ELI5, why are wooden houses so prevalent in the US vs UK?


My wife is from upstate New York and every home is made from wood, I don’t think I’ve seen a wooden house in the UK. Maybe one or two grade 1 listed pubs.

I get the proximity to cheaper materials, the availability of brick, local resources etc.. But I also see it reflected in the price £400k, for a 4 bed in East Greenbush (outside Albany), vs £700k for a 4-bedroom brick house outside Chester (I thought roughly equivalent, if not weighted in favor of NY).

Surely there’s a market for cheaper wooden houses in the UK? What’s the deal?

In: 15

3 reasons –

1.the cost of construction is a relatively small part of the price of a house. Building plots are scarce and expensive.

2. Weather. We get a lot of rain and a lot of wind. Pretty much everywhere will get 80 mph winds every couple of years. Brick stands up to it better.

3. We expect houses to last. There is no culture here of rebuilding.

and tradition. We expect brick and would be dubious of anything that wasn’t.

“When European colonizers first came to the United States, they opted to construct many houses and commercial buildings from wood because it was readily available. Additionally, many settlers chose wood as a building material because structures can be built more quickly than when using brick or cement.”


Humans tend to stick with their beliefs and history. American history and folklore includes lots of wood. So…we just go with it.

Imagine trying to break people from fossil fuels when there are so many options available. As an example.

The short simple answer is that, at least in North America, it is far cheaper to build a stick framed house (wood) than any of the common alternatives.

A well build wood framed house will last hundreds of years even in snowey and humid climates.

Its not so much about tradition as it is about cost.

North America is covered by forest. Wood is plentiful, cheap, and easy to work with. In the vast majority of cases it’s more than sufficient for construction

Brick might feel like its strong, but its not. Brick construction pretty much falls apart if there is any movement of the ground, such as during earthquakes or when the ground becomes saturated with water during a flood.

The UK, like much of Western Europe, is seismically inert. Large earthquakes are unheard of and earthquakes that are too small to be reported in the US are considered to be major earthquakes that result in widespread damage – primarily to masonry buildings. The most recent example of this is the the 5.2 Market Ransen Earthquake that occurred in 2008.

There isn’t anywhere in the US that’s like that – the entirety of the country is seismically active and there are very few places where true brick construction will survive for long periods of time.

That being said, new masonry buildings are basically illegal to build everywhere in the western world due to the danger they pose to their occupants. There are a lot of old masonry buildings in the UK because they were built before modern building standards and there’s just nothing significant enough that’s occurred in their area to knock them down.

New “brick” construction is almost never actually real brick, but rather a textured vinyl siding that looks and feels like brick, but which is actually just a thin piece of plastic. Real bricks are occasionally used on high end projects, but they’re never structural and always have metal rods inserted through them to prevent them from collapsing during an adverse event.