Jul 12 2011

Can we debate two-story houses vs. one-story?

I do think I want a one-story house. But. The area we’re seeking has many more two-stories for sale and I wonder if I’m limiting myself too much by focusing on a one-story. Of what’s on the market right now in my price range and bedroom/sq. footage requirements, 20-25% are one-story.

So let’s talk about this.

Why I want a one-story house:

  • I’m lazy. Won’t have to climb up and down the stairs for laundry, bringing things up and down, or worry about the kids falling up or down the stairs. Or myself falling. I’m not the most graceful creature.
  • A one-story house is probably easier to get out of in case of fire. I guess you could get those fire ladders to keep by windows on the second floor.
  • I would like a second living area in our house to serve basically as a play room. I prefer to have the kids playing in the living areas of the house rather than in the bedrooms for the most part so I can keep a better eye on them at this age. The second living area MUST be on the main floor of the house for that reason, so if I go for a two-story, I’d just want bedrooms upstairs.

Pros of two-story houses:

  • You can often get a lot more square footage for the money here. Smaller footprint, too, so there will seem to be more yard space. Also, smaller roof than a same-sized one-story would have, so that would be cheaper to replace.
  • Maybe having bedrooms upstairs would help the kids nap without being bothered by household noises during the day?

What am I missing? Is it cheaper to heat and cool one type of house over another? What are your preferences? I’m curious for what other people think in part for resale value.

I think if I went with a two-story, I’d need all the bedrooms to be upstairs. Maybe another bedroom could be on the first floor for guests or something, but I’d want 3 upstairs, including a master suite.

Should I consider two-story options if it otherwise fits what I’m seeking, or might I regret it and grumble about the stairs every time I climb them? Are two-story houses better when the kids get older?



20 Responses to “Can we debate two-story houses vs. one-story?”

  1. I see the benefits and cons of both. When I’m old, I’m gonna want a one-story, to avoid stairs. But I like the idea of a multi-story house for my life before that time — smaller footprint for more square feet, easier to escape if there’s other people in the house (as in, other family members when you need quiet time, haha). I like the bedrooms on a separate floor from the kitchen. But really, as long as a house is cute and fits whatever I’ll eventually want, the amount of floors is really unimportant in the end (except when I’m old, of course). I think having a finished basement would be more important to me — for tornados, mostly, but I just feel like houses should have them. Dunno why! :)

  2. We have a ranch house and that’s what we wanted. I didn’t want to have to haul the vacuum/laundry up and down the stairs. We do have a basement and I LOVE it. That’s one thing that we really wanted. Maybe you can find a ranch with a basement?

    I would probably be open to looking at two-story houses, but if it’s something you think you’ll regret later, I wouldn’t bother. You may have to be in the house for a long time, and I would hate if you would regret buying it!

  3. It is a tough decision. Previously I had a two story home and now I have a ranch. I will say that the stairs really didn’t bother me, you get used to them. My kids did fall down them but were never injured (and we mostly kept a gate up to prevent the falls). The stairs in our 2 story were set up as 5 or 6 stairs, landing, then more stairs, so there wasn’t too far for them to fall :). Our ranch has 2 living areas on the main floor, which we thought we’d like to have one be a play area, but after a while I really got tired of the mess and clutter in “my space” so I’ve just recently moved some toys in their room (they are 3 and 5 so I feel ok about doing this now). Our 2 story also had a finished basement with a living room and a playroom (which we could shut the door to hide the mess) and I loved that set up. I do find the ranch easier to clean because no area is really “out of sight” if that makes sense. Although you are right, with a 2 story the kids can be asleep upstairs and you can get things done without as much worry of waking them up. I also remember our 2 story being warm upstairs in the summer (not unbearably but I as I kept the a/c at a higher temp anyway it would get kind of warm up there). Good luck in your search!

  4. Becky, you raise good points about messes in the main part of the house, and also when the kids are older it might be better for them to be playing elsewhere. It is hard for me to imagine what the kids will be like past diapers! So it’s really helpful to hear from moms who have older children and to think about what my needs and wants might be on down the road in just a few years.

  5. Personally, I’d say to at least look at two story houses. I’ve always lived in two story houses, and never thought about it as a negative as far as kids go, only with old age (and I assume that by the time you’re retiring you’ll have either moved or be able to sell this house and buy a one-story if needed).

