My interest in social and cultural politics extends from my interest in genealogy and history and how they project into today's societies.
American Houses vs. British Houses
Due to an interest in history, I’ve always had a fascination in trying to understand various social aspects of different cultures, or how and why these aspects diverge and converge overtime. It’s one of my many interests, and to feed this curiosity I often read up about it from some of the more reputable web sources, e.g. Wikipedia, but this tends to be a dry source of information. So to put some flesh to the bones I also like to correspond with people from different cultures across the world.
Housing is one indicator which can tell you a lot about the people of a culture, and with my interest in DIY I often watch American DIY programmes on TV, from which I glean numerous fascinating differences in how (but not why) American homes are built and fitted-out compared with British homes.
Obviously, never having been to America I don’t have any first-hand experience of American housing, but I hope the knowledge I’ve acquired from indirect sources has given me a reasonable understanding of the subject. If, per chance, I am off-beam on any aspects covered in this article, I would be grateful for constructive feedback.
9 Differences Between US and UK Housing
- Timber Frame vs. Brick-Built
- Felt Shingles vs. Clay Tile Roofing
- Interior Design and Layout
- Appliances and Systems
- House Numbering
- Big and Sprawling vs. Small and Homely
- Green Belt in the UK
- 1960s High-Rise Flats in the UK
- Green Skylines in the UK
Confusing Things About British Homes
1. Timber Frame vs. Brick-Built
In Britain almost all homes are brick and mortar; even most new homes are constructed from brick. The standard build being a cavity wall construction; with the inner skin being built from either clay bricks or concrete blocks, and the outer skin usually made with bricks. Interior walls dividing rooms are usually brick built, even when they’re not load bearing.
A clay brick is about 8 inches long and 3 inches high, with a concrete block measuring about 18 inches long and 8 inches high. With both being about 4 inches wide. The gap between the inner and outer wall, which these days is filled with insulation is generally about 3 inches wide.
The bricks or concrete blocks on the inside are then plastered, which when dry can be painted and decorated. The outer bricks are either left visible or rendered with cement; and if rendered can be pebble dashed and optionally painted.
In the USA, from what I’ve seen on telly, especially DIY programmes, almost all American homes are timber frame and cladded with wood. There are pros and cons in both construction methods, and I don’t know which is best.
However, the pros of a brick built home over timber frame are:
- It’s a more substantial solid build that can last centuries, and
- It provides excellent support for fixtures and fittings, including shelves, mirrors and pictures.
The cons are:
- It can take a lot longer and more labour intensive to build with brick, and therefore more expensive, and
- It’s more difficult and time consuming to knock down a non-structural internal brick wall e.g. for open plan.
2. Felt Roofing vs. Clay Tiles
Almost all British homes are roofed with either clay tiles or slate; most commonly clay tiles in cities.
In watching the American DIY programmes on telly I’m fascinated to observe that almost every American home seems to be roofed with felt tiles (felt roofing shingles). Fascinated in that in Britain felt shingles are only used for light structures such as garden sheds, and never for housing. Apart from which in Britain, it would be difficult to get planning permission from the Local Council (Local Government) to use felt on house roof.
Time-lapse of New Brick Built Homes in the UK
3. Interior Design and Layout
In most respects, as far as I can see there is little difference between décor, furnishings, fixtures and fittings in American and British homes. However two notable differences are bedrooms and bathrooms.
I understand from watching American TV that a room is only classified as a bedroom if it has a built-in closet; whereas in Britain built-in closets are almost non-existent. The vast majority of British homes have freestanding wardrobes; although some householders do occasionally install a built-in wardrobe in an alcove in the bedroom.
Under British Building Regulations a room can only be classified as a bedroom if it’s not another utility room such as a living room, bathroom or kitchen etc., and you can fit a bed in it. If you can fit a double bed in a spare room then it’s classified as a double bedroom, whereas if it’s only large enough for a single bed then it’s a single bedroom.
The number and type of bedrooms is reflected in the price of the property; the more bedrooms a house have (especially double bedrooms) the more valuable the property is.
Again, from watching TV, I get the distinct impression that in America the bathroom almost always comprises the bath, shower, toilet and sink; and that it’s standard that most bedrooms have their own en-suite bathroom. I also note that the hot and cold water is controlled from a single faucet.
For clarity, in Britain although the bathroom can include the bath, shower, toilet and sink, it’s not always necessarily the case. It’s not unusual in British homes for the toilet and the sink to be in a separate room from the bathroom. En-suite bathrooms are uncommon, most usually the toilet and bathroom (whether they are in the same room or separate rooms) are communal rooms often at the top of the stairs, or sometimes downstairs.
In our house we have the toilet, shower and sink in one room at the top of the stairs with a separate en-suite bathroom adjoining the main bedroom.
In British homes most washbasin, bath and kitchen sink tapes are still separate taps for hot and cold water; although mixer taps are becoming more popular.
4. Appliances and Systems
At first glance, apart from most British homes not having big American style fridges with water and ice dispensers, there seems to be little difference. However, when you look a little closer there are a number of fundamental differences; three that stand out in my mind, these being:
- Air conditioning
In Britain we don’t have air conditioning (we don’t have the climate for it). If it gets hot in the summer we just open the windows.
In conversation with Americans I get the impression that big complex systems are used to heat the radiators in the house, and that water heating is a completely separate system? It proved difficult to understand each other because we were each trying to describe systems that the other person wasn’t familiar with.
