Cheaper to build 1 or 2 story home?

etr2002December 13, 2010

I'm a complete newbie who is anticipating building within 2-3 years. We are blessed with 100 acres of land, so space is not limited. We are looking at plans and have casually spoken with a builder regarding one plan in particular (Amicalola Cottage) but we haven't decided on anything for sure. I read on here today a passing comment that it is generally cheaper to build up (meaning a 2 or 3 story home) as opposed to out (meaning one level). We will probably build a home in the neighborhood of around 3500 sq. feet. Any ideas on this concept? Your thoughts will help as we peruse plans!

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Hi there. How exciting that you will be building. If you do a search there are several posts about the costs of one story vs two story that you will find very helpful. But for starters - one story usually cost more as the foundation and roof as some major bucks. Building up can be cheaper....but do a search and those posts will hopefully give you some good info. Take care!!

    Bookmark   December 13, 2010 at 4:07PM
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Thank you, Colleen. I'll definitely try the search but for some reason it's not wanting to work too well - of course if could be the operator (me).

    Bookmark   December 13, 2010 at 4:22PM
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Try using the search at the bottom of the page, not the one with the green background and go > button at the top. The site uses different code for some awful reason.

Using the bottom search, I found this thread.
1 story vs 2 story costs

The short of it is as previously mentioned due to the expense of roof and foundation, going up is usually cheaper.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2010 at 4:50PM
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Yes, up instead of out is cheaper because of foundation and roofing. But using a trussed roof vs. hipped roof will save some bucks regardless. But you might not want to let cost be the deciding factor.
Do you have small children?
Are your soon to be in your golden years?
Anybody that is going to live there have knee, foot, or back issues?
There are many things to consider besides cost(I know that's a big one though)
Do you prefer the look of a single or two story?
Do you want to have to climb stairs everyday? Free workout
:)used to run up and down the stairs for a quick calorie burn. lugging laundry upstairs and down?(if possible put in a laundry chute-had one in previous house great if you can get the kids to use it.It went from their bathroom to laundry room.)
I know cost is a major factor but it shouldn't be the only one.
Good luck!

    Bookmark   December 13, 2010 at 8:16PM
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Thanks for the responses.

bh401, we are on the same wavelength for sure. We have plenty of space to spread-out, and that's the direction I'm leaning towards. I grew-up in a 2 story and when my sister and I moved-out, my parents never even went upstairs. My mom got very sick, very quickly and I saw how hard it became for her to navigate 3 stairs just to get into the family room, so I know how difficult stairs can be when sickness strikes. My kiddos are very small right now but when they move-out, I want to be able to access all my rooms - not just the downstairs. We may have to wait a few more years to build if we decide to go the more costly route but at least the land will still be there waiting for us. Decisions, decisions and we aren't even about to break ground!

    Bookmark   December 13, 2010 at 8:33PM
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We built a 1.5 story because our builder told us that it was cheaper than a true 2 story. Bidding out our plan, it came back about $15,000 cheaper than the same square foot 2 story that we bid out before.

Our kid area is upstairs (2 bedrooms, playroom, bath), with everything else being on the first floor. I love my house and anticipate it working well for us in our older years. I love the look of a 2 story farm house/country style house, so that's what we built. First consideration was style--I wasn't willing to build until we could build something I would be happy with.

100 acres--wow! That would be awesome!! We built on 14. My family owns nearly 1000, but it's all in row crops, so we had to go buy land to build on. LOL


    Bookmark   December 14, 2010 at 12:04PM
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I can give you my personal experience.

I built 2-story (custom on 300 acres - you'll love it!) and moved in fall 2005. After tornado damage in Feb 2009, we are rebuilding on the same spot and are going primarily 1-story. The only room up the stairs is a large playroom and a 3/4 bath.

Big picture, 1-story is going to end up being more expensive for us (we're hoping for move-in near end of school year.) Why?

Larger pad, more sheer exterior to rock/brick (mix), and a slightly more complicated roofline. Interior, it's more sq ft of wood floor, I wound up w/a more expensive HVAC set-up as well as plumbing design (that could have been a function of our plan, YMMV.)

I learned SO MUCH from the 2-story that pushed toward building 1-story this time, tho, that it is worth the expense for us. We're in our early 40s, boys 14 and 8 ... I learned I did NOT like having the boys upstairs, they felt so disconnected from us. And I could definitely see having issues with the stairs, later, as this was supposed to be our "forever" house.