    To address some of your specific concerns/pros for a one-story house:
    – our two story house has laundry upstairs – no hauling required!
    – most houses we looked at that had a second living area had that downstairs, with the exception of some upstairs bonus rooms. However, I do know many people who use an upstairs bonus room as a playroom and find that to be a benefit because it’s “out of sight”.
    – Baby gates can easily keep kids from falling, although if you live in a house with stairs, you have the added benefit of teaching them how to handle stairs younger and may worry about them less in public places with stairs (or at other peoples houses).

    Basically, personally, I think that several of your concerns about one story houses are only an issue in certain two story houses, and that there is enough potential to find a two story house that still meets your criteria that it’s worth looking at. That said, the second living area is one thing we gave up when we bought our house and there are definitely times I second guess that decision. Here’s to hoping ours is a 5-7 year house and not a 15-20 year house! :)

  6. Every two story townhouse I’ve lived in was so hot upstairs. Of course, these are rentals….
    I love two story homes that have a separate air unit for each floor.

  7. We are looking for a home as well and my mother in law is a real estate agent (I know). Anyway, she says that one story homes actually cost more to heat in the winter (warm air rises). She also says that energy ratings show that a two story house is actually easier to cool as well, dunno what that’s about, but we asked some friends about it and they seem to agree.

  8. So we bought a two story and a lot of the stuff you pointed out is totally true. Ours is set up like this. Four bedrooms upstairs and laundry. Downstairs living room, family room, dinning room, kitchen. I like the two story because sometimes at night I like leaving my bedroom windows open and I just don’t feel comfortable doing that with a ranch. We have a 1/4 lot and because of the smaller footprint it does seem huge. Falling down the stairs does happen. We taught all our babies to come down on their stomach feet first but there is always a point when they start walking that one tries to come down walking and they fall once. After that they are much more careful. The laundry being upstairs helps with not having to drag clothes down. The negatives I see, it does get hotter upstairs. We have ceiling fans in all our upstairs bedrooms and that real helps. Also you do lose some square feet in the stairs themselves. Just some things I’ve noticed.

  9. I live in Texas and here if you have a 2 story house you have to have two air conditioning units to get the upstairs and downstairs cooled. So, we have always opted for a one story. We have a split floor plan which means the master suite is on one side of the house and the other 2 or 3 bedrooms are on the other side. This helps it feel more spacious and separated if you need space away from each other. My only gripe about my one story home is that the laundry room is in the hallway where the spare bedrooms are and I have a hard time doing laundry when my son was young and sleeping. Now that he is older he actually likes to have the dryer on when he is going to sleep for some white noise. Good luck with your search.

  10. I grew up in a two-story house, and I think the different views on heating/cooling are interesting. Really, it depends more on the construction of the house as to whether it will hold heat/air better. I know the one I grew up in has horrible insulation. That is also the norm for this area. Also, in our area the construction of two-stories leaves a lot to be desired. As my realtor put it (who also does contracting work and repairs on these houses), if you don’t build a two-story right it can create a lof of repair work later on (stairs, beams, plumbing, etc). It’s a little bit trickier to accurately construct them than a single-story, therefor you see more that are built incorrectly. Moral of the story: find someone in the area that is familiar with the construction in the neighborhoods you are watching. My realtor was able to look up who had built the houses and tell me if I wanted to stay clear of them based on his past experience with their houses he had worked on.

  11. Can be more expensive to keep the upstairs cool in the winter, but most well-insulated homes today are not too bad.

    Some other energy considerations: Sliding patio doors?? What quality? Laundry–if it’s stuck in a closet get ready for towels and blankets to take forever (and later big sweat shirts/pants) due to the humidity from the drier having nowhere to go!

    A two story with a large open kitchen/family room that also has a living room or dining room can be nice–you can always put in partial glass doors and have a home office.

    Junk waiting on the stairway to go up or down!! Definite CON to 2stories

    Can be nice, when the kids are past toddlerhood, to have some distance when they are playing UPSTAIRS in their rooms with friends.

    Look at the neighborhood–are the majority 2 story? Then that’s what you buy.

  12. I like a two-story for the reasons you listed, but I’d just make sure that you are okay with the distribution of rooms on each floor. I am not okay having a master bedroom on a separate floor from the children’s rooms. All our bedrooms are upstairs. It’s not always ideal, but I like it. I think we did get more house for our money this way, and it would’ve been hard to fit a one-story of similar size on the lot we bought.

  13. Two story pro: When Roanin is supposed to be having quiet time, but he’s really running around in his bedroom, I’m directly below him in the living room. I can determine what level of activity/noise I need to nip so he doesn’t wake the baby. If he were across a 1-story in the bedroom section, I’d never be able to tell he’s too active until Cora cried.