However, in most British homes these days we don’t have any large boxes on the outside or on the roof, we don’t have emersion tanks to keep the water hot and neither do we have cold water storage tanks in the loft anymore.
These days the most common system is the combi-boiler, which is a single small gas boiler; a bit smaller than a dishwasher. The combi-boiler doesn’t need a pilot light and doesn’t store any water. The gas is automatically ignited as soon as the central heating system comes on or you turn a hot water tap on; making it a very compact and efficient system. Central heating in British homes is predominantly gas because currently 45% of our gas comes from the North Sea, making it cheaper than electricity for heating.
On speaking with American friends on social media they’ve all explained how in America the Dryer has to be vented, that there’s a risk of fire and it’s always in a separate room.
In contrast, in British homes the dryer is built into the washer, which is always installed in the kitchen, it doesn’t need an air vent, and there’s no undue risk of fire.
5. House Numbering
I often see on television American homes with four digit house numbers; so I assume (given how big American homes are) that most American roads are very long!
In Britain house numbers rarely pass the 1000 mark; with the normal house numbering pattern being even numbers on one side of the road and odd numbers on the other side.
To find an address in the UK, if you’re using an A to Z rather than a satnav, and you enter a road or street in the middle e.g. from a side road:-
- Check to see which side of the road the evens and odds are on, and
- Which direction the numbering is going e.g. up or down the road
Then walk or drive in the appropriate direction as you keep an eye on the house numbers on the appropriate side of the road.
I’ve seen on a few American TV programmes where a Flat (Apartment) is strangely numbered with a ½ e.g. 34 ½.
In Britain, where a large house has been converted into two Flats e.g. one upstairs and the other on the Ground Floor, then they are numbered A & B; the famous Sherlock Holmes address of 221B Baker Street being a prime example.
6. Big and Sprawling vs. Small and Homely
There’s no doubt that American homes tend to be much bigger than British home; and over the decades British homes have got smaller.
I do watch American DIY programmes with some envy in that just the living room in an American home is often bigger than the entire ground floor in a typical British home.
However size isn’t everything and I am proud of our 1930s three bedroom semi-detached home, which we fully own having paid off the mortgage. Even our first home, a 1950s two bedroom terraced house was large enough for us to make it homely.
The cost of bricks and mortar is a factor in building smaller homes, but the prime factor is land conservation. Britain is only a small island with a large population of 64 million; albeit the population has only increased marginally in the last 50 years due to a declining birth rate.
It’s not that we don’t have the land; in spite of a large population 93% of Britain is rural. The one thing that prevents urban sprawl is the Green Belt policy; and unlike America we don’t build up because high-rise Flats (Apartments) are unpopular in Britain.
Therefore, the most common accepted alternative is to make houses smaller so more can be built on any given area of land.
Differences Between British & American Houses
7. Green Belt in the UK
The Green Belt is a zone of designated green land surrounding cities and large towns, specifically designed to inhibit urban sprawl by prohibiting development into the countryside.
The Green Belt is a concept, set up by the Socialist Labour government after the Second World War, which has had the full support of all governments since (regardless to their political persuasion) and has proved very effective in restricting development in the countryside.
Although it may restrain urban development, and isn’t something that’s popular with developers, it is an asset that’s treasured by most across the whole of society.
Consequently, with the Green Belt preventing urban sprawl rather than Britain becoming one big metropolis (like New York) we enjoy a green and pleasant land dotted with a few dozen modest sized cities, around 1,000 towns and about 4,000 villages all separated by countryside and all occupying less than 7% of the British landscape.
It means that for cities like Bristol (where I live), with a population of about half a million people, no one is ever more than a few miles from the countryside; something most British people take pride in.
The Green Belt Policy in the UK Explained
8. High-Rise Flats of the 1960s
Flat is the British (English) word for ‘Apartment’.
During the 1960s Local Councils (Local Government) experimented with building high rise residential homes, but this proved a social disaster.
Few people in Britain want to live in high rise flats, so by the 1970s any concept of building upwards (towards the sky) to resolve housing shortages was abandoned; with a number of them having since been demolished to make way for more conventional two storey housing.
Demolition of High Rise Flats Built in the UK in the 1960s
9. UK Cities' Green Skylines
Unlike the American city iconic skyline of skyscrapers, the height of buildings in British cities is more modest. So much so that when a British city is viewed from a distance the trees are often as dominant as the buildings themselves.
For example, in Bristol (where I live) the tallest building is St. Mary Redcliffe church, which was completed in the 15th century, with the tip of its spire being just 89m (292 feet) above ground level.
The short video below of Bristol (which is surrounded by Green Belt) gives a good example of how British cities blend into the surrounding countryside.
Iconic Views of Bristol
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
Arthur Russ (author) from England on February 02, 2020:
Thanks for your comprehensive feedback. Your comments about air-conditioning might explain why, on the odd occasion we stay overnight in a hotel that has air-conditioning (in not being use to it) I always switch it off; because I do find the forced air (hot or cold) far too uncomfortable.
PCL on February 02, 2020:
I live in a condominium complex outside of Boston and my townhouse is a lot like a British "terraced house": the outer walls are brick & block (though the interior is wood-framed), it's heated by radiators (the skirting-board type, though), fed from a central boiler house that also heats our hot water. With current earthquake codes, this kind of construction would not be allowed; it would either have to be wood framed or built with a lot of reinforcement in the concrete blockwork, and the popularity of masonry construction and of radiators has declined as air conditioning (which negates some of the advantages of thermal mass and often includes forced hot air) has become standard in more places. Still, if you move north from here, radiators and boilers are still quite common in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.
