There are 2 ways to categorizing the different types of houses.
In other words, when people search for “types of houses”, some are looking for the different architectural styles while others are looking for the different types of residential building structures.
For residential building structures and homes, see below.
What’s the difference?
Architectural styles dictates the style in which the home is built. There are many such styles, usually based on some era or geographical location. Examples include Cape Cod, Mediterranean, Mid-Century Modern, Georgian, Ranch etc.
Types of building structures, in my mind, more accurately reflects the “types of houses” phrase and includes single family, condominium, townhome, bungalow, split-level, castle, etc.
Since we have a dedicated (and popular) article setting out the different architectural styles, this article focuses on the different types of building structures used for homes.
POLL: What type of house do you live in?
Types of Houses by Structure Type
Single family (detached)
70% of Americans live in single family homes. While it’s very likely not that high in many other countries, the single family detached home is a very much sought after type of house.
It’s a home that is not attached to another home in anyway. It sites on its own property and is completely separate from other houses. Most detached single family homes are located in suburbs throughout North America. This type of house exploded after World War II, when there was a mass migration to the suburbs. Before WWII, only 13% of people lived in suburbs. By 2010, one-half of the US population call surburbia home.
Most people, as of 2010, seek to live in single family homes, although with the baby boomer generation downsizing, demand for alternatives to single family homes is growing (i.e. condos, townhomes and apartments).
A condominium is a home among many within one building or series of buildings on a piece of land. Each owner has title to the unit. The building is governed by an elected body (HOA in the United States / Strata Council in Canada) who makes decisions on behalf of all unit owners and owns the communal areas and land. They make decisions pertaining to maintenance, the grounds, regulations, etc.
- Duplex: A duplex condo refers to a two story condo unit, often the result of joining two separate units and renovating them into one larger unit or built that way from the start.
- Triplex: Same as duplex condo but three levels.
The terms duplex and triplex in the sense they are two or three floor condos, stems for its use in New York City. In other towns, duplex and triplex refers to two and three unit buildings side-by-side. As you can imagine, there is fierce debate about the technical definitions, but in current jargon, the terms are defined differently in different areas.
Some structures that appear to be townhouses (row house design) are technically condos because the owners only own the unit and not the shared space.
An apartment is a group of housing units in one building all owned by one entity. In other words, all the units are owned by one entity. The units are then rented out to tenants. This is the key difference between a condo and an apartment. With a condo, individual entities (i.e. person or corporation) own the units, whereas with apartments, all the units in the building are owned by one entity.
A co-op is similar in physical appearance and function as a condo and apartment, but the financial and legal arrangement is different. With a co-op, each entity that buys in, doesn’t own a particular unit; instead they own a percentage of the building. The owners are akin to shareholders of the entire property and technically lease their unit from the co-op.
What’s the advantage to a co-op over a condo? It boils down to the co-op association (the co-op members) can reject a prospective buyer from buying into the building. That said, they co-op association can only reject on financial basis and/or unwillingness to follow the rules set out by the association. A condo HOA/strata cannot reject a prospective buyer as long as they fit within the rules (i.e. age restrictions).
A townhome is like a row home sharing one or two walls. They are usually 2 or 3 stories tall. Some rise even higher. They are different than a condo in that owners of a townhome own both interior and exterior of the unit and are therefore financially responsible for maintenance of exteriors. With condos, the exterior of the building is maintained by the regulatory body (HOA or Strata Council).
A townhome is more like a single family home except for being attached to another unit either on one or both sides.
The bungalow is derived from small houses in India stemming from “Bengali house”. In fact, since the cottage style house with thick walls didn’t work in India, the bungalow was developed.
A bungalow is a small, square, single-story home with front porch. The single floor is raised up with front steps leading up to the porch. Often there’s a single dormer window built into a pitched roof in the attic. These types of homes started being built in the USA in the early 1900’s. They’re found all over the country now. These days, bungalows aren’t too common given the penchant for much larger homes. Moreover, with computer-aided design, simple designs are no longer necessary to keep costs lower.
A ranch style home (aka rancher) is also a single story home, but has a larger, rectangular footprint (compared to a bungalow). The ranch home is a derivative of the wide Spanish hacienda. Ranchers grew in popularity in the 1950’s as huge tracts of land were turned into suburbs with larger plots than the typical urban plots.
