An extensive article explaining the different types of houses by building type. Includes single-family, condo, co-op, apartment, townhome, manor, barndominium, yurt, carriage house, McMansion, tiny home, mobile home, manufactured home, castle, manor, villa, chateau and more. Photos for each type of house.
There are two ways to categorize the different types of houses.
In other words, when people search for “types of houses”, some are looking for the different home architectural styles, while others are looking for the different types of residential building structures that exist and are available.
For the different residential building structures and homes, see below.
What’s the difference?
Architectural styles dictate the style in which a home is built. There are many different architectural styles, and these are typically based on some historic era or geographical location. Examples include the Cape Cod, Mediterranean, Mid-Century Modern, Georgian, and Ranch styles.
Types of building structures more accurately reflects the meaning of the phrase “types of houses.” This definition includes single family, condominium, townhome, bungalow, split-level, and castle homes, among others.
Since we have a dedicated (and popular) article setting out the different architectural styles, this article focuses on the different types of building structures that are typically used for homes.
Types of Houses by Structure Type
Single family (detached)
The single family house is a home that is not attached to another home in any way. It sits on its own property and stands completely separate from the other houses around it. Most detached single-family homes are located in suburbs throughout North America.
The single family type of home exploded after World War II. During this time, a mass migration to the suburbs took place, as soldiers returned home and settled down into family life. Before WWII, only 13% of people lived in suburbs. By 2010, one-half of the US population calls “surburbia” home.
As of 2010, most people seek to live in single-family homes, although with the baby boomer generation decreasing in size, demand for alternatives to single-family homes is rapidly growing. Some of these alternatives include condominiums (condos), apartments, and townhomes.
A condominium is one home among many that are housed within a building or series of buildings on a given piece of land. Each condominium owner has the title to the unit, meaning that they own the unit. A condominium building is governed by an elected body (HOA in the United States, or Strata Council in Canada), which makes decisions on behalf of all unit owners and owns the communal areas and land where the condominium sits. This elected body makes decisions that pertain to maintenance, grounds, regulations, and more.
- Duplex: A duplex condo refers to a two story condo unit. This often results from the joining of two separate units and renovating them into one larger unit. However, some duplex condos are initially built as two-story homes.
- Triplex: This type of condo is the same as a duplex condo, but has three levels instead of two.
The terms “duplex” and “triplex” refer to the fact that these are two or three floor condos, as the terms are used in New York City. In other locations, the terms “duplex” and “triplex” refer to two and three unit buildings that stand side-by-side. Naturally, a fierce debate exists about the technical definitions, but in the current jargon, the terms are defined differently in different areas.
Some structures that appear to be townhouses (row house design) are technically condos. This is due to the fact that 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. The units are then rented out to tenants. This is the key difference between a condo and an apartment. In a condo, individual entities (i.e. a person or corporation) own each unit, 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 or apartment, but the financial and legal arrangement is quite different. In a co-op, each entity or person who buys in to the co-op doesn’t own a particular unit; instead, they own a percentage of the building. Co-op owners are akin to shareholders of an entire property, and technically lease their unit from the co-op.
The advantage to a co-op over an apartment or condo boils down to the fact that the co-op association (the co-op members) can prevent a prospective buyer from buying into the building by rejecting their application. That said, a co-op association can only reject applications on financial basis and/or an unwillingness to follow the rules set out by the association. A condo HOA or strata cannot reject a prospective buyer if they fit within its rules (i.e. age restrictions).
A townhome is similar to a row home in that it shares one or two walls with other homes. Townhomes are usually two or three stories tall, but some stand even taller. These homes are different from condos in that owners of a townhome own both the interior and exterior of the unit, and are therefore financially responsible for maintenance of the exterior as well as the interior. With condos, the exterior of the building is maintained by the regulatory body (the HOA or Strata Council).
A townhome is more like a single family home, except for its attachment to another unit on either one or both sides.
The word “bungalow” is derived from an Indian word for small houses, stemming from “Bengali house”. In fact, the bungalow was developed because the cottage style house with thick walls didn’t work in India, with its warm climate.
A bungalow is a small, square single-story home with front porch. The single floor is raised, with front steps leading up to the porch. Often, a single dormer window is built into the pitched roof of the attic. These types of homes began being built in the USA in the early twentieth century. Bungalows are found all over the USA nowadays. These days, bungalows aren’t as common, given the modern penchant for larger homes. Moreover, with computer-aided design, simple designs are no longer necessary to keep costs low.