Arthur Russ (author) from England on May 26, 2019:
It would have been helpful if you could have stated what the housing is really like in Americans, as many Americans have done in the comments below.
Natalie on May 26, 2019:
Too many errors to list. This wasn’t written thoroughly enough or with proper research. It’s as if someone simply viewed a few American tv shows and started writing. Tv is FAKE! You’d have to visit to get truth.
Arthur Russ (author) from England on May 13, 2019:
Thanks Tabatha, very informative.
Tabatha on May 13, 2019:
Funny you mention that most of your insite into American home is via TV shows, as my insite into UK home is mostly from binging Escape to the Country.
So, building materials used in an American home greatly vary by location. I'm from New England, so mostly wood framed houses, though brick houses arwnt uncommon (my father was actually a brick mason). Now, in Florida, youbrarely see wood framed houses, as most are built using concrete blocks, and is many hurricane prone areas, building codes require concrete.
The biggest difference I see, aside from size, is that in American houses, the new norm is an open floorplan, especially having the kitchen and family room open to each other (kitchen/diner and livingroom). We also don't have snugs, and like our TV rooms large.
Counter to your statement above about on suite bathrooms, most bedrooms in the US are not on suite. Though it's pretty standard for most houses built after maybe 1990 to have an on suite bathroom in the master bedroom, it is far from the norm for other bedrooms to be on suite. I have a pretty average suburban American house, and I have "2.5" bathrooms, meaning 2 full bathrooms (most have a toilet, sink and bathtub or shower, or both, and a half bath is just a toilet and sink). It's common for a half bath to be on the main floor, with a master "on suite" bathroom upstairs as well as what you would call a family bathroom to serve the other bedrooms.
Another difference I see, and this deoends on where you are in the US, but we also tend to expect finished basements now, providing a rec room, tv room, gym, or playroom area.
Oh, for heating....old houses may still use radiators, but its pretty uncommon now. Houses are usually heated by electric heating (either central pushed are using vents throughout the house or some houses still have baseboard heating), gas heating (either old radiators or again, central pushed air using vents), and some are heated using a wood or pellet stove, again often using a pushed air duct work system throughout the house. The only places thatbuse boilers are maybe really old schools????
Im sure I left out a lot, but hope I helped a little ;-)
LeeAnn Jacket on May 09, 2019:
I wanted to add that log homes and adobe houses are much more durable in America.
Arthur Russ (author) from England on April 03, 2019:
Yep; a very valid point; although we frequently get earthquakes in the UK (41 this century) unlike California, USA, they are almost never strong enough to cause structural damage in the UK. My wife and I have only ever felt two:-
#1. July 1984, epicentre in North Wales (190 miles from us in Bristol), magnitude 5.4; all we noticed on that occasion was where the wine glasses chinked, as they banged against each other, in the drinks cabinet, and the sofa my wife was sitting on swayed slightly.
#2. February 2018, epicentre in South Wales (87 miles from us in Bristol), magnitude 4.6; on this occasion I was in our home office upstairs and the house shook enough to move a few objects on the table and the office chair I was sitting on rolled several inches across the floor (on its castors) as the room moved, but there was no structural damage to our brick home (not even a crack).
On both occasions it felt a little like being on a deck on a ship.
List of Earthquakes in the UK: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_earthquakes_...
PsychePunk on March 29, 2019:
In California, it would be dangerous to have a brick home. Timber houses sway and move, brick homes crumble. We have earthquakes. Swaying is better than crumbling.
Arthur Russ (author) from England on March 04, 2019:
Thanks for the info Billm, that is reassuring. Similarly, all timber sold in the UK these days has to be certified as being from a 'Renewable Source'.
billm on March 03, 2019:
Stick framing, as it's called, also happens to be quite green. The softwood lumber used is actually a renewable resource that consumes co2 as it grows.
Arthur Russ (author) from England on October 08, 2018:
Thanks Randall, yes that does give clarity; and it does make sense.
Randall Krause on October 07, 2018:
Speaking as someone that was born and raised in the midwest U.S., I suspect the reason so many American houses and apartments have a wood-frame structure is because a) developers are cheap (Americans never like to spend more than they have to, particularly in business dealings like real estate), and b) construction is faster and renovation is easier (many American homeowners have a DIY mindset, and don't want to hire a contractor for every project).
Hope that clarifies a few points. Great article!
Arthur Russ (author) from England on September 20, 2018:
Thanks for your comments Laura; a very informative read, and valid information.
Yep, I can see that destructive earthquakes (of the type common in the USA, and other parts of the World) and bricks don't mix. So therefore, as you indicate, a very good reason to use timber rather than brick in earthquake zones.
Although it may interest some to know that we do actually get earthquakes quite frequently in the UK, but they're so deep in the earth's crust that they never really do any damage.
In the UK we have earthquakes of magnitude 4 and above every couple of years, and magnitude 5 or above once every 8 years on average, but because they're so deep in the earth's crust they never really do any 'structural damage'.
The last earthquake to hit the UK was near Swansea, Wales (epicentre) on the 17th February 2018. It was a 4.4 Magnitude, which was felt in Bristol (just over 80 miles away) where I live; but its hypocentre (the depth) was 5 miles below the earth's surface so there was no serious damage to property or injuries e.g. the depth absorbs a lot of the destructive energy.
