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Community and Q&A

Ranch vs 2-Story Home

jackofalltrades777 | Posted in Green Building Techniques on

Generally speaking, if one is looking to build a 1,600 sqft home, which provides the better energy efficiency and less expensive route?

Having 2 levels of 800 sqft each seems like it would be better from an energy standpoint since there is less roof area and everything is compacted in a smaller pad. Cost wise there is less roof area to frame, insulate and install a roof on with a 2-story. There is probably some cost savings in flatwork and foundation with a 2-story since the footprint is smaller.

Then I read about older people disliking 2-story homes due to the stairs. Yet most homes that are built in the USA are probably 2-story homes, is that right?

Any comments would be appreciated…

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  1. STEPHEN SHEEHY | | #1

    We opted for a single level. While currently reasonably spry, avoiding stairs as we age was a factor. Also, keep in mind that stairs take up quite a lot of space that could otherwise be living space. I've never measured, but I'd guess that a stairway probably uses at least 80 square feet when you include space at the top and bottom. But if you plan a basement, you're stuck with a stairway down to it, so the additional wasted space of a stairway going to a second level is substantially reduced.

    Building a two story house requires more staging, more work from ladders, etc. I suspect the cost advantages, like smaller roof and foundation, are not as significant as one might think.

    A single level, open plan house might be heatable with a single minisplit, whereas the same square footage on two levels might need two.

  2. JC72 | | #2

    Yes..2 story would be cheaper to construct. As for your comment about seniors disliking 2 story homes that would also be largely correct. Seniors also hate cold weather.

    The type of homes being build depends on climate and local market forces such as the cost and availability of buildable land.

  3. user-2310254 | | #3

    I've built two homes. The first was mostly one-story on a slab. The second home is two stories over a finished basement. We are now in the process of selling the latest home and planning to build a smaller one-story on a slab or, if necessary, crawlspace.

    As Stephen notes, you lose a lot of space in a two-story design. We also noticed that the second homes feels smaller even though it is more total square feet than our first house.

    If doing a green build, it is also possible to have more staging and labor costs on a two-story project. Our framer had to go around our place three times before the windows and siding were completed.

  4. Expert Member


    I don't think the difference between the two is significant enough to be a determining factor in which type you choose.

    As a percentage of the finished cost of the home, especially if land is included, any difference is very small.

    Other decisions, on style, type of foundation, materials, floor plan, etc. easily can have as much effect on cost.

    Circumstances unique to the site can make either a one or two storey build cost more than the alternative.

    Considering how important getting the right design for any site is, allowing a small cost-saving to dictate the shape and floorplan of the house doesn't make a lot of sense.

  5. kjginma | | #5

    If "ageing in place" (for yourself) or "eldercare" are considerations, then go for the single floor, no basement. Having no stairs means your elders are more likely to be safe/comfortable or folks can convalesce at home. You can have a tall ceiling and have a grand space with one story. There are some gotchas such as limited utility room space, extra foundation/roofing cost. Sometimes having a 'smaller' home is more manageable and less burdensome. Think about how much of your house you could actually still use if you suddenly had restricted mobility -- even a sunken living room would pose a challenge, let alone a full staircase.

  6. jackofalltrades777 | | #6

    I remember reading online somewhere that claimed a 2-story home is about 20% less expensive vs a ranch home of the same size.

    Although the consensus here seems to be that a ranch home would be equivalent in cost to a 2-story home.

    I noticed most Passive Houses tend to be 2-story and from what I gather the reason is that it is more of an efficient shape vs a wide footprint ranch.

  7. Dantama | | #7

    I'm trying to get the best of both worlds. I've planned a 30 x 40' one story plus loft house with a Kitchen/ living room on one half. A large master bath with a large bathroom, then another small bathroom for guests on the other half. Above that will be a loft with guest rooms. That way I have space, not much more expense than just a one story. And all the day to day living is on one level.

    I've planned for 9' ceilings, And then a steep pitch roof to give room in the loft area, with an open area over the living/kitchen area. So I'm trying to get a big feeling house, that is building wise basically a one story. But acts as a two story if you need the space.

  8. Robert Opaluch | | #8

    Its helpful to have at least one bedroom and bath designed for a disabled, elderly, or temporarily injured occupant. As Dantama mentioned, a two-story design could include those on the first floor, with other bedrooms and baths upstairs.

    Stairs are not navigable for those in wheelchairs, but otherwise you can build safer stairways for the elderly and other occupants. Children especially are at greater risk of tumbling down steep stairs. A stairway with a smaller rise and longer run is easier to step up, and has a larger surface to stand upon. Add one or two more steps to the stairway, to reduce the height of each of the stairway steps. The maximum 7.75” rise allowed by code, creates a stairway that is too steep. That rise is typically coupled with a shorter run of 10” or so. Typical formulas for computing rise and run include:
    Rise x 2 + Run = 25”
    Rise x Run = 75”
    The shorter the rise, the longer the run.

    For safety and comfort, we can design and build a safer (but longer) stairway rise under or near 7”, with the run over or near 11”, using those formulas. You lose 10-20 SQFT in the floor plan, which isn’t much space compared to the total home’s square footage. Especially when you look at the (wasted) corridor space used up in many floor plans. However, making a less steep stairway may not “fit” the floor plan without alteration, and wider stair treads are often not available in stock, adding some finish carpentry work.

  9. Dantama | | #9

    Sorry, I guess I don't know how to do attachments.

  10. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #10

    Below the box at the bottom of every page -- the box labelled "Answer," where you type your comment -- is an option called "File attachments." Click that option. Then click the "Browse" box, and find the file in your computer hard drive that you intend to attach. Once the option has been selected, there is one more step: Click the "Attach" button to make sure that the file you have selected is uploaded. When everything looks good, click the "Post" button.

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