There May Be More to Making a Choice Than You Think
Most of my life I’ve resided in two-story homes – or in upper floors of apartment buildings. From my grandparents to my schoolmates and a number of my relatives, two-story homes have been the norm.
More than anything else, the attractions of two-story homes for me were the spectacular staircases. I clearly remember my grandparents’ home, with its tall wooden staircase that curved on a landing leading to the second-floor bedrooms. My cousins and I used to talk about – and imagine – the dramatic effect when one of the granddaughters descended down that staircase for prom night or for a wedding. All of the girls thought that would be so awesome. And the boys, of course, could only think of sliding down fast and furious to the first floor on the bannister.
We all loved that two-story house surrounded by shrubs and shade trees. However, when one of my aunts and her family moved to a one-story bungalow in a subdivision lined with all these amazing single-level structures, my perspective shifted. All I could think about was the convenience of having everything on one floor.
Over the years, I’ve gone back and forth between a one-story or two-story home. Certainly, there are people like me who are open to either plan – or inspired by both. But because there can be only one choice for your dream home, let’s look at the advantages and limitations of both versions – and help you decide.
Why Would You Go with a One-Story Design?
As it rode the crest of the Post-War boom when the one-story ranch represented the fulfillment of the American dream, the single-story design was the trend across the country. It reached its peak in 1973 with one-story homes making up 67 percent of new home construction. While numbers have declined today, the one-story home still holds plenty of charm for Americans.
Can this be your dream 1-story home? The delightful 1,886-sq.-ft. Craftsman style home features a welcoming covered porch, 3 bedrooms, 2.5 baths, a family room with 11-ft. ceilings, a fireplace, and access to the rear deck (Plan #120-2563).
Forget the idea that you must sacrifice living space in a 1-story home. Just marvel at this wonderfully spacious Great Room in a 1-story, 2-bedroom Ranch home that features a dining area and a huge kitchen with two islands (Plan #161-1094).
2. One-story homes are simpler and less expensive to design, and they're easier than two-story homes to structurally engineer and can be built with prefab components.
3. Without stairs, there are fewer accidents and safer navigation for both children and elderly residents. A one-story home is also safer in an emergency. Considering all the forces of nature that we have to contend with – heavy storms that cause flooding, tornadoes, fires – a single-story home provides faster evacuation during emergency situations.
4. The idea of a “forever home” is more feasible in a one-story home because it’s easier to age in place in a single-level design. It will be easier to move and get around the house – plus, it can be made wheelchair accessible should the occasion arise.
Top: With its open floor plan, this 1-story, 3-bedroom, 2-bath Ranch style home provides plenty of comfortable space. There’s a charming covered porch that is a welcome sight to family and guests, a Great Room, a kitchen with an island and a raised ceiling. Since it’s a single-level home, it’s easy to build a ramp for wheelchair access.Bottom:With its wide hallways and large bathrooms, the floor plan allows wheelchair access throughout the space (Plan #120-1272).
5. A one-story home is easier to maintain and clean. Forget about the hassle of going up and down the stairs to do laundry or climbing a ladder to wash or paint windows and shutters.
6. A family can enjoy a quieter space. Without all the footsteps and the activities going on in the upstairs area, there is less noise around the house.
7. There are options for high ceilings and skylights in a one-story home, as well as the flexibility to open up the Great Room to a deck or patio.
This white and wood kitchen in a 1-story, 4-bedroom, 2.5-bath European style home features high ceilings and recessed lights that add to the bright and airy atmosphere (Plan #142-1204)
Top: This amazing Great Room in a stunning Contemporary style 1-story home features wide glass bi-fold doors that open up the space to an outdoor deck perfect for entertaining and cooking. The 3,264-sq.-ft. home has 3 bedrooms, 3.5-baths, a covered front porch, library, exercise room, game room, and other amenities. Bottom:Here’s another – exterior – view of the spectacular Great Room and patio of the home (Plan #202-1013).
8. Single-level homes can deliver energy-efficiency. By its nature, a one-story home can maintain temperature better than a two-story home. Less rooms mean less energy required to heat and cool the residence. In a single-story home, heat goes to the ceiling immediately, then spreads to the other rooms.
However, energy-efficiency is linked to the size of the structure. Sprawling one-level homes that occupy more space than a two-story home built on a narrow lot may become less efficient because of their design.
Now, here’s the flip side of all these advantages … and why you may have second thoughts about a one-story home.
1. While it’s easier and less expensive to design, a one-story home is more costly to build than a two-story one. Because of its larger footprint, a one-story home “requires more materials … for the foundation, roofing, and windows.” With plumbing and heating/AC systems running the length of the house bigger and more expensive systems are needed.
2. There is less privacy. Being on one level exposes the family to neighbors, passersby, and curious onlookers – unless you want to keep your shades down and curtains drawn all the time.
3. It is more vulnerable to unlawful entry by trespassers, burglars, and pranksters.
Is a Two-Story Dream Home for You?
Can you imagine Tara as a one-story home – no matter how luxurious the design? How could Scarlett O’Hara ever make that dramatic entrance except from Tara’s magnificent staircase?