I was in our home-office at the time (a converted bedroom on the upper floor), and I certainly felt it. The whole room swayed, the office chair (on casters) which I was sitting on moved across the floor several inches, and objects on the office desk moved slightly, but no damage to the house itself (which is all brick), not even a crack in the plaster.
The only other time we've felt an earthquake in Bristol was the one in North Wales (190 miles away) in 1984, 5.4 Magnitude; on that occasion, all the wine glasses in our glass cabinet chinked, as they rocked and knocked each other; but no damage.
Laura Beals on September 19, 2018:
I really love watching home shows too but from the other side of the pond so I enjoy your “Escape to the country “ etc. I don’t think we get any DIY shows from Britain. And don’t get confused by the house flipping shows we have. It take much longer to get things done in the real world than on tv, turn the weeks into months and you will be closer in timeline. I just wanted to give you my perspective on timber vs brick and mortar. I grew up in LA and believe me you do not want bricks in an earthquake prone area. I think in America we build with a what works best for the weather and geography manner. Thanks for your British perspective it makes me see things in a new way.
Arthur Russ (author) from England on May 12, 2018:
Thanks for your input, and feedback on American Housing. Your query on whether you can install a mobile home in the UK, and whether ‘off-grid’ living is possible or whether you required to ‘hook-up’ to public sewer, water, and power are good questions.
Yes mobile homes are common in the UK, although predominantly for holiday accommodation, it is possible to buy a mobile home for residential living. Either way, they are almost exclusively located in mobile home parks or on holiday camp sites where they are all linked to the electricity national grid, mains sewage and water; although they usually use Calor gas for cooking. Calor gas is bottled butane and propane available in the UK in cylinders about 18 inches high, that’s portable and ideal for camping.
Off-grid living is possible in the UK if you are lucky enough to acquire a remote location with the potential for planning permission , especially these days with renewable energy technology in the UK being affordable and efficient; and there are a small number of people who have done this. However, living off-grid can be quite tough in comparison to the convenience of modern living and planning permission in such remote places is highly restricted.
This video below shows how even the most remote of villages in the UK are linked to the mains power supply on the national grid.
Restoring mains electricity supply to remote Cumbrian village of just 11 homes in Northern England: https://youtu.be/idd2PDzppp0
In relation to your related question; whether landowners in Greenbelt areas are compensated for their reduction of development opportunities. The simple answer is ‘no’. Greenbelt has existed in the UK since the end of the 2nd world war, and it’s an accepted part of the UK ‘planning policy’. A lot of people living in the greenbelt tend to be farmers, so it’s often lots of farmland with a scattering of farm houses; albeit some farms do get planning permission to convert some of their barns into holiday chalets, as a source for secondary income. Although being farmland doesn’t restrict public access because of the ancient rights of ‘public rights of way’ in the UK, which are protected by modern laws.
Generally planning permission can be granted in the greenbelt to replace an existing building, but not to expand the development; although planning permission is sometimes granted in the greenbelt for new development where the house can be hidden from view, and occasionally for the conversion of old redundant buildings e.g. disused water towers etc.
I note with interest your comment about vigorous anti-apartment (flat) movements in the USA lobbying planning meetings and having serious clout, and how you think from my comments that this this seems almost unimaginable in the UK.
Certainly ‘Apartments’ (flats) isn’t an issue in the UK; following the failed experimental build into high-rise during the 1960s, the development of flats (apartments) is limited and they are never more than a few stories high. Expensive inner city Apartments tend to be more popular with single (unmarried) Business men and woman working in highly paid city jobs in finance and banking etc., whereas affordable housing (social housing) e.g. low cost houses, tends to be the favoured development for local governments rather than flats.
As regards lobbying, it’s similar in the UK as it is in the USA e.g. all development is open to public consultation and ‘Objectors’ views are considered when a Council (Local Government) makes its decision. Sometimes the Objectors views do sway a Council, sometimes not; but any ‘Objection’ has to be based on ‘Planning Laws’, which includes things like ‘noise’, ‘in keeping with the style and character of the area’, ‘overshadowing’, ‘obstructing the view’ and ‘in keeping with the street scene’ etc.
Finally, with reference to your observation that ‘most new homes in the USA have drywall (plasterboard) interiors, making it easier to repair than plaster e.g. the ability to easily build or demo an interior wall in a day.
That is something I am envious of. With British interior walls being brick, as nice as it is, it is almost impossible to demo and relocate; especially as a lot of the interior walls are often structural e.g. supporting the ceiling above and potentially the roof. Even if an interior brick wall isn’t structural, it’s a good weeks work just to demolish it and make good the repairs; albeit once demolished there is nothing stopping the home owner from replacing it with a stud wall.
Dallas H on May 11, 2018:
Really fascinating read! I really like the character and durability of modern British homes. The brick construction is timeless. Just a few random thoughts on my end:
-In some parts of the US, there is a vigorous anti-apartment (flat) movement. Activists attend city planning meetings to lobby and often have serious clout. From your comments, this seems almost unimaginable in the UK.
-Do you know if landowners in Greenbelt areas are compensated for their reduction of development opportunities? A similar policy in the US would require the government(s) follow the eminent domain process on a grand scale.
-I've never had a gas-powered clothes dryer. All of mine have been vented with 240v electric.
-Some homes here have electric-only central HVAC. It might seem strange, however there are many large homes with only heat pump heating and cooling. These systems operate like normal central AC in the summer but reverse their cycle in the winter. Instead of extracting heat from the indoors, they extract heat from outdoors and transfer it indoors in the winter.
