Housing Glossary-Canada

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Terminology differs a little from one region of Canada to another. However, this article provides some terms that are broadly understood across many parts of Canada.


A

  • Apartment - Flat, that is, a unit in a multi-family building.
  • Attached house - See Duplex.

B

  • Balcony - An exterior platform jutting out from an upper floor. If a house has a balcony, it may lead off the master bedroom. If an apartment has a balcony, it typically leads off the living room.
  • Basement - In nearly all parts of Canada, except for some instances in coastal British Columbia, the vast majority of houses have basements. The reason is that water has to enter the building at some depth, below the frostline, otherwise the water would freeze and the pipes would burst. A basement is a hole in the ground. Usually it is lined with concrete, much like a swimming pool. When you look at a house from the outside (at least in most parts of Canada), you need to appreciate that the house's footprint is double its apparent size. That's because of the basement that is not visible to you when you're viewing the house from the exterior.
    • Undeveloped basement - A basement that has been left as is, with bare concrete walls
    • Unfinished basement - Undeveloped basement
    • Developed basement - A basement that has been turned into additional living space. The walls will have been lined with drywall (gyproc) or with wood panelling. Carpet will have been laid on the floor. A proper ceiling will have been installed. The basement may very well have been divided into several rooms.
    • Finished basement - Developed basement.
  • Bathroom - May or may not refer to a room that has a bath tub in it. May also refer to your loo / guest toilet / powder room. When a Canadian visitor wants to go to the loo, he/she usually will ask where your bathroom is. But note that, when a bathroom does have a bath tub in it, it's likely to have a toilet and sink in the same room. Canadians have not yet embraced the concept of having baths and toilets in separate rooms.
  • Bonus room - A large room that can be used for many purposes. Often it's situated over the garage. Usually it does not have a built in closet, so is not classified as a bedroom. It might be used as a home entertainment room, a games room, a sewing room, a craft room, etc. A small-ish spare room that does not have a closet is called a den.
  • Breakfast nook - This is an informal dining area off the kitchen. Depending on the size of the room and the size of the family, a breakfast nook may accommodate a tiny table for two or it may accommodate a large table that seats the whole family. A Canadian family that has a large breakfast nook typically uses it for all of their everyday meals. If a family has a breakfast nook as well as a formal dining room, they typically will use their dining room only on special occasions.
  • Bungalow - Single storey, detached house

C

  • Carriage home - A second floor apartment that is accessed via an external staircase. (Please remember that the Canadian second floor is the British first floor.)
  • Cathderal ceiling - A particularly tall ceiling. If a house has a cathedral ceiling, it'll usually be in part or all of the living area (living room, dining room, family room). Alternatively, an entry foyer may have a cathedral ceiling.
  • Central vacuum - Ducted vacuum
  • Condominium - Refers to a type of ownership within multi-family complexes. In this type of complex, each owner has sole ownership of, and responsibility for, his/her individual unit. However, all unit owners have shared ownership of, and responsibility for, common property. The owners elect a board that oversees maintenance of common property. All the owners pay monthly fees to finance the maintenance of common property. In some provinces, condominiums are known as stratas.
  • Condo - Abbreviation for condominimum. In some provinces this is a generic term that refers to any multi-family complex, whether it's a townhouse complex or an apartment complex. In other provinces, the common understanding is that a "condo" is a condominium apartment.
  • Crawl space - This is a basement space that is not full height but that can be used for storage. Half the basement of a split level house may be full height, and half the basement may be a crawl space. See Split level house.

D

  • Deck - An outdoor floor that extends from the back of the house. It typically leads off the kitchen or family room. It often is made of wood. When you hear the word, "deck," you usually think of a platform that is above grade. There may only be two or three steps from the deck to the ground, or there may be many steps. A deck is a place to sit and relax in nice weather. People often have barbecues on their decks. See also Patio.
  • Drywall - Prefabricated boards from which the interior walls of Canadian houses are made. Also called gyproc. Equivalent of gypsum board, wallboard, or plasterboard in the UK.
  • Den - A spare room that could be used for a variety of purposes. It might be used as a TV room or a study. In some parts of Canada, a room can be called a bedroom only if it has a built-in-closet. If a spare room does not have a built-in-closet in one of those jurisdictions, it must be listed as a den. If this kind of room is relatively small, it's called a den. If it's large, it migh be called a bonus room.
  • Detached house - A stand-alone building that houses one family
  • Double storey - Traditional two storey house, that is, the upper floor has the same footprint as the ground floor. This necessitates a long flight of stairs between the ground floor and the upper floor.
  • Driveway - Something that ideally is as short as possible. The longer your driveway is, the more snow you have to shovel. The only place where this doesn't matter is coastal British Columbia, which has a milder (if more rainy) climate than the rest of Canada.
  • Duplex - A building that is split into two residences, like a semi-detached house in the UK. In some parts of Canada, the term duplex implies a residence that was designed for two families from the start. In other parts of Canada, duplex implies a single-family residence that later was converted into a two-family building.
    • Half duplex - One half of a duplex, that is, one family's residence within a two-family building.
    • Side-by-side duplex - A duplex in which two dwellings are attached to each other horizontally
    • Up-down duplex - A duplex in which one family lives on the ground floor and another family lives in the upper floor


E

  • En suite - A bathroom that leads off a bedroom, usually the master bedroom.

