1 story vs 2 story costs

ww13February 5, 2010

Hi all,

Keeping everything the same (size, rooms, finish levels) does it cost more to build a home as a 1-story or as a 2-story?

This seems like a very basic question, and I thought I knew the answer -- more as a 1-story, but I'm starting to doubt that this is true.

I have an additional question that's related to costs. If you design a home with a detached in-law and detached garage unit are the costs significantly more than if you left the in-law and garage attached? Again - keeping size the same.


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1 story and yes.

What are your doubts regarding the 1 versus 2 story issue?

The separate in-law and garage structure is significantly higher because you have not only the expense of the additional exterior walls and insulation, but also added guttering, added connecting walks and/or drive, and a completely separate set of utilities and HVAC equipment to deal with.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2010 at 10:04PM
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1-story costs more because it has twice the foundation and twice the roof. Also, a 2-story provides opportunities to save on plumbing. A 1-story may cost 20% to 40% more.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2010 at 11:38PM
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As others have said. a ranch plan will be more expensive due to the larger roof expense. This includes the framing, sheathing, roofing material, gutters fascia soffit etc. It also requires more excavation and possibly hauling of dirt, more foundation walls, gravel fill, basement slab and perimeter insulation. It might make heating and cooling more expensive and plumbing lines are often longer and more money. Baths can be stacked easier in two stories. Depending on the framing comlexity the two story can be a bit more expensive. You can get higher ceilings and varying height ceilings easily with ranch style and most often it can be trussed easily and framed quick. It also takes more landscaping to surround a ranch plan and Im sure there are a few other things. As more people age I have seen a real comeback of the ranch plan in my design requests.They just dont want it to look like the 50's-70's ranches. The resale is often strong because any age can buy it. It also may require a larger lot than your average subdivison lot today.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2010 at 12:29AM
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I totally agree. My two story is efficient....centralized water heater and furnace and A/C. A two story box is most efficient but more boring IMO so it behooves the designer to make it interesting...porches, bay windows, decks, etc to add interest. Also, in the winter as an example the heat in the ranch will escape to the attic and outside. In a two story it is captured by the second story.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2010 at 4:02AM
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Our builder convinced us to change our addition from one-story to two. He said the second floor would be very inexpensive square footage for the reasons mentioned above (foundation, roofing etc.)

Totally Confused

    Bookmark   February 6, 2010 at 5:33AM
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I once had a general rule of thumb but that is always a bad idea but after looking at costs it went something like this.

$200 a sq foot for 1st floor space
$100 a sq foot for 2nd floor space
$50 a sq foot for basement space (finished)

Now any rule of thumb is never applicable to all situations but when I was planning on our level of trim in our area, that is about what it came to.

So 3000 sq foot ranch - $600k
3000 sq foot 2 story - $450k
3000 sq foot 3 story - $350k (you can't exactly do this but you get the idea)

So by that math, it costs 33% more to build a ranch than a 2 story (in line with the above mentioned 20-40%). Now I know that it was more like $190 for 1st floor space and $110 for 2nd and the 1st floor space was made more expensive b/c it was on a basement (ie increasing foundation costs even more). But if you like round numbers, there they are. The real driving force in our neighborhood was the 100 ft wide lot, requirement for a sideload garage and the slope of our back yard which kept us from building backward into the lot.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2010 at 7:57AM
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Point of architectural information - Are y'all using the term "ranch" to generically describe a one-story home or is any home that is only one story just a derivation of the Ranch Style of architecture first developed in the 1930's? What about a log cabin or NOLA style shotgun as examples of other types of one story houses that I think predate the Ranch Style?

Our house will be one-story with a full walkout basement, but if we can't build the basement because we hit granite, for example, I don't think I would call it a "ranch" given the Dutch gable main roof, all of the cross gables, porches, 10' ceilings, 10:12 pitch roof, etc. Please, don't tell me that I am just building a ranch with a lower level. Yikes!!!!

