Things you won’t find in base housing that are “standard” in most off-base homes:
I used to love to watch HGTV. Who doesn’t enjoy shows about beautiful homes, first-time home buyers, and crazy renovation stories? When we lived off-base in our first house, I found those shows fun and inspiring. But at our last two bases, we have lived on base, in government housing. And now I find myself frustrated by these civilian couples who truly don’t realize how good they have it. He wants a man-cave, she wants a breakfast nook, and they have a budget close to a million dollars. That can’t be real life, can it? Because that is not what we find in base housing.
Should we live on base or off base?
To be honest, I actually like living on base. But that doesn’t mean it is perfect for everyone. Or that I can’t occasionally complain about it. The debate whether military families should live on base or off base really depends on the family and the base. There were times in our marriage where it made the most sense to live off base. There were other times where it made more sense to live on base. We usually decided based on what housing we would qualify for. This is determined at each base by the service member’s rank and number of children. Some bases have newer homes or nice renovations for higher ranks. At other locations, housing has been basically unchanged since it was built in the 1960’s. And anyone who watches HGTV can tell you that housing standards have changed a LOT since the 1960’s. Here are some things that are “standard” off base, but won’t be found in most base homes
What you WON’T find in base housing:
Architectural details and character: Base housing is usually designed to be simple, cheap, and compact. Inside, you will not find bay windows, wainscoting, tray ceilings, recessed lighting, or any Craftsman-style charm. The walls are always white (although you are allowed to paint them).
Master Suite: Most base houses do have a Master bedroom and bathroom, often attached. But they aren’t very large. Some housing cannot accommodate a king sized bed. And our “Master” bath is no bigger than the guest bathroom. Sitting rooms and man caves? Forget about it.
Climate control: Even in hot climates, base housing does not always include air conditioning. And sometimes, window AC units are not allowed because the power grid could not support it for every home. Ceiling fans are usually provided instead. Yay.
Large backyard: If you have pets, this is a big factor in the choice to live on or off base. Base housing generally has small yards. And they aren’t always fenced. And housing usually limits each house to only 2 dogs. On a plus side though, base housing usually includes dog parks, nice playgrounds, and swimming pools.
Large bathrooms: If you have visions of a bathroom with his and her sinks, a large soaking tub, or a rain shower, then you had better look off base. Base housing only includes 1 bathroom per 3 people, and they are tiny. As in, I can barely bathe my children in the tub because the toilet blocks half the room. Which is why sharing the bathroom is one thing I don’t miss during deployment.
Walk-in closets: Our first house OFF base had a walk-in closet in the Master bedroom, with plenty of room for both our clothes. There was also a walk-in pantry in the kitchen. Our current base housing has… 1 tiny closet in the bedroom that barely fits all his uniforms.
Fireplace: A fireplace is either a nice focal point in historic homes, or a beautiful luxury in modern homes. It is not something you will find in base housing. So, you will have to get creative in hanging the Christmas stockings.
Built-in storage: It would be amazing if base housing ever included bookshelves or built-in cabinets. Then we wouldn’t need to drag our own 5 bookshelves and 3 wall-mounted shelves to each duty station. But alas, no. Base housing is BYOB: Bring Your Own Bookshelves.
2-car garages: Some newer homes on base do have large garages. But older base housing was built after WWII, when families only owned 1 car. So the garages in our base housing neighborhood barely fit 1 modern car. Instead, they are used as much-needed storage space. Because where else are you going to store all that military gear?
Granite countertops: Haha, no. Base housing kitchens have the cheapest possible materials, which means plastic or tile countertops. They usually have scratches from previous tenants, and are difficult to get clean.
Stainless steel appliances: While it is nice that base housing includes a stove and refrigerator, they are usually cheap models, never steel. My current stove came with a melted hole around the timer control button. Most base houses do NOT include a microwave or washer and dryer.
Basements or attics: I don’t know if these are omitted for safety and cleanliness reasons, because we have always lived near a coastal area, or if it is just cheaper to build houses without them. Has anyone ever seen base housing with an attic or basement?