In the same vein, I could see not using the 2nd story much after the boys are gone, which seems like a waste of space, in hindsight.

This house is using some of the same features I DID like: large great room open to kitchen; large playroom (upstairs still) to keep kids and their stuff confined basically to their area; a room dedicated to use specifically as my library w/walls of built-in shelving; a well-designed mudroom as entry from garage w/the laundry room immediately next to it.

My greatest asset in building at all was this site, so plan to hang around!

    Bookmark   December 14, 2010 at 6:39PM
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I vote for one story or story and a half. We live on 100 acres and I'm hoping to remodel the old farmhouse. With the views and all the space, it doesn't make sense to have to deal with stairs. This is really more practical on a small lot.

It might be a good idea to think about a screened porch or sunroom, too. The thing about wildlife...they like to come up and visit you...on your deck, patio or open porch. Be prepared...usually it's just a porcupine or racoon, but it could be bigger, depending on where you live. We have deer in our front yard all the time! :)

    Bookmark   December 16, 2010 at 2:29PM
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Dh and I built a one story and our biggest reason was we are in our late 50's early 60's so decided we better consider our later years as this is our "forever house"! We were going to have a basement in the beginning and then decided against it as our site was very difficult to excavate.

    Bookmark   December 17, 2010 at 11:06AM
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We built a one story. It is more expensive per sf than the two stories, but worth it. Dh and I are both in our 40's, but wanted a house we could live in now and later when we are old. We have wide hallways and with a few modifications such as the bathroom shower/tub, it should be wheelchair accessible.

We visit open houses in the area. We found out the upstairs game rooms and video rooms are loud. Most people put them right above the living dining area. The sound is awful. They might not be so bad upstairs if they are over the garage.

Everyone has to do what is best suited for them. If the budget doesn't allow for a one story, I wouldn't hesitate to do the two story and build it so it is as usable as possible.

    Bookmark   December 17, 2010 at 12:20PM
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"wanted a house we could live in now and later when we are old"

Have an elevator installed, or reserve space for one.

    Bookmark   December 17, 2010 at 1:14PM
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We didn't want an elevator. We've owned two houses with an upstairs. We found that we avoid the upstairs. In one house, it was the master suite. In the second house, it was a 600 sf game room. It's hot in the summer and takes a lot more to cool the area. We ended up using the area as additional attic space. Someone else might be more inclined to use an upstairs, but it simply doesn't appeal to us.

Also, we had a 30 minute power outage this morning. That's not a long time, but it affected my routine. If I were wheelchair bound or really needed to be downstairs I might not be so happy with an elevator.

Hopefully, we're financially set when the time comes for us to retire. I've noticed that sometimes when you need something the most, the money isn't always there. We'd need to redo the bathroom showers, but I don't think it would be that huge of an expense. I think the elevator would be more expensive even if the area had already been designed for it to be added.

    Bookmark   December 17, 2010 at 2:12PM
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Both DH and I grew up in pre-WWII Georgian Colonials. The only time since marriage that we've lived in a two-story home was three years in a townhouse. Our first apartment was ground floor, walk-out onto a patio and lawn. Our first house was a 2000 sq ft ranch/no basement. (I developed asthma while living there; asthmatics need more distance between them and the ground!)

IMO the possible savings in building up is far offset by the convenience and ease of living in a one-floor home.

The house we built nine years ago is one 9-foot storey on a full, unfinished basement foundation -- where the mechanicals 'live'. There's a formal staircase from the foyer to a full-height attic under a 10/12 roof. A *future* owner can develop that with dormers if he wants a 6000 sq ft home on two levels. We prefer a few large rooms; the size of the public rooms on the first floor would support a large family.

Meanwhile we have 2 BR's 3.5 baths, LR, DR, Library, Kitchen and Breakfast room, screened porch, and a big back hall with laundry and closets -- all a single step up from the ground. Doorways are 36". Flooring is hardwood and tile without thresholds. A central vac makes it easy to clean. Windows and doors have heavy framing and don't require any 'window treatments'. (Some things that are more costly up front make for future savings.)

If you have the land and the plan won't become TOO spread out, I'd choose one-storey in a heartbeat.

    Bookmark   December 17, 2010 at 3:21PM
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Something to not forget - 2 story homes are cheaper to heat and a/c than a similar size 1 story home. By a considerable amount.

