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Duplex Vs. Townhouse: What Are The Main Differences?

January 26, 2024 6-minute read

Author: Hanna Kielar

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As you search for the right house to live in, it’s important to know and understand the various styles of homes available to you. Duplexes and townhouses are two types of homes that provide slightly different ways of living, and their differences – sometimes a source of confusion – are worth exploring.

In this article, we’ll define duplexes and townhouses and discuss the key differences between the two housing arrangements.

Duplex And Townhouse: Defined

Before we dive into the differences between duplexes and townhomes, let’s first consider their definitions.

What Is A Duplex?

A duplex is a structure where two homes are connected, but each home has its own entrance for its respective residents. Duplexes can be single-story or multistory, and the two sides of the house are often identical or at least similar in style and size.

It’s important to note that even though these houses share a wall or a floor and ceiling, they’re separate in all other features. Residents will have their own utilities and interior rooms, and they might even have their own driveway and side yard depending on the location and size of the duplex.

What Is A Townhouse?

A townhouse is a home that’s usually connected to two other townhomes – one on either side of each wall. Townhouses are typically one or two stories high. Since both of the side walls are usually shared, the only windows and doors will typically be located on the front and back of the house.

It’s possible to live in a townhouse that’s located on the end of a row of townhomes. If that’s the case, you’ll only share a common wall with one home – giving you a couple of extra windows or a door, depending on the style of the home.

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Townhouse Vs. Duplex: What Are The Key Differences?

Let’s go over some of the main differences between a townhouse and a duplex.

Outdoor Space

While the amount of outdoor space around a home can vary with the land it sits on, a duplex home will most likely give you the most outdoor space since only one wall is shared. This means that duplexes might have a private yard in the front, back and side of the house. This often depends on the surrounding land the structure is built on.

Since a townhome usually has two shared walls, the homeowners will have limited outdoor space compared to a duplex. The outdoor space available for a townhouse is contained to the front and back of the home only. In some cases, townhouses allow for an outdoor deck, which can be placed off a second floor. This allows residents to take advantage of the outdoors without needing a big yard.

Number Of Windows And Doors

Another difference between a duplex and a townhouse is that duplexes will usually have more windows and doors because only one of the interior walls will be shared with the neighbor. This leaves three walls to hold various windows and doors for residents.

A standard townhouse often only has windows and doors on the front and back of the home. This leaves the resident with fewer windows and doors than a standard single-family home. As mentioned earlier, a townhouse on the end of a row of townhomes is going to only have one shared wall, which can give the residents more windows on the other side wall.

Exterior Look

The exterior of a duplex is unique in that it looks like a regular home that’s mirrored on one side. This gives the structure the appearance of two homes complete with separate entrances for each resident. Since one wall is shared, the house appears to be split in half even though it’s not.

On the other hand, the exterior of a townhouse isn’t split in any way. Townhouse exteriors are often similar because a homeowners association (HOA) decides the style and design of all the homes. All the townhouses in a row will usually have a similar color and are made with similar building materials.

Number Of Shared Walls

Even though only one of your interior walls is shared with your neighbor in a duplex, you might still be able to hear them depending on the thickness of that interior wall and what’s on the other side (a child’s bedroom, a room with a TV, a music room, etc.).

With a townhouse, the two side walls will most likely be shared with others, potentially resulting in an even louder living environment. But this, too, depends on the thickness of the walls and how much noise your neighbors make. That said, if you don’t mind hearing neighbor noise from time to time, sharing walls shouldn’t be an issue for you.

Maintenance And Upkeep

With any kind of home, it’s important to understand the maintenance and upkeep necessary to keep the house in good condition. Since a duplex has only one shared wall, you’ll pretty much have the same maintenance responsibilities you’d have with a single-family home – especially if there’s yard space on all three sides of the house.

When living in a townhouse, you can expect significantly less maintenance and upkeep since the only outdoor space you’ll typically have is a small front yard and backyard. Regular home maintenance may still be necessary, but an HOA will typically handle the exterior maintenance. Your HOA is usually responsible for cutting the grass, landscaping and various other forms of upkeep. This can be helpful for first-time home buyers, especially those who don’t have a lot of experience with taking care of a home.

Extra Fees

Before deciding whether you should buy a duplex or a townhouse, make sure you’re aware of any extra costs and fees associated with the house. Duplex owners may not have to pay for an HOA. However, you might have to personally perform all home maintenance and upkeep instead of relying on a property management company or an HOA to handle it.

On the other hand, townhouses usually come with HOA fees that you’re responsible for paying every month. HOAs take care of tasks like trash collection, landscaping and maintaining common areas like parking lots. Keep in mind that all HOAs are different and may not cover the same services.

Should You Live In A Duplex Or A Townhouse?

Deciding between a duplex or a townhouse is personal, and it’s worth considering numerous factors before deciding whether either type of home appeals to you. Generally, if you prefer a setting more akin to a single-family home, a duplex is probably a better option. But if you prefer less outdoor maintenance and are okay with having minimal outdoor space, a townhouse might work best for you.

Of course, cost is also a big consideration when deciding whether to purchase any home. The cost of duplexes and townhouses can vary with the real estate market, location, size, the home’s condition and other factors.

Duplex And Townhouse FAQs

Are you still unsure whether a townhouse or duplex is right for you? Let’s dive into some additional questions about the two housing options.

What’s the biggest difference between a duplex vs. townhouse?

The most significant difference between duplexes and townhouses lies in the building structure itself. A duplex is a single building that has two housing units next to each other with a shared wall. A townhome is one of many in a row of side-by-side houses that share one or more walls.

Because duplexes only have one shared wall, they often have more windows and doors than townhouses.

How are townhouses and duplexes similar?

Duplexes and townhouses both share one or more walls or floors with another residence. The two house types also both have private entrances for the respective homeowners.

Is a duplex or a townhome a better investment?

Whether a duplex or townhouse is a good real estate investment depends on several factors, including your local housing market and current financial situation. If you’re thinking about buying an entire duplex (as opposed to a single unit), for example, it may be worth the investment if you plan to use it as an investment property.

You could reside in one unit of the duplex and rent out the other. This could allow you to collect rental income while residing in your own, private living space.

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The Bottom Line

Duplexes and townhouses are popular home options featuring some similarities along with some key differences. The differences typically lie in the number of shared walls, the amount of outdoor space, the number of doors and windows, the fees involved, the maintenance required and the exterior look.

If you prefer a more private residence, a duplex is probably a more suitable option. But if you don’t mind being near your neighbors on either side of your dwelling, a townhouse might be the perfect type of home for you.

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Hanna Kielar Headshot

Hanna Kielar

Hanna Kielar is a Section Editor for Rocket Auto, RocketHQ, and Rocket Loans® with a focus on personal finance, automotive, and personal loans. She has a B.A. in Professional Writing from Michigan State University.