F

  • Family room - A second, informal living room
  • Fence - What a Canadian house usually does not have in its front yard but usually does have in its back yard.
  • First floor - British ground floor
  • Four piece bathroom - A bathroom that has a bath tub, shower, toilet and sink. The shower usually is above the bath tub. It is only in more expensive houses that bathrooms have bath tubs and separate shower stalls.
  • Fourplex - A building that is split into four residences

G

  • Garden - What British people call a vegetable garden or flower bed. See also Yard.
  • Garden apartment - Ground floor apartment in a multi-storey apartment building; same as patio apartment
  • Garden home - Single storey rowhouse; alternative name for patio home
  • Great room - A large, open plan room that combines several functions. Often it incorporates the functions of the living room, dining room and kitchen. Modern Canadian houses in any case are designed on open plan principles, so it's a bit tricky to explain how a great room differs from a normal living room, dining room and kitchen. In addition to that, the term "great room" means different things to different people. But, in general, a great room eliminates duplication. For example, in a normal Canadian house, there may be a formal dining room as well as an informal dining space (the breakfast nook). Similarly, there may be an formal living room as well as an informal family room. In houses in which the functions are duplicated, the more formal rooms (typically the living room and dining room) actually get very little use. They are used only a few times a year, on special occasions. Usually a great room will eliminate the duplication, so that entertaining of guests takes place in the same space that the family uses every day. But a very expensive house may have a great room and still have all of the rooms that a great room typically replaces.

H

  • Half bathroom - Toilet and sink. Same as two-piece bathroom.
  • House - When this word is used on its own, it's understood to mean a detached, single-family dwelling.

I

J

K

L

  • Living room - Lounge

M

  • Manufactured home - Prefabricated house
  • Mobile home - Prefabricated house built on wheels so that it can be moved from one location to another; often resides in a mobile home park.
  • Mud room - A rear entrance / exit that is used by family members rather than by guests, who usually would be greeted at the front door. The mud room may connect the garage with the house. As the name suggests, the mud room is a place where people take off their dirty boots when they enter the house. A mud room may fulfill more than one function. For example, it may house the laundry as well.
  • Murphy bed - A bed that flips up into the wall when not in use. A Murphy bed allows a study, den, or entertainment room to be turned into a guest bedroom when necessary.

N

O

P

  • Patio - A paved outdoor space that is at ground level and that leads directly off a room. Depending on the configuration of the residence, the patio may be in the front or the back. The surface of the patio may be made of concrete, flagstones, inlaid brick or some other hard material. See also Deck.
  • Patio apartment - Ground floor apartment in a multi-storey apartment building; same as garden apartment
  • Patio home - Single storey rowhouse; alternative name for garden home
  • Porch - An area at the front of a house that is covered on top but open at the sides. It was common for older houses to have quite large porches, but this is rare in modern houses. Still, even in modern houses, it's common for the roof to hang over the front step in such a way that a person ringing the front doorbell is protected from rain.

Q

R

  • Rancher or ranch house - Single-storey house, usually with a garage and usually aligned parallel with the road
  • Rec room - Recreation room, usually in the basement. This is a room that may house a ping pong table, a pool table, or something like that.
  • Recreational property - A property that the owners use on weekends and during vacations. Often located next a lake, at the ocean or in the mountains. The cottage or cabin that is built on the land often is more informal or rustic than the owner's primary residence. But, with that having been said, high end recreational property can be luxurious. Local zoning regulations may limit the use of any property designated as recreational to six months in any year.
  • Roughed in - When you look at a real estate listing, you may see a reference to a roughed in bathroom, a roughed in central vacuum, or a roughed in fireplace. What this means is that the piping has been installed in the walls, but the fixtures themselves have not yet been installed. So, if you wanted to add a bathroom, all you would have to do would be to install the relevant bathroom fixtures and hook them up to the plumbing arrangements that are already there. The same thing would be true if you wanted to install a central vacuum system. In the case of a roughed in fireplace, the chimney is already in place. All you need to do is install the external part of the fireplace and create space for air to flow from the fireplace to the chimney.
  • Rumpus room - Children's play room, usually in the basement

