Names for different types of housing

Well, I seem to be on a roll here… Right after I had posted the previous GQ about DLB, I remembered another thing that has been bothering me for a while. I need help in remembering the name of a specific living arrangement.

An apartment building is where people live on multiple floors next to each other. A house is where one family lives, and is separate from other houses. A duplex is where two families live next to each other in one building. So what is it called when three or four families live next to each other? In Finnish, it’s “rivitalo”, or row-house, but I doubt that’s the correct translation. I remember hearing the correct term some time in elementary school when we were doing a Social Studies project on Our Neighborhood, but for the life of me, I can’t remember it now.

In the UK, we’d call that a terraced house.

Terraced houses, shortened to ‘a terrace’, at least in Britain. (Where a duplex is a pair of semi-detached houses.)

Yeah, the term “semi-detached” was bouncing around inside my head, but I had a vague recollection it referred to what is known in the US as a duplex. Damn that multi-national teacher corps in the International school! Couldn’t they have just made everyone use the same words for everything? grumble

Very slight difference - in Australia, they are terrace houses. however, this term tends to refer specifically to old ones (they were popular as workman’s homes in inner Sydney and Melbourne in the late 19th Century), and new ones are called townhouses. These are where residents share a common wall with their neighbour on each side, but also have their own ground floor access and usually a small courtyard. They can be two storeys.

Semi-detached houses (or semis) are always, as the name suggests, only two lots. They share a common central wall, but the building usually makes an effort to look like an ordinary single free-standing home (whereas duplexes don’t even try). The attempt to look like a single house is a bit old-fashioned now, so I don’t think any new buildings at all are called semi-detached now, just duplexes.

Sydney traditionally has had flats (the multi-storey variety), until in the 1970s they started calling them units or home units, and these days all the agents are trying to call them apartments. Anyway, they’re flats. Sometimes, the tiny one-bedroom ones are called studios, and the ones appended to the back of a house are, for obvious reasons, called granny flats (‘flat’ seems to have survived in this usage).

“Rowhouse” and “townhouse” are common names for this arrangement in the U.S. I tend to see “rowhouse” applied to older ones of this sort and “townhouse” to newer ones of this sort. That may just mean that “rowhouse” is an older term than “townhouse.”

Probably not a difference at all in fact; both terms are used interchangeably here.

A town house, in the UK, usually means a three-storey house, often with a garage built into the ground floor. I live in one of these - it’s an end-terrace town house (an end-terrace being more or less functionally equivalent to a semi-detached house)

In my neck of the woods, Florida, a three family dwelling is usually called a triplex; four or more connected units would be a townhouse.

In the US, the term “apartment” generally means any space where the people are renting and there are multiple units in one building, and usually multiple buildings as well. They can be one, two, or 20 stories tall. Most are 2 or 3 stories except in very urban areas.

The exact same building or buildings, but where the occupants own their individual spaces and a share of the common facilities would be called a “condominium.” Each unit is a “condominium,” or “condo”, and the whole thing is called a "condo complex " or a “development”.

So those terms refer to financial arrangements, not architecture.
A “house” is an arrangement where one building and the land under it are owned by one group of people who live together, typically a family, and there is no element of common ownership with any neighbors. Sometimes called a “single-family house”. These can also be rented, but they keep the term “house.” So “house” is both an architectural and a financial term, but predominantly architectural.

A somewhat obsolete term, “apartment house” refers to a 10-30 unit apartment building all in one building and generally 2 to 4 stories tall except in urban areas. These tend to be built like hotels, with central hallways and common entry/exit lobbies, rather than each ground floor unit or stack of untis having their own exterior door.
In addition to the common term “duplex” you sometimes here the terms “triplex” (pronounced TRY-plex) and “fourplex”. I’ve never heard the term “quadplex”. These terms describe architecture. Duplexes are sometimes rented as apartments and sometimes sold as condos.

The term “townhouse” in newer development (last 50 years) is sometimes used as a straight synonym for condo, but generally applies only to denser one-and-two story designs. So that term is part architecture & part financial.

“Row house” refers to units built with common walls between units or built very close together with at most a narrow walkway between. Generally these have no front yard, are in urban, or ersatz fake-urban settings and each unit has a small fenced rear yard. Some are condo, some are single-family houses.

Slightly less dense developments than row houses are called “patio homes” Architecturally, these are smallish houses on very small lots. The goal is minimal yard area to maintain yet still have no common walls and a small patch of green someplace. Some are condo, most are single-family separate-ownership. Very popular with the retirees.

The real estate goons are forever coming up with new terms and new meanings for old terms, but I think I’ve pretty well covered the terms I’ve seen used in the various parts of the US I’ve lived.

Pretty much what LSLGuy said with some differences -

A two family home that shares one common side wall with another is called a double bungalow. When they are stacked on each other it’s a duplex.

