House generally refers to a shelter or building that is a dwelling or place for habitation by human beings. The term includes many kinds of dwellings ranging from rudimentary huts of nomadic tribes to high-rise apartment buildings. However, the word can also be used as a verb ("to house"), and can have adjectival formations as well. In some contexts, "house" may mean the same as dwelling, residence, home, abode, accommodation, housing, lodging, among other meanings.
The social unit that lives in a house is known as a household. Most commonly, a household is a family unit of some kind, though households can be other social groups, such as single persons, or groups of unrelated individuals. Settled agrarian and industrial societies are composed of household units living permanently in housing of various types, according to a variety of forms of land tenure. English-speaking people generally call any building they routinely occupy "home". Many people leave their houses during the day for work and recreation but typically return to them to sleep or for other activities.
Architect Norbert Schoenauer, in his book 6,000 Years of Housing, identifies three major categories of types of housing: the "Pre-Urban" house, the "Oriental Urban" house, and the "Occidental Urban" house.
"Oriental Urban" houses include houses of the ancient Greeks and Romans, and traditional urban houses in China, India, and Islamic cities.
"Occidental Urban" houses include medieval urban houses, the Renaissance town house, and the houses, tenements and apartments of the 19th and 20th centuries.
In addition, there are various forms of attached housing where a number of dwelling units are co-located within the same structure, which share a ground-level entry and may or may not have any private open space, such as apartments (a.k.a. flats) of various scales. Another type of housing is movable, such as houseboats, caravans, and trailer homes.
In the United Kingdom, 27% of the population live in terraced houses and 32% in semi-detached houses, as of 2002. In the United States as of 2000, 61.4% of people live in detached houses and 5.6% in semi-detached houses, 26% in row houses or apartments, and 7% in mobile homes.
Some houses transcend the basic functionality of providing "a roof over one's head" or of serving as a family "hearth and home". When a house becomes a display-case for wealth and/or fashion and/or conspicuous consumption, we may speak of a "great house". The residence of a feudal lord or of a ruler may require defensive structures and thus turn into a fort or a castle. The house of a monarch may come to house courtiers and officers as well as the royal family: this sort of house may become a palace. Moreover, in time the lord or monarch may wish to retreat to a more personal or simple space such as a villa, a hunting lodge or a dacha. Compare the popularity of the holiday house or cottage, also known as a crib.
In contrast to a relatively upper class or modern trend to ownership of multiple houses, much of human history shows the importance of multi-purpose houses. Thus the house long served as the traditional place of work (the original cottage industry site or "in-house" small-scale manufacturing workshop) or of commerce (featuring, for example, a ground floor "shop-front" shop or counter or office, with living space above). During the Industrial Revolution there was a separation of manufacturing and banking from the house, though to this day some shopkeepers continue (or have returned) to live "over the shop".
Ideally, architects of houses design rooms to meet the needs of the people who will live in the house. Such designing, known as "interior design", has become a popular subject in universities. Feng shui, originally a Chinese method of situating houses according to such factors as sunlight and micro-climates, has recently expanded its scope to address the design of interior spaces with a view to promoting harmonious effects on the people living inside the house. Feng shui can also mean the 'aura' in or around a dwelling. Compare the real-estate sales concept of "indoor-outdoor flow".
The square footage of a house in the United States reports the area of "living space", excluding the garage and other non-living spaces. The "square meters" figure of a house in Europe reports the area of the walls enclosing the home, and thus includes any attached garage and non-living spaces.
Many houses have several rooms with specialized functions. These may include a living/eating area, a sleeping area, and (if suitable facilities and services exist) washing and lavatory areas. In traditional agriculture-oriented societies, domestic animals such as chickens or larger livestock (like cattle) often share part of the house with human beings. Most conventional modern houses will at least contain a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen (or kitchen area), and a living room. A typical "foursquare house" (as pictured) occurred commonly in the early history of the United States of America, with a staircase in the center of the house, surrounded by four rooms, and connected to other sections of the house (including in more recent eras a garage).
The names of parts of a house often echo the names of parts of other buildings, but could typically include:
In the United States, modern house-construction techniques include light-frame construction (in areas with access to supplies of wood) and adobe or sometimes rammed-earth construction (in arid regions with scarce wood-resources). Some areas use brick almost exclusively, and quarried stone has long provided walling. To some extent, aluminum and steel have displaced some traditional building materials. Increasingly popular alternative construction materials include insulating concrete forms (foam forms filled with concrete), structural insulated panels (foam panels faced with oriented strand board or fiber cement), and light-gauge steel framing and heavy-gauge steel framing.
More generally, people often build houses out of the nearest available material, and often tradition and/or culture govern construction-materials, so whole towns, areas, counties or even states/countries may be built out of one main type of material. For example, a large fraction of American houses use wood, while most British and many European houses utilize stone or brick.
In the 1900s, some house designers started using prefabrication. Sears, Roebuck & Co. first marketed their Houses by Mail to the general public in 1908. Prefab techniques became popular after World War II. First small inside rooms framing, then later, whole walls were prefabricated and carried to the construction site. The original impetus was to use the labor force inside a shelter during inclement weather. More recently builders have begun to collaborate with structural engineers who use computers and finite element analysis to design prefabricated steel-framed homes with known resistance to high wind-loads and seismic forces. These newer products provide labor savings, more consistent quality, and possibly accelerated construction processes.
Lesser-used construction methods have gained (or regained) popularity in recent years. Though not in wide use, these methods frequently appeal to homeowners who may become actively involved in the construction process. They include:
Forms of (relatively) simple shelter may include:
Houses of particular historical significance (former residences of the famous, for example, or even just very old houses) may gain a protected status in town planning as examples of built heritage and/or of streetscape values. Plaques may mark such structures.
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