Someone had posted how upstairs was always hot - poor design is the problem there. Anyone thinking a ranch will make a/c cheaper is 100% wrong.

I'm only chiming because the thread has gotten to how wonderful a ranch is when we are old/infirm. There is absolutely no question that 2 story is cheaper to build. A 2 story feels safer to a lot of people including my wife. The dogs live on the first floor and that is a barrier to entry. Sleeping further away from the ground gives you a view and at times better air quality (to the asthmatic/allergic). Worst air quality is sleeping on slab, next better is sleeping on basement but best is sleeping 10 feet above basement.

Teenagers - a second story not only slows the bad guys from entering it keeps your kids from sneaking out at night. Fool proof - no way. But does it offer another barrier - absolutely.

Many people prefer the look of a 2 story building - there is a house a few doors down from us (in an area with mostly 1.5 and 2 stories) and I know a prospective buyer who wasn't interested in "the ranch". It actually is a 1.5 but the elevation looks like a ranch. It has a finished basement and is the largest house in the subdivision. But the buyers didn't like the "look". Silly but real.

As a physician - I would like to point out that a good way to stay young is to climb stairs. I know - but I just had to say it. Avoiding exercise is the absolutely worst way to grow old gracefully. Making your world all about fewest steps from bedroom to garage to get in SUV and drive whereever is not really an ideal to strive for. Just a thought.

    Bookmark   December 18, 2010 at 4:55AM
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I've agonized over this for the last 4 years that I have been planning and designing what will likely be our last home.

2 story homes are cheaper to build, but only so far as the shell is concerned. You'll still have the same amount of wall, ceiling and floor area. The expensive stuff, such as the kitchen, will likely be the same. There is the added expense (and square footage) of stairs. Stairs are particularly tough to fit in with the small homes I've been working with.

I prefer the look of a 2 story home, but also recognize that as we get older, the chances of being restricted to one floor grow greater. Yes, climbing stairs is good exercise, if you can. I've known a number of people who have been temporarily or permanently barred from climbing stairs due to illness or injury. My SIL wound up living in the dining room of their custom 3 level home after knee surgery. An elevator is a very expensive solution, although I guess those things that ride along the stairs might not be too bad.

We will likely wind up with one floor, plus a basement. I could afford to add a second story as 'bonus space' to use until we no longer can, but then I'd be paying taxes on living space I'm not using. I think each individual has to weigh the pros and cons. My suggestion would be to lay out your multi-story home so that there is a workable bedroom on the main floor, just in case. I also am an advocate for universal design, so that if there ever is a handicapped person living under your roof, they can navigate everywhere they need to go.

    Bookmark   December 18, 2010 at 8:22AM
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Hee-hee. Dave, I have this really *impressive* and TALL castle I can sell You can get exercise raising and lowering the drawbridge and pulling up the ladders between floors at night. (No midnight snacking in this place unless you carry the food upstairs with you. More exercise!) The dogs will love the cozy straw around the great hearth. You'll want to keep a good fire going there -- heat has to travel 200 feet up to your bedrooms. You should be very safe. It would be the rare archer who could put a flaming arrow through one of the narrow slits in your walls above the (mostly) dry moat. This is a really big place, Dave. You'll get plenty of exercise just keeping it up! LOL

    Bookmark   December 18, 2010 at 11:01AM
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The cost of 1 story vs 2 stories is not important enough to override more important issues like what is appropriate for your family and the site.

    Bookmark   December 18, 2010 at 2:11PM
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Macv - it was about $20 a sq foot when I ran the numbers for additional 1st floor space vs 2nd floor space. Not huge but not insignificant.

Also throw in additional clearing and landscaping depending on the lot and situation.

    Bookmark   December 19, 2010 at 6:10AM
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"It's hot in the summer and takes a lot more to cool the area."

It will take just as much to cool the first floor of a one story.

The second story dos not cause the HVAC issue, poor insulation and HVAC system design does.

ANY room with an attic above (one story, two story, three story, etc.) needs to contend with the HVAC load of the attic above.

    Bookmark   December 19, 2010 at 12:45PM
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What a wealth of information! Thank you for all your comments and suggestions. You have given us a lot to think about and helped to weed-out some plans while considering others that we wouldn't have initially given much thought to.

    Bookmark   December 19, 2010 at 8:41PM
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The addition of a stairway for a 2 story house not only takes up a lot of space, it is very expensive construction.

