What is a duplex? Complete guide to this home type

While living in a detached single family home may be the dream for many, the fact is: if you live in a relatively dense city with expensive real estate, it’s probably not a realistic one. But a detached home isn’t the only housing option with a house-like feel. 

A duplex features a house-like floor plan for a more affordable price than a single family home. It’s also an upgrade from a typical apartment or condo, with added amenities like semi-private outdoor space. 

For some families or groups of roommates, a duplex is the perfect sweet spot between apartment living and a single family home. Here is everything you need to know about this distinctive home style.

Duplex homes lined up next to one another
Duplex homes lined up next to one another

Table of contents

What is a duplex?“Duplex” can mean different things in different placesWhat is the difference between a duplex and an apartment?What are the pros and cons of living in a duplex?Is a duplex right for you?

What is a duplex?

A duplex is a multi-family home that has two units in the same building. These two units always share a common wall, but the floor plan can vary. Units can be arranged either side by side or stacked on top of one another, each occupying an entire floor or two of the building. 

Each unit has a separate entrance and there is no interior connection between the two units. If there is outdoor space on the lot, the residents of the two units must share it, or it will be partitioned. 

A duplex building has a single owner, who may or may not live in one of the two units. The owner of the duplex rents out either one or both units to tenants. 

Triplex and fourplex buildings are similar types of multi-family housing, with three and four units within them respectively.

“Duplex” can mean different things in different places

While the above definition applies to most parts of the country, the term “duplex” means something different in New York City. The Manhattan meaning is a single apartment with two floors connected by a staircase. This is a luxurious setup, but it’s not synonymous with the duplex building we’re discussing here.

It’s also important to note the difference between duplex buildings and twin homes, which are often confused for one another. A duplex is a property on a single lot, while twin homes are two half-sized houses that are connected by a shared wall yet lie on their own respective lots.

What is the difference between a duplex and an apartment?

There are two big differences between duplexes and apartments: who owns them, and the number of units in the building: 

  • Ownership: Duplex buildings are typically owned by an individual, who may or may not live in one of the units. The owner can either rent out one unit or both. Apartment buildings are more often owned by a corporation, investors, or a group. (This isn’t always the case, but it often is in big cities.) 

  • Number of units: While a duplex is a unit in a two-unit building, an apartment is a unit within a residential building or complex with multiple units. 

What are the pros and cons of living in a duplex?

In high-density cities like New York, Boston, and Chicago detached single family homes are simply not an option for most people (renters or buyers), due to both prohibitively high cost and lack of inventory. Duplexes can offer a desirable middle ground between a detached home and a multi-unit apartment building—but like all housing, it comes with trade offs. 


  • Versus a single family home: Since duplex units are more affordable to rent than single family homes, a more desirable neighborhood might be in your price range if you’re renting a duplex.

  • Versus an apartment: Rather than being surrounded by multiple other units in an apartment building, a duplex offers close proximity to just one other unit. This means fewer chances of conflict or annoyance. In the best case scenario, duplex houses provide the opportunity to become friends with a great neighbor.


  • Versus a single family home: Sharing a backyard, patio, or garage area with a neighbor may be challenging if you have different lifestyles. 

  • Versus an apartment: Unlike an apartment complex that includes common area and outdoor upkeep, duplex buildings may require you to do that work yourself. Since duplex houses are privately owned, yard work and such may be up to you.

Is a duplex right for you?

Duplex units are well-suited for roommates and families—small groups of people who share a home and who want a house-like setup, with more square footage and outdoor space than a typical apartment. Duplexes are also more affordable than detached single family homes, so they can be a smart way to live in a great neighborhood for less. Just keep in mind that you will need to be flexible and friendly with your neighbor.

Looking for a home to share with roommates? Bungalow offers private rooms within shared homes in the best neighborhoods for less than solo living options like lofts. Find a Bungalow near you.

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Move in ready homes and a built-in community so you can feel at home, together — wherever you are.