To me, it feels like more of an “upgrade” from a terraced house to a semi-attached then a townhouse to a duplex. Maybe they need rebranding in the States. Or maybe I’m too judgemental. (Probably.)

And of course we all know that Brits call apartments flats, which just seems so posh, right? But like if an American called their apartment a flat it would seem really pretentious and try-hard.

THE FLOOR PLANS ARE MORE OPEN IN THE STATES

I’m not sure if this applies to older houses in the States, but most of the houses I lived in or visited had really open floor plans. The downstairs would often just be one big open space, combining the living room, dining room, and kitchen. There might be some half walls or entryways, but the rooms don’t feel completely separate from one another. In the UK, especially older houses, are more likely to have completely separate rooms. For example, in the house we live in now, the dining room, living room, and kitchen are all in a row. There are two doors into the living room, so you could close both and be completely closed off from the rest of the house. It’s come in handy when we’ve had foster cats, but it’s really annoying when we’re hosting friends, especially bigger groups. Our house just feels so small sometimes. Newer builds in the UK are moving toward more open floor plans though, from what I’ve seen.

THERE IS MINIMAL STORAGE SPACE IN BRITISH HOUSES

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: one of the things that drew me to our current house was the pantry under the stairs and the closet above the stairs. Those two things are a serious rare find. There is obviously minimal space to build on, so they often try to maximise living space and the storage place suffers. If you can fit a cupboard under the stairs, they’ll absolutely do it. (I see you, Harry Potter!) But one of my coworkers said there is literally no where in his house to put his vacuum cleaner. It seems like in the States people often have walk-in pantries, a closet in every bedroom, a linen closet in the hallway (maybe both upstairs and downstairs), a coat closet, etc. That’s right, most bedrooms in the UK don’t even have closets. That’s why we need wardrobes!

SINKS SOMETIMES HAVE TWO SEPARATE TAPS IN THE UK

This is what baffled my little brother the most. This is also something that I find incredibly annoying. Both our kitchen sink and our bathroom sink have two separate taps, one for hot water and one for cold water. So yeah, you can’t really wash your hands in warm water. Though Luke tried the other night by switching back and forth between the two taps while they were both extreme in their respective temperatures.

MOST ROOMS WILL HAVE A RADIATOR IN THE UK

Instead of vents in the floor or ceiling, there’s probably a radiator on the wall in every room. We have one in every room but the bathroom. They take up a bit of space on the wall and have to be considered when arranging furniture, but it’s also kind of nice that we don’t have to heat the whole house. In the winter, we usually just heat the living room and our bedroom.

AMERICAN HOUSES HAVE A LOT OF BATHROOMS

I never realised how much I appreciated a good 3.5 bath house! Even in my mom’s townhouse, all three bedrooms were en suites, plus there was a powder room on the main floor. In our house, which has the same amount of bedrooms, but is only two stories (it doesn’t have a basement), we only have one bathroom. We’ve seen house that have a powder room on the main floor as part of an addition or that the space under the stairs is actually a small bathroom. We’ve also seen some en suites, usually part of a renovation. But most of the time, there’s one bathroom. The idea that Luke and I could get food poisoning from the same meal haunts me and is something that I think about probably more than I should.

THE WASHER IS PROBABLY IN THE KITCHEN IN THE UK

Okay, maybe this is the weirdest one. Almost every house I’ve been to in the UK has a washer, as in a clothes washer, in the kitchen. People often don’t have a dryer and have to hang their clothes to dry. Or maybe they have a two-in-one like Luke had in the house where he lived before I moved. It obviously takes up cabinet space, but Luke says it’s because all of the plumbing is contained to one area. Just think, if your kitchen has a dishwasher and a clothes washer, that’s two cabinets gone! And they’re already precious for storage! I have seen a handful of homes with a utility room and I really wanted to buy a house I didn’t love because I was blinded by the massive utility room. (Spoiler Alert: We didn’t.) Our current house doesn’t have a dishwasher (or a microwave!), so we’re only “missing” one cabinet for our clothes washer, which does not double as a dryer. But if we buy a house without a utility room, you better believe it’ll be a part of my renovation plans. One time my father-in-law asked me if I’d rather have a dishwasher or a dryer and I think my answer still remains true. I’d rather have a dryer, but only to dry sheets and towels. I hate having the linens hung all over our house after laundry day, especially in the winter when it takes forever and we can’t use our clothing line outside.