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Challenges of Split Level House Renovations


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Split level house renovations bring both unique opportunities and unique challenges. The first step in evaluating the opportunities and challenges is understanding what type of split level you plan to renovate. There are essentially five types of split level house designs:

1. Split Foyer or Bi-Level – Composed of two levels, with the entry on a level midway between the two floors. A short flight of stairs (usually 4-8) goes up and another short flight of stairs goes down. If the lower level of the house is built level with the ground, there will be stairs to the entrance. The lower level may be at least partly below ground level.

2. Split Level – This type has either three or four levels and two or three short sets of stairs. The entrance is usually on a middle level and opens directly into a formal living room.

3. Stacked Split Level – The stacked type has five or more levels with four or five short sets of stairs. The entry is on a middle floor, usually opening to a foyer with stairs going both up and down. The name is derived from the fact that additional bedrooms are “stacked" on top of the second living area. Many townhouses are of this type.

4. Split Entry – The entry to this type of house is between floors and is usually located in an entry area off the main house. Like the split foyer, steps lead both up and down from the entry.

5. Raised Ranch – This type of split level has two levels with a full flight of stairs and the entry into the lower floor. The living area is generally on the top floor, accessible by a staircase close to the entry.

Split Level Homes were very popular in the 1950s, particularly in the East and the Midwest. The house design is an adaptation that works well in construction of a house on uneven property. The house can be built into the side of a hill or slope very easily. These homes were designed to separate living areas from sleeping areas and to provide formal and informal living areas. They offer more privacy and quiet. Disadvantages include uneven heating and cooling and many stairs. The heating and cooling challenge can be met by installing a zoned system. The number of stairs can be a particular challenge for the elderly and disabled. The challenge can, however, be met by installing a glide chair.

Other limitations of the type of design include a lower level laundry room, no main level bathroom, shared bathroom on the upper floor with the bedrooms, and a lack of openness in the living area (particularly as compared to many contemporary designs).

Remodeling challenges specific to Split Level Homes are:

  • Great care must be exercised in opening up the formal living area regarding weight-bearing walls

  • Many split levels have small rooms

  • The steps between levels cannot be removed

  • It is difficult to create a defined entry area

  • Moving the location of the kitchen makes this type of renovation expensive

  • It can be difficult to add a level to some types of split levels without losing balance and external appeal

    Most of these challenges can be overcome with creative thinking, careful planning, and detailed attention to the design. For the most part, it is best to accept and work with the basic floor plan and modify access, flow between rooms, and a feeling of openness. It is also usually a bad idea to try to add another floor to a split level or to add on to the length of the existing house.

    © 2007 ABCD Publishing LLC

    Dan Fritschen, the author of this article, is the founder of the websites , and He is the author of three books on home remodeling.

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