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Home Architecture

What is a split level house?

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It is the typical style of a suburb of America. You would immediately recognize it when you saw it: a house with staggered levels (more or less obvious from the outside) connected by short staircases.

Aimed at the burgeoning baby boom generation, the split-level home flourished in newly built neighborhoods across the country in the mid-20th century. These single-family homes may not be as popular these days, but there are still plenty out there — and they have their perks, even if you’re not a master of midcentury modern style.

Let’s take a retro tour.

What characterizes a split-level home?

As their name implies, split-level homes have more than one story, but they don’t all run the full length of the house. Instead, they are characterized by several staggered levels, each connected by a separate staircase. “There are generally two flights of stairs from the main floor of the house, leading up to the bedrooms and down to the basement,” explains Marina Vaamonde, owner and founder of HouseCashin, a platform that connects home sellers and real estate investors.

Some split-level styles have a garage on the lower level, with a half-basement leading to it, and bedrooms above.

This is not to be confused with a split foyer or split entry home, where you have to walk up or down the stairs as soon as you enter through the front door to get to the different rooms. In a split-level house you generally enter on the ground floor, where a large part of the large living space (kitchen, living room, etc.) is located. On one side there is a half flight of stairs leading up or down to the next level.

Split-level homes are also often referred to as tri-level homes, three being the standard number of floors they contain, although some had four or even five.

External functions

Although they can be built in a variety of architectural styles, split-level homes generally share certain notable features. On the outside, they usually have:

  • Asymmetrical silhouettes (rectangular main level, squarer or protruding section containing the top level)
  • Double hung windows
  • Large windows on the main level
  • Low pitched roofs
  • Mixed material facades (mainly brick and wood)
  • Two to eight exterior steps leading to the front door

Internal features

The layout of split-level homes can vary considerably. But – in addition to their mini stairs – they often have:

  • Vaulted Ceilings (Upper Story)
  • Separate living, dining and kitchen rooms on the ground floor; bedrooms upstairs
  • Finished cellars
  • Attached or built-in garages
  • Multiple attics and storage areas
  • Minimal ornamental elements (mouldings, cornices, etc.)
  • Large French doors/sliders that open onto the living room

History of the split-level home

Split levels are essentially a variation of the one-story farm that developed in the early 1900s. They “are influenced by mid-century modern architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s open prairie homes, dividing the ‘public’ and ‘private’ rooms by half-levels,” says Kerry Sherin, consumer advocate for Ownerly, a home valuation company.

They came into their own after World War II, with the rise of suburban developments fueling the baby boom explosion of young, growing families. With its staggered levels, the style was very practical to pack into limited lots, leaving plenty of living space and a backyard.

“Split-level housing, which first appeared in American suburbs in the 1950s and 1960s, gave homebuilders the opportunity to cram more square footage into a smaller and more affordable lot,” said Dino DiNenna, a Hilton Head Island real estate agent. , South Carolina. . They were especially common in hilly terrain, as they could be built directly into the rock, rather than leveling the land or making other adjustments.

With its open landings and floors, the style also seemed refreshingly airy, spacious and “modern” to householders, compared to dark, small-room apartments or narrow townhouses. While 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 TV show The Brady Gang, which showed the blended family in a split-level house. After that, it started to look dated and unimaginative as architects embraced completely open layouts or revived historic architectural styles.

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Although not nearly as 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, as well as parts of Southern California, have the largest concentrations of split-level homes, which are still inhabited,” says Daniela Andreevska, real estate expert at Mashvisor, a data analysis of real estate investment. maintenance.

Different types of split-level houses

Different types of split-level homes are available. The main difference is often their appearance – that is, how obvious the staggered levels are from the curb.

Standard split

A standard split-level home usually has a ground floor entrance door that leads to the main floor. A short flight of stairs separates the other levels. The bottom level has a game room, den, family room or garage, while the upstairs has bedrooms and bathrooms. “This type generally features open floor plans, covering a fairly small footprint,” says Vaamonde.

Side split

Perhaps the most popular variation is the side split (it’s the one that comes in The Brady Gang). It shows all three levels from the front, with the bedrooms on top of the basement on one side and the ground floor on the other.

Back split

“The layout of a back-split ranch is almost identical to that of a side-split, with one major exception: It’s rotated 90 degrees,” says Mike Gregor, a realtor with Cohen Agency SiM in New Hartford, Connecticut. “A home with a split-level back appears to be single story when viewed from the curb, similar to a ranch-style home.”

Stacked split

The stacked split-level house has at least four floors, with the extra floor above the living area. There are several staircases connecting each level from the main staircase. The upper floor typically has accessory spaces such as casual living space, with a garage on the lower floor.

How much do split-level homes cost?

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

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

If you buy, split levels are often a bargain too. The range is wide and, frankly, they’re kind of out of style: the current 1970s-style revival doesn’t extend to these tracts. “In many communities with million-dollar homes, a split level can be purchased for $600,000 to $750,000,” says Sherin, even with cosmetic upgrades and the latest infrastructure updates.

Keep in mind, though, that many split levels may not have aged well: the youngest are over 50s, and they were often mass-produced properties, intended to be built quickly and economically for the mid-market. And if you’re looking for financing, Sherin points out that split-level homes may not be valued as highly as non-split-level homes of similar size, due to their significant amount of underground living space (which is lower valued square footage). , if it is appreciated at all).

Final word on split level homes

Split-level homes have their drawbacks. They have limited natural light, can feel dingy and look dated, especially to eyes accustomed to the spacious flow of modern, open floor plans and floor-to-ceiling windows. Due to their many steps, they may not be the best for the elderly or those with mobility issues. Their layouts can also be challenging to convert.

On the plus side, a split-level homebuyer may appeal to those who want separate living and sleeping quarters (as hybrid work arrangements continue, designated rooms are sure to make a comeback). Although rarely prestigious properties, split levels tend to be solid buildings, well located and offer good value at current prices. Just like then, they can work for young families looking for the proverbial starter home.

Basically, a split-level home can provide a lot of living space for the money and size. And that’s something that never goes out of style.