The term cottage stems from England. While in today’s parlance it refers to a small vacation home, historically it’s a small home with a high thatched roof, thick walls and a single room.
In a odd twist of irony, some wealthy people refer to their vacation properties as “the cottage” which downplays what is really a luxurious vacation home. For example, sometimes the spectacular Newport, RI mansions built by the Robber Barons are referred to as “cottages” which in no way resemble the traditional definition of a cottage.
Because there are several meanings to the term cottage, we include 3 photo examples:
Historic English cottage
Small vacation cottage
Grand Newport, Rhode Island cottage
There is no real consensus regarding the differences between a cabin and a cottage. Although, a cabin connotes simple, rustic and minimalist while a cottage, in current usage, does often refer to a more upscale vacation dwelling (but not historically).
Since much of the difference boils down to opinion or preferred term, I like the distinguishing factors set out by Vic91106 here. They set out two differences, which are:
Cabins are less finished than cottages. Cottages are painted and adorned to a finished aesthetic.
Cabins are always rural, whereas, a cottage can be rural or urban.
Other people state that a cabin, at least traditionally, is a log-built structure.
Chalet stems from the structures that housed sheep and goat herders in Switzerland. Today it’s a vacation home, usually in the mountains. Now that skiing is popular globally, chalet often refers to a vacation home where there is access to skiing.
However, a chalet, technically speaking, has certain design characteristics. They include a steep roof and long overhangs. This roof design is for handling piles of snow.
A multi-family home is one that has two or more housing units. It’s an umbrella term for a detached home with an in-law suite, apartment building, townhouse development, condo building, etc.
In-law suite (aka basement suite)
Living in Vancouver, I’m well aware of the in-law suite. Most new homes include them. Many older homes have added them. Why? Because the 12 year real estate bubble has increased real estate prices so much that many homeowners need to rent a portion of their home in order to afford the place.
An in-law suite is a separate unit built into a single family home. Often it’s in the basement, but not always. It is, however, part of the single family structure as opposed to being a separate structure. A separate structure available for rent and/or guests fall under different terminology such as carriage house or laneway house.
Our first son was born while we lived in a carriage house. Actually it was a fairly new structure, but built as a separate structure on a property with retail and office units in a small beach community. It was a beautiful little home, one we miss, but left for a larger home with son #2 was born.
Carriage and coach houses are the same. Historically they are structures on a property built to house horse-drawn carriages. Since then, many have been converted into separate living units that are rented out or reserved for guests.
While we no longer need such structures to house carriages, many new builds have such structures built on the property to generate additional revenue for the property owner and/or for guest accommodations. As so often happens, the term carriage or coach house is still used even if never used as a such a structure historically.
A tiny home is a small home that may be stationary or be mobile that ranges in size from 100 to 400 sq ft. They are exceptionally efficient in design and layout. They’re growing in popularity as people downsize and/or seek to live mortgage free. They cost anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000 depending on whether you build it, it’s built for you and the materials used.
A mobile home is a mobile structure that can be towed, but isn’t designed for frequent towing like a recreational vehicle. Mobile homes are built in a factory, towed to the lot and remain in place. They are inexpensive. There are mobile home parks where the mobile home is owned by a person, but they rent the lot or pad. In other instances, people live in mobile homes on property they own.
Manufactured homes are also built off-site and are buiilt on a steel frame with wheels. They are a more modern version of the mobile home. Here’s an example:
A mansion is a large, luxurious home. Interestingly, there is no legal definition regarding how big a home must be in order to be a mansion. Moreover, there isn’t consensus within the real estate industry either. I definitely have my thoughts on the issue though. Here it is.
I believe in order for a house to be a mansion, it needs to be at least 12,500 square feet in size. Here’s how I came up with 12,000 sq. ft.
In 1950 the average house size was a tad under 1,000 sq. ft.
Today, the average house size is 2,500 sq. ft.
That’s 2.5 times growth in size for the average home.
In 1950, I suspect any home that was 5,000 sq. ft. was considered a mansion.
Since the average home size is now 2.5 times bigger, the size required for a home to be a mansion should be proportionate. 5,000 x 2.5 equals 12,500 sq. ft.