A ranch-style home (AKA a rancher) is also a single-story home. However, a rancher has a larger, more rectangular footprint than a bungalow does. The ranch home is a derivative of the wide Spanish hacienda style of home. Ranchers grew in popularity during the 1950’s as huge tracts of land turned into suburbs, with larger plots than the typical urban plots. This type of house has plenty of open outdoor spaces, given that they require larger-than normal lots. Read our ranch vs. two-story houses comparison here.
The term cottage stems from a home commonly built in England. While in today’s parlance it refers to a small vacation home, historically, a cottage was a small home with a high thatched roof, thick walls, and a single interior room.
In an odd, ironic twist, some wealthy people refer to their vacation properties as “the cottage.” Use of this term downplays what is truly a luxurious vacation home. For example, sometimes the spectacular Newport, RI mansions built by the Robber Barons are referred to as “cottages,” though they in no way resemble the traditional English cottage.
Because there are several meanings for the term cottage, we’ve included three different photo examples of cottages:
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 a simple, rustic and minimalist aesthetic, a cottage, in the current usage of the word, does often refer to a more upscale vacation dwelling, though not historically.
Cabins are usually less finished than cottages. Cottages are painted and adorned, giving them a finished look. Additionally, cabins are almost always rural, whereas a cottage can be located in a rural or urban area. Some state assert a cabin, at least traditionally, is a log-built structure.
The word “chalet” finds its roots in the structures that traditionally housed sheep and goat herders in Switzerland. Today, the chalet is a vacation home, usually located in mountainous areas. Now that skiing is a globally popular sport, a chalet often refers to a vacation home with access to skiing.
However, a chalet, technically speaking, has certain design characteristics. These include a steep roof and long overhangs, designed for handling piles of snow.
A multi-family home is one that contains two or more housing units. It’s an umbrella term for a detached home with an in-law suite, or an apartment building, townhouse development, condo building, etc.
In-law suite (aka basement suite)
Most new homes include in-law suites, and many older homes have added them. This is because a 15-year real estate bubble has increased real estate prices so dramatically that many homeowners need to rent a portion of their home to others in order to afford their home payments.
An in-law suite is a separate unit built inside a single-family home. Often it’s located in the basement, but not always. An in-law suite is part of the single-family structure, as opposed to being a completely separate structure. A separate structure available for rent and/or guests would fall under different terminology, such as a carriage house or laneway house.
A barndominium is a barn that has been partially or fully converted into a living space. Check out the beautiful one we show above! Chip and Joanna Gaines built one (making the term famous despite the fact that these have been made for many years).
Read our “what is a barndominium?” guide here.
Carriage and coach houses are the same. Historically, these are structures on a property that were built to house horse-drawn carriages. Since then, many have been converted into separate living units that are rented out or are reserved for guests.
While humans no longer need such structures to house carriages, many new builds include such structures on a property. Carriage houses allow owners to generate additional revenue, or can be used as guest accommodations. The term carriage or coach house is still widely used, even if the building was never used as a such a structure.
A tiny home is an exceptionally small home that may be stationary or mobile. These homes range in size from 100 to 400 sq ft. Tiny homes are incredibly efficient, both in design and layout. They are growing in popularity as people downsize and/or seek to live mortgage-free. Tiny homes cost anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000 depending on whether you built it yourself, it’s built for you, and the materials used to build it.
A mobile home is a mobile structure that can be towed, but isn’t designed for frequent towing the way a recreational vehicle is. Mobile homes are built in factories, towed to a lot, and remain in place. These homes are inexpensive. Mobile home parks exist where the mobile home is owned by a person or family, but they rent the lot or pad where it sits. In other instances, people live in mobile homes on property they own.
Manufactured homes are also built off-site, and built on a steel frame with wheels. They are a more modern version of the mobile home. Here’s an example below:
Interesting: Read about the history of the mobile home here.
A mansion is a large, imposing home (read our in-depth analysis on what a mansion is). Interestingly, there is no legal definition regarding how big a home must be in order to be called a mansion. Moreover, there isn’t consensus within the real estate industry, either.
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 250% growth in size for the average home in seventy years.Since the average home size is now 250% bigger than the average home of the 1950s, the size required for a home to be a mansion should be proportionate.
