Skip to main content

12 Differences Between British Houses & American Houses

Submitted by Bethany on Thu, 01/31/2019 - 10:00

We've been in the UK since last September, and in that time we have lived in 3 British houses longer term (1 in Wales and 2 in England) as well as stayed in 4 different Air BnB's and spent a couple nights at a friend's house. After spending so much time in British homes, we've started to notice some distinct differences between American houses and British houses. We did wonder if some of the differences we noticed were between newer homes and older homes, then last week we got our answer. On our way home from Wells, we stopped into a new housing development and got a tour of the four-bedroom state of the art high-end show home, so we got to see what is still there in a brand new build. Without further ado, let me take you on a tour through some of the differences we have noted!

1. Bedrooms don't have to have closets
This one is kind of mind-blowing to me. In the States, you literally cannot count a room as a bedroom if it doesn't have a closet - you can only classify it as a den or a study or something like that. It will lower the value of your house when you go to sell it because instead of getting to say you have a 4 bedroom 2 bath house, you only have a 3 bedroom 2 bath house. Here, it seems to be about fifty/fifty whether or not a bedroom will have a closet. The bedrooms at the Wales house did, here they don't. The Air BnB's were about half and half. And in the brand spanking new house we saw? The master bedroom had a closet, and the 3 other bedrooms did not! Here's a picture of the first bedroom, the white piece of furniture on the left is a wardrobe because there is not a closet in the room.

Even in the master bedroom, it was not a walk-in closet. In the States, I don't think you could get away with a brand new house selling for $600,000 that doesn't have a walk-in closet in the master bedroom. 

2. Half glass doors on shower/tub combos
There seem to be two types of bathroom set-ups we have encountered. The first has a tub, and then a separate standing shower that is completely enclosed. The second is a shower/tub combo like is common in the States, but instead of a full glass door or a shower curtain, there is a half glass door. This is what we have encountered literally everywhere that hasn't had a free-standing shower without the tub. It is so different for us!

Until you try it I don't think I can explain how hard it is to not accidentally spray water around the room when taking a shower. We have to be so, so very careful not to do that. Also, I end up a lot colder in the shower! The steam doesn't get trapped from the hot water, and often I have to step completely out of the spray to grab the shampoo. It is not my favorite feature, and if we lived somewhere like this long-term you best believe we'd be putting up a shower curtain. 

3. Bathroom light switches are different
We've also encountered two kinds of light switches in bathrooms - it's either a pull light switch or if it's a regular light switch it's located outside of the bathroom. Even at the show home, the switches were outside the bathroom! We don't like that set-up because Joel and I can both imagine what that would have been like as kids - siblings always walking by and turning the light off on one another. I have seen this feature on occasion in the States, but only in older homes. I can't imagine a new one being built this way. 

4. Laundry is in the kitchen or outside
In most of our experiences, the washing machine has been in the kitchen, and if they have a tumble dryer it is outside. Several places had no tumble dryers at all, and one Air BnB had a washer/tumble dryer combo that did not work very well when Joel tried it. (I remember a friend having one of these combos back in grad school and it also didn't work very well). Even the brand new build, which did have a laundry room off the kitchen - with plenty of room I might add! - had one of these combo appliances. 

I've only lived one place in my life that had the laundry in the kitchen, usually in the States you'll have a whole laundry room or area in the basement. But speaking of...

5. No basements! 
Not a single place we have stayed or visited has had a basement. Now, there are places in the US where basements are not very common, but we grew up in the Midwest where almost everyone has a basement. Otherwise, where do you go when the tornadoes come?!

6. Kitchen sinks and faucets are different
Sinks tend to be smaller here, and I think we have yet to encounter a true double sink. Instead, there is sometimes a teeny tiny second bowl, and where a second one would be - there is space for a drying rack instead. Even in the new build, which had a dishwasher (rare), this was the case. 

In only one place (an Air BnB) have we encountered a faucet with a pull-down sprayer. Now maybe I've only lived in fancy places, but I have never lived anywhere in the States that didn't have a way of spraying the sink either built into the faucet or as a separate entity on the sink. It's so much harder to clean the sink without one! 

7. Refrigerators are smaller
Now, to be fair, in our last house we had a monster of a fridge. It's not one we purchased but it came with the house and I loved it. Here, even full-size fridges have been smaller than what I am used to - but two places we have stayed - with kitchens that have been remodeled in the last decade - had mini fridges in the kitchen! Both have also had full-size fridges elsewhere, either a garage or a shed. Here's the fridge in our current housesit:

I have not had a fridge this small since college, and I just can't imagine renovating a kitchen and not including room for a full-size fridge! I don't like having to bend over all the time to see what we have (I'm lazy, sue me), and it really puts a damper on how many groceries we can have at one time or even how many leftovers I can have on hand. It takes some adjusting to, that's for sure!