S

  • Second floor - British first floor
  • Shoes - Items one removes when one enters a Canadian house. It is rude to do otherwise. Your host may invite you to keep your shoes on, in which case it's okay to do so. But you, as the guest, do not have the prerogative of choosing whether or not you remove your shoes.
  • Siding - Cladding. Strips of wood, aluminum (yes, aluminum) or vinyl that are nailed onto the exterior of the house.
  • Single family home - A stand-alone building that houses one family
  • Split-level house - The split level has two or three short sets of stairs, and three or four levels. The entry is on a middle floor between two floors. The front door opens into the living area (living room, dining room and kitchen). From this middle floor there is a short flight of stairs leading up to a bedroom level, and another short flight of stairs leading down to play areas (family room, rumpus room and such). There are different types of split-level houses, e.g., bi-level, backsplit, sidesplit, etc. The advantage of a split-level design is that it makes it easier to construct a house on a slope. The potential disadvantage is that the many flights of stairs (albeit they're all short flights of stairs) are not suitable for people who suffer from a variety of infirmities. You can see illustrations of split-level houses on the website called SplitLevel.net.
    • Backsplit - A multilevel house that looks like a single storey house from the front.
    • Bi-level - This essentially is a single storey house that is raised slightly above the level at which it normally would have been built. The entry foyer is between floors. The front door opens onto a landing. From the landing a short flight of stairs leads to the top floor. This top floor typically houses the living room, dining room, kitchen, bedrooms and bathrooms. Another short flight of stairs leads down to the basement. In this type of house the basement does not go as deep into the ground as is the case with a standard single storey house (bungalow). Consequently the basement of a bi-level house is partially above grade. This allows the basement to have larger windows. These larger windows, in turn, admit more sunlight. The larger windows also permit the building of legal bedrooms in the basement, because occupants would be able to escape in the event of a fire. The basement of a bi-level house often is developed and turned into a rumpus room or family room, one or two extra bedrooms and another bathroom.
    • Five-level-split - Similar to a four-level-split.
    • Four-level-split - This type of house has three short sets of stairs and four levels. The entry is on a middle floor between two levels. The front door typically is a couple of steps above grade and opens into a foyer that is on the same level as the living room, dining room and kitchen. From the living room level, a short set of stairs leads upwards to the bedroom level. From the living room level, another short set of stairs leads downwards to a partially sunken basement. This partially sunken basement is located immediately below the upper bedroom level. The partially sunken basement can accommodate larger windows than a standard basement. Hence, the partially sunken basement often is converted into a rumpus room and/or a study and/or a spare bedroom. Finally, a short flight of stairs leads down to a fully sunken basement. The fully sunken basement may not have any windows at all. Therefore it could not be used as a legal bedroom. Typically this kind of basement houses a laundry room and storage space. Depending on the configuration, a four-level split may be a sidesplit, a backsplit or a frontsplit.
    • Frontsplit - Multilevel house that looks like a two-storey house from the front and a single-storey house from the back.
    • Sidesplit - This is a split level house in which all (or at least most) of the levels are visible from the front. It is similar to a frontsplit and also to a backsplit. The main difference is that, in a sidesplit, the length of the house runs parallel to the street.
  • Solarium - Conservatory
  • Strata - Condominium
  • Studio apartment - Bachelor flat, an apartment in which the living, eating and sleeping spaces are housed in a single room
  • Sub-division - Land that has been divided from its original size to allow the building of more houses. Often the equivalent of a housing estate in the UK.
  • Suite - Apartment, a unit in a multi-family building

T

  • Three piece bathroom - A bathroom that has a shower, toilet and sink.
  • Triplex - A building that is split into three residences.
  • Townhouse - Rowhouse or terraced house. A townhouse typically has two or three storeys. A single-storey rowhouse typically is called a garden home or patio home.
  • Two piece bathroom - A room that has a toilet and sink.

U

V

  • Vanity - A cupboard below a wash hand basin or sink in a bathroom. If a sink is not nested into a vanity, or if it does not rest on top of a vanity, it is called a pedestal sink.
  • Vaulted ceiling - See Cathedral ceiling.

W

  • Walkout basement - When a house is built on a slope, the front door may be at grade on one side of the house, but one also may be able to walk into and out of the basement at grade on the downhill side of the house. When a house is built on a flat piece of ground, there is no direct connection between the basement and the exterior of the house. In that case, the basement can be accessed only via an internal flight of stairs.
  • Wet bar - An area in a family room or rec room that has a tap and sink to assist in the preparation of drinks. It may have a miniature fridge too.

X

Y

  • Yard - What British people call a garden

Z