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Thread: Split level houses: why?

  1. #1
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Split level houses: why?

    Working in a 2nd ring suburb of Chicago (built mostly between 1960-1980) there is a ton of split level houses - be they bi-level, tri-level, or quad-level - they are very prevalent.

    My question is simply - what is the point (advantage) of this design of houses?

    I personally despise these houses as rather annoying and pointless.

    What is you opinion/experience?

    Here are some examples:
    Last edited by mendelman; 03 Nov 2006 at 4:32 PM.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

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  2. #2
    Cyburbian Tide's avatar
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    Are you refering to Splits or BiLevels, maybe that word is interchangeable but I'm used to a Split level being one you walk into a functional floor with one above a half floor and a half floor below where as a BiLevel you walk into a 4X4 foot 'foyer' and have to go up or down. Up is bedrooms, kitchen, livingroom, and downstairs is play room, kids room maybe, and garage. Splits I can take but BiLevels... what's up with them you get in side then have to make your choice, up or down because there are 3 more poeple behind me wanting to come in... very awkward when having company.
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  3. #3
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    Spent a lot of time in these houses for some reason growing up... Usually you go into these places and there is a staircase leading down and one leading up and a small foyer. Generally the lower level is reserved as a kids play area and there may be a bedroom or two but it is basically a glorified basement. The upper level is usually a open kitchen/dining room combo with bay windows. This is where the adults entertain.

    I wonder if these houses are cheaper to construct because you don't have to frame up a second story.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Iron Ring's avatar
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    Re: Split Levels... I'd guess they're cheaper and easier to build than a 2 story house, but you get the benefit of having some windows/light in the lower (basement) level making it a more useful space.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian cch's avatar
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    I think of split level as the ones where you have to choose whether to go up or down. My best friend lived in one two doors down from my house, where a more appropriate house for the neighborhood had burnt down and the split level was put up. I thought it was the coolest when I was little, cause I loved all the stairs and the lower floor just for kids. Now I hate split levels and I'd never buy one.

    What some of you are calling bi-levels are referred to as tri-levels around here, and they are still building them in my neck of the woods. Nearly half of the homes in my subdivision look like this.

    I don't get it, and check out the floorplan. If you pull into your garage you've got to go down some steps, through a doorway, and then up some steps to get to the main level. tri-level floorplan
    Maybe thats why all the people in these houses seem to park in their driveways instead of parking in their garage. These things sell like hotcakes, though.

  6. #6
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    cch,

    That floorplan is appalling. What's the advantage of an attached garage when you have to go down then bck up to the kitchen an main living rooms?

    Since most people spend alot of time in the kitchen, this layout is so cumbersome.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

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  7. #7
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    I grew up in a split level. The living room, dining room, kitchen, and sun room were on the main level. A half-story down was the family room a bathroom, and utility room. A half-story up there were three bedrooms and two baths. The house was very well built and had a very functional layout. Because of the split, the main floor had very high cathedral ceilings, which made it feel spacious.

    I have seen some split levels which have been really awful, and some designs may not convert well to modern ideas of design, but that house will always be desirable.
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  8. #8
    Cyburbian dobopoq's avatar
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    One of my friends across the street when I was growing up lived in a split level. You really need actual pictures of an interior to do them justice. I kinda liked the layout. It seemed cozy and spatially interesting. It seems like it would foster a more interactive layout between rooms - which is counter intuitive since you have to climb a half-flight, but the height differential makes you more aware of the rest of the house. When you have a full flight of stairs, the separation between 1st and 2nd floor is more total. The split level would seem to keep domestic activities from feeling too stagnant, by providing topographic relief.

    I think a split level design is a nice way of providing some of the visual grandiosity of those large lawyer foyers with 2nd floor balconies, but w/o so much waste space and high energy costs.

    Having said this, I've no interest in most forms of detached housing given the concommitant autocentric lifestyle. I have seen some split-level urban apartments and condos I like though. But not a huge selling point to me all the same.
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  9. #9
    Cyburbian Plus Whose Yur Planner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Tide View post
    Where as a BiLevel you walk into a 4X4 foot 'foyer' and have to go up or down. Up is bedrooms, kitchen, livingroom, and downstairs is play room, kids room maybe, and garage. Splits I can take but BiLevels... what's up with them you get in side then have to make your choice, up or down because there are 3 more poeple behind me wanting to come in... very awkward when having company.
    I had and aunt and uncle who lived in one up in Da Region. They bought in the '70s and lived in it for 20 years. They never seemed to complain about it and it had a cozy feeling to it. I don't think there was an advantange to one. It was just a different floor plan that builders could offer.
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  10. #10
    Cyburbian jsk1983's avatar
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    My great grandparents had a split level from the '30s/early '40s located in a suburb of Buffalo. I must say it certainly had an interesting floor plan. If you went in the side door it was a short flight up to the main level or a few steps down to the basement. Another half set of stairs led to the level with two bedrooms and the bathroom. Then you could go up another few feet and get to the master bedroom. Off this was the attic which even had two levels. If you count all the levels there was actually six but that would be counting the basement, the garage/entrance, and the second level of the attic. Certainly an interesting floor plan which seems like it would of permitted a higher level of privacy and distinct areas than the average floor plan. As a side note it had one of those stone fire places in the back yard that seemed to be popular in that area for a short period of time.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Plus
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    I grew up in a suburban subdivision with both, our's is a large split level with 6 levels.
    Agree with jsk1983 on
    it would of permitted a higher level of privacy and distinct areas.
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  12. #12
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    I had a tri-level for a while. In that area, they were almost a necessity. High groundwater prevented the excavation of a full basement, so a half-exposed lowest level was the best you could do.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Reductionist's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal View post
    I grew up in a split level. The living room, dining room, kitchen, and sun room were on the main level. A half-story down was the family room a bathroom, and utility room. A half-story up there were three bedrooms and two baths. The house was very well built and had a very functional layout. Because of the split, the main floor had very high cathedral ceilings, which made it feel spacious.

