What is a Split Level Home?

Suburban America is a quintessential metaphor. You’ll know it right away if you see it: a stairwell (more or less clear from the outside) connected by short flights of stairs.

With the booming baby-boom generation in mind, the split-level home boomed in newly built neighborhoods across the country in the mid-1900s. These single-family homes may not be as popular today, but there are still plenty of them around—and even if you’re not a Mid-Century Modern style connoisseur, they have their merits.

Let’s take a tour of the latter.

What distinguishes a split level home?

As the name suggests, split houses have more than one floor, but not all of them run the full length of the house. Instead, they are characterized by multiple levels, each connected at a different level. “There are generally two levels of stairs from the main story of a house, upstairs to the bedrooms and downstairs,” explains Marina Vaamonde, owner and founder of House Cash, a platform that connects home sellers and real estate investors.

Some split levels have a garage on the lower level, a half-basement attached to it, and bedrooms above it.

This is not to be confused with a split foyer or split house, which requires climbing up or down the stairs as soon as you enter the front door to get to the different rooms. In a split-level home, you generally enter the ground floor, which contains many of the main living areas (kitchen, living room, etc.). On one side, there is a half flight leading up or down to the next level.

Detached houses are also often called three-levels, with three being the standard number of floors – although some have four or five.

External features

Although they can be built in a variety of architectural styles, split homes generally share some significant features. Externally, they usually include:

  • Asymmetric shapes (rectangular main step, square or oval with top step)
  • Double-hung windows
  • Large picture windows on the main level
  • Low ceilings
  • Mixed-material facades (especially brick and wood)
  • Two to eight external steps leading to the entrance door

Internal characteristics

The interior design of split houses can vary greatly. But – in addition to their small stairwells – they are often characterized by:

  • Cathedral roofs
  • Separate living, dining and kitchen areas on the main floor; Bedrooms on the upper floor
  • Finished bases
  • Attached or built-in garages
  • Many attic spaces and storage areas
  • Minor decorative features (sculptures, cornices, etc.)
  • Large patio doors/sliders leading off the main living area

Split level house history

Split levels are essentially variations on the one-story ranch house of the early 20th century. “Mid-century modern architect Frank Lloyd Wright was influenced by the one-story, open-concept prairie houses, dividing the ‘public’ and ‘private’ rooms in half,” says Kerry Sherin, a consumer advocate at home appraisal firm Ownerly.

The growth of the suburbs that came into their own after World War II led to a baby boom explosion of young and growing families. With staggered steps, the style was very practical to pack into limited land parcels allowing for plenty of living space and a backyard.

“First seen in rural America in the 1950s and 1960s, split-level homes gave home builders the opportunity to pack in more square footage at a smaller, more affordable price,” said Dino Dinena, a real estate broker in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. . They are especially widespread in hilly areas because they can be built directly on the bed instead of leveling the ground or making other adjustments.

With its open spaces and floors, the style is also dark, compared to small-room apartments or narrow townhouses, the residents of the house seemed to have a refreshing air, spacious and “modern”. Even though the standard split level was technically only two stories, it often felt like more because of all the different levels.

The design’s popularity peaked in the 1960s and 1970s, coinciding with the television show The Brady Bunch, which showed a blended family living in a divided house. After that, it seemed outdated and unimaginative as architects embraced completely open layouts or developed historic architectural styles.

Although not popular today, split-level homes are still being built. They are especially common in states with mountainous or uneven terrain. “Southwestern states such as Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and parts of southern California have a large proportion of detached houses, which continue to be residential today,” says Daniela Andreevska, real estate investment data analysis expert at MashVisor. Service.

Split houses of different levels

There are many types of split homes. The key difference is often their appearance – that is, how clear the stacked steps are from a peripheral view.

Normal division

A typical split-level home typically has a ground-level entrance that leads to the main floor. A set of short steps divides the other steps. The lower level features a playroom, den, family room or garage, while the upper level has bedrooms and bathrooms. “This type generally has open floor plans that cover a small amount of space,” says Vamonde.

Side parting

Perhaps the most popular variety is the side split (featured here The Brady Bunch). It shows all three levels from the front, the bedrooms are arranged on the basement floor on one side and on the main floor on the other.

Back split

“The layout of a back split ranch is similar to a side split, except for one significant difference: it’s rotated 90 degrees,” says Mike Gregor, CM Realtor of The Cohen Agency in New Hartford, Connecticut. “A rear split-level home looks like it’s one story from the side, like a ranch-style home.”

Stacked crack

A stacked split-level home has at least four floors, with the additional floor above the main living space. There are several flights of stairs connecting each level to the main level. The upper floor typically has adjoining rooms such as an informal living area, while the lower floor has a garage.

What do split houses cost?

If you’re building, a split-level is a more economical choice than a traditional two-story home because it uses less materials and requires less labor to build, says Jennifer Spinelli, founder and CEO of Watson Buy in Denver.

According to Moving Astute founder Joshua Haley, “The average cost to build a split-level home is about $100 per square foot, and they sell for 10 percent more than their construction cost. That $100-square-foot figure is on the low end for new home construction.

If you’re shopping, split levels are often a bargain as well. The supply is wide and in fact they are unfashionable: the current revival does not extend to these tract houses in the style of the 1970s. “A split-level home in many multi-million dollar communities can be purchased for $600,000 to $750,000,” including cosmetic upgrades and recent infrastructure upgrades, Sherin says.

Note, however, that many split levels have not aged well: the smallest of them is 50-something, and they were often mass-produced properties, built quickly and economically for the middle market. Also, if you’re looking for financing, Sherin points out, split-level homes may not weigh the same size as undivided homes, because of the large amount of basement livable space (which is less valuable square footage, if it’s worth it at all).

A final word on split level homes

Split houses have their drawbacks. Natural light is limited, they can feel starved and look dated, especially to eyes used to spacious contemporary, open floor plans and floor-to-ceiling windows. Their large number of steps means they may not be the best for the elderly or people with mobility issues. Their position can also be challenging to change.

On the plus side, a split level appeals to homebuyers looking for separate living and bedroom areas (as hybrid work arrangements continue, split-level rooms are definitely making a comeback). Although rarely high-end properties, split-levels are usually solid construction, well-located and offer good value at current prices. As it is now, they can work for young families looking for the ideal starter home.

In short, a split level home can offer a lot of living space for the money and size. This is something that never goes out of style.

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