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Differences Between a Split-Level and Two-Story Home Design

Split-Level vs. Two-Story: Which House Plan is Best for You? 


When choosing the floor plan for your home, you might have already decided that you would like multiple floors. Your mind might immediately say, " Well, I must need a two-story home.” However, other options might work better for you, depending on the terrain of your lot and your desired design aesthetics. The second option is a split-level style home.

Two-story and split-level homes have multiple levels, but they aren’t exactly the same. Each option has a variety of pros and cons, and there isn’t a choice that’s inherently better across all building situations. It comes down to your unique tastes, needs, and location.

If you can’t decide which option might be best for you or are just curious about the differences, read on.


Image of a four bedroom, four bath modern style home with 2-car garage

This stunning modern home offers plenty of privacy with four bedrooms, four baths, and over 3200 square feet of living space. The multi-levels of this home also include an open floor plan, kitchen, and primary suite on the main level, while the other two levels offer additional bedrooms and living space. Plan #205-1006


What is a Split-Level Home?

Essentially, a split-level house is a home with multiple living spaces spread over three or more levels. These levels are interconnected by short, half-flights (if not less) of stairs—usually, at least three levels to a split-level home, not including the basement.

The three levels are usually around a larger living space on the main floor, including the home's central gathering, eating, and cooking areas. Then, on smaller half floors branching up and down from here are a network of bedrooms, bathrooms, offices, hobby rooms, and more. The basement is typically two flights of stairs down from the main living area. You usually have to walk up at least a half flight of stairs to enter the home.

Sometimes, split-level houses are called “tri-level homes” as they typically have at least three distinct levels of living. They gained popularity in suburban America in the 1950s and were seen as an affordable housing option by many families then.

They can be split up in several different ways. In most examples, the staircase used to navigate the levels is the center of the home. However, only one side of the house might be split level while the rest is a traditional one-story. This is more common if a home is built into a hill or the topography of the home’s lot is particularly uneven.


Image of five bedroom, five bath traditional home with craftsman influences, 3-car garage, and front porch

This fabulous traditional home with craftsman influences offers plenty of space for a large family. Boasting five bedrooms, five baths, and over 3,700 square feet of living space, this multi-level home offers a welcoming front porch, an open floor plan, a kitchen with a walk-in pantry, a home office, and a media room. Plan #115-1290


Pros of a Split-Level Home

There are plenty of positive reasons to choose a split-level home. Here are a few of our favorites.

Bay windows

Most split-level homes have large windows to take advantage of natural light in an otherwise segmented home. If you enjoy the look of bay windows or picture windows, you might want a split-level house, as plenty of plans come with these features.

Finished basement

If you live in a part of the country where water levels allow for basement construction, most split-level homes have a finished basement space. This means that you have extra space for a guest suite, hobby room, or even a home office readily available.

Plenty of privacy

Some families enjoy the ample privacy that living in a split-level home provides. Teenagers can have more space from their parents as they grow up, while parents can enjoy Netflix in the family room past bedtime without worrying about waking up the little ones in their earlier years.


Image of a modern three-story, 3 bedroom, 3.5 bath home with a small balcony and a large balcony.

Are you looking for a three-bedroom modern house plan to enjoy your view? This stylish three-story home is just what you need. In addition to the three bedrooms, this house plan offers 3.5 baths, a spacious open floor plan, an owner's suite with a balcony, and a great entertaining space with a bonus room and wet bar. Plan #196-1221


Cons of a Split-Level Home

Of course, there are just a few things to be wary of if you consider purchasing or building a split-level home.

The stairs

This one is definitely a given. All the stairs involved with a split-level home can come with many downsides. Childproofing multiple flights of stairs might be annoying, but navigating the stairs as you age can be just as frustrating.

If anyone in your family has problems with mobility (or you anticipate you might, even temporarily, like after surgery), a split-level home and all its stairs might present a problem.

Remodeling Concerns

Because so many parts of a split-level home are essentially stacked right on top of each other, remodeling this style of house can present unique challenges.  If you plan to update your split-level home, you might need to enlist a contractor with more specific experience, meaning the overall cost of the endeavor might be much higher.

