What Is the Difference Between a Split-Level and a Two-Story Home?

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When you're searching for a new home, you'll come across a variety of floor plans, from ranch homes to split levels. While some people prefer the single-story ranch style, others prefer the vertical arrangement of space that you get with a split level or two story. Comparing the styles helps you decide which option is best for your family.


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Split-level and two-story homes both have multiple living levels, but split-level homes typically have three or four living levels instead of two main levels.

What Is a Split-Level Home?

A split-level home stacks vertical spaces similar to a two-story home, but it arranges the space between three or four levels in a staggered design. On one side of the house, you have a typical two-story arrangement with two living spaces stacked directly on top of each other. However, you have another level that sits between the two with shorter than normal staircases connecting them.


You'll often enter the home on the level housing the living room, dining room, and kitchen. This level features two short staircases: one that leads up to the bedroom level and one that takes you downstairs to a recreation room in the basement. The recreation level also typically has access to the garage. Some split levels also have a fourth floor that's even lower and staggered. The specific split-level layout can vary, but the general layout features staggered floors with shorter staircases leading to the different spaces.


Purpose of Split-Level Homes

The split-level layout was popular in the 1950s and 1960s when lot sizes were smaller but families needed three bedrooms. Families could get more space inside their home while taking up less of the lot space by stacking the levels. It was trendy and modern at the time, making it an appealing alternative to two-story homes, which also maximize lot space by building up instead of out.


Division of Space

Split levels and two stories can have similar amounts of square footage despite the difference in the layout. However, one drawback of this style is that the space is chopped up between more floors in a split-level layout. This can make each floor seem a lot smaller, and it can break up the flow of the house. Some split levels have an open design that lets you see into a family room or rec room on a lower level, which can help it seem bigger. It offers more privacy than a ranch-style home, though, since the bedrooms are on a separate level from the main living spaces.


Two-story homes have two distinct levels that are sometimes larger than the individual floors in a split level. This style still offers the separate bedroom level to give you privacy when sleeping.

Stairs and Accessibility

The entry for split-level homes can vary, but many of them have a set of stairs leading to the entry if it's not at ground level. They also have multiple smaller sets of stairs inside, which means you're almost always going up or down stairs when you move to different spaces. You also have more staircases to block if you have small children and want to limit their access to the stairs.


Two-story homes often have a ground-level entry that's a little easier to access. They have one main staircase that allows you to move between the two floors. Some two-story homes have a master bedroom on the main floor with the remaining bedrooms upstairs. This offers greater accessibility without requiring you to climb a lot of stairs if you have limited mobility. Ranch-style homes beat both split-level and two-story homes for accessibility if a family member requires a wheelchair or can't climb stairs easily.


Aesthetics of the Home

Split-level homes were popular for a short time. They aren't typically built anymore. For that reason, some people see them as dated, and you'll likely have to buy an older home to get the split-level style. It can take a lot of work to remodel a split level to fit your modern style preferences. However, it can be a fitting option if you like the mid-century modern look or want a unique home look.

Two-story homes are very common and account for a large number of new-construction homes. You can find them in nearly any style, which makes it easier to get a home that fits your preferences.