Updated: 3/11/2022 Originally this article contained 23 Quirky Differences between Italian and American homes. I’ve recently come across a video that does a great job of identifying another eight major differences, which I’ve included below along with my original list.
If you’ve been following our Moving to Italy journey, you know things move a little bit slower in Italy. The only progress we have to report beyond signing the architect contract is a meeting with the general contractor. Fingers crossed he comes back with a bid that’s not outrageous to run a gas line to the house. I just can’t imagine cooking on electric, or keeping a bombola in the house! Hopefully next Wednesday we have a budget and floor plans. In the meantime, I thought I’d share some of the quirkier differences I’ve noticed between Italian and American homes.
23 Differences Between Italian & American Homes
Even though he’s Italian, Paolo lived in America for 12 years. There is no way he’s living without a dryer again. There are some American home perks Paolo and I want to bring back to Italy with us. Thus this list!
American homes are very different than Italian homes. Some of the differences are wins for Italy, while some are wins for America. It’s not that I’m keeping score. It’s that I’m the first American client our architect has had. There are some things I didn’t want to think of when it was too late. Like garbage disposal, so not a thing here in Italy.
1. Italian Homes Are Much Older On Average Than American Homes
Leaving pre-historic cave homes out of the picture, the first people to build structures in Italy were Greeks and Etruscans. As early as 800 BC, the Villanovan People literally created Sorano by carving homes in rock. 14th and 15th Century Venetian Gothic Architecture is still celebrated and lived in today.
On the flip side, 27 million homes across America are between 11 and 20 years old. In fact, according to Statisa, this is the most common age bracket for American homes.
2. Italian Homes Are Among the Smallest in Europe While American Homes Are Among the Largest in the World
The average size of an Italian home is 81 square meters or around 871 square feet. That’s smaller than Spanish homes at just over 1,000 square feet and German homes at just over 1,200 square feet. Can you guess the size of the average American home? Around 2,600 square feet! In other words American homes are around… oh 3109.88% bigger than Italian homes on average.
3. The Majority of Italians Live in Apartments
Here’s a fact from Idealista that’s pretty illuminating. Over 50% of all Italians live in apartments, with over 25% living in large condominium buildings. A stark contrast to America with 70% of the population living in single-family homes.
4. Italian Homes Have Balconies Not Porches
Given that the majority of housing in Italy is apartments and condos, porches are just not a thing. Instead, Italians claim their small outdoor space in the form of a balcony. Since space is at a premium, balconies often serve double duty. You’ll see everything from single plastic chairs to dining tables, washers, clotheslines, storage units, outdoor gardens, and even pantries on Italian balconies.
5. BBQ Grills Are Not Common in Italy
One thing you won’t see on an Italian balcony is a grill. With all that private outdoor space, Americans have the lockdown on backyard BBQs and grills. Sure there are always exceptions. Italians love a summertime grigliata (grill-out). Most of the time though, it’s at their friend’s house in the country. Not with a Weber, Big Green Egg, or Traeger on their precious balcony space. Besides, Italian apartments and condo balconies are not typically that big. Sticking a giant grill on one is a fire hazard at best.
6. Italian Windows Are Protected by Shutters
Americans deal with gun violence, and Italians deal with burglary. Shutters are used for protection against a home invasion in most mid to large cities throughout Italy. I must say at first I was put off by them, but after some epic naps, I’m a convert. Roll-down shutters are better than black-out curtains.
7. Italian Homes Rarely Have Screens in the Window
Most Italian homes do not have window screens or screen doors. Yes, mosquitos are a problem for a few months, but Italians just swat and go on about their day. Thankfully up in the Italian Alps, there are no mosquitos!
8. Most Italian Homes Do Not Have Central Air Conditioning or Heating
When I worked in New York City offices, summer was sweater weather. Italians just accept August is going to be hot! While some Italian restaurants and hotels have wall AC units, the cost of electricity prohibits frequent use. Pro trip, while traveling in Italy during the summer, if you’re lucky enough to have a hotel room with a wall AC unit, make sure it’s working right after checking in. Hotels often sneakily control AC units from the front desk.
Heating is mostly steam heat from radiators that are powered and regulated by the apartment or condo buildings.
9. Italian Homes Are Built of Stone, Brick & Concrete
Older Italian homes have stone or brick walls. More modern homes have concrete walls. It’s part of the reason centralized AC and heating aren’t common in Italy. Thicker walls regulate temperature fluctuations better. It’s also part of the reason renovations are expensive and time-consuming. Let’s just say in Bardonecchia, we won’t be picking up a sledgehammer to take out that pesky kitchen wall.
10. American Kitchens are Epic! In Italy Kitchens are Tiny
Personally, I love that American kitchens are so big, they have islands in the middle. Italian kitchens historically are tiny and most often hidden away. Our kitchen in Bardonecchia right now is a One Butt 70s kitchen, tucked away behind accordion doors.
11. American Appliances Are Huge Compared to Italian Kitchen Appliances
The first question our architect asked was if we needed American size appliances. Even after we renovate, American size appliances will not fit in our kitchen in Italy. It’s not just the refrigerator either. The ovens, washing machines (yes often in the kitchen), dishwashers, and even the stand mixers are bigger in America. Italian freezers don’t usually have ice machines and Italian stoves are not built to roast turkeys.
