Before we did our first house-sitting gig in Europe, we prepared ourselves for a life without a dishwasher. Surprise! Dishwashers are just as common in Europe as they are in the US. However, there were many other ways in which standard European kitchens differed that took some adjustment.
The difference wasn’t just in kitchens. There were many other subtle differences we’ve had to adapt to, that are consistent within a region but different to what we’re used to.. We’ve compiled them here, and we’ll keep updating them as we find new differences that are worthy of note.
Most homes have washers and dryers. They’re often such high capacity that you could fit a week’s laundry in them. Many have so many options that you might feel like you need a computer science degree to operate them. Apartment buildings will sometimes have a shared laundry room, but the capacity rule still applies.
Love the feel of laundry dried by fresh sunshine? You’ll probably have to do without. Whether you’re in an apartment or in a private home, it is often against local regulations to hang laundry on an outdoor line to dry.
Land of the 6 kilogram washing machine, which can only handle a few days’ worth of laundry. They’re also high-efficiency washers, which use very little water but take a long time.
Dryers are rare. Most apartment buildings have shared outdoor lines on which to hang laundry to dry. In winter, apartment buildings may have a shared indoor room to hang things to dry or you may hang them in your apartment.
Most homes have washing machines. If it’s an apartment, it is likely to be a 6 kilogram model, but a home will probably have a large capacity unit.
Only some homes have dryers. If there is a dryer it is likely to have far fewer options than a standard US dryer.
Refrigerators are large and can often accommodate enough groceries for a week or two.
Stovetops and ovens are usually one complete unit; it is rare for them to be separate.
Cooktops are usually gas, although induction and ceramic cooktops do occasionally appear. We know from personal experience that the old coil-electric cooktops are in use, but we’ve never sat a house with one.
Convection ovens are becoming a little more common but are still unusual. Most ovens have multiple racks; pans are separate and are usually placed on the racks.
Refrigerators are usually only large enough to hold a few days’ worth of groceries. In an apartment it may be a small under-counter refrigerator, a little bigger than a “dorm fridge” but much smaller than what an American would expect.
Stovetops and ovens are often separate but sometimes one unit.
Convection ovens are the norm, which can take some adjustment if you’ve never used them before.
Ovens often have only one rack, and have multiple pans that are fitted to the oven. There may be oven rails, but more often there are rails with ball bearings that slide out of the oven; the pan is then placed on top of the rails and slid inside.
Ceramic and induction cooktops are more prevalent in Europe, although gas cooktops are also still fairly common.
Homes in Finland have a “drying cupboard” over the sink. Each shelf is a metal grate. This allows you to put drying hand-washed items out of sight (and off the counter).
If you’re going to central Europe and plan to bake cookies or cake, you may want to bring your own baking powder; neither baking powder nor cream of tartar are for sale there.
Refrigerators are frequently large and can accommodate enough groceries for a week or more.
Stovetops and ovens are generally one unit.
We’ve seen a real mix of gas, ceramic and induction cooktops.
Convection ovens are common. Ovens often have only one rack, and have multiple pans that slide in between the oven rails.
Heat, Air Conditioning and Windows
In North America, homes built after World War II generally use air heating, and occasionally use radiant heat. You may find radiators in older homes. In the Southwest it is not unusual to have just one gas heating unit in either the living room or the bedroom.
Hot water generally comes from a central boiler. You may have to run water for a whole to get heat depending on where you are in the house.
Air conditioning is often central and piped in through air ducts. Older homes may have a window unit in one or two rooms.
Windows generally have screens.
Radiators are frequently used to heat even new homes. But if you’re in France, you may find that it’s tough to keep the home heated. Before 2012, requirements for insulation were minimal.
On-demand hot water for showers tends to be common in the UK, though we haven’t experienced it elsewhere in Europe.
Air conditioning is uncommon. When we have seen it, there are usually individually controlled wall units in each room.
Windows generally do not have screens. What’s up with that, Europe?
In Australia, heat and air conditioning are usually controlled through mini-splits (individual units) that are placed hgh on the wall in each room. Sometimes, in a smaller home, there will only be a unit in one room.
In New Zealand, radiator heat is common. So are extra sweaters as homes are rarely well insulated. (This isn’t just us saying this; only 60% of homes and 36% of rental units are insulated.) Air conditioning is unusual.
Central hot water tends to be more common, although we have experienced on-demand hot water.
Screens aren’t entirely absent but aren’t de rigeur either.
Shower curtains are very common on both showers and bathtubs even in modern homes. Shower cubicles (with doors) are also common.
North America tends to use siphonic toilets. These have more water in the bowl and need to be cleaned less frequently, but are more likely to clog.
Bathtubs with showers usually have fold out glass panels to block shower sprayage. These panels generally block about half the tub. Walk-in showers are also common.
Europe tends to use washdown toilets. These have very little water in the bowl. They rarely clog, but generally need cleaning after a poo. These toilets also have “half flush” and “full flush” options, so you can use less water if you’ve left less in the toilet.
In Australia, walk-in showers are very common. The occasional bathtub usually has a glass half-panel to prevent shower sprayage.
In New Zealand bathtubs are very common. It is not unusual to have a separate bathtub and shower.
Australia and New Zealand tend to use washdown toilets. These have very little water in the bowl. They rarely clog, but generally need cleaning after a poo. These toilets also have “half flush” and “full flush” options, so you can use less water if you’ve left less in the toilet.
Did we miss something? Let us know in the comments!