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How We Live: Differences Between British & North American Homes

diagram of an American-style house
Pixaline/Pixabay

A lot of the blogs I read are written by British bloggers, and I’ve noticed that there seem to be differences in various home-type things compared to North America. I thought it would be fun to take a look what those differences are. I don’t think I’ve actually been in any American homes, but I’m assuming they’re pretty similar to what we’ve got here in Canada.

I’ve gotten the info for this post from Matador Network, Soapboxie, and Bustle.

Closets vs. wardrobes

It sounds like most British homes don’t have built-in closets; they have wardrobes as a piece of furniture.

Closets reign supreme on this side of the pond. My apartment is considered a 1-bedroom plus den. What’s the difference between the bedroom and den? A closet. To be considered a bedroom here, a room must have a built-in closet. Walk-in closet seem to have become more of a thing, and my bedroom has a walk-in closet. I just learned that a non-walk-in closet is called a reach-in closet.

One thing I’m curious about is what a cupboard refers to in the UK, because it seems like it’s broader than the way it’s used here. When I think cupboard, I think where stuff lives in the kitchen. Funny, when I Google “cupboard definition Canada”, it wants to tell me about government cabinets. I wonder if that’s a matter of Google being confused, or Google assuming that searchers are confused when entering those search terms.

Kitchen

Here, most people use a range (combo oven & stove) for cooking. I’m not sure what the most common cooking situation is in the UK, but when I search Google Images for “cooker UK”, it gives some funky-looking options, including this whole situation shown below with multiple doors. Separate oven and cooktop/hob seems to be a thing too. Speaking of hobs, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone speak of a hob in Canada.

AGA Cooker, Wikimedia Commons

Fridges are bigger here, apparently. Some UK homes just have little under the counter fridges.

I had no idea garburators (the Canadian term for garbage disposals) existed until I was an adult. Apparently they don’t exist in the UK. They let you dispose of food waste down the sink, and the garburator will grind it up, but they tend to block pipes, and my building has requested that everyone remove or at least stop using their garburators.

Heating

Gas boilers are/were a common heating system in the UK. These pipe hot water through radiators and also supplies hot water to taps. Apparently these are going to be banned.

Then there are combi boilers, although I’m not really sure what those are.

I’m really not sure what the heating situation is across Canada. My apartment has electric baseboard heaters. The hot water comes from some magical place that has something to do with natural gas, but I know nothing beyond that.

Forced-air furnaces are common in Canada. In my home growing up, we had an electric furnace. Hot water came from an electric hot water tank.

Laundry

In British homes, the washer/dryer is one thing, and it’s usually located in the kitchen, as you can see in the picture of the AGA cooker contraption. It seems weird to me that it happens in the same machine, although I don’t seem to have a problem with understanding that a dishwasher washes and dries all in one place.

In North American homes, the washer and dryer are separate machines, although they might be stacked one on top of the other. They can live in various places, but I’ve never encountered them living in the kitchen. In my apartment, the washer and dryer live in a closet in the bathroom. North American dryers are vented to the outside, and if too much lint accumulates, there’s a risk of fire.

Bathrooms

The Guardian has an archive article from 1950 with the title “More than half of British homes don’t have a bathroom.” When I read that, I wondered where people would pee, because in Canada, the bathroom is where the toilet is, and the bath/shower is in the same room. Apparently, it’s not uncommon for the bath to be in a separate room from the toilet in the UK.

In the UK, there are often separate faucets for hot and cold water. Here, there’s usually 1 faucet for combined hot and cold water. There are exceptions, though; my bath has separate hot and cold faucets.

The light switch in UK bathrooms may be on a string or outside the room. How is your younger sibling not always turning off the light while you’re taking a bath?

Outside

In the UK, outside the house is the garden. On this side of the pond, the outside area is the yard, the grassy part is the lawn, and an area growing other stuff is the garden.

75% of American homes have central air conditioning (as opposed to hardly any British homes), and there’s an air conditioning unit outside the building. Very few people have air conditioning where I live now, but in the area where I grew up, most people had central air con. I was not aware until adulthood that window air conditioning units existed.