-Many older homes contain bathrooms where the sink is in a room separate from the shower/toilet. Don't quote me, however the combined bathroom may have been a code requirement.
-I believe combined shower/sink valves are mandated in new construction. I prefer the double valve setup, however lobbyists pushed the single valve mandate on safety grounds.
-Can you install a mobile home in the UK? Is "off-grid" living possible or are you required to hook up to public sewer, water, and power?
-The washing machine and dryer in my grandmother's house are both in the kitchen. This location appears to be dependent on age and region.
-Most new homes I'm familiar with have drywall interiors. Even easier to repair than plaster! If you don't run into any snags, you can easily build or demo an interior wall in a day.
Arthur Russ (author) from England on April 12, 2018:
Thanks for your feedback Nancy. Yes, I love the Greenbelt Policy as a great way to protect the countryside by stopping urban sprawl.
Nancy, Delaware on April 11, 2018:
Stumbled on your article while researching home heating and found it enjoyable and informative. I love the "greenbelt" concept.
Arthur Russ (author) from England on March 28, 2018:
Thanks Caroline for your feedback; very informative.
Yes, it doesn’t surprise me that ventless washer/dryers take twice as long to dry clothes than vented dryers. In Britain, we don’t always use the dryer; on nice days in the summer months we like to hang our clothes out to dry in the back garden so that they get aired before ironing.
Yes downstairs toilets and bathrooms are rare in the UK. They are almost always upstairs, usually with the bathroom/toilet being at the top of the stairs. It can be a bit inconvenient having to nip upstairs every time you want to go to the toilet, but space is a premium downstairs in most British homes; so it’s something you just get used to and just don’t think about.
Caroline on March 25, 2018:
Hi! I'm a real estate agent in NYC and I like watching a lot of British property shows. Most American property shows feature open plan housing for one very simple reason - it's MUCH easier to film in an open plan house than in one with lots of small rooms. It does definitely give a different impression of American housing than the reality. You would find tons of terrace housing (we'd call them townhouses) in cities that were primarily built-up before 1950 like NYC, Boston, Baltimore, Washington DC and San Francisco. These houses would have radiators and no air conditioning unless their owners renovated. In NYC we have lots of rental units, and many of them have radiator heat and no air conditioning because we have a very low unoccupancy rate and landlords do not need to do expensive renovations to find tenants. Even in new apartment buildings, many units with washer/dryers have dryers that do not vent out. This is because it's cheaper to build without a vent, but ventless dryers take MUCH longer to dry clothes - about twice as long.
One thing that has surprised me the most about British property shows are two story homes that only have a single bathroom. In the US, homes like this would likely have had a downstairs toilet/sink added into the home at some point in any tiny space that could fit it. You may be interested in this fascinating look at how the idea of what is a "home" in America has changed over time: https://www.citylab.com/equity/2018/02/the-rise-an...
Arthur Russ (author) from England on January 17, 2018:
Hi Andy; thanks for your views; which are appreciated. However, I’m guessing from your comments that perhaps you live and work mainly in the upper end of the housing market (which isn’t representative of society as a whole); and that your friends and relatives predominantly live in middle class homes; maybe the West End of London as you don’t seem to be aware on how common many of these features (which you referred to) still are in housing throughout the UK.
At 36, you can only have been in the construction industry for no more than 16 years, and in that time obviously haven’t worked a great deal on housing for the ordinary working class family. Housing in the UK is a lot more diverse than just the more expensive housing that you obviously spend most of your time renovating.
Firstly, I may have lived in our current home for the past 30 years, but I do have neighbours, and across the city of Bristol lots of friends and associates who live in a wide diverse range of homes from Georgian, Victorian, Edwardian through to post war and modern. I also have relatives (and in-laws) who live in various cities across England; who we visit, and stay with, from time to time.
One of my in-laws is upper middle class, and does live in the type of home you describe. However, most people we know are working class or lower middle class, and not all have garages; and few have large homes.
Quite typical Lower Middle Class 4-bedroom property in Bristol (includes separate w/c downstairs, but no utility room):- https://youtu.be/9b-ILxF2uuE
Granted, not every home has a separate w/c, but where they do exist I’ve never known anyone have the desire to knock through to the bathroom because of the convenience of it being separate; also, I have known people to install a separate w/c downstairs for the convenience, especially as they get older.
I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t have their washer/dryer in the kitchen, and everyone I know does have the combined washer/dryer; but then again most people I know are working class, and live in smaller houses. And as the working class make up the majority of the population it’s a safe bet to say that having the washer/dryer in the kitchen is quite normal in the UK. I’ve never met anyone in the UK who has a utility room; most British home just aren’t big enough; unless you’re upper middle class and live in the posh area of a city such as the West End of London or North West Bristol.
In the UK typical housing for most people (other than the very wealthy) would be either a two or three bedroom terrace or semi-detached; most typically a living room, dining room and kitchen downstairs (no utility room), and three bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs. Some have garages, and some don’t; some have a separate w/c and some don’t.
I grant you that not all ‘large’ houses might not have combi-boilers (you’ll know more than I do there because you obviously work mostly on the large posh houses for the wealthy sector of society) e.g. there’s nobody that I know who has three showers; most people I know have just the one, or at most two showers, and even then they’re usually electric rather than gas.