    I like the obvious separation of 2 stories. Guests usually stay on our main floor, so I don’t need to worry about cleaning bedrooms/bathroom before every visit.

    Toteing laundry up and downstairs is certainly a daily challenge, but also daily exercise! In just a few years, that can be a chore for the kids.

  14. We didn’t really care about how many floors, we just wanted a house that felt good to us. We ended up in a 1 story, and I am SO GLAD! It’s definitely enough space for us, and I like having everything on one level. Our house is by no means huge, but it’s plenty for us, and reasonable for me to clean. This is a pretty lame reason, I suppose, but I always had to vacuum the stairs in my parents’ house. I HATED that chore. I do not miss vacuuming stairs.

  15. I saw you mention in another post that you wanted a ranch house so you would be so spread out from your kids. I have found the opposite to be true though. RAnch houses are long and from one end to the other can be pretty far. With a 2-story home you are actually much closer as far as hearing things go.

    There are gates that will prevent falls.

    going up and down the stairs is good exercise.

    I will not ever sleep with windows open on a 1 story home because I worry about someone coming in.

    On the flip side though, you have to worry about the kids falling out of a second story window. There are ways to prevent this though and they won’t be super little for long.

    Look for a 2-story home with laundry upstairs. At least look at them, while continuing to look for a ranch.

  16. We have a ranch and I wanted a single story for ALL the same reasons you listed. We like it. BUT…it is easier/cheaper to heat a two story house of the same square footage. The heat from the downstairs rises to help heat the upstairs, which is where you’ll be sleeping and you’ll be glad its warmer. Also you might have the option of putting in a wood burning stove to cut heating costs. If we do that in our ranch, basically we’d only be able to heat two rooms with it.

    Hope this helps. Good luck with your decision!!!

  17. We had a two-story house when we were first married (bedrooms and baths all upstairs), and now we live in a ranch house with a finished walk-out basement.

    There are pros and cons to both. I certainly wouldn’t rule out looking at two-story houses.

    What I would advise is this: Make sure that you could live on the main floor if you had to. That means you need a bedroom and a bath on the main floor in addition to whatever bedrooms are upstairs.

    That way if you ever (heaven forbid) have a broken leg, debilitating illness (or bedrest during pregnancy), you won’t have to worry about how you’re going to get round your house or use the bathroom.

    Don’t worry about the stairs. They make some incredible gates. Kids are pretty tough, and they have to learn to navigate stairs anyway! Besides… all those stairs are good exercise!

  18. Having moved over 15 times, in 7 different states I have lived in two-stories, split levels, tri-levels and ranches. And honestly…they all have pros and cons. None are glaringly more than the others. In fact my mother and I used to joke about how there was something special in each house that we loved and would have to take all those particular things to make our dream house! But I know that doesn’t really help you in your question.

    I think my biggest piece of advice would be don’t limit your search to one particular style. Be open to seeing all types of homes. You might be surprised at what you guys end up really liking. Someone else in one of the comments mentioned getting used to the stairs…I totally agree. I mean in the tri-level house we lived in there were 3 sets of stairs and I don’t ever remember them being an issue. And with ranch homes…you do have the issue of not really being able to separate your living area from your sleeping area. Everything is kind of right there…not good if you are looking to have the sleeping area as we were when my hubs was working nights. But I love the ranch home that we are in right now because everything is on the same level.

    So all in all…look at everything…trust me when I tell you, you will KNOW when it is the right house. Ranch or two story or whatever. The right house will just grab you and you’ll know.

    Happy house hunting!

  19. We have a two-story. living in Pittsburgh, a ranch is a hard thing to find, especially in our price range, so we didn’t have much choice. But as others have said, there are pros and cons.

    As Liam is getting more mobile, I can see it’s going to be a challenge to teach him to do the stairs, but also entertainment on those days of boredom.

    I do like that the living area is separate from the guest area – as long as the stairs are free of clutter, the bedrooms can be a mess when we have company and no one knows.

    We have a laundry shoot, which solves that problem.

    There is a lot of up and down the stairs, but some days it’s the only exercise I get!

    All in all, I don’t think you should totally eliminate two-stories from your search. Good luck!

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Hey! I'm Kacie, wife to Shane and mother to Jonathan (7), Vivienne (5) and Amelia (2) . I write about my family's finance: how we save money, improve our spending, and plan for the future.

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