Were you familiar with these differences? If you live in the UK (or elsewhere, for that matter), do you have anything else to add that’s different from North American-style homes?

43 thoughts on “How We Live: Differences Between British & North American Homes”

  1. I thought this was weird too. My cousin lives about two hours south of London and I went to visit her a couple years ago. I was flabbergasted that the washer was in the kitchen. Also how small everything was, even their cars are smaller. One thing I did love was that most of their foods weren’t as sweet. But their champagne 👌🏻

  2. A great share. Thank you for the research you did to bring this post to life.
    I am fascinated by UK terms for “cupboars” too. I am both British Colonial by birth and Canadian by citizenship yet, I have never figured out what the differences are. But, I sense the UK meaning is not quite what we think “cupboards” mean in Canada. Great share. It was nostalgic for me to dig back into my history and to recall the comparative meaning of UK words to those in Canada. Thank you Ashley Leia much appreciated😊

  3. It’s complicated. In the US, depending on the location, you can have a gas stove but the gas is provided by a huge propane gas tank in the ‘yard’. Also in rural areas where there is no municipal sewage pipes you have a septic tank buried in the yard. I’ve only ever known ‘stoves’ because I’ve always lived where there were municipal gas lines but I think with electric stoves, the cooktop can be seperate from the oven, actually nowadays I’ve seen gas cooktops with separate ovens…In the US for a room to be a legal bedroom it has to have 2 forms of egress – hence it has to have a window, closets are optional. The lack of closets can be attributed to the age of the building – I’ve lived in Baltimore and Philadelphia and most of the older homes in the city were closet less – back in the 18th and 19th century closets were not a thing. Garbage disposals are just plain nasty, never came across one until we bought a house in Philly (which had been gut renovated). There was one in this building where I live now (built in the early 60’s), I had that thing removed. Oh, wow I could able on and on with this – such a fun topic!

    I watched a lot of House Hunters International over the years and I can honestly say – boy, are we spoiled!

    1. I’ve never come across the gas stove-propane tank combo. If I didn’t have a municipal gas hook-up, I think I’d be pretty inclined to go with an electric stove.

      My home growing up had a septic tank until we got municipal sewer service when the village expanded its boundaries to include our area.

      I’d never thought about the window thing, but I just discovered that here, a windowless room can count as a bedroom if the suite has sprinklers.

      1. Our daughter and son-in-law live in Milton, VT (about 17 miles outside of Burlington) and they have a huge propane tank on their property that serves their gas stove. I don’t know what kind of heating they have…But in Vermont, a very rural state, this is pretty common.

  4. I’m not sure all these differences are universal.

    Cupboards probably is really for kitchens in the UK, although I think I refer to my wardrobes as cupboards sometimes. We can have fitted wardrobes too.

    We used to have a waste disposal in our sink in our old house, until we changed the kitchen. I think combined oven/hobs are common too.

    We have a separate washer and drier and always have. They were separate machines when I was at university too. I wouldn’t say they are always in the kitchen, although they often are, but our current house has them in a separate room, as did the previous one. I think our drier is vented outside.

    Taps I think are increasingly just one for hot and cold, although not always. Certainly all the new taps we’ve had put in since moving to this house are one tap. The 1950s article might well be talking about toilets too; people used to have outside toilets before inside plumbing. They had these in the Americas once upon a time too. But many people in Britain were still pretty poor in the 1950s. I think as late as the 1990s the Labour Party had a manifesto promise that no child would have to use an outside toilet, although by that stage it was rare enough to seem a weird thing to promise.

