House and garden vocabulary

Here are some words and phrases to talk about your house and garden in English.

House structure

Unless you live in a block of flats or a bungalow (= one-storey house with or without an attic), British houses normally have two or three floors or stories. On the ground floor you’re likely to find the living room, kitchen and dining room, while on the first floor you’ll probably find bedrooms and a bathroom.

On the second or top floor is the attic, or loft. On the roof of many houses you can still see a chimney and chimney pot – even if the house now benefits from central heating.

The floors of a house are connected by stairs, with a landing (area) on the upper floor which leads to the upstairs rooms.

Construction of houses

Most British houses are made of brick and cement. In a row of terrace houses (houses joined together), the interconnecting walls are cavity walls: they have a space between them to allow air to circulate. On the interiors, the walls are covered in plaster, and then either painted or decorated with wallpaper. The internal walls of a house fall into two categories: load-bearing walls (those that are structural and support the weight of the floors) and partition walls (those walls that divide rooms, but can be knocked down.) Floors and roofs are supported by beams, which are long, heavy pieces of wood or metal.

Floors can be covered in a variety of materials, such as parquet (wooden squares), laminate flooring (a type of thin wooden plank), or tiles (either ceramic or vinyl). In living rooms and bedrooms, the floors are generally covered with carpets.


Houses are normally connected to local utilities, such as mains water, electricity and gas supply. In the countryside, not everyone is connected to mains gas, and some houses have gas tanks in their gardens. The vast majority of people are connected to the local sewage system (for waste water), but some people have their own septic tanks in their gardens to treat waste water. Houses that are connected to utilities have separate meters to show how much they consume. Representatives of these utility companies visit houses regularly to take meter readings – with which they can then bill their customers.

Wiring and plumbing

Some electrical jobs (such as wiring or rewiring = installing the electrical cables) should only be done by professional electricians, although you can still change a plug, or change a socket (the hole in the wall where you put the plug in to connect to the electricity supply). For safety reasons, the wiring in the house is on more than one circuit: lighting usually is on one circuit, and the sockets are on another circuit.

Some plumbing (water piping) jobs should also be done by professional plumbers. For example, although you can change taps, you should get a professional to install a gas boiler.

Home improvements

Some building work can be done without supervision. Many people enjoy doing DIY, such as putting up shelves, fitting cupboards and doors, assembling furniture and so on. However, for the big jobs, such as loft conversions and building extensions, you need to first apply for and obtain planning and building permission (from the local authorities) then employ a firm of builders.

In Britain, damp winter weather causes many problems to houses. For example, some houses can suffer from damp (humidity) or dry rot, caused by water seeping into walls and timber (wood). For this reason, houses have gutters (tubes attached just under the roof that run along the length of the house to catch rain water) and some may need regular damp proof treatment (special chemicals to prevent damp from spreading). Window sills (the piece of the wall – internal or external – in which the window is set) and window frames (the wood that goes around the window) should be made waterproof (so that water cannot get in), and most people have central heating via radiators to keep the air inside warm and dry. Special thermostats set on the wall help to regulate the temperature in the room. In addition, most people have insulation in the loft to keep warm air in, and cold air out.

(See our page on renovating, decorating and cleaning your house for more vocabulary.)


Gardening is one of the top ten hobbies in the UK. Here are some useful words and phrases to talk about your garden.

In many gardens you’ll find a lawn – an area of grass which is regularly mown (cut). In other gardens you can find a vegetable patch, a herb garden, as well as fruit trees, ornamental trees, bushes and shrubs (large plants that may also grow flowers) and flower borders (the edge of the garden where people plant flowers.) Some people have a wooden fence around their garden (to separate it from other gardens, or the road), but you can also make a more natural border with a hedge – plants that grow to a height of between one and two metres.

Gardening equipment and tools

Keeping your garden looking good takes a lot of time and effort! If you have a lawn, you’ll need a lawnmower (an electric or petrol-powered machine that you push) to keep the grass short. If you have a hedge, you’ll also need shears (like very large scissors) to trim and shape the hedge. Secateurs (which clip small branches) are also useful for cutting plant stems.

Gardeners also use other tools. A fork (like a large-size eating fork) is useful for digging up the earth. A spade (about the same size as a fork, but with a spoon-shape end, rather than a fork-shape) is good for lifting up quantities of earth. A rake (which has a horizontal piece of metal at the end of the pole, with prongs at intervals) is good for scraping up leaves on the ground. A hoe is good for scraping lines in the earth, because it’s sharp. You can make lines either to plant vegetables, or to remove weeds from the earth. If you are working in a small area, a trowel (like a flat spoon) is useful for digging around plants or making small holes.

Gardening work

Gardeners have different jobs at different times of the year. In spring, fruit trees need to be pruned. Pruning means to cut back dead or diseased wood, and to limit the amount of branches in the trees. This is also the time of year that you might sow seeds, or seedlings (small plants grown from seeds) or take a cutting (cut off a part of a plant to make a second one) of your favourite plants. It’s a good idea to keep seedlings (or plants that need a lot of light / warmth) in a greenhouse (shed made from glass) until the weather is warm enough to transplant them (move them into the open air).

In spring and summer, weeds (wild plants that you don’t want in your garden) grow quickly, so weeding is one of the biggest jobs. Some gardeners spray plants with pesticide (to kill pests – bugs). And tall-growing plants (like tomatoes or peas) need to be tied to canes (long sticks, such as those made from bamboo) to give them support. In the summer months, plants will probably also need watering, to keep them alive.

Plants grow best when the soil conditions are right. To enrich the soil, you can use manure (animal waste) or compost (vegetable waste) which add nutrients to the soil.