How to Choose Between a One-Story and Two-Story Home

By Brian Ford


Factors like age and demographic play a crucial part when it comes to deciding between a one-story and two-story home.

Photo: Unsplash/chuttersnap

Choosing from a large selection of new construction floor plans and options can be a daunting process for any new homebuyer, especially when it comes to deciding whether to go with a one- or two-story home. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons for each so you’ll be prepared to make the best decision for you and your family.

One-Story Benefits

Great for young and old. One-story homes provide a safer environment for older residents as the absence of stairs removes one of the key injury areas related to senior living. This also holds true for couples that plan on starting a family or may already have infants or toddlers in the household. Stairs and young children are seldom a safe match and will require the parents to install a network of blockades and baby gates to help avoid injury. One-story homes are also easier to evacuate safely in the event of emergencies such as fire or earthquake especially for occupants with limited mobility.

Easier maintenance. Cleaning a larger home can be challenging on its own without the need to haul equipment such as vacuums and mops up and down stairs in the process. This benefit extends to the exterior of the home as well when it’s time to clean the windows, power wash the outside walls or access the roof.

Abundant and easier design options. One-story homes are perfect for popular design elements such as cathedral ceilings and skylights. They also tend to be easier and faster to design as do not require additional structural supports or layout changes to accommodate a second story.

Less challenging to heat and cool. Since heat rises and cool air falls, it is usually easier and more efficient to maintain your desired temperature range in a well-insulated one-story home. Some larger two-story homes require an additional HVAC unit for the top story, creating additional building expenses and monthly utility costs.

One-Story Challenges

Cost more per square foot. One-story homes require a larger foundational footprint, which also leads to larger roof areas and plumbing pipe lengths when compared to two story models with comparable square footage. The need for additional property to build on may also become a factor when compared with a two-story layout. These factors can lead to an overall higher cost per square foot.

Smaller yards. Since one-story homes typically require a larger foundation, they will occupy more of your total property. If maximizing outdoor living space is a priority, a one-story home may not be your best option.

Privacy. One-story layouts may offer less privacy from surrounding homes compared with two-story homes that have second-floor bedrooms and baths that are more difficult to access and view from the outside.

Two-Story Benefits

More square footage for less money. A two-story design is capable of providing more square footage — often at a lower cost per square foot — within a smaller foundational footprint. If you want to maximize your square footage, a two-story home is usually your best option.

More adaptable to varying lot sizes and shapes. Depending on a lot’s size or location, it may not be able to accommodate a larger one-story floor plan, but thanks to the vertical building advantage of two-story homes, you can get a larger home on a smaller lot.

Separation of living spaces. You have the option to split bedrooms between two floors, which provides additional privacy and separation —something that can come in handy for households with teenagers or older family members.

Larger outdoor spaces. Owners looking to maximize outdoor space will benefit from the smaller foundational footprint required by two-story homes.

Two-Story Challenges

Potential hazard for children and the elderly. Stairs can present a challenge for people with mobility issues to navigate on a daily basis, as well as a safety issue for families with young children.

Stairs equal less square footage. Some of the cost savings per square foot that a two-story design provides can be negated by the up to 100 square feet required by the stairway itself. Stairways are not considered livable square footage, so keep this in mind when comparing the overall square footage of a two-story home with a one-story plan.

Construction times. A two-story home typically includes longer construction times due to additional foundational requirements that must be added to support the upper level.

Challenging to heat and cool. With the inherent nature of hot air rising and cold air falling, properly maintaining consistent temps within a two-story home is usually more challenging than for its one-story counterpart and may require the additional expense of a separate upstairs HVAC unit or a dual zone HVAC system.

Making Your Choice

You’ve likely surmised that much of this topic directly relates to a homeowner’s age and demographic. Younger families in search of maximum square footage for their growing family will typically be drawn to two-story homes while older buyers, seeking to age gracefully within the home, may prefer one-story layouts. It is also important for new home buyers to be aware of any dominant layout themes they may see within the communities they are shopping. Selecting a one-story home within a subdivision dominated by two-story models may lead to diminished resale values in the future. As you embark on your new home shopping adventure, use this article as a starting point in deciding whether a one-story or two-story home will work best for you and your family in the long run.
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Brian Ford spent more than a decade working in the specialty appliance retail industry and now devotes his time to freelance print and video content creation.


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