To stay on-topic - I will say that the lower level square footage comes very cheaply. We just finalized the costing for the 1st floor plus ~500sf of the lower level for a powder room & my crafts room. We got separate pricing to take the rest of the lower level (~1400sf livable) to drywall with electrical, mechanical in place & the added HVAC and it was less that $15sf if we do it with the initial build. That's very hard to pass up since DH would enjoy laying floors, doing trim work, etc. when we want to finish out the rest.

How does the 1 1/2 story bungalow fit into the pricing scheme? I would guess that on a square footage basis it is cheaper than a full two story and more expensive than basement space if you were going to have a basement, anyway. If we do hit granite (next door neighbor did, but don't think we will), then we will likely add a few dormers and go up.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2010 at 9:07AM
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Dr Joan, I look at the 1 story plan as a ranch style plan yes. As you stated I tend to look at it as an updated ranch due to the higher roof pitches variable ceiling heights and taller walls. I have done 3-4 in the past 2 years using 8/12 and 12/12 pitch and also using the walkout lower level for potential finished space. They dont give the appearance of the typical ranch of the 50s'-70's. I have also used a bonus room over the garage on the one so its technically 1 1/2 story. The costs to do so vary alot based on the complexity of the rooflines, pitch( over 8/12 usually pushes the price of install), If its trussed vs stick framed size and finish quality of stairs going up, if there are dormers vs windows in gable ends etc etc. David's use of variable costs per floor is pretty good ballpark rule I tend to use as well but the numbers used will vary per region and obviously quality of finish.

We recently brought one such 1 story ranch w/ partial walkout, 12/12 pitch , stone & Vinyl shakes,lots of wood floors , custom cabinets,9 ft 2x6 walls,nice sized 3 car garage,generator installed, with pretty decent finishes, about 300 sf in basement finished along with stair down for about $115/s.f. This was self contracted so no builder markup.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2010 at 9:54AM
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Big Kahuna - OK, gotcha. I guess what you are saying is that most 1 story houses built today are a ranch derivation made to resemble their two story Neo-electic neighbors. That's what I live in now. It has an all brick facade, some Palladian-esque windows, cross gables and a high pitched and more complicated roof line, but it would trace its "ancestry" to the ranch.

In terms of "marketing", I would suggest that one story houses be "branded" something other than "ranch". I dunno, "The One Level Lifestyle". LOL!!! We aging Boomers are going to want to live on one level, but for many of us the idea of living in a "ranch" house is unappealing. We remember the original Levittown and not in a particularly good way.

Actually, the house we are building will look like a 1 1/2 story from the front with a gambrel roof on the 3 car garage and a respectable dormer. We're just not going to go up for the secondary space because we have the walkout. From the back, it will look like a two story since all of the rooms in the lower level have French doors or windows >5' high. We don't have vinyl but Nichiha shakes, all wood floors, granite, ORB spec'd (but I prefer chrome) so it sounds similar to what you described, above. With the 500sf in the lower level included, we're coming in at ~$150/sf with a custom builder. The real bargain is the rest of the lower level taken to the point where we can easily DIY the rest of the work to finish it off.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2010 at 10:50AM
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Dr Joan, You are correct. My clients who have been asking for the ranch plans are mostly empty nesters or one child or a parent who is living with them who want easy access to the whole home even if in less than perfect health. This then also appeals to a wider range of potential buyers for resale. The house also appears to be larger on the lot and in my opinion adds to the percieved and actual value of the home.

Both of these are generally ranch plan. The first having the bonus room over the garage and both having full or partial walkout. The first has much more potential finished space as there are 2 bedrooms and bath in the lower level as well as space ready to be finished off for wet bar, rec room, family spaces etc as time and budget allow. The flexibility and potential is very valuable to the owner and any future buyers. The pricing I spoke of was gained through extensive price shopping and great internet purchasing and a year of planning prior to construction. Your pricing seems very reasonable to me based on my experience and not knowing your details of finishes etc. The trick is keeping it that way. Up front its your plans, builder and checkbook...as you move along it becomes emotional...as in gee honey the carpet floor looks fine in the great room...But wouldnt the reclaimed Heart Pine wide plank flooring look fantastic ???? The key is doing your best to be honest and complete in your selections up front as possible.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2010 at 11:14AM
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Since we are talking about ranches. We will be relocating to CA and are foloowing the market closely. Why are there so many ranches in CA? Large ranches that take up most of the pretty small lots. We are coming from New England and are used to much larger lots, with larger houses built with 2 stories. Why build a 4,800 sq.ft. ranch on a 3/4 acre lot? After they add the driveway and pool, you don't have much of a yard. And no basements to be found either!