This 2-story Contemporary Rustic style home with its rock and stone exterior, covered front porch and sun deck certainly has the wow factor! The home features 5 bedrooms, 5.5 baths, a media room, 4 fireplaces, second floor master suite, second floor laundry, game room, a loft plus more (Plan #161-1084).
You may not have Tara, Twelve Oaks, or other Southern Plantation style homes. But if you want elegance and a show-stopping staircase, the only choice is a two-story home. So, aside from the stairs, what other attractive elements come with this style?
7 Reasons Why a Two-Story Home Is Attractive
1. It’s cost effective – all the expensive elements such as the excavation, foundation, and roof installation are contained in a smaller footprint, so the structure is less expsensive to build than a comparable-square-foot one-story home.
2. There are health benefits to going up and down the stairs; and opening the second floor windows to let the fresh air in.
Who needs a stairmaster when you have these stairs to climb every day? The beautifully finished wood staircase in a lovely luxury home with Craftsman influences is not just for dramatic effect. Think of all the calories you can burn and the toned muscles as a result of navigating these stairs frequently. By the way, the home also features covered front and rear porches, patio, an open floor plan, four bedrooms, library, loft, main and second floor laundry rooms, a main floor master and a fabulous Great Room (Plan #161-1067).
3. A two-story home provides more privacy, particularly in the upstairs bedrooms; greater security and lesser risk for break ins.
One of the good things about a two-story home – as in this attractive Contemporary residence – is that you can feel comfortable opening your windows in the upstairs bedrooms and not worry about security and the prying eyes of neighbors and passersby. The home comes with 5 bedrooms and 5.5 baths, and a covered front porch. The manicured lawn with shrubs and trees to ensure more privacy (Plan #161-1084)
4. There are defined spaces – with the social/entertaining areas downstairs, and sleeping quarters – with more bathrooms – upstairs.
Top: A wide front porch with matching columns greets guests as they step into this charming 4-bedroom Craftsman style home. Inside the open floor layout is a Great Room, a kitchen with an island, and a casual dining area. Completing the main level are a mudroom, laundry room, a study/office and a powder room Middle: The first floor layout of the home illustrates all the entertaining and social spaces. Bottom:Go up the steps to the second level for the four bedrooms and three full baths. The master bedroom has an ensuite with a walk-in closet and his and her vanities. A jack-and-jill bathroom connects Bedrooms #2 and #4 (Plan #109-1191)
5. You can have a greater variety of design options for the exterior facade – from asymmetrical rooflines to dormers, arches, and more.
This 5,023-sq.-ft. Shingle style home with 4 bedrooms, 3 baths, and 2 half baths dazzles with its amazing curb appeal. There’s the lush courtyard entry and the exterior wall of rock, stone, shakes, and asphalt shingle roof. Check out the white columns on the porch, which are mounted on stone pedestals, the hip roof, and dormers (Plan #161-1038).
How about the look of a converted barn for your dream home? This 2-story, 3-bedroom, 2.5-bath Farmhouse style home features 2x6 wood framing, white columns on the front porch and perpendicular gables on the roof (Plan #168-1129).
Built on a view lot, this elegant 3-bedroom, 3.5-bath Country home exudes an English Manor feel, with its hip-and-gable roof and rock-stone-shakes exterior. The 2-story home features 2,443 square feet of living space that includes a covered porch, patio, loft, bonus room, main-floor master and laundry (Plan #180-1009).
6. There are better views of the surrounding natural landscape from the upper floor.
Imagine the views of blue skies, sunsets, rainbows, and the outdoors from the large windows of the upstairs living space in this 5,023-sq.-ft., 4-bedroom Shingle style home. Even the first floor allows wonderful views because of the lot incline and the walkout basement “elevating” the height of the main level (Plan #161-1038).
7. Finally, the two-bedroom design is easier to accommodate on most lots.
Disadvantages of Two-Story Homes
1. It’s the stairs – they can take up to 100 square feet of space and raise the cost of construction. Yes, they can be beautiful, add an aesthetic and dramatic element to the home – especially those grand, spiral ones. However, they can be dangerous since they present a safety hazard for children and older people.
2. Energy-efficiency is not a strong suit. Maintaining Indoor comfort/temperature levels is a challenge in two-story homes. It can be hot upstairs and freezing on the lower level.
3. It’s noisier because of the activity on both floors.
4. Ceiling heights are usually lower than the ones in single-level homes – so there is a lack of height variety from one room to the other. The lower ceilings also limit the option for skylights.
As you consider – and weigh – all of the advantages and harsh realities of both the one-story and two-story designs, ask yourself if it really matters which one you choose. You can make either one your dream home … because, ultimately, your choice comes down to your family’s needs and lifestyle.
The lead images in this article are (top) a spectacular 3,054-square-foot Traditional style home with five bedrooms with an eye-popping two-story Grand Room – for more details, go to Plan #198-1020 – (bottom) a charming Country style home with a vaulted ceiling at the front door and a Cathedral-ceiling Great Room. To view more details of this amazing home, go to Plan #142-1205