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Thread: Split-level homes: unintended consequences

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    Split-level homes: unintended consequences

    My parents bought their split level in 1964, dutifully paid the mortgage for 30 years, and figured they'd spend the rest of their lives there.

    In December, my widowed 79-year-old father had hip-replacement surgery and developed complications that resulted in the amputation of his leg just above the knee. In one fell swoop, it certainly appears, he will never be able to go home again, because he cannot live on one floor. His living room and kitchen are on the main floor; bedroom and bath are up one flight of stairs; family room; utility room and half-bath on the bottom floor, down another flight of stairs.

    Forgive me if this seems harsh, but his circumstance has led me to believe that the split-level is a useless home design. His is the generation that aspired to buy one home and spend the rest of one's life there. Now? He'll probably never be able to live there again.

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    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Wouldn't you have the same issue with any multi-story house built more than 20 years ago, though? Bedrooms and full bath upstairs; living room, kitchen, dining room and maybe a half bath downstairs. Even in older ranch houses, the washer and dryer would often be in a basement, requiring a trip down stairs.

    What's the solution? Make all houses one story on a slab, with no basement?
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    Chairman of the bored Maister's avatar
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    Cyburbian Queen B's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by DebWNJ View post
    My parents bought their split level in 1964, dutifully paid the mortgage for 30 years, and figured they'd spend the rest of their lives there.

    In December, my widowed 79-year-old father had hip-replacement surgery and developed complications that resulted in the amputation of his leg just above the knee. In one fell swoop, it certainly appears, he will never be able to go home again, because he cannot live on one floor. His living room and kitchen are on the main floor; bedroom and bath are up one flight of stairs; family room; utility room and half-bath on the bottom floor, down another flight of stairs.

    Forgive me if this seems harsh, but his circumstance has led me to believe that the split-level is a useless home design. His is the generation that aspired to buy one home and spend the rest of one's life there. Now? He'll probably never be able to live there again.
    Unfortunate but quite normal. I am surprised that there had not been an issue before now. We are not even 50 yet and are making plans on how we can get the laundry moved upstairs in our Ranch style house. See if you can't get him into one of those assissted living places. They will be more accessible and he will be around other people and be able to get help easier. Then he can still have some of his independence.
    Sounds more like the issue is more of your hope that he would be able to live in his home till he died. Things change and sometimes it is for the better!
    It is all a matter of perspective!!!

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    Right now, my father is in a nursing home. He very well may remain there for the rest of his life. My gripe is that his home cannot be retrofited -- ie., bathroom on main floor, etc. -- without major expenditures. Even stairway lifts are out of the price range...the cheapest one I saw online was about $1,500. That's not feasible.
    I think the bigger issue is that folks ought to think about where they hope to spend their final years. I'm sure that it's not on many people's radar screens. And maybe one-stories aren't such a totally bad idea.

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    We will be facing that issue/dilemma also -
    Mom has lived in the same split level for 50 yrs. Costs too much money to maintain it; let alone heat & cool it, besides barely updated - still has single pane windows.
    Her response is yes I have to get out of there soon but where will I move to ?
    Compounding is that my brother, sister and I live out of state.
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    Cyburbian TexanOkie's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by DebWNJ View post
    Forgive me if this seems harsh, but his circumstance has led me to believe that the split-level is a useless home design. His is the generation that aspired to buy one home and spend the rest of one's life there. Now? He'll probably never be able to live there again.
    To me, it sounds like your family has used their split-level home very well and that it has had an extremely good run for 30+ years. That, in and of itself, argues against split-levels being useless, especially with most homeowners jumping around so often and with the poorer quality of homes built nowadays.

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    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by DebWNJ View post
    My parents bought their split level in 1964, dutifully paid the mortgage for 30 years, and figured they'd spend the rest of their lives there.

    In December, my widowed 79-year-old father had hip-replacement surgery and developed complications that resulted in the amputation of his leg just above the knee. In one fell swoop, it certainly appears, he will never be able to go home again, because he cannot live on one floor. His living room and kitchen are on the main floor; bedroom and bath are up one flight of stairs; family room; utility room and half-bath on the bottom floor, down another flight of stairs.

    Forgive me if this seems harsh, but his circumstance has led me to believe that the split-level is a useless home design. His is the generation that aspired to buy one home and spend the rest of one's life there. Now? He'll probably never be able to live there again.
    Ummm ... it's not the home design, it's that people don't realize/won't accept that aging puts limits on what we can do, including climbing stairs, and don't plan ahead of time. He should have considered a different home years ago, and if he didn't, perhaps you should have brought this up. The time to do this is when you're still young enough and healthy enough to think clearly.

    I am 60 years old. I am considering building a modular home on land I already own when I retire in 6 years (I have 2 potential home sites in mind). It will be a single story with a basement and an attached 2+ car garage. There will be 2 bedrooms, a bath (with stall shower), and a laundry/mud room with freezer space on the main floor. I will have a ramp in the garage. There will also be a screened porch off the dining area on the same level as the main floor (again, no steps). All doors and the stairway will be 36" wide. The basement will include an unfinished space for well pump, softener, furnace, HW tank, storage, etc but most of it will be finished as a family/TV room, a third bedroom, and another full bath because it will be a daylight basement with windows/glass block to take advantage of the south-facing slope. I may put in a small greenhouse. This will give me the advantage of having a two story home but I can choose to live on only 1 floor if I want or need to do so.

    Whether I actually build this house will have a lot to do with how healthy I am as I get closer to retirement because it will be out in the country. I already have a perfectly fine home in town that has a first floor bedroom, bath, and laundry. Maybe in three or four years, I won't be so healthy or maybe I won't want to be driving so much or maybe I will find an existing place that suits me that's just over the city line.

