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Should I Build a Single-Story or Two-Story House?


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Hilltop House

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Rick Reynolds


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Should you build a one-story or two-story home? How do you choose one over the other? Aside from your personal opinion on whether you prefer stairs — or not — there are some practical advantages and limitations to both. So let’s look at them, starting with the two-story designs.


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Advantages of Two Story Homes

  • Cost less per square foot to build. That’s because the most expensive elements of home-building — excavation/foundation and rafters/roof installation — are being built on a smaller footprint. Plus, you’ll have less roof area to maintain.
  • More fuel efficient. You’ll save fuel because, per square foot, less outdoor wall and roof area are exposed to the weather.
  • Less distance utilities travel. You’ll save money (and potential headaches) because plumbing and wiring have less distance to travel.
  • Better views. When you are tree-height, your views are better.
  • Larger outdoor space. Since you are taking up less land space for the house, you’ll have more of it for outdoor living areas.
  • More versatile design. There are more attachment points in a two-story house for porches, connectors and bump-outs for either now or in the future.
  • Privacy. The upstairs bedrooms are more private, especially if you build in a neighborhood. If you have children, you’ll appreciate the second-floor bedrooms feature when your kids grow into teenagers.

"There are more attachment points in a two story house for porches, connectors and bump-outs for either now or future consideration."

Disadvantages of Two Story Homes

  • The stairway’s footprint. A stairway can eat up 100 square feet of living space and add to the cost.
  • Lack of variety in ceiling height. Ceiling (and attic) heights are typically lower than single-floor homes of equal square footage and can lack varied heights room-to-room. This could limit opportunities for skylights.
  • Stair accidents. Stairs present a potential danger for young children, the elderly, or anyone with mobility issues. And if you ever need to install a stair lift, expect to shell out thousands of dollars.
  • Construction considerations. A two-story house takes longer to build because of the second (and sometimes third attic) floor, the added staircase and sometimes a deeper foundation.

Advantages of Single Story Home

  • More living space per square foot. You won’t be compromising square footage (and money) on staircases.
  • Safer than two-story homes. Take away the staircase, and you eliminate the risk of falls for small children, the mobility-challenged and the elderly. Plus, evacuation is easier (and safer) than a two-story home in the event of a fire.
  • Easier to “age in place.” If you plan to stay in your home until retirement, there may be no need to move. One-story houses are easier to get around and are easily wheelchair accessible.
  • Quieter living. You won’t hear footsteps or other noise coming from upstairs.
  • Space-saving design. From a practical point of view, you’ll need fewer bathrooms in a one-story home since they are all on the same floor, which can save you money. Also, the mudroom and laundry room can more easily be combined, saving space.
  • More design options. One-floor living allows more variation in ceiling heights and skylights.

Disadvantages of Single Story Home

  • Expect to pay more. Per square foot, a one-story house is more costly to build than a two-story home. There is a larger footprint, meaning more foundation building and more roofing materials. And because the plumbing and heating/AC systems need to extend the length of the house, you’ll need bigger (and costlier) systems.
  • Less privacy. One-floor living means that you are eye-level with the rest of the world passing by. Of course, if you live in the woods that may not be true, but one-story homes in neighborhoods may feel exposed and less private.
  • Resale value may be lower. Two-story homes, on average, command higher prices, because the demand among families is higher. But that may change as baby boomers face retirement (and decreased mobility) and those nearing retirement want to “age in place.” This higher demand for single-story homes could mean valuation could surpass those of their taller cousins.
One story or two?

Still can't decide?

We're here to help. Contact us or call Bensonwood today.