  5. I find it very interesting, I really do. I have lived in a lot of different properties – we grew up in a council house, and had tiny rooms, a tiny combi gas oven/stove, a washing machine (and only a tumble drier when I was a teenager), for years we had to dry all laundry either out on the washing line in the garden or on airers near the radiator.
    But I have also lived in large properties, with a separate utility room off the side of the kitchen with separate washing machines and driers, and a huge Aga, and lots of space, big rooms, underfloor heating….all sorts of sensible aspects.
    I used to live in a fairly new apartment block, and I had a huge walk-in closet, which I loved.
    I like my little nest now because it feels spacious and yet sensible, plenty of storage and everything is tastefully decorated, and everything I could possibly need is there, and the bathroom is particularly well designed. But I do have a diddy wardrobe now – and I miss the big walk-in closet. Right now I have my winter clothes in the wardrobe, and my summer clothes in storage bags/boxes under the bed.

  6. How interesting. Per your description, the Australia and NZ use UK terms and the older houses are modelled on the UK setup, especially re: bathrooms; the newer ones more on the American setup. I would gamble however that nearly all houses have air conditioning in Australia is an oven in the summer.

    You’ve also made an interesting point about the laundry – I’ve never thought about how the kitchen/laundries are often built extremely close together in the houses here.

  7. I am fortunate to have lived in homes with central heating and air conditioning. The humidity in Louisiana is insane and I’m not sure I’d survive without it. Many homes come equipped with ceiling fans too. It helps circulate the air. My Aunt who lives in Utah has what they call a swamp cooler instead of central air conditioning. I am not certain of the difference but there’s that. In historic districts, many of the homes have window units for ac. In apartments, similar to condos, the washer and dryer can be found stacked either in the kitchen or the bathroom. I’ve never seen a bedroom without a closet. The older homes have the reach-in and newer homes have walk-ins. In the South, we call the kitchen storage space the “cubbard” a play on cupboard, I assume 🤣😂 Kitchen setups vary here in Louisiana. Some have had stoves but electric water heaters and some the other way around. I’ve often thought of the difference because I know our plug-in sockets (to receive electricity) are different than in the UK but never thought to research it. Thanks, Ash.

  8. As you know Ashley, I am from the UK. Cupboards, yet its used over a broader range. Not just the kitchen where you find cupboards. But you may also have a different piece of furniture in the living room, also a cupboard.

    Only time my toilet was separate from bathroom upstairs, was when I was a child.

    We have built in wardrobe units here. But you are more likely to come across them if you have bought your own home, or renting privately.
    I iwn a wardrobe and this is what I have always been used to. So as someone who currently rents private, I avoid renting homes with built in wardrobes.

    I have a fridge freezer. So as its one piece and tall, then I make sure when looking at private renting, that the kitchen has room to accommodate it. I don’t want to go back to the days where my fridge freezer is in the living room, as I can remember as a kid it happening.

    Where in America its basement. In the UK we say cellar. But thats usually compated to a basement, a cellar doesn’t have windows or a door to access from the outside. Instead, the cellar is located inside the property, down some steps. Not that a cellar cannot be created into another room. I have seen this done in magazines, or on tv when I used to own a tv.

      1. In the UK, if you live in a council property, than no appliances come with the property. You provide your home.

        Some private properties have them as part of contract, renting, but rent is high. I avoid these properties and provide my own. Especially as I already own my own and so not getting rid of them, and certainly wouldn’t have the room to store them anywhere.

        Buying a property, depending on how up to date the property is, you are mostly likely to find a cooker. But thats all.
        The odd propert might provide other appliances, but here, it more likely the high end rich people’s market.

          1. Probably. But if they are aware, they would find there is a charity where they can get appliances cheap. They are second hand and prices would be low. But I don’t know how cheap, as I haven’t used them. But I have donated to them in the past.

            I have been in a situation where I have had no washer for nearly a year, until I could afford one and I only managed to get one due to the back payment that was owed to me of DLA, when I first applied for it some years ago, before I lost it later, due to changes to it being PIP.
            If it wasn’t for that, it would have probably been another 6 months before getting one.
            During that time, I hand washed a lot of stuff and some I took to mum’s to be washed in her washer.