We don’t have many tri-plexes around here, but a fair amount of quadplexes (or fourplexes). They can either be small apartment complexes or condos.

When there’re a series of single family dwellings attached by side walls we simply call them townhomes. There’s a huge shift to townhomes rather than single family dwellings in my neighborhood.

Southern Ontario here…

“Condo”, “apartment”, “townhouse” are pretty much the same as LSL described, except that “townhouse” is only for terraced row housing with common walls between the units. It doesn’t matter whether they are condominiums or not, or how many floors they have (although I have to admit that a four-storey townhouse is pretty unusual).

auRa, the term “row house” would be understood perfectly well here, but we would tend to say “townhouse”.

The term “terrace” is very unusual here. It occasionally shows up in street names, or where a developer is consciously trying to evoke the classic Georgian English terraced houses.

To me, “duplex”, “triplex” and “quadplex” refer to buildings that look similar to houses, but contain apartments, one occupying the entirety of each floor. There is no elevator, just stairs, so thay can be annoying to move into (I used to live in one). There are a LOT of these around here, mostly built in the fifties and sixties.

I have never heard the term “patio home”.

Incidentally, around here only real-estate marketers use terms like “townhome” rather than the more-neutral corresponding terms like “townhouse”. The goal is, of course, to make prospective buyers feel all warm and fuzzy about the thought of buying a “home”, when what they’re buying is simply a structure, a “house”. Only living in a place makes it a home.

So what I want to know is, what’s the difference between “apartment” and “flat”? I see the term “flat” used occaisionally here, but it seems to be merely a synonym for “apartment”.

I always considered a “flat” to be a single residence above a commercial space.
I rented an apartment that was the entire upstairs above a realestate office and a salon. My friends and locals often referred to it as a “flat”.

I think that “flat” is a Britishism for the American “apartment.”

A very common sort of living space around here (and what I live in) is what’s called a garden apartment. This means that there are generally 12 apartments in one building, four on each of three floors. Often the space that would be used for one of the lowest floor apartments is a laundry room instead, so there are actually 11 apartments. The access for each apartment is through a door into the hallway. In addition, each ground floor apartment has a patio and each apartment on the higher floors has a balcony, and there is usually a sliding glass door onto the patio or balcony. These apartment buildings are located in an apartment complex, with anywhere from several to many dozens of apartment buildings. There are streets running through the apartment complex and lots of trees and grass. These didn’t really become common until the 1960’s.

There are some regional variants in the U.S., as some prior posts indicate. In Chicago, a duplex would always refer to 2 side-by-side units. A 2-unit building with one on top of the other would be a two-flat. Three-flat is sometimes used, but less commonly. Otherwise, the term flat is not used. Like most of the U.S., we use the word apartment instead. Even if I rented the second floor of a 2-flat, I’d refer to “my apartment” and not “my flat”. But the building wouldn’t be called an aprtment building. That would mean somthing larger, with more units. If it were very large, over (perhaps) 15 stories, we might use the term high-rise, or high-rise apartment building, although that’s a little dated. Most high-rises have gone condo. Townhouse is a looser term, but usually connotes many units, usually attached in groups, usually not stacked on top of one another, often with common elements (parking, decks, landscaped areas), and usually held with the condominium form of ownership.

I’ve been told that what I live in is a rowhouse, and if I call it a townhouse, I’m just “being uppity.”

In Canada, this would be referred to as a townhouse.

I live near Boston, and I agree with most of the other Americans. When many families live in one building, and they are stacked AND side-by-side, it is an apartment building. I live in an apartment building with 20-25 units, one front door, and a central staircase. If the families live side-by-side, it would be a duplex if there are only two of them, but a rowhouse or a townhouse if there are many. I agree that rowhouses tend to be older than townhouses. New fancy developments of this sort are often called “townhomes” by those trying to market them. In my area, it is quite common for two or three families to live in one wood-frame building, each family occupying one floor. These buildings are called two- or three-family houses, and within them are apartments. We don’t use “flat” like they do in Chicago, I would understand that to be a Britishism for “apartment.” To be honest though, most people I know will casually say “want to watch the game at my house?” regardless of the type of structure they actually live in.

Back in Victorian times thousands of “back-to-back” houses were built , mainly in northern England. These were terraced houses that had a common back wall with another row of houses at the rear. So these houses only had a front door and no back yard or garden. Unless you lived in the end house of the row, you shared your walls with three other neighbours , one each side and one at the back. There are a few of these house still around but most have now been demolished.

As I heard it:
Apartment: when you walk our the door, you are in a hallway
Flat: when you walk our the door, you are outside

Great - first post, a typo…

Make that: “when you walk out the door…”
Yes, I’ll shut up now.