Reselling concerns

Because of all the stairs, newer homeowners might have concerns about purchasing a split-level home. They don’t tend to sell as fast because they are more of a niche-style home. In addition to the remodeling concerns, split-level homes sit on the market longer. If you don’t plan to stay in a split-level long-term, consider this before purchasing it.


Image of a traditional 2-story home with a front porch, 3 bedrooms and a 2-car garage.

This striking two-story home with craftsman influences offers three bedrooms, 2.5 baths, a 2-car garage, and 2,025 square feet of living space. The breezy open floor plan is perfect for entertaining. The optional finished basement would add 1,025 square feet of living space, a bedroom, a bath, and a home office (or an extra bedroom if you prefer). Plan #187-1181

What is a Two-Story Home?

A two-story home has a full or half story on its second level. The two stories are typically linked by one main staircase. However, there might be two sets of stairs in some larger homes. The first is in a more public area of the house and typically grander; the second is more private and meant for everyday use. Two-story homes are widely popular in all regions of the United States and abroad.


Pros of a Two-Story Home

Classic two-story homes are popular for many Americans, and it's easy to see why.

Cheaper building costs

When you build a two-story home, you get double the square footage for a smaller cost. This is because you only have to pay for one foundation, contractor, roof, etc. If you think you might need more room eventually, popping on a second story doesn’t increase the costs nearly as much as you might think.

Plenty of privacy

Two-story homes allow you to separate living and sleeping spaces. While the primary suite is typically on the main level, it doesn’t have to be. If you enjoy entertaining or want your children to have their own space away from the central part of the house, a two-story home is an excellent option.

Opportunities for a great view

If you live in an area with something to see, like mountains, a lake, or even a local landmark, a second story can be an excellent way to see over the most immediate obstructions and get a chance to enjoy the view.

Resells well 

Classic two-story homes tend to resell at the same rates as one-story homes. If you don’t plan to live in a two-story home forever, you don’t need to be concerned about the one staircase standing in the way of a quick and painless selling process.

Image of a barn-style home with three levels, 3 bedrooms, 2.5 baths, a 3-car garage and lots of storage.

This lovely three-bedroom barndominium plan offers plenty of space for living and working. The main level offers a 3-car garage, two offices, a guest room, a bunk room, and 1.5 baths. The two upper levels provide an owner's suite, a kitchen, a living area, a game room, an additional 1.5 baths, and lots of storage. This three-story home has plenty of room for privacy or family time. Plan #108-2049


Cons of a Two-Story Home

There are two main downsides to a traditional two-story home. Predictably, there are the following things:

Possible ceiling height restrictions

When a home has a second story, it does add limitations to the downstairs floor plan. That is, while an open first floor with high ceilings is currently a very sought-after style, if you have another floor on top, there is a limit to the height of your ceilings.

Accessibility concerns

Just as with a split-level home, there can be concerns about being able to use the second story should you or a member of your family have issues with stairs. However, the issue is slightly less pressing than with a split-level home, as there is likely just one main staircase in a classic two-story residence rather than several.


Image of a 3-bedroom cottage plan with wrap-around porch and a walkout basement

This beautiful three-bedroom cottage house plan is perfect for a vacation home or as a primary residence. The open floor plan offers a spacious kitchen with a center island and seating, a main-level primary suite, a great room with a fireplace, and a big wrap-around porch. Upstairs, you will find two additional bedrooms, baths, and a bunk room (great for extra guests). The walkout basement is perfect for entertaining, with a game room, a media room, and an additional kitchen. Plan #193-1015


Split-level vs. Two-story: Which house plan is best for you?

The critical difference between split-level and two-story homes is the arrangement of the living spaces. A split-level home has multiple living levels centered around multiple shorter flights of stairs. In a two-story home, there are typically just two levels for living separated by one more extended flight of stairs.

Both types of homes offer similar perks, like separating public and private living spaces and more square footage on a smaller lot. Barring any accessibility concerns, the deciding factor between the two is a few more minor things.

So, before choosing, be sure to ask yourself the following questions:

       Do I plan to remodel this house?

       How long do I plan to live here?

A split-level might be for you if the answers are no to remodeling and yes to long-term living. Consider a more traditional two-story if you want to update things and possibly move.


If you have any questions about our house plans, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We have thousands of customizable plans available, and our customer service team can help answer any questions.

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