  9. Interesting post Ashley,

    I think with wardrobes it depends greatly on the age of the property itself – older houses tend to have less built in wardobes than more modern builds. although some of the older houses do and more so if they have had a rennovation. The house l am in here was built in 1802 and has experienced many renno’s over the years. The two main bedrooms here have wardrobes, mine as the master has very old fashioned built ins crafted in 1905 whilst the guest bedroom where Suze is has more modern built ins which were crafted in 1965.

    The biggest problems with older builds like mine is that they were not designed for modern fashion styles, so many a time they have from front to back space wise perhaps only 122 depth, meaning nothing can hang straight and must hang angled.

    Kitchens have changed greatly over the years and more so in the last 20 years as more and more kitchen fitters are becoming Americanised and so we are seeing more elaborate kitchens. The kitchen you display is a very old styled kitchen from the 40’s to the 60’s and early 70’s, but by the mid 70’s onwards kitchens started to stop utilising this build as more equipment became modernised. i have an oven/grill here, but with the most modern of microwaves, some kitchens can survive on way less combos now.

    Fridges here are very Americanised now, this is not saying some houses especially rentals don’t still furnish their kitchens with under counter fridges/freezers which are incredibly old fashioned but as said more common in old build rentals as opposed to modern build rentals and houses and residences. In this house it was furnished with a ridiculously small fridge/freezer under the counter which was unnusual. Now however, l have one massive upright freezer [more practical] for the household requirements, and one smaller cube freezer for the worm feeds and l now only use the kitchen fridge as a frifge only as in truth a lot of households here tend to utilise the freezer capacity more. having said that bigger families tend to have very large double fridge/freezer upright units that even have the ability to produce ice cold water on tap.

    Most kitchens these days also have dishwashers.

    Heating tends to be as you have suggested – here l have a combi heater which is a more economical system where upon you have the ability to switch between heat for the house and hot water or both from one system. Some houses also now are being built to be solar powered heating.

    In the UK more so since the 80’s most UK homes tend to have two units for washing as in washing machine and a tumble dryer. We recently renwed our tumble dryer for a much newer model which means we no longer have to have an extension tube sticking out the door [vented] as it is an all in one combined drying unit. All in house. I can’t even remember ever having an all in one unit. Even back in Australia in the 70’s we had two units.

    Mosy UK homes now are built to very modern standards, and some of the things you are describing are very old even that Guardian article is nearly four years of age. By the mid 70’s most houses were starting to have toilets inside the house. some very old builds had outside toilets, but that is a rarity these days.

    Lights on string are old school, but and yet very old buildings have systems like that because the electrics are very old. the electrics here are ancient [l have a string light inside the bathroom[s], but the electrics to repairs and update would cost near on fifty thousand pounds which my french aging landlords have no wish to spend.

      1. I watched a film the other day l remember remarking to Suze that in a lot of American films they seemed to have the top loaders and l was baffled then.

        But you are right, l recently caught side of an advert and that had a front loader 🙂

  10. Such an illuminating post, Ashley. I’ve never heard the term garburator before and I’m guessing since I’m in Seattle, I’m not all that far from you. And I’m blown away by the washer/dryer combo thing – wow, that is mind bending. Although reading through the comments here it sounds like that has changed in the UK (maybe each having it’s own function works more efficiently?), I’m still amazed that there was one thing that could do that.

    And I’m laughing about the light switch outside the bathroom. 🙂

    1. It’s weird that we can be so close (I’m in Vancouver) yet still use very different words.

      I don’t know how North America hasn’t caught onto the single laundry machine thing. As weird as it is that it exists, it would take up less space and presumably be cheaper. I still wouldn’t want to stick it in the kitchen, though.

  11. In cold weather climates in US, gas furnace is the norm we read, probably because it’s less expensive than electric heat. We have a natural gas heated clothes dryer in our laundry room (an unfinished basement room with washer, dryer, water heater, shelving, space to hang dry clothes on racks). Our kitchen must’ve had gas stove/oven once but we use electric now.

    1. I’ve never had gas appliances anywhere that I’ve lived. I’m guessing that electricity is probably cheaper here than elsewhere because the province uses almost entirely hydroelectric energy.

