Most people make the mistake of thinking that a split level home and a bi-level home are the same type of building. Bi-level refers to houses that have two levels accessed via a common entrance. Split-level homes, on the other hand, have three distinct levels, all separated by short flights of stairs. When comparing the two, distinct advantages and disadvantages of each come to the forefront:

  • Split level homes offer more privacy and separated living areas than bi-level homes
  • Bi-levels typically have an entrance perched between the two levels.
  • Split homes are identified by a bank of windows lower on one side than the other, as with a partially below ground basement-type family or recreation room.
  • Bi-level homes were primarily built during the 1970s, while split-level homes were built as early as the 1950s.
  • For the most part, neither type of home is commonly built nowadays.
  • Split-level homes have the common living areas on the main level -- including the kitchen, dining and living rooms -- with bedrooms on a level above, and a family room, rec room, extra bedroom or storage area below.
  • Most bi-level homes are modified Ranch-style homes, while split-levels come in multiple architectural styles.

Both home designs take advantage of the lot size by adding more house vertically rather than horizontally. Split level homes typically have more rooms than bi-levels, but may or may not, depending on the floor plan, have more square footage.

Rooms Underneath

A split level or bi-level home may have the garage beneath the home or set to the side -- it all depends on the architectural design or floor plan. Each new level of a split-level home begins halfway between the floor and ceiling of the closest level. Split-level homes were historically cheaper to build than bi-level homes, which typically have two full levels. Once children are old enough to negotiate the stairs safely, a split-level home offers the privacy needed for a growing family.

Multiple Levels

The main disadvantage of split- and bi-level homes is the stairs. For new or growing families, blocking stairways becomes an issue in a home with crawling babies or toddlers not yet ready for staircases. This is also a problem for aging seniors who have trouble negotiating staircases or fear falling down them. On the other hand, both home designs separate the living, active areas of the home from the sleeping quarters, which offers a measure of privacy and quiet.

Bi-Level Raised Ranch

Bi-level homes are also known as "Raised Ranch." A Ranch home sprawls rectangularly, in a U- or L-shaped floor layout, but the rectangular shape is the most common for the bi-level home. When you step into a bi-level home, you'll find one level up, and one level down, typically right from the foyer or entrance of the home.

Four-Way Split

Though most split-level homes consist of three levels, some include a fourth level that houses a partial basement. These homes are identified as the four-way split-level home.

Small Lots

Both homes can take advantage of small or hillside lots, because they both have small overall footprints on the land. Bi-level homes typically cost more to build because they usually have two full levels with more square footage compared to split-level homes with more rooms, but of smaller sizes.