Is a Rowhouse the Same as a Townhouse?

It’s a discussion as old as attached dwellings. Well, maybe only since the term row house was established sometime during the 19th Century. But I wanted to explore some of the terminology used for attached houses in America.

I remember a while back, townhouses seemed to denote fancy and affluent attached houses, while rowhouses were working class dwellings of modest construction, at best. Then, you’d have particulars like brownstones, which are usually found in cities and indicate very fancy, very large, rather old houses in established neighborhoods, although Edith Wharton called them ugly at the time when building them was the rage, and many weren’t housing for the affluent originally.

However, over the last few years, I’ve noticed that even brownstones are being called rowhouses now. And why not?

Technically, row houses are several attached dwellings that are built at the same time. There’s likely some continuity of style in the elevation and façade. Materials used are consistent from house to house. Typically, the row extends most of the block. Rows include at least three houses. Party walls can be on the thin side.

This technique wasn’t widely used until the 19th century. Before that, you’d have attached housing built in an organic manner, with houses being added as needed, built for, and by, the individual home owner. My little rowhouse is an example of this, with our row of four houses being attached but built at separate times by different owners. Across the street there are 200 years of building, in different styles attached to each other.

So, call them what you will, townhouses, brownstones, etc., but they are all types of rowhouses. And, for most people, if you’re living in attached housing, it seems to be the trend that you’re calling your home a rowhouse as well.

3 comments

  1. Thank you for continuing to write insightful articles about rowhouses and rowhouse living. I subscribed when we decided to buy into a new construction in downtown Sacramento. Admittedly, the development is misnamed The California Brownstones. We have no brownstone, just brick veneering but we love it. Check it out when you get a chance. It’s a unique take on the rowhouse concept. We actually do not have shared walls but the 6” gap between the homes is covered to keep debris out and it gives the illusion of attachment. I never asked the developer but my guess is that this construction method was required to satisfy insurance issues. That’s all. Just wanted to share something different. Keep doing what you do and have a great day!

    1. That’s a nice row! We have some new developments in Philly that look just like those, although here, they are fully attached. My guess is that it’s building code, which varies from state to state, and perhaps due to wildfires? One of the reasons there are so many brick homes here, is because the big city fires of the previous 200 years, were still on the minds of the early colonialists and they wanted to avoid repeats. We have a few wooden houses but mostly it’s brick and masonry. We’ve had a few fires since I’ve lived here and it really helps to have solid brick party walls, that and the fire department here is amazing. Thanks for sharing your row and glad you liked the post!

  2. Thanks for sharing this. I believe the biggest difference between a rowhouse and a townhouse is the exterior. From what I read, they are both attached to other houses, but a rowhouse looks the same as the other units while a townhouse does not and has a unique look. You can read the article here: paradisedevelopments.com/blog/communities/row-house-vs-townhouse/. Or maybe the definition varies depending on the location?

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