  12. I know someone from Australia already replied but here’s my take. If we have closets built into bedrooms they are referred to as built in robes (short for wardrobes) and there are also walk in robes. Our house is considered 3 bedrooms with a study. The study is smaller and does not have a built in wardrobe.

    We have never had a front loading washer or a washer dryer unit. These, for me at least, have always lived in the laundry (a separate room often near the kitchen or bathroom). I know you can get combo washer dryers but I don’t think many people have them. We are also allowed to dry our clothes outside on clotheslines which I’ve heard isn’t common in parts of North America.

    We have hot plates(stove top) and ovens. Sometimes they are together as a unit with the hot plates on the top and ovens underneath. Sometimes the hot plates are separate and in the top of a bench with oven in the cupboard / wall.
    Gas for cooking, heating and hot water is often natural gas plumbed straight to houses but you can also have gas in big bottles delivered to your house.

    I want to know what a mud room is?

    1. I’m not 100% sure entirely what it encompasses, but I think it usually refers to a non-fancy entry to a home for taking off wet and dirty items and storing assorted outdoor gear. In my home growing up, we didn’t usually enter the house via the front door; we would go in via an unfinished basement room that was part mudroom, part laundry room, and a few other functions thrown in as well. I never heard the term mud room when I was growing up.

      I think drying clothes on a clothesline was something that mostly disappeared here once people had access to the convenience of a dryer.

      1. Thanks. I guess that fits how I was thinking about a mud room. Sun dried clothes are the best unless been really hot and they are hard. Dryers are convenient and definitely needed for some North American (and other snowy) winters and rainy times.

  13. I’m an American that lived in the UK for two years; everything in the UK is smaller, but I prefer it that way. In my childhood home, it could have been a room and a half smaller and it wouldn’t have made a difference. The only thing I’d change about UK houses is another bathroom (I can’t imagine one bathroom for a while family) and bigger closets for some storage.

  14. That cooker you’ve seen on Wikimedia is NOT a usual cooker in the UK. I don’t know what the heck that thing is. I ca see what looks to be a clothes press next to it and yet there’s a washing machine on the other side – that’s a miso-mash of modern and Victorian eras! This is more like a usual oven that gets built in to the kitchen, then you get the hob build in separately on top – https://www.currys.co.uk/gbuk/household-appliances/cooking/ovens/indesit-ifw-6230-ix-uk-electric-oven-stainless-steel-10153161-pdt.html

    You guys have something on top though right, to put pans on? I know you do as otherwise you wouldn’t get bacon, and we wouldn’t be alive without that. I guess you call it something else?

    I’d never thought about heating systems in Canada or America before. Electric baseboard heaters, sounds interesting! They want everyone in the UK to have heat pumps within a few years, another idiotic move in the name of being “eco friendly” (many houses can’t have them, they cost a fucking fortune to buy and to pay for the heating throughout each year), they’re not effective or efficient. So yeah, another great English government decision there.

    I don’t know of anyone with a washer dryer, we have what you do with a separate washer and dryer. As for baths being in separate rooms to the toilet, that really boggles my mind too. It’s weird. You need all the bathroom stuff in one room. Our last house actually had a switch outside the downstairs bathroom, but our current place has light strings inside. What I have noticed is often a “thing” is frosted glass in the toilet/bathroom door. What the fuck?! I don’t want people seeing me take a pee or having a shower, even if it is a blurred image. The first thing I insisted on when we moved here – where the door is frosted glass and you can see straight through with the light on – was get a makeshift curtain put up. I refused to go in otherwise. It’s creepy.

    Yeah, we don’t have air con as we’d only get one day a year to use it.😂

    A really interesting post, Ashley! I thought the difference between them was just that British homes are small and shit. Turns out there’s a lot more to it than that.

  15. We went through a leaky condo crisis here, with a bunch of condos built in the ’80s and ’90s starting to rot because the design wasn’t appropriate for the amount of rain we get here. I bet there were a lot of people footing the bill to fix their craptastic buildings wishing they had gone for certifiably ancient instead.

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