Split-Level Homes: Pros and Cons

As with many unique design features, split levels in a home interior often puts people in one of two distinct places — either for or completely against it. There are clear pros and cons when it comes to split levels, and you should be aware of them if you’re contemplating this particular design feature.

At first glance, varying elevations or levels within your home interior adds an exotic touch to the otherwise “standard” look. But to put it bluntly, it’s more eye candy than anything else. Then again, who doesn’t like some good ol’ eye candy?

Hebel Haus Chuunikai

Hebel Haus mid-floor den

The idea behind split levels as a visual design feature, is to create additional open areas or landings where the transition between levels is unobstructed giving the home interior a unique and clearly visible topography.

The alternative to having these border transitions open, is when the split levels are included in the design purely out of necessity. For example, a home built on a hill might have several level changes, not necessarily for the visual effect, but to avoid having to level the land out or build on tall stilts.

However, in both cases, split levels must be incorporated into your home design with care. Generally speaking, a split-level design introduces a wide array of design and structural challenges, and it is therefore advisable to consult an architect or construction firm, if you’re not already.

Split-level Pros

– When designed well, it can enrich the ambiance of your home interior, as well as be quite geometrically/visually pleasing. You’d be amazed just how relaxing a simple one-foot drop into a lower sitting living room can be. By contrast, a foot upward that opens up to a dining room can create a more lively mood.

– More public areas, lounges, and places to hang out – essentially creating a more communal atmosphere. Many homes these days are designed to save space and maximize living quarters. While this might be the priority for many buyers out there, it’s no secret that for many of these homes the only public areas will be the dining room and/or living room.

Split-level Diagram

A generic split-level design

For folks who prefer to put their money elsewhere, a split-level design is definitely a worthy option. But as I touched on earlier, this particular design is more a visual or ambiance-evoking one than a structural, practical, or economic one.

Split-level Cons

– Higher design and building costs per unit area. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as a split-level design is simply more complicated when compared to a flat design. The former requires additional stairs, trimming to delineate borders, and substantial foundation and beam work to accommodate the design.

– Higher utility bills. In the context of level changes where walls don’t isolate them from adjacent rooms, this inevitably means it’s all one big air pocket. Breezy and spacious but expensive to heat and cool. A good passive design can make a significant difference toward reducing utility bills.

Genkan Downfloor

– Can be laborious to keep clean and organized. Cleaning a flat surface is obviously less labor-intensive than one with many ups and downs.

– Trip and fall hazard. This is a particular concern for families with small children and older people. It can also make movement around the house difficult for very old or physically disabled people.

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