Living in Italy

23 Quirky Differences | Italian vs American Homes

Age & Size to Screens & Garbage Disposals. The 23 Biggest Differences between American & Italian Homes. + Renovating Bardonecchia Update!

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.

Italian Homes vs American Homes
Older Homes in Verona, Italy

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.

Italian Homes vs American Homes Size
Italian Living Room in a Smaller Italian Home in Bardonecchia.

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.

Small Town Italian Alps Where Nearly Everyone Lives in an Apartment
Bardonecchia is a Small Town in the Italian Alps and Nearly Everyone Lives in an Apartment

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.

Italian Homes vs American Homes Balconies and Porches
Balconies in Verona, Italy

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.

Look Close at the Windows Behind Me & You’ll See the Roll Down Shutters

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!

Italian Homes vs American Homes No Screens
Our Screen-Free Windows in Bardonecchia, Italy

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.

Italian Homes vs American Homes AC and Heating
Steam Radiator in Bardonecchia, Italy Home

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.

Italian Homes vs American Homes Stone Walls
Stone Walls Homes in Pienza, Italy

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.

Italian Homes vs American Homes Small Kitchens
Small Bardonecchia Kitchens

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!

Italian Homes vs American Homes Kitchen Sink
Kitchen Sink Sans Garbage Disposal

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.

Italian Homes vs American Homes Hallways
Double Door Hallway Between Bathroom & Kitchen

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?

Typical Bidet in Italian Bathroom

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.

Italian Homes vs American Homes Bathing
Cala Brandinchi is one of the 6 most beautiful beaches in Sardinia

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.

Italian Homes vs American Homes Electric Outlets
Single Plug Outlet

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.

Pienza Italy Photos Laundry hanging
Laundry hanging out the window in Pienza, 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.

Italian Homes vs American Homes Closets
Italian Wall of Closets

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.

From garbage disposals to bidets 23 ways American homes and Italian homes are different.
Italian Double Bed

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.

Follow ALOR Italy for Updates on our Italian Home Renovation

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!

33 comments

  1. actually, this is not a very comprehensive list (it is more of a “stating the obvious”). you want some true learned lessons? 1. walls are not always 90 degree angled esp in 100+ year buildings. so you need to take at least 2 measures for a niche when design your kitchen! 2. italy does not do threshold piece to cover the transition between one floor material and another – we put in white oak floor through out and marble mosaic in the bagno. no, floor guy does not do a transition cover piece. 3. most kitchen are composed of “mobile” units. it looks like shíte, and totally non-functional. but hey, that is why they take their kitchen with them when they sell the casa! (ask the agent exactly what you are buying!) 4. italy has strict rules about waste water – clear, white and brown. it is not simple or even doable to convert an office space into a bedroom with en-suite if the contractor cannot connect the toilet to a brown water line! (of course, you can install a “bio” toilet but that is not the same by my standards.) 5. you’ll find most washing machines in the middle of kitchen work space; or in the middle of bagno which serves as a good tripping hazard. 6. bagno have the most awkward flow and inefficient use of floor space. the total sq feet is often larger than a standard 3-piece american bathroom. but boy, where they put their shower in relation to the sink, toilet and bidet is a head scratcher at best, a murderous trap at worst ! 7. a lot of toilets sit on an elevated platform coz that is the only way they can put it in an old building – tripping hazard most definitely! 8. italy does not have border/edge tiles which we use here to offer a nice smooth finish look for all tiled walls. instead, they can give you a narrow tube either made of aluminum or plastic! (when i was told of this, i just wanted to pull my hair out.) 9. most contractors do not provide a detailed proposals especially now they are in such high demand, you are lucky if they return your calls. 10. you have to go around and procure your own material for cucina and bagno unless you hand over the control of every single detail to your architect. 11. know your true budget and what are “must have” for you. once you know how much money you have and for what, do not haggle or penny pinch. most italians do, we did not. that is the main reason why my contractor and my architect love us because we are REASONABLE and PRACTICAL. hence, while i am sitting here in FL commenting on this article, my amici in italy are doing our total reno of a 110 old apartment with my complete trust (yes, my architect who has become a friend of mine speaks very good english and is much more worldly than avg italians, which helps.)