Andy on January 17, 2018:
Helpful but I'd question if you really know about UK housing if you think the typical home still has a separate w/c from the bathroom. This is so outdated now I can barely remember them being seperate and I'm 36! I work in property development, everyone knocks through to have the bathroom as a single room now. Also, the dryer isn't "always in the kitchen" at all, lots of people have them in their utility room or even their garage if it's accessible from an internal door in the property. Nor is it always a washer dryer, seperate machines exist. And lastly, large houses still have seperate cold water storage tanks and emersion heaters, even new builds. This is because combi boilers aren't great if there's 3 people showering at the same time. The pressure drops off greatly and it needs to flow through the boiler at a certain rate to trigger the boiler to ignite. Fairly useful article but tbh I'd speak to a few experts before you write another one as just living in a house for 30 years doesn't make you a construction professional I'm afraid. Thanks anyway
Arthur Russ (author) from England on December 10, 2017:
Thanks for your feedback Sarah. I agree that I don’t know about housing in the USA other than what Americans have told me and from what I’ve seen on TV e.g. American DIY programmes. However, having lived all my life in the UK I am more than familiar on how British homes are built and furnished.
I agree that combined washer dryers are not generally found in the USA and that in the USA dryers have to be vented; and for the reasons you give.
However, in the UK combined washer dryers as a single appliance is the norm, and not only are they quite effective and safe, they don’t need venting. I can only assume that there is a divergence of technology between the UK and USA; presumably to meet different housing needs e.g. American homes are bigger and generally have the space for a separate laundry room; whereas British homes are smaller and there just isn’t the space to fit a separate dryer in the kitchen.
In fact if you go to any major retail outlet in the UK that sales household appliances you will see a wide range of washer dryers on display. At this point I would like to reiterate that combined washer dryers sold in the UK are convenient and safe, as demonstrated in the video below.
Samsung WD80K5410OW washer dryer:- https://youtu.be/IbVKn4f6Q8k
A lot of confusion about air vents, which are common for dryers in America, but not in the UK, is that in the UK our machines uses ‘condensation drying’ technology that condenses the moisture so that it can be drained away through the water waste pipe rather than an air vent; as this video briefly explains:-
From speaking with Americans on this subject and from the American TV DIY programmes I understand that there are brick built homes in the USA; but my understanding is that it’s only the outer wall that is a single thickness brick, supported by a timber frame on the inside which is insulated and then clad with plasterboard (drywall). Whereas in the UK there is no timber frame e.g. the wall being two bricks thick, with a 3 inch gap between the inner and outer wall. These days concrete blocks are generally used for the inner wall because they are cheaper, and quicker to lay, and not visible on completion because they will be skinned with plaster.
This video show the construction of a brick cavity wall extension (using house bricks for the exterior skin and concrete blocks for the inner skin, and then roofed with clay tiles: https://youtu.be/PZfvpiBoLk4
Correct to a point Sarah, under the current UK building regulations there must be at least one window on the upper floor with a large enough opening for emergency exit in the event of fire; but it’s not a requirement for all bedrooms have fully opening windows. Although I do disagree with you about air conditioning and American sized fridge freezers being common in British homes; I’ve yet to see any British home with air conditioning, and although you can now by American sized fridges in the UK the more compact fridge freezers (as demonstrated in the video below) are far more common in British homes.
Typical British Fridge Freezer:- https://youtu.be/Qun-UIWCmco
Also, you seem to have over simplified ‘new house’ builds in the UK. Generally these days, a developer (who has to get planning consent from the local authority) usually has a mixed build of housing stock to cater for a wide range of social and budget restraints e.g. mixture of social housing and private housing with a range of housing from two to five bedrooms. The smaller houses suit first time buyers and people looking to downsize while the larger houses appeal more to young couples with a growing family.
This video below is typical of the type of modern housing estates being built across the UK:-
New Housing Estate of Two, Three and Four Bedroom Houses being built in Bristol:-
• Aerial View: - https://youtu.be/Kq9dgJxAMrU
• Amenities and Show Home:- https://youtu.be/yC1mozXynr0
Sarah on December 09, 2017:
You must live in the dark ages! As a Brit who has lived on and off in the states, lots of wrong info here. Plus I don’t know anyone who has a washer/ dryer in one as they are useless. And the dryer usually will be vented. Although in new builds the developers are not putting in vents and are Making homeowners buy a condenser dryer. Lots of homes have en suites plus a wc downstairs. Also in Scotland we have much less terraced house than in middle England. Rarely do we see this ‘back to back ‘ style.
There’s more land mass in USA than UK therefore houses can be bigger. I have lived in different states and in different styles of houses in the US, so lots of brick built, especially in the east coast north/ mid, due to the weather.
Especially with newer built houses, in the uk you find air con, larger fridge freezers, depending on the developer the size of the house is either far larger than previous houses or way smaller ( greedy greedy developers) . Some so small you can barely fit a double bed in them! Also in the Uk a bedroom must have a fire escape window to be legally a bedroom.
Arthur Russ (author) from England on November 08, 2017:
Thanks Dan for your feedback.
Yes, I’ve often seen massive round (foil coated) ducting being installed in the roof space of American homes on American makeover programmes on TV; which I assume is either the hot air heating system and or the air conditioning system.
Your description of heating in your mother’s house brings back memories. In the UK, prior to the 1980s few homes had central heating; most typical would be a coal fire in the living room, which if you were lucky had a back boiler for hot water, and when you went to bed you took a hot water bottle with you because there was no heating upstairs, and no double glazing. Those were the days when ‘Jack Frost’ would visit your bedroom window during the night e.g. a thick layer of crazed ice on the inside of the window from the condensation. Most people started double glazing their homes in the 1980s, which was about the same time when people started to install central heating.