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. See mega mansions here (20,000 sq. ft. or more).
McMansion is a derogatory term for a poorly designed, large, new home. Usually these homes are built in large suburbs by a single developer. The individual homes are a mishmash of architectural styles and features that serve no purpose and end up looking silly or superfluous. The McMansion is not a technical name nor an official type of home, but it’s definitely become a common term in our parlance.
The best website that covers and explains McMansion, is McMansion Hell. Not only is the site funny, it’s quite informative. You’ll learn a lot about architecture via the ridicule of McMansions.
The yurt is the primary housing structure used by the Mongols in Mongolia. Mongols are a nomadic people. Since yurts can be packed up and moved easily, it’s an ideal type of home for nomadic peoples. Yurts vary in size from approximately 12 feet in diameter (115 sq. ft.) to 30+ feet in diameter (706 sq ft or more). They are relatively inexpensive to build.
A yurt is a round structure with a wall and roof made from waterproof fabric. While traditional yurts are fairly rustic, custom-built yurts built with pretty much all the amenities of a regular home are also available. While some in North America live in yurts year-around, other people keep them as vacation homes.
Floating on Water Residence (aka Floating Home or Houseboat, but there are differences)
Seattle, Portland, Vancouver, and San Francisco all house various floating water residences. It’s important to note that there are important differences among the five types of floating on water residences.
These types of homes are built differently from their landed counterparts, have various moorage arrangements, and are highly regulated in the cities where they are located. 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 treehouses, but treehouse residences do exist. These are houses built in trees; some are quite large. Generally, they aren’t nailed into the trees where they’re located; their stilts and structure are built around the tree to elevate the home. Treehouses obviously look like fun houses to live in, and they’re definitely different.
One of the more atypical types of houses, a castle a dream home for many people. There are many different types of castles. Castles were built from early middle ages through the nineteenth century. Their primary purposes were to both house and defend their residents. Over the many hundreds of years that castles were built, their designs greatly evolved.
While the term palace is often used in place of castle, a palace differs from a castle in that a palace’s primary function is as a residence only; they weren’t built to defend. Instead, palaces were luxurious structures that housed royalty and nobility, and often also housed government functions.
A chateau is a French term that is used to describe a private palace of sorts. Chateaus are luxurious mansions that don’t serve any state purpose. They are purely private residences that are also extremely 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 personnel and their families.
While the term “bunker” refers to some form of bomb shelter or protective shelter, some people do live in underground houses.
Historically, people lived in caves. This choice was a no-brainer, given caves are pretty much turn-key, in a crude way. Caves were essentially created for humans and other animals to live in by nature. That said, while many cave houses were crude, some cultures created cities that were made from huge series of beautiful cave homes.
A recent development in home construction and design is the use of existing containers as the main structure of a home. Small homes use one container, while larger homes use multiple containers. As you can see below, containers can be configured in a variety of different ways. Companies exist that specialize in designing and creating container homes.
Geodesic dome houses and roundhouses, while not terribly popular, are another unique type of home. In fact, round structures have been used in some cultures for thousands of years – think tipis, yurts, huts, fortress towers, etc.
Another types of house classification is the construction method. These days buyers have several options in how homes are built.
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. This type of home typically arrives in pieces that have been shipped to be assembled on-site. Some arrive with the interior and/or exterior completely 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 made of a series of modules, or pods, that are locked together to form the entire home once on-site.
Manufactured home: A manufactured home is another that is built off-site in a factory on a steel frame. These homes are transported in their entirety or in sections to a site. Manufactured homes are similar to mobile homes, but look more like a permanent home than the traditional mobile home does.
Panel home: This is a home constructed of panels. The panels are built off-site and assembled on-site.
Frequently Asked Questions
Below are answers to frequently asked questions about the different types of houses.
How big is the average house in the USA?
From statistics gathered during the first quarter of 2019 by an NAHB analysis as well as from the Census Quarterly Starts and Completions by Purpose and Design, the average single-family home has increased to around 2,584 square feet. The average size of a house is constantly changing over time. For example, in 1983 the average house in the USA was 1,725 square feet, and in 2003 the average was 2,330 square feet.
What are the different types of houses?