12. Garbage Disposals Are Banned in Italy
Did you know garbage disposals were banned in much of Europe due to their negative impacts on the environment? The belief in Europe is that composting is better and uses less water. A counterargument is, fewer trash runs mean a smaller carbon footprint. Having a garbage disposal is on my list for the architect with the hopes that the ban has been lifted or changed. I can unequivocally say not having one, means a lot more trash runs which is far more time-consuming in Europe. Here’s why!
13. Garbage Collection & Sorting
Europeans in general make American garbage collection look shamefully lazy. In Italy, garbage must be sorted by category including paper, cardboard, glass, plastic, metal, and organic. Each must be discarded in separate bins usually shared by the apartment community outside the home. Ours is a bit of a walk and up a hill. Not fun with bags full of glass bottles clinking like wind chimes. This is a big part of the reason I’m hoping we can get a garbage disposal! Organic trash stinks so quickly, taking the trash out is a near-daily affair.
14. Italian Code Requires Two Doors Between the Toilet & Kitchen Areas
Working with our architect we learned there are building codes in Italy that require two physical doors to be in place between the toilet and the kitchen. Which explains why so many Italian homes have what feels like extra hallways. It also explains why public bathrooms in Italy usually have an inner (small closet for the toilet) and an outer (larger area with just sinks) area.
15. Italian Bathrooms Have Bidets!
Italy wins on this one. If the great toilet paper shortage during COVID 2020 taught America anything, it should be that bidets are essential! I often wonder what Europeans think of American hygiene?
16. Bathtubs are Not as Common in Italy as America
There is one downside to making space for a bidet. Most Italian homes don’t have bathtubs. This is where America wins in the cultural bathroom wars! Soaking tubs are very American. Italians fare il bagno (bathe) in the sea.
17. Italian Showers Are Often Small Corner Units
You would think without a bathtub, Italians would have plenty of room for good-sized shower stalls but no. More often than not, while traveling through Italy I’ve seen tiny corner shower stalls. Shower stalls throughout Europe are often so small I can’t bend over to shave my legs.
18. Single Electrical Outlets
Aside from needing a converter, older Italian homes often have outlets with only one plugin. Outlets are also not uniform. Plus, electronics are sold across Europe so many older Italian homes have a stash of converters for German or French electronics.
19. Washer But No Dryers
This is on Paolo’s list of must-haves in Italy. A dryer! Italians culturally never really adopted the dryer. Many homes don’t really have space for a laundry room. In fact, the washer is most often in the kitchen or bathroom. Sometimes, it’s even on a semi-enclosed balcony. You will always see clothes on the line outside someone’s window in Italy.
20. Wall of Closets vs Walk in Closets
Italians love a wall of closets. Americans love a walk-in closet. Neither of which is really necessary for us after adopting a more minimalistic lifestyle. Since our master bedroom in Bardonecchia is so small it doesn’t meet the code for a primary residence that wall of closets will be the first thing to go in our renovation.
21. American Beds vs Italian Beds
After the waterbed crazy passed, American beds are pretty predictable. Twin, Queen, King. While traditional Italian bed sizes use the term piazza, as in place. Una Piazza or Singolo is one place. Una Piazza e Mezza, one and a half places, or Due Piazze which is you guessed it, two places. Things get strange though with antique furniture. There you’ll find things like Piazza e Mezza Francese a one and a half place bed. Or Letto Matrimoniale (matrimonial bed) that’s two separate mattresses on a single frame with shared sheets. You can’t tell from this photo but that’s exactly what’s under these sheets.
22. Most Italians Don’t Use Top Sheets
A bottom sheet and a Duvet cover are common bedding not just in Italy but throughout Europe. Having both a top and a bottom sheet is a tradition I do intend to bring with me from America! I’m not sure how Italians have made it this long without AC or a top sheet in summers.
23. Garages are Tiny in Italy!
Last but not least, parking. Since most Italians live in apartments and condo buildings, they share garages. Spaces in these garages are tight. In our garage in Bardonecchia, it’s not physically possible to park our compact car without a minimum of a two-point turn. There is no rushing out of the house in Italy when the car is parked in the garage.
While it’s as comfy as a pair of vintage Levi’s 505, everything in our Italian home in Bardonecchia, Italy is from the ’70s. As you can see, we have a lot of work to do! There are no modern amenities. The stove runs on a propane tank under the sink. If I forget to turn off the Stufa (heater) when I turn my hair-blow dryer on, I blow a fuse. The water heater is small and older than I am, which means Paolo and I are currently taking showers by day-part.
Post Update 12/12/2020
As soon as this post went live, I’ve found all kinds of other quirky differences including fire alarms. I didn’t notice it at first but most older homes in Italy, including ours in Bardonecchia, do not have fire alarms!
As I’m here longer, I’m sure there is more I will see and I’m happy to share what I discover.
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Between the need for a few American creature comforts and more modern amenities, we simply cannot wait to break ground on our Renovating Bardonecchia project. Renovating Bardonecchia updates coming every Friday!