8. Kitchen Bonus: Electric Kettles
Americans, what are we doing with our lives without electric kettles? We have yet to be in a British house that didn't have one (including every single Air BnB and the one hotel room I've stayed in) and these little appliances are amazing. Not only do you have almost instantly boiling water for tea or coffee, but you can also use it to make instant gravy, couscous, or, as Jamie Oliver showed me on TV the other day - use a couple pots of it to make boiling pasta that much faster! I will never again live long term in a kitchen that doesn't have an electric kettle, you mark my words. 

9. Wall switches for the outlets
We first encountered this in Cyprus, and it has been everywhere since so maybe it's a European thing in general, but the wall outlets all have on/off switches! It takes some getting used to - I can't tell you how many times I thought my laptop was charging because it was plugged in but it wasn't because the outlet was turned off. 

(In this pic you can see the electric kettle we have here, on the left)

10. Recycling
Recycling is a much bigger deal here than in my experience of the States (I realize this varies by where you live). Everything must be separated - paper, plastic, cardboard, cans, even food waste goes into a special bin! Exactly how things are sorted varies throughout the UK, everywhere we have been is a little bit different, but the amount of recycling done is the same. In Wales, we were even limited to how many bags of trash we could have, but you could have unlimited recycling (I'm not sure if that's the same everywhere). I'm really impressed by it and wish we did more of it back home. 

11. Radiator Heat
When we first started making this list Joel and I argued about it because I have lived some places in the US that used radiator heat (my dorm room, the house I rented in grad school). However, those were always older buildings, and as far as I know, radiator heat is seen as an old technology in the states - I have never, ever seen it in a new build. I was convinced to include it on this list when the new show house we went to had radiator heat! This is a state of the art just built in the last couple of months house using radiator heat. When we asked the folks at the housing estate office they said all British homes use radiator heat because it is seen as a more efficient technology than central heat. What a difference! 

I'm not gonna lie, I kind of love it. It makes a handy place to hang towels or anything else you want to dry quickly, and I always know exactly where to go to warm up my hands. 

12. Open concept is rare
In the States, the difference between open concept and not is preferential, but for the most part, newer builds default to open concept. At the very least, usually the kitchen and living room are combined. Here, we have only seen an open concept once, and it was actually an old Sunday School building turned into a house, done in the last decade (they had a mini fridge though!). Everywhere else the rooms have been very sectioned off - and they were even in the new build!

I used to be fully on board the open concept train, but after living in some places that aren't open concept, I'm growing to appreciate it. It's kind of nice to be in the kitchen and listen to a podcast while I cook, while Joel can be in the living room doing something entirely different. Plus, when visitors come, you can shut the door to the kitchen and no one will ever see any mess you might have. I can't tell you how many houses we visited where I never even caught a glimpse of their kitchen because of this. 

I could probably keep going with other small differences we have noticed, but I think these are the highlights! Now, take all of this with a grain of salt, please. Obviously, I have not experienced every house in the States or in the UK so I've had to make some generalizations. 

What difference surprises you the most? Which do you think you would love? Which would bother you? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

XOXO, Bethany 



Your thoughts?

I like your comparisons. When I moved into my work office last year, I bought an electric tea kettle and it is amazing. It's basically a workhorse. I use it for tea (of course) but also oatmeal, which means I eat breakfast more often now. The shower difference is like that many places outside of America, some of the newer builds I saw when we were house shopping (and I was wandering out of our price range for curiosity's sake) have more of that style being brought here. The only difference that would flummox me would be about not having a closet, I enjoy closets. 

Oh my goodness, I can only imagine how much more I would have enjoyed office life if I had an electric tea kettle. So useful for so many things! And being able to offer a cup of something hot when someone comes in for pastoral care... definitely something I plan to incorporate in the future. 

Interesting that you saw some of that shower style infiltrating the states, I never would have guessed! Especially in higher priced homes...hmmm. 

Closets are so useful! Steve said they don't put closets because A. everyone has wardrobes (which I argued they wouldn't have if they had closets and therefore didn't need them) and B. it makes a room more versatile (to which I said, um, a closet is always useful, no matter what you are going to use the room for!)