What defines a house has really branched out from what people traditionally considered to be a house. However, there are two defining ways of categorizing types of houses. Some define these by their different architectural styles, while others define them by the different types of residential building structures. Architectural style refers to the aesthetic style of a house, and types of residential building structures encompass whether a house was built as a single-family, a townhouse, etc.
To put it into perspective, types of houses by structure include the following:
- Single Family Detached House
- Carriage/Coach House
- Cave House
- Container Home
- Dome Houses
- In-Law Suite (also called a Basement Suite)
- Mobile Home
- Tiny Home
- Underground House
- Floating Water Residences (Houseboats, etc)
Can houses be moved?
Houses can be moved, but it is not usually an easy or an inexpensive task. To move a house means one must lift the structure from the foundation to move it, sometimes many miles away, before setting the home down somewhere else. In extreme cases where a home is in danger of flooding or another impending natural disaster, in the way of development of highways or shopping centers, or simply because it is no longer wanted on the land, houses may be moved from one location to another.
Can houses sink?
If a house is built on poor soil or somewhere in which copious amounts of water can weaken the foundation, houses can indeed sink. Homeowners don’t have any way of controlling the soil beneath their home, but they can deflect water away from the foundation as much as possible to prevent this from happening.
Can houses be financed? If so, how?
If you do not have the cash in hand to purchase a house, they can be financed by way of a mortgage. Mortgages are secured loans handled between the home purchaser and a financial institution (usually a bank or credit union) which loans the money to purchase a house to the buyer. Once the price range has been decided, one must apply for a mortgage. However, it is best to have a credit score of over 600 before trying to apply for a mortgage, and to only borrow what is necessary to prevent paying back more than what is affordable.
What materials are houses built from?
Homes can be constructed from a list of materials. Some of the most common ones are wood, brick, concrete, cement & mortar, and clay. Many houses are also now constructed with steel frames that are reinforced with bolts and rivets.
Can houses get hit by lightning?
Houses can be struck by lightning, with the roof taking a major hit, sometimes sending a charge of electricity through any electrical devices and even metal piping within the house. Lightning is attracted to anything metal, electrical, and sometimes even window frames and gutters. Occupants inside a home can be affected by lightning if they are in contact with an electrical device or plumbing.
Can houses lose value?
A house can deteriorate in value because of a few different factors. This includes physical damage and/or neglect, the neighborhood where the house stands, the risk a homeowner could take buying that house, and the economic climate.
Can houses withstand an earthquake?
Because every house is unique, withstanding an earthquake depends on the time in which a home was built, the materials it is made from, and the structure of the house. Most houses built after 1958 are more secure than older homes due to increased anchoring and bolting, but this isn’t a hard and fast rule. The most likely houses to withstand an earthquake are those with a concrete foundation. However, older houses without concrete foundations can have braces, such as new beams and bolts, installed underneath the house to better anchor it to the ground.
Who appraises houses?
Houses are appraised by licensed, highly-trained professionals who know what to look for during the appraisal process. Many appraisers train and spend years on the job. They are continuously educated on the ever-changing housing market. It is the appraiser’s job to fairly and objectively determine the value of a house without any sort of bias as to where the property is located. Appraisers have to prove that anything in or outside of the house that they find could affect its value. Appraisers and the appraisal process are heavily monitored.
Can squirrels climb houses?
Squirrels have an incredible knack for being able to climb just about anything, and this definitely includes homes. They can scale chimneys and walls headfirst and are motivated to do this because they absolutely love to live within walls, ceilings, and attics.
Can raccoons climb houses?
Like squirrels, raccoons are amazing climbers, and there aren’t many places that they won’t try to go to find food or shelter. This said, raccoons can climb up the corners of a house with ease and make good use of any gutters and downspouts they can find. Raccoons are capable of causing a lot of damage when they do this, so it’s best to be aware of them.
Can possums climb houses?
Possums can climb quite well and will climb a house, and even if they cannot scale a structure they can climb a tree to get up onto and into that structure if they can find an opening large enough to get in through.
Can tornadoes lift houses?
Brick and concrete homes are a bit more stable when facing the dangerous winds of a tornado. However, tornadoes of certain categories certainly have the power to lift any house from its foundation and send it spiraling, sometimes miles away. Mobile homes are especially prone to this, since more often than not mobile homes do not have a permanent foundation. Even if a tornado doesn’t lift a house, it can cause a lot of damage to it, and even possibly level the house to the ground.
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.