Many suggest, even today, that a 5,000 sq. ft. home is a mansion. I don’t agree. Many homes are 5,000 sq. ft. A mansion isn’t a size set in stone; instead it’s a term to distinguish a house from the average house – something huge and luxurious.
But, I do think 5,000 sq. ft. can be a McMansion.
McMansion is a derogatory term for a poorly designed, large home. Usually they’re built in large suburbs by a single developer. They individual homes are a mishmash of architectural styles and features that serve no purpose and end up looking silly or superfluous.
It’s not a technical or official type of home, but it’s definitely become a term in our parlance.
The best website that covers and explains McMansion, is McMansion Hell. Not only is the site funny, it’s very informative. You’ll learn a lot about architecture via ridiculing McMansions.
Once upon a time my wife and I seriously considered buying a parcel of land and getting a yurt. We’d be mortgage free and have a comfortable home.
The yurt is the primary housing structure used by the Mongols in Mongolia. They are a nomadic people. Since yurts can be packed up and moved easily, it’s an ideal type of home for them.
A yurt is round. The wall and roof is a waterproof fabric. While traditional yurts are fairly rustic, you can have custom-built yurts built with pretty much all the amenities of a regular home. While some people in North America live in them year-around, other people have them as vacation homes.
They vary in size from approximately 12 feet in diameter (115 sq. ft.) to 30+ feet in diameter (706 sq ft) .
They are relatively inexpensive to have built.
Floating on Water Residence (aka Floating Home or Houseboat but there are differences)
Vancouver, the city in which I live, has floating on water residences. Seattle, Portland and San Francisco also have such options. It’s important to note that there are important differences among the 5 types of floating on water residences.
These types of homes are built differently, have various moorage arrangements and are highly regulated in each city. If you’re interested in such a home, it’s a good idea to engage a real estate agent who has extensive experience buying and selling such homes.
Very few people choose to live in a tree house, but they do exist. They’re houses built in trees; some are large. Generally, they aren’t nailed into trees; the stilts and structure are built around the tree and elevated. They obviously look like fun houses to live in; they’re definitely different.
Of all the atypical types of houses that I’d love to live in, a castle is number one on my list. While I’ve not done a castle tour, it’s on my bucket list for sure. I’m a history buff and so touring such important historic structures that housed notable historic people fascinates me.
There are many different types of castles that were built from early middle ages through the 19th century. Their primary purposes were to house and defend.
Over the many hundreds of years that castles were built, their design evolved.
While the term palace is often used in place of castle, a palace differs from castles in that a palace’s primary function is as a residence only; the weren’t built to defend. Instead, they were luxurious structures that housed royalty and nobility. The residences often also housed government functions.
While I find castles more interesting, there are a good many palaces I’d love to tour as well.
A chateau is a french term used to describe a private palace of sorts. It’s a luxurious mansion but doesn’t serve any state purpose. It’s a purely private residence that’s very grand.
A villa is the Italian version of a chateau.
A manor is the English version of a chateau.
A fort is a military structure built to defend and house military folk.
While the term “bunker” refers to some form of bomb shelter or protective shelter, some people do live in underground houses.
Historically, many people lived in caves. It was a no-brainer given it’s pretty much turn-key in a crude way. Why build a structure when one is pretty much created for you by nature. That said, while many cave houses were crude, some cultures created cities that were a huge series of beautiful cave homes.
Another types of house classification is the construction method. These days you have several options in how your home is built. Here they are.
Site-built home: Is a home that’s built on-site. Most homes are built this way.
Prefab home: A prefab home is the general term referring to a home built in a factory, usually in pieces which are shipped to be assembled on-site. Some arrive with interior and exterior totally finished while others require finishing work on-site.
Modular home: A modular home is a type of prefab home that’s built in a factory. The home is a series of modules or pods that are locked together to form the entire home on-site.
Manufactured home: Also built off-site in a factory on a steel frame. It’s transported in its entirety or in sections to the site. They’re similar to mobile homes but look more like a real home than the traditional mobile home.
Panel home: A home constructed of panels. The panels are built off site and assembled on-site.
If you’d like to pin something from this page, we welcome you to do so. If you’d like to pin our popular collage of different types of houses by structure, see the full graphic below.
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