The early central heating systems introduced in the 1980s (primitive by today’s standards) consisted of a gas fire with back boiler in the living room (where the coal fire used to be); the back boiler would heat an emersion tank upstairs, and a ‘cold water’ (feeder tank) in the loft would gravity feed the emersion tank. The emersion tank (which held sufficient hot water to fill a bath) could also be heated by electric (for the summer months), and would be connected to a pump to feed the radiators with hot water. Costly to run by today’s standards but at least you could heat every room in the house; and with double glazing, no more ‘Jack Frost’.
Then about 15 years ago all this was replaced with the combi-boiler, which does away with the gas fire, back boiler, emersion tank, and cold water tank in the loft; just one small box (about the size of a small kitchen cabinet) that does it all. The combi-boiler doesn’t store any hot water, it heats it up from the mains cold water on demand e.g. if you turn the hot water tap on you get instant hot water coming out of the tap within less than 30 seconds e.g. the time it takes the water to get from the combi-boiler to the tap; and when you turn on the central heating the radiators start getting hot within a couple of minutes. How hot you have the water is entirely up to you. If you turn the thermostat to maximum the radiators do get too hot to touch, and if you can ignore the pain and keep your hand on a radiator for more than a few seconds you will get burnt. However, I tend to keep the water temperature quite low so that the radiators only get warm (rather than hot) to allow the air to gently circulate throughout the rooms (convection), to create a nice even temperature throughout the whole house; usually a constant 22c (70f).
I didn’t realise American clothes dryers could be gas fired; all our kitchen appliances (except optionally the cooker) are electric. 5 hours per week sounds reasonable; we tend to set our washer/dryer to automatically start in the early hours of the morning so that the clothes are ready first thing in the morning (when we get up) to hang-out, hang-up or put in the washing basket for ironing. During the summer we tend not to bother with the dryer option as my wife prefers to hang out the clothes in the garden (old habits die hard); but during the winter months when it’s too cold and damp to hang clothes out in the garden the dryer cycle is a bonus.
This video gives a good overview of the versatility of British Washer Dryers:- https://youtu.be/1vCD_37f_sI
I’m a DIY enthusiast so I do find the brick walls a right pain when it comes to remodelling our home; which I do quite regularly e.g. this year it was the dining room and kitchen, last year the living room, and after Christmas it’ll be my son’s bedroom.
We don’t have ducting to worry about because we don’t have air conditioning or hot air heating; just the gas central heating for the water filled radiators around the home. All the water pipes and the gas pipe between the upper and lower floor are boxed-in and out of sight, but easily accessible if needed.
The real pain is the electric cables, especially if I decide to relocate electric sockets or add new sockets; which I invariably do when remodelling a room. You can use plastic ducting that sticks onto the surface of the wall for new cabling, but I think it always looks so ugly. So whenever I do any rewiring I prefer to chisel out a channel in the brickwork, deep enough for the cable and then plaster over afterwards to make good; albeit, it’s very dusty and time consuming job chiselling a channel in the brickwork, and its hard work (heavy labour).
Because interior walls in British homes are brick (and usually load bearing) we seldom knock them down to change the layout of the floor space (as seems common in America); we generally make do with the walls where they are. Albeit I have made some structural alterations over the years, for example:-
• When I first renovated our kitchen we bricked up the old kitchen backdoor and I hired an angle grinder to cut a 4 foot wide opening in the side of the house to fit a new ‘French Door’ on the other side of the kitchen. Once I cut the opening I used a couple of ‘Acrow Props’ to support the exterior house wall overnight, and the following day fitted a lintel so that we could then safely fit the new door.
• Although when it came to demolishing part of the brick wall at the back of our living room to open up the space under the stairs and make the living room bigger, I did it all by hand to limit the dust. Doing it by hand was slow hard work, that took me a couple of days, but I was glad when the Acrow Props were replaced by the lintel; because I had visions of the bedroom collapsing into the living room, but the Acrow Props did their job.
Because the interior walls are brick in British homes, when renovating a house (or just a room) we don’t take the plaster off the wall, we just repair any damage with a bit of fresh plaster and sand back smooth when dry. All the plaster in our house is original and dates back to the 1930s (when the house was built).
However, the big bonus of British homes being all brick is that they’re solid and potentially last for centuries. Plus the wall will structurally support any heavy object you fix to them e.g. shelfing, wall cupboards etc., and you don’t have to worry about trying to find a stud to make a secure fixing, albeit you do need to ensure there are no electrical cables buried in the wall where you’re drilling to make the screws holes.
Dan Harmon from Boise, Idaho on November 08, 2017:
Most interesting. A few comments, though, on American styles:
Walls are not typically "wood clad". Exterior surfaces have a wood cladding of plywood sheets, to provide "racking" strength, but the interior very seldom does. Instead, sheets of paper covered plaster, factory manufactured, are applied.
Most bathrooms have either a tub or a shower, not both unless the shower is part of the bath tub. That's probably the most common arrangement. In addition, while it is common for the "master" bedroom (largest, intended for the home owner, not guests or children) to have a separate bath, other bedrooms seldom do. My own home has a bath that opens to both the master bedroom and the hallway to other bedrooms, and a second bath at the other end of the home.
The vast majority of heating systems is hot air, where air is heated and then ducted to the rest of the home. Radiators are something seen only very rarely. My mother's house, built in 1920, has a boiler with radiators, but the radiators do not get hot - just warm. You can sit on them. This means that the boiler is not getting hot enough to provide hot water for bathing or washing.