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    1. Hi Tia. Congratulations on your renovation. When will your renovation be complete? Have you done more than one? Will you be living in Italy? During our renovation our experience sounds very different from yours. We did not procure any of our materials, the team we hired did. Our contractor was extremely responsive to our calls and every decision was detailed and in writing in our contracts. Our toilets are wall mounted floating toilets. Easy clean! Platforms are not something I’ve actually ever seen in an Italian home for the toilet. Though I have seen many pull chain toilets! We have a small place but a separate laundry room. Not washer in the kitchen. It’s wonderful that you’re able to complete your renovation from Florida. We lived next door to ours here in Italy. Ours renovation was completed in three months with a crew and an architect. None of which spoke English. That worked for us because my Husband is Italian. Please keep in mind I’m just one woman sharing my observations, based on my own experiences. As you pointed out it’s not a comprehensive list. Then again not every detail is of interest to someone who is not currently involved in a renovation in Italy or planning to live in Italy. I selected items that I found most interesting or surprising. Thank you for adding to the list.

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    1. Hey Brittany! I thought it was a WONDERFUL video. Would love to connect and interview you about your experience. Hope the inclusion in the post brought some additional views to your video!

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  2. I love this post, and it is so helpful. The Americans are so spoiled (in a good way) about the way of living. I lived in Europe before and now I live in the USA – now anytime when I visit Europe I feel the houses are so small, and I miss all the facilities I have in the USA, but I do love the Italian way of living.

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  3. This is such an interesting post. I think I love my massive kitchen too much to make a permanent move to Italy, but you do make an excellent point about the bidets . . . .

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  4. So fascinating to read these quirky differences. The one I noticed the most when I visited Italy was the extra door between the toilet and kitchen! So smart, I kind of wish they adopted that more here in Canada haha

    Liked by 1 person

    1. #22 is not correct. Italians use two sheets all the time, usually made of cotton, but if they use a duvet, the top sheet is replaced by the duvet cover.

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      1. Hi Cristiana! In my experience not all Italians. Many use just a bottom sheet (fitted sheet) and a duvet cover. I’ve found this to be true in homes and apartments we’ve rented. So perhaps not all the time or all home?

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  5. Omg I learned so much! I never noticed the garbage disposal, but you’re totally right! I can’t believe American homes are some of the biggest in the world! Insane!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. That’s a very interesting read! Italian homes are pretty similar to Egyptian homes, which is not the only common thing between the two cultures – not surprised hehe 🙂

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    1. They are! Very cool. I have to admit I’ve never seen the inside of a home in Egypt other than news and movies. I have a feeling those are not terribly accurate. Do you have a link to an article or photos you can share? I’d love to see if you do!!

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  7. I really enjoyed your post. Italy weems to be very similar to France. I live in an old house in the U.S. with no AC and dearly wish I could find electronic shutters over here. Even manual shutters would be a huge help to keeping our house cooler in the summer.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for the compliment on the post! I genuinely appreciate the kind words. I would say you’re right, Italian homes are definitely more similar to French then American homes. Where in the US if you don’t mind my asking? I went with no AC for a few summers in Ohio and that was hot enough for my tastes!

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Have you considered awnings over your windows? There’s a place in Livonia that makes aluminum awnings and will install them over your windows.

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          1. Hi Kacey, we have a temporary awning for our balcony but our condo complex is pretty anti-change on the exterior. So sad! Thank you for the tip though. Very much appreciated.

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  8. We are considering moving to Italy. I like the washing machine (preferably a WD combo) in the kitchen. I love the shutters. We don’t have them in the United States…nor do I worry about firearm attacks. The bathroom shower could be larger if we got rid of one Porcelain and put in a TOTO toilet seat…but it needs an electrical outlet. And definitely a top sheet….I request one when I travel to Europe. I can’t do without a cover… but sometimes the quilt is just too much.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment! Do you mind if I ask for you found me here at ALOR? I had a huge spike in traffic and I’m completely curious where it’s coming from (definitely not a bad thing!) Oh the top sheet drives me bonkers. I had a rather funny experience traveling through France with a friend and trying to explain in English to a French only speaking hotel clerk that we wanted a top sheet. Another sheet. More sheet?! It took a LONG time that conversation!

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  9. We do have a lot of wasted space in our massive houses in North America don’t we. I could withstand most of the smaller and older houses but I’m not sure about the kitchen. Also, I’ve experienced lack of a top sheet. I’m with you, I need one..

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