When you look at house plans, what are your top three priorities? Your choices may be based on the house you grew up in or the neighborhood where you'd like to live. With young children space might be more important. Older homeowners often want a one-story house so they don't have to worry about stairs. That's why you'll find many more single-story houses in states with a large number of retirees.
If you're considering a one-story house, here are the key decision factors to consider:
- Why Are One-Story Homes More Expensive than Two-Story Houses?
- Will a One-Story House Command a Higher Price When Selling?
- Advantages of a One-Story House
- Disadvantages of a One-Story Home
If you're used to comparing houses based on square feet, you might not realize that one-story houses are almost always more expensive. There are two simple reasons for this. It's more expensive to build a one-story house and the building lot for a one-story house is typically larger, adding more cost.
What are the added building costs for a one-story house?
First let's compare the footprint of one and two-story houses with 2,400 square feet. We'll leave the garage and potential basement out to make things easier. The one-story house will need a foundation and slab for 2,400 sq ft. The two-story house only needs a foundation for half that size, or 1,200 sq ft.
Wondering how the stairs affect this? Stairs and hallways are included as living space in the square feet measurement. It's something you need to consider as you look through house plans. Why? If there's too much space devoted to hallways, you might get one less bedroom. When moving from a four bedroom, 2,250 sq ft house in San Jose, CA, I assumed a 2,400 sq ft house in Portsmouth, NH would have four bedrooms. After walking one house twice searching for the fourth bedroom, I asked where it was. They said the house only had three bedrooms. It took a few minutes to figure out the missing bedroom was replaced by too many long hallways.
Back to the added construction costs for a one-story house. For more details, you'll enjoy reading Turner & Son Homes, Cost to Build a House: Is a 2-Story House Less Expensive to Build?.
- Land preparation costs for a larger footprint (for example, 2,400 sq ft).
- Excavation and foundation for that larger footprint.
- Pouring a slab or framing the first floor.
- Framing (installing trusses) a larger roof to cover 2,400 sq ft in our example.
- Roofing more surface area, from the roof deck and shingles to soffits and fascia around the roof's perimeter. Learn more about Roofing Layers: What's Under the Shingles.
- Higher plumbing, electrical and heating/cooling costs to extend throughout the house.
When do building lot costs increase the price of a one-story house?
If you buy your own land, you know a half acre costs less than an acre. However most people building a house pick a development, and within that community one of the builders who owns lots. This typically means the roads and utilities are already there to support building on the lot you picked. The big cost variables are the size of the building lot, the view you'll have from the house and the community/location.
Some communities have a minimum lot size like a quarter acre. In this situation, a one-story house will have less outdoor living space because it covers more land than a two-story home. Some builders will only put single story houses on larger lots to insure they have similar curb appeal within the community. In this case, a larger lot will cost more, adding to the overall cost of a one-story house.
There's no guarantee that a one-story home will sell for a higher price than a two-story house with the same square footage and finishes. Like all real estate transactions, it's a matter of supply and demand. If more buyers want single-story homes and the supply is limited, these houses will sell at a premium. This is often the case in retirement communities where a large percentage of buyers want, even need, a house with no stairs.
Here's what some real estate professionals said when asked, Is There a Value Difference Between a One and Two-Story House?
- Sue Galster, Realtor/Broker, “A one-story house appeals to a wider range of current home owners and future buyers. Rarely do I meet a buyer who says they need/prefer a two-story house and it’s quite common to hear that a one-story is non-negotiable … more Baby Boomer home owners will require a one-story house for health and safety reasons so that stairs aren’t an issue in their lives.”
- Steve Ostrom, Realtor/Broker, “Over 30% of my clients say they must have a one-story. Another 40% say they prefer a single story. That is around 70% targeting single story. The number one reason they state is they are getting older and worry about having to climb stairs later in life.”
- Craig Dunnigan, Realtor/Broker, “Single story homes sell for more money than a two-story of equal size based on sales trends for over 35 years. Agents in our office feel single story homes are in higher demand and sell for more than most two-story homes. The aging “baby boomers” don’t want to be walking up and down stairs.”
You now know the most common reason driving one-story home demand is the lack of stairs. If you're wondering what the other advantages are, here's a short list and if you've discovered one that's missing, please share it in the comment section below.
- Safer without stairs which help small children, those with mobility challenges and seniors. They're also easier to evacuate if there's a fire.
- Retirement friendly (hmm, we never want to admit we're getting older) so if you need to use a walker or wheelchair, there won't be any problems although doors might need to be widened.
- Quieter living as there aren't any overhead footsteps.
- More living space (80 to 160 sq ft) because you're not wasting footage on a staircase.
- Opportunites for saving space with fewer bathrooms and a combination laundry/mud room.
- More design options with varied ceiling heights and skylights.
- Easier maintenance because everything is on the same level according to Realtor.com. Examples cited were no need to carry laundry up/down stairs and the same for a vacuum cleaner (I solved this with two of them).
- Higher construction costs than a two-story home due to the larger footprint.
- Often less outdoor space when one and two-story houses are built on the same size lot.
- Less privacy with single-story living in neighborhoods where those passing by can see into your house. With kids you'll also give up the separation that comes from upstairs bedrooms.
- Higher energy costs due to more surface areas (wall and roof) to lose/gain heat.
When building or buying a new home, making the decision to invest in a one-story house is important. We wish you the best of luck, plus a few more tips you might find useful:
- Building a House & Picking Your Building Lot
- Building vs Buying a Home: Can You Do Both?
- Getting More House for Less Money
- Rethinking Our Homes: Spare Bedroom Ideas
- … this one's fun, Home Trends – What's Changed Since 1950?