Instead of surrounding greenbelts, cities have smaller parks and walkways inside the city. But American cities are primarily built around automobile roads, not pathways to walk on. It was really nice to see Edinburgh streets with foot traffic only on the shopping district.
Clothes dryers are either electric (no vent) or gas fired. If gas, a vent is necessary to vent combustion gases away from the living areas; this is usually accomplished via plastic pipe as the exhaust is not hot enough to burn the plastic. That England uses single units instead of a washer and dryer makes me wonder if Americans wash far more clothes. Or perhaps your washer runs far more hours: we will have one load washing while the other is drying and for two people the system runs perhaps 5 hours per week.
I also wonder if part of the basic construction (wood studs vs brick) isn't because Americans remodel their homes far more often. With wiring, plumbing and ducting inside the walls it would be quite difficult to remodel a wall of two brick layers and a cavity between them. And of course removing or adding a stud wall is far quicker and cheaper than a brick one. I hadn't realized that interior British walls were brick - remodeling must be a very seldom thing there.
Arthur Russ (author) from England on October 09, 2017:
Thanks for your comprehensive feedback Amber, most enlightening.
Likewise, across Europe there are significant variants in climate from the cold wet windswept north of Scotland to the dry hot sunny regions of Spain in the Mediterranean. Nevertheless, there are lots of similarities in house constructions across Europe including:-
• Use of water for heating our homes rather than air.
• Use of clay tiles for roofing.
• Brick or stone built rather than timber frame.
Although there are also differences:-
• DPC (Damp Proof Course) has to be at least six inches above ground level for houses built in the UK because of our damp climate, whereas in southern France and in Spain the ground floor doesn’t have to be built above ground level because they don’t suffer from rising damp in these regions.
• Cavity walls aren’t necessary in southern Europe, for the same reason that damp isn’t an issue, and
• Pitched roofs in southern Europe are less critical because of the dryer climate.
As regards ‘zoning regulations’ each European country has its own building regulations (some quite bizarre) but generally, other than style, there isn’t a huge difference across Europe e.g. unlike America, Europeans don’t tend to build skyscrapers everywhere; and the importance of ‘green space’ is recognised so urban sprawl across Europe isn’t as rife as in America.
Terraced and semi-detached housing isn’t just in Britain, its common throughout Europe; so is ‘normal’ to me and therefore something I’ve never thought about before. Being a DIY enthusiast I enjoy watching the American ‘Flip’ programmes on TV with my wife e.g. ‘Vegas Flip’, ‘Boston Flip’ and ‘Masters of Flip’ etc. These are American TV series where property speculators buy houses cheaply, renovate them and sale them on for huge profits within a matter of weeks. The strange thing is, it’s only now just dawned on me (after reading your comments) that almost all the houses they flip are detached.
What fascinates us about these programmes is the speed and ability to just gut these homes, knock down walls to make rooms bigger, build-up and build-out to make the house bigger, slap up new plasterboard (dry wall in American) and make as good as new all within just a matter of weeks. It’s something you just can’t do with British homes because they’re all brick and mortar (including the internal walls). Knocking down a brick wall takes a lot longer than a timber frame wall, and patching up a plastered brick wall to make good any damage takes a lot longer than just sticking up new plasterboard. Therefore, renovations in the UK take months rather than weeks.
In Britain (and across Europe) terraced houses are often either two or three bedroom with their own back garden, and often a front garden. Semi-detached houses are usually three bedrooms, although sometimes four or five; and they all have their own front and back gardens with either a small strip of land (access) or a garden on one side. An end-terrace is very much like a semi-detached.
A newly married couple will often buy a terraced house to get their foot on the first rung of the property ladder, and in later years move up the property ladder by buying a semi-detached. Terraced houses (and bungalows) are also popular with elderly couples wishing to down-size. Of course in the UK you can by detached houses, but they are less common, and more expensive. Generally, most British people are happy living in adjoined properties with a bit of garden, but few like living in high-rise flats (Apartments in American).
Aerial view of a new housing estate (of 2, 3 and 4 bedroom homes) being built on ‘brownfield’ land in Lyde Green, Bristol (gives a good perspective of the layout of housing in the UK): https://youtu.be/Kq9dgJxAMrU
Amber on October 08, 2017:
Very interesting article explaining some of the differences I was trying to understand about British houses!
From an American perspective I would just like to add a couple of things
- many of your observations about buildings here are true for newly built middle-to-high-end houses, but not for older houses. For example the idea of each bedroom having an ensuite is recent. So in a new suburban development you would find houses with tons of bathrooms, but in older established neighborhoods & cities, maybe there would be 1 or 2 bathrooms.
- there are huge regional differences in American construction style and housing because different parts of the country have totally different climates and conditions. They will also have different needs for heating. From Alaska to Florida we won’t be talking about the same thing. So you can’t really say “American roofs are like this” etc.
Zoning regulations like the green belt is also a local issue and different places will have different character as far as heights of buildings and sprawl.
- a British concept you didn’t mention that I had trouble understanding is terraced and semi-detached houses. In America a house is a freestanding building with a lawn around it! Even a tiny, old 1 bedroom cottage would have its own space around it. Streets of houses all right next to each other is only for very dense urban centers. A home attached to another would be a townhouse or a duplex. And that is much less common than a regular house.
Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on January 07, 2017:
Very interesting comparison.