Korea is a very small country dotted everywhere by small mountains, so available land to build homes for their population of 45 million people is very sparse. For this reason, 80% of Koreans live in some form of apartment building. Flying into Incheon International airport will give first-time visitors to Korea a staggering view of forest after forest of 15-25 story apartment buildings
Unlike apartments in Canada or the U.S., tenants buy their apartments in Korea (although one can lease an apartment from the owner). Normally higher than 5 stories, apartment complexes usually number anywhere between 10 and 30 apartment buildings, with larger complexes having their own supermarkets, tennis courts, sports centers, playgrounds, and underground parking structures. A management office located on site takes care of maintenance and security for the apartment complex.
Most Koreans prefer apartments to houses or villas because of the convenience associated with apartment life. Schools, supermarkets, video stores, and businesses cluster around apartment complexes and offer almost all daily needed goods and services within a short walking distance.
Houses and Villas
Houses and villas take up more space and house less people and therefore are built less and less these days. Because of this, houses and villas tend to be either quite old smaller sized or new and spacious. Understandably, prices tend to be very high for the new houses and villas and lower for the older places. Today, most normal families prefer to live in new apartment buildings that seem to spring up like daisies everywhere, and only the richer people in Korean society can afford the luxury of a house.
Due to the cold winter climate, most Korean homes do not have many windows or doors. Ondol, a heat-radiating network of pipes under the floor, is used to warm certain rooms in the house. Originally, ondolinvolved circulating exhaust fumes from the kitchen range through flues under the floor. However, since carbon monoxide poisoning could occur if cracks developed in the floor, modern ondol systems instead pump hot water through the pipes to heat the floors.
Since heat emanates from the floors, Koreans sit and sleep on the floor to take advantage of the warmth. Traditionally, the floors are covered with lacquered paper which turns yellow with age. Nowadays the floors are covered with linoleum and gas (rather than charcoal) heaters are used to heat the water. Storage areas and bathrooms typically will not be heated which can make that late night potty trip a little on the chilly side.