Any CA experts? Is it due to weather? Retirees moving out there? Soil type?

    Bookmark   February 6, 2010 at 11:42PM
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Earthquake issues? Drought issues and not wanting grass?

No basements is definitely a regional thing. Here in the South we don't have them because of the water. There it is probably the weather - get outside rather than be in a basement....

    Bookmark   February 7, 2010 at 8:27AM
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No basements is definitely a regional thing. Here in the South we don't have them because of the water.

Nonsense. You may not have them where ever you are in the South. In the part I live in, there a lot of basements.

    Bookmark   February 7, 2010 at 10:57AM
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Ok in NC - triangle region, there are very few basements. The only ones are daylight and they were done rarely until the last 10 years.

In Florida (southern) there are very few basements.

I was under the impression that the entire region had few basements. I'm sure that they are not as widespread as in the North. I'm not saying they aren't there but the penetration is lower than in the North. I've never seen a real underground basement here.

    Bookmark   February 7, 2010 at 11:28AM
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Ok the nonsense comment got me looking. I found threads talking about the lack of basements in Texas, NC, SC, Florida. At that point I stopped looking.

I would like to respectfully disagree with Creekside or disagree with "plenty". Sure there are a lot but there are much less than the North.

The primary reason is that when you are building in the South - you don't need to excavate deep to get below a frost line so there is a significant extra cost to dig a basement. In the North, you already have to dig deep. Other reasons have to do with water table and sandy soils. People use clay as an excuse but it sounds like the issue is wet clay.

In NC specificially, we have codes that require a significant amount of window space to make an area habitable (8% of wall space is what I heard). So it is cheaper to build an attic and much easier to make it habitable. The only suitable basements become daylight basements which obviously requires a particular slope.

Let's face it - a daylight basement is not really a true basement. That is a good thing of course but it basically eliminates some of the trouble with a basement in the south. Digging is less and window issues are nill.

    Bookmark   February 7, 2010 at 11:54AM
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You attempt to speak for the entire South, a huge swath of the US. I give only a response limited to the area I am in. And I did not use the term plenty. I said "a lot" solely in reference to the area of the South that I live in.

    Bookmark   February 7, 2010 at 12:18PM
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Here in FL, 2 story houses are very rare, almost as rare as basements LOL! Before A/C, the upstairs would have been unbearably hot. That, coupled with it mostly being retirees who don't want to climb stairs, and they just don't build them much. The lots in our area are almost all house by the time you plant the ubiquitous garage out front (yuck!) Again, retirees don't want a big lawn to maintain, especially with 6 months of stifling heat and humidity. A 2 story is cheaper to build, for all of the obvious reasons. Roofing is more expensive per square foot, though, since roofers charge more for higher roofs due to the increased risk involved. Our next house may have a small upstairs, simply because I like the way they look better. We may even start out with the master suite upstairs, until we are too old/feeble/lazy to do the stairs anymore. The house will be laid out for one story living, though.

    Bookmark   February 7, 2010 at 1:31PM
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If I were to live in Florida again, I would build a stilt house with parking underneath. I have seen a number of these houses that worked well, all occupied by retirees BTW. One couple installed an elevator from the parking level to the main level.

Stilt houses invite the breeze and don't seem to have as many issues with bugs as do slab on grade ranches. Plus the view is usually pretty good.

All that I have seem were built before the latest hurricane code. I don't know how the new code affects stilt houses. They may not be as inexpensive to build as in years past.

    Bookmark   February 7, 2010 at 4:14PM
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