Single Family House Definition

by | Last updated Feb 6, 2021 | General Architecture

A Single Family House is a house designed for one family to occupy the home. This is also referred to as  a home with one Dwelling Unit. A Dwelling Unit is a residential space dedicated for the use of one person or one family.

I am an architect in New York, so I am going to base this post mostly on vocabulary we use here from NY City and State Codes.

A single Family House is a any building meant to be occupied as one dwelling unit. A dwelling unit is a code term to signify a unit designated for one person or one family. Therefor a Single Family House would be a building designed for the use of one person or one family.

1 Family = 1 Dwelling Unit


How To Determine if a Home is Single Family or more?

The number of families or number of dwelling units should be listed in the Certificate Of Occupancy. Not all buildings and homes have a Certificate of Occupancy or C of O. If it does have one it should be listed on the C of O. If there is no Certificate Of Occupancy then you will have to do some records research to determine what is the legal number of families. Sometimes this is more difficult than it seems.

Private Home or Private Residence

Single Family Houses are often referred to as Private Homes or Private Residences. In New York City the Multiple Dwelling Law actually refers to One and Two family homes as a “Private Residence”. So always be careful how you use the terms. I do think most people would use the term Private House or Private Residence to mean one family but it may not always be the case.

Why Does It Matter?

Knowing the correct number of legal families for your home is important because all buildings and homes must be occupied legally in accordance with local zoning and building codes. It may be illegal to have more than 1 family in certain homes and certain locations.

Single Family House Zoning Code

Lets look at an example of Single Family House Zoning Codes. Zoning Codes determine what can be built. Building Codes deteermine how something should be built.

I grew up in a single Family Home in New York City. I know people get surprised to hear that there are areas in NYC with only single family homes. So the house I grew up in was in Riverdale within an R1-1 Zoning District. This is a New York City Zoning District, different areas may have the same designation but have different rules. In NYC you can only have a 1 Family House within an R1 Zoning District no exceptions. So if you wanted to convert your home to a two family in this zoning district it would not be legal.

Single Family House Building Code

Zoning and building codes are different but both are relevant to this discussion. Zoning Code will determine how many families can be on a property. A Building Code will determine how the house should be built. Here are some example of codes that would be necessary for building a two family house that would not be necessary for a single family home. these codes are based on New York codes. If you are anywhere else the codes may be different.

In 2 or more families you need separate kitchen and bathrooms for each family. You need a separate entrance either from within or outside of the home. You will also require fire rated separation between the units. If they are side by side or one above the other the floors and walls between families must be of fire rated construction in compliance with the building code criteria. These are just a few examples of codes that would matter if you have a single family home or more than one family.


Single Family Home Definition

As an architect, I study Building Codes and Zoning Codes closely, but these are complicated and quite involved issues. In this article, we reviewed some of the basic concepts with regards to Single Family Home Definition. This post does not assume to cover every possible issue or condition, but provide a general overview of the topic.


Thank you for reading our blog post on Single Family House Meaning.

I hope this was helpful. If you would like to speak with an architect, you can contact us at Fontan Architecture directly.


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Jorge Fontan
Jorge Fontan

This post was written by Jorge Fontan AIA a Registered Architect and owner of New York City architecture firm Fontan Architecture. Jorge Fontan has earned 3 degrees in the study of architecture including two degrees from the City University of New York and a Masters Degree in Advanced Architectural Design from Columbia University. Jorge has a background in construction and has been practicing architecture for 15 years where he has designed renovations and new developments of various building types.