    I have seen some split levels which have been really awful, and some designs may not convert well to modern ideas of design, but that house will always be desirable.
    I grew up in the exact type of of split-level ranch while in high school in Atlanta during the 80s. They were quite popular throughout the late 50s to the mid 60s, but now they're prime targets for tear down as they sit on huge lots, typically half an acre (or more) and are located in the early post-war suburbs that are attractive because of their relative proximity to downtown.

    I always wondered what it would be like to retrofit one of those houses in a more modern style, as the original kitchens,bathrooms, flooring and paneling were pretty awful. However, nostalgia aside, I must say I prefer pre-war housing types, primarily the Craftsman bungalow style, which IMHO represent the last great period of American residential architecture.
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  14. #14
    Cyburbian Jess's avatar
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    Split level? Why?

    The approach in your place maybe different to ours, here, split-level is a design solution to break long flight of steps. Another reason is to fit the house wherein it's either an uphill or a down hill site utilizing the natural grade of the site. Also, the height of the cathedral ceiling will give a more spacious and grandeur effect to the foyer. If they raised the floor of the rooms although the terrain is flat, maybe the underground is used as utility area, maybe there's an space for heating ducts for this purpose.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian Masswich's avatar
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    Why?

    Usually because of zoning requirements, at least around here. Basements may not count as FAR, and the height can be lower and still give you an extra floor (which also may not count towards zoning.)

    I grew up in a split level, don't really like them much, but understand the need for extra space sometimes.

  16. #16
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    Flw

    FLW - http://www.franklloydwrightinfo.com/wasfllwbio.html

    "Wright is generally credited with design of the first American split-level residence in the Isabel Roberts house, River Forest, Illinois (S.150, 1908)"

    http://search.yahoo.com/search?p=Fra...p=mss&ei=UTF-8

  17. #17
          Downtown's avatar
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    We call the bi-levels "raised ranches" and the tri's are "split levels".

    We have a raised ranch, and initally I wasn't such a fan, but its in a great neighborhood, so we sucked it up. Its really grown on me since, especially since the twins were born. Our living area is entirely upstairs - 3bdrm, 1 BA, kitchen, dining room and family room. And it is really, really convenient to have everything on one floor.

    Downstairs, right now, is furniture storage/guest space, another bathroom, laundry room, pantry and garages.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian Jeff's avatar
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    Not sure about the first one, but the last 2 are commonly referred to as tuckunder or garage under designs. Put into place when the engineer can not get the house high enough to drain around the foundation. Usually due to driveway slope restriction, existing grade, or both.

    In your typical house you usually have .2' from garage floor to first floor (2 steps). with this design you can get the house up 8' higher than the garage floor. The grade is made up with the steps inside the garage, and steps that lead from the garage door to the front door.

    Its an engineering thing, these are never built by choice. Nobody wants to buy a house with all these steps.

  19. #19
         
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    I have never lived in a "split-level" but grew up with plenty of friends that did. When I was looking for my home, the realtor showed me quite a few split levels, they are cheaper here than a "full" two-story home. I prefer the two-story house, my upstairs is the 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. I can entertain on the first floor while the boys sleep upstairs without disturbing them; with a "split-level" there is much more open space. Personally I like the 2 story better, this way I have a full basement for storage (or whatever) where in a split level, i think you get significantly less storage space.

  20. #20
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Reductionist View post
    I grew up in the exact type of of split-level ranch while in high school in Atlanta during the 80s. They were quite popular throughout the late 50s to the mid 60s, but now they're prime targets for tear down as they sit on huge lots, typically half an acre (or more) and are located in the early post-war suburbs that are attractive because of their relative proximity to downtown.
    That pretty much describes it. It was located on 0.4 acres in a close-in suburb of Chicago, not far from downtown and the rail station. Add in several nearby parks, a golf course at the end of the street, and an elementary and middle school within walking distance.
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  21. #21
    Cyburbian cdub's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by hilldweller View post
    I wonder if these houses are cheaper to construct because you don't have to frame up a second story.
    Isn't that the point with most suburban developers - cheap. Add to the list of savings with less excavation required for the lower level than a traditional basement.

  22. #22
    Cyburbian Jeff's avatar
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    ^^No. Read my post above.

  23. #23
    Cyburbian cdub's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Jeff View post
    ^^No. Read my post above.
    I've seen split levels in areas that don't require engineering adjustments. They do happen in other places, such as flat sites or gently sloping sites. Again, I do think they are built as a relationship to cost. Not it in all cases, but many.

  24. #24
    Cyburbian Jeff's avatar
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    If it were on a flat site, you would use this option to raise the foundation up without increasing driveway slope, so the lot would drain. This helps your dirt number, if the site is flat you cant just go raising houses up 6' above existing grade, you'll be short on dirt and then you'll need to truck it in, and that costs money.

    if that makes sense.

  25. #25
    Cyburbian iamme's avatar
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    My guess is that this home type came about for many of the reasons listed and more. Maybe it originally began as a solution to slope issues on site or just as a cheap alternative that maximizes the living space. Maybe, just maybe, people liked their layout and aesthetics.

    You'll never get a definitive answer about its origins but I do think it is a decent housing type that is a cousin to the traditional ranch. It has its place in the built environment and fills it well. Like any form of housing it has its plusses and minuses. Although I just don't like the feel of them, they fell disjointed.

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