The choice of a one vs two story house is a major design decision but it should be made not on the basis of cost but on the particular needs & desires of the owner and the site features and conditions.

    Bookmark   December 20, 2010 at 10:37AM
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We moved into our new 2-story 6 months ago. My husband had never lived in one, but I grew up in a 2-story. We are a family of 5 (kids are 4, 7, 9 and we are in our 40's). We love how our 2 story functions. Kitchen, living area, laundry, and guest room are downstairs. Bedrooms, vestibule/study are, playroom are upstairs. The playroom is over the garage and is the only carpeted room in the house (love this and so do the kids). I do not at all feel disconnected from the kids. I have a laundry chute that is easy access for all.

It was less expensive to build, but that was not our main objective. We have an acre and wanted a large yard and a 2-story uses far less building envelope. We paid extra to have special footings for an elevator if one is needed in the future. The architect had the foresight to design this.

We live in Arizona and have yet to turn the heat on. We did spend more on insulation and our HVAC system. Our 6500 2-story home costs less to cool than our 1500 previous track home.

    Bookmark   December 22, 2010 at 9:38AM
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"As a physician - I would like to point out that a good way to stay young is to climb stairs. I know - but I just had to say it. Avoiding exercise is the absolutely worst way to grow old gracefully. Making your world all about fewest steps from bedroom to garage to get in SUV and drive whereever is not really an ideal to strive for. Just a thought."

First let me say that this is the first time I've posted anything (just joined this evening) so I'm not certain I'm doing things as they should be done, but I figured nothing ventured, nothing gained.

The quote is from a comment made by a physician named David Cary several posts back.

We're looking for a house currently; I don't think we can afford to build at this time and we don't have the luxury of waiting, but we're dealing with the issue of whether we're better off looking for whatever footage we can afford on one level, or whether to consider one with a basement, or whether to go two story.

We're around 50 years of age. My dad will be living with us, too, and he's 90. My fiance has knee and back issues. Doctors claim I'm sporting arthritis from stem to stern, top to toe. I've seen the films and tests and have to accept the presence of several ruptured/bulging discs. And time has proven the fibromyalgia diagnosis apparently is true as well. For all that, I'm still a high-functioning individual! I'm not as fast as I used to be, and I can't work as hard as long as I used to, and nothing happens without a pretty hefty dose of pain to go with it, but I have no intention of going non-functioning until I go non-breathing.

Having laid that groundwork, I'd like to know if the points laid out in the doc's comment above are still applicable. As long as Dad is all on the ground floor, is it better that we think two story to force us to keep at the stairs? Or is it better to remember that with our personalities, we'll stay active on our own; why not save whatever our bodies will handle for what we want to do, rather than "wasting" whatever we've got on the barest basics of living?

Did any of that make any sense? I hope so, as I'm really interested in whatever insights any of you are willing to share with me on this. Thank you so much!

    Bookmark   April 6, 2011 at 11:22PM
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When we build we're going with single level living. We're only in our early 40s, but we both hate the stairs. In our last house we had to schlep laundry from the 2nd floor to the basement. NOT FUN. In our current house, we schlep it from 2nd to 1st (no basement in this house). Either way it sucks. *lol* That's not the ONLY reason we're going with single-story, but it's certain near the top of the list.

My husband and I both like the look of Craftsman style homes, and so this is what we plan to build. Our garage will have a bonus room and bath above it so that my sister's family can stay up there when they visit. As such, that room will only get used 3-4x a year. We plan to install a door to go upstairs to the bonus room, and give it it's own zone heating/cooling that is only active when people are actually in the space.

We also plan on installing an attic fan to assist with heating/cooling issues in the attic space.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2011 at 11:44AM
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too specific for an internet discussion.
too personal.
has little to do with the OP question about cost.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2011 at 11:52AM
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It has everything to do with the question, to which the answer is to build it the way you are going to live in it. The difference in cost won't matter as much if you are able to stay in your home vs injury or infirmity that could prevent you from living in your home.
I watched it happen to my mother, who bought a town house that had 4 levels (3 floors and a loft), thinking that the trips up and down the stairs would be good exercise. When she became sick from cancer and could no longer manage, she had to leave her home which cost a hell of a lot more than the puny cost difference of 1 or 2 levels...

    Bookmark   April 7, 2011 at 4:42PM
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I also don't think the cost should really have much bearing on this decision. If you want one floor then go for it! :-)

    Bookmark   April 7, 2011 at 6:06PM
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