  9. #9
    We used to live in a 4th floor walk up. But our surviving parents are now in their 70s. In order to make sure they could visit us for as long as possible, we moved to the 6th floor of an elevator building. So its a factor in choosing where to live even if you aren't that old yourself.

    Of course we LIKE our parents to visit us.

  10. #10
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    This reminds of my thread from the past - Split level houses - why?

    I've never been a fan of these designs, but we did just lose out on one here in town. The reason was that although we don't like splits, this one was a decent example, was newly rehabbed, was less than one mile from my former office, and was in the general price range available to us.

    But I agree with some of the other posters - perhaps your father should have considered the difficulties associated with the house for this elder years. I am the value of the house/property now (after 30+ years of ownership) could have given your father enough money to buy a small ranch house/townhouse in your area without much fuss, but that is me making big assumption on the local housing market, diversity of housing supply, how much was still owed on the place, etc.

    Hopefully, the sale of the house can afford your father some time in a nice nursing home.

    Good luck.
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  11. #11
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    Split foyer houses are worse. Open the door and you face the staircase landing.

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    Cyburbian Queen B's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mike gurnee View post
    Split foyer houses are worse. Open the door and you face the staircase landing.
    I agree, I have always hated those.
    It is all a matter of perspective!!!

  13. #13
    Cyburbian CJC's avatar
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    Doesn't really seem to be a problem with split-levels or even the time that houses were built. Many of the Victorians around here have no bedrooms or full bathrooms on the main floor, and in many cases even that main floor requires going up a half-flight of stairs to get to the front door.
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  14. #14
    I don't have a problem with split level houses either. Even if an elderly person lives in a one level single family home, what happens when they can't drive anymore?

    In the past few months on this site, the mood has been against zero lot line houses, split level houses, apartment dwellings, tents (just kidding on the last one but its getting cranky in here!)

    Again. Choice! Choice! Choice! And choose wisely. Make plans for the future.

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    Cyburbian WSU MUP Student's avatar
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    I agree that they are not a useless design, because there are obviously some people out there who do like them and even prefer them over ranches and colonials. I am not an expert on energy usage, but I always imagined that, all other things being equal, split levels were generally a little more energy efficient because the lower level, being partially underground, would have a more constant temperature and have a more substantial buffer from cold winds.

    All that being said, I've never been a big fan of them but mainly because of aesthetics and that all of those extra stairs seemed like a lot of wasted space to me. But I figured that was part of the opportunity cost... Lower energy costs but relatively more space lost to stairs and the like.



    Slightly related, the house that my wife and I bought last year is on a slab and the only two steps are one up to the front porch and one in the garage up to the level where the entrance is (but you can usually exit from your vehicle right to that level) and all of the doorways are slightly wider than normal. Even the listing noted that it was more handicap accessible (all that would really need to be done is lowering of a couple sinks/counters) which is probably a big selling point considering my community has one of the highest median ages in the state.
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    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    If a $1500 stair lift is out of your price range, why is a nursing home the option? For the cost of one month there, you can have the lift. And most nursing home programs will eventually force Dad to sell the house to stay on any government assistance.

  17. #17
    Not exactly split levels, but the houses on the street I grew up on had "sunken living rooms" which are at grade, down two steps from the rest of the house and allowing for a smooth access to the outside patio.

    In the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, the woman across the street from my mother fell on the floor of her living room. The large doors to the patio were open. Water from her pool sloshed into her living room soaking her. She said that for a minute, she thought California was falling into the ocean.

  18. #18
    My mom is 95 this yer, she live with her sister (96) in the ouse they were born in during the mid 1910's, th ehom was built in 1911.......they have bath, bedrooms, living room, dining room and kitchen on one floor in a two story home.............on the other hand, my wife and I owned a two story built in 1935 (sort of a craftsman home) with bath and bed upstairs, and when you can't get upstairs, you live on the first floor with a port-a-potty.............I have always liked split levels, but they are not so great if you are having problems climbing stairs..............

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    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Chet View post
    If a $1500 stair lift is out of your price range, why is a nursing home the option? For the cost of one month there, you can have the lift. And most nursing home programs will eventually force Dad to sell the house to stay on any government assistance.
    A good alternative to a nursing home is an assisted living complex. These are small apartments or suites intended for seniors with mobility/health issues who don't require 24/7 care but do need some assistance with every day care and aren't up to living alone. They run the gamut from pricey to modest, frequently dependent upon the level of care provided.

    My sister-in-law's mom has hip problems that make it difficult for her to walk. She sold her big house and moved into one after her husband passed. She doesn't have to cook or worry about getting to appointments (there's a shuttle bus) or utilities etc. A big plus is that she can now socialize with people as she couldn't before. All she has to do is wheel her chair out the door and down the hall or over to the elevator to go visit the friends she's made since she moved in.

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    This explains why the main type (almost the only type!) of development that we are seeing in my community is houses with main-floor master bedrooms, usually with at least a few elements of universal design built in. We have the splits, and lots of townhouses, but none of those are being built anymore. The only thing that really seems to be in demand are houses where all the living space is on the first floor.
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    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Plannerbabs View post
    This explains why the main type (almost the only type!) of development that we are seeing in my community is houses with main-floor master bedrooms, usually with at least a few elements of universal design built in. We have the splits, and lots of townhouses, but none of those are being built anymore. The only thing that really seems to be in demand are houses where all the living space is on the first floor.
    This trend will increase, especially as the baby boom generation ages.

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