There are roughly 1.3 million British ex-pats living in the USA and Canada, while there are thought to be around 150,000 Americans living in the U.K. While there are lots of similarities in history, lifestyle, and culture between the U.K. and the USA, visitors and ex-pats alike will find that there can be a lot more variety in the English language than they might have imagined.
For example, what’s the difference between a flat vs. apartment? Whether you’re searching for an apartment or a flat, you’ll want to be aware of what is implied by these terms.
Renting an apartment (or a flat) is something that you don’t want to take lightly. After all, you will likely be living in the space for many months if not a year or more. It’s important to make sure you are getting exactly what you are looking for so you don’t have to repeat the costly process of moving any sooner than you want to.
Are you interested in learning more about the different terms for housing and household objects between American English and British English? If so, stick with us while we explore everything you need to know.
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Flat Vs. Apartment: What’s the Difference?
The terms flat and apartment are actually just synonyms, with the former more common in the UK and the former more common in the US. However, the meaning can sometimes vary depending on the intent of the speaker.
Let’s take a look at the difference between these terms to help you get exactly what you’re looking for in terms of housing.
Increasingly, the terms apartment and flat are used interchangeably. This can make it difficult to understand what exactly makes them different. On top of that, they are used differently in various regions of the world.
The term “flat” is most commonly used in the U.K. In British English, a “flat” is simply the British way of describing what Americans would call an “apartment.”
It is common for British renters to call any individual residence in a building with other similar residences a “flat.” Flats can vary in size greatly within this definition and can have any number of rooms.
In the United States, the term flat is rarely used. When it is, however, it means something else entirely. In the U.S., the term flat is sometimes used to describe an apartment that has several suites that share communal spaces.
There is also a bit of a distinction between the terms in regards to how luxurious the space is. In the U.K., it isn’t unheard of for upscale, posh flats to be described as “apartments.” These are often luxury second apartments or act as a pied-a-terre (a temporary or secondary type of housing.)
Similarly, American renters might have a totally different concept of “flats” than people in the U.K. In the U.S., a residence that is referred to as a flat might be more luxurious or upscale than a standard apartment.
Speaking of luxury, are you wondering if luxury apartments are worth the cost? Take a look at our guide to learn more.
Flat and Apartment Layout
Another distinction worth making is that a flat typically refers to a residence that exists on one story. Apartments, on the other hand, can be one story or can have multi-stories.
Renting a Flat Vs. Renting an Apartment: Other Terms You Should Know
In British English, you will find flats within a block of flats. In American English, you’ll find apartments located within apartment buildings or complexes.
Two other similar concepts with different terms in the U.S. and the U.K. are condos and owner-occupied flats. The United State’s concept of a studio apartment is most related to the British notion of a bedsit, and an American duplex is most similar to the British semi-detached house.
In the U.S., the term “loft” can refer to an elevated room in an apartment as well as a style of apartment. In the U.K., a “loft” is similar to what Americans call an attic.
In the Living Room
What Americans commonly call the living room is known to Brits as the sitting room. Common features in an American living room are a floor lamp and a television, which would be referred to as a standard lamp and a telly, respectively.
In the Bedroom
Americans keep their clothes in closets, which British flats have cupboards for storing clothes. A baby’s crib is referred to as a cot in Britain, and the American bedspread is known as a duvet in Britain.
In the Kitchen
In British flats, what Americans call the stove is referred to as the cooker. The act of doing dishes also has a different phrase, known as “washing up” in the U.K.
Even the blender goes by a different name in the U.K., where it is called the liquidizer. American electrical outlets are equivalent to Britain’s power point, and what are called dishtowels in the U.S. are known as tea towels in Britain.
Lastly, Americans in apartments throw their trash in the garbage can or trash can. British people in flats, on the other hand, throw their garbage out in the dustbin.
In the Bathroom
If you were a guest at someone’s apartment in the U.S., you might ask them for directions to the bathroom. If you were a guest in a British flat, though, you’d ask how to get to the loo. What is called a sink in the U.S. is called a hand basin in the U.K., and the washcloth you use to dry your hands in the U.S. is known as a flannel in the U.K.
(Looking for the cheapest time of year to start a lease? Take a look at this article to learn about rent prices during the winter.)
What Else Is Different Between US and UK Housing?
There are a number of other notable differences between standard housing in the US and the UK. For example, you’ll find that almost all of the homes in Britain are brick and mortar. US homes, on the other hand, can be brick, timber frame, or other more modern styles of construction.
You’ll also notice that almost all homes in Britain have either clay or slate tile roofs. American homes, on the other hand, typically have roofing shingles unless they are old construction with slate tiles.
If you are visiting the UK from the United States, you might notice that there are a few noticeable differences when it comes to appliances and systems. For one, most people don’t have air conditioning in the UK because the climate simply doesn’t require it. Secondly, British clothes dryers are built into the washer and therefore don’t need an air vent the way that US dryers do.
There are some differences when it comes to how power outlets are installed in bathrooms, too. In the U.S., it’s required that there is a power outlet within three feet of the sink, while it’s actually illegal in the UK to have outlets within three meters of the bath or shower.
Another notable language difference is what people in the UK and US call the areas outside their homes. In the US, a garden is where veggies and flowers are grown and the grassy area is known as a yard. In the UK, the grassy area is known as the garden and where the veggies are grown is known as the vegetable patch.
You’ll also notice that American homes usually have mailboxes that are separate from the house, while in the UK they are commonly built right into the front doors of the homes.
Lastly, the housing stock is quite different between the two places. In the US, more than 80% of the homes are single-family detached houses, while 27% of the homes in the UK are semi-detached duplexes.
Room Impact: Your Resource for All Your Home Needs
As you can see, the difference between a flat vs. apartment isn’t exactly black and white. If you are an American looking for a place to rent in the U.K., it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the common terms in British English to ensure that you get exactly what you are looking for. Similarly, if you are a Brit looking for a rental in the U.S., it’s worth understanding that many common household items and types of housing have different names in the states.
Now that you know the difference between a flat vs apartment as well as other notable differences between UK and US housing, you’re equipped to rent out housing on multiple continents!
If you’re looking for the best bang for your buck when it comes to renting, you might be able to negotiate a lower rent price for your next lease. Take a look at this article to learn how to get a nicer apartment for less money.