Split Level Style Homes

Created to Sequester Certain Living Activities

A Modern style that architects created to sequester certain living activities--such as sleeping or socializing--split levels offered an multilevel alternative to the ubiquitous Ranch style in the 1950s. The nether parts of a typical design were devoted to a garage and TV room; the midlevel, which usually jutted out from the two-story section, offered "quieter" quarters, such as the living and dining rooms; and the area above the garage was designed for bedrooms.

Found mostly in the East and Midwest, split-levels, like their Ranch counterparts, were constructed with various building materials.

A split-level home (also called a tri-level home) is a style of house in which the floor level of one part of the house is about half way between the floor and ceiling of the other part of the house. The one story section typically contains a family room, living room, dining room, and kitchen. There are typically two small sets of stairs that attach the one story section of the house to the two story section. One set leads up, typically to bedrooms and a bathroom. The other set leads down to a large family room and basement area. Often, the basement level also includes the garage and is level with the driveway. The first floor is built halfway between the basement and second floor, with the second floor being above the basement. Alternately, both halves of the house may be two stories tall, with a basement beneath the "first story" section described above. Additions to the house are possible by adding a third floor above the first or expanding outward from any side.

The book, 'Multi-Level Homes: Split-Level, Bi-Level, Hillside Designs' - Split-level home styles reflect upon an approach made popular by Frank Lloyd Wright., American architect Wright held a belief that houses featuring "half floors" could blend more naturally into the landscape. The home's living areas would therefore be removed from private quarters by only a few steps, in place of having one lengthy staircase.

A sidesplit is where the split level is visible from the front elevation of the home. A backsplit is where the split level is only visible from the side elevation. The front elevations shows only a single story and the two stories are in the back.

A bi-level includes two short sets of stairs and two levels . The entry is between floors. The front door opens to a landing. One short flight of stairs leads up to the top floor; another short flight of stairs leads down. The top floor tends to be full height ceilings with the living room, dining room, kitchen, bedrooms and bathrooms. The lower floor often has lower ceilings and is partially below ground. However, in many modern split foyer homes, the lower level is at grade, which necessitates an outdoor staircase to reach the front door. These homes often also have very high ceilings on the lower level to accommodate the home's HVAC ducting.


Stacked Split Level

The stacked split level has four or five short sets of stairs, and five or more levels. The entry is on a middle floor between two levels. The front door opens into a foyer, and two short sets of stairs typically lead down to a basement and up to some sort of living area (often the kitchen or the living room). The next living area is on top of the foyer (containing either the kitchen or the living room), and another short set of stairs typically leads to at least one bedroom, located on top of the first living area. Often additional bedrooms are 'stacked' on top of the second living area, hence the name 'stacked split level'. This type of construction is typically used for townhouses.

Split Level

The split level has two or three short sets of stairs, and three or four levels. The entry is on a middle floor between two floors. The front door opens directly into what is usually the formal living area. This mid-level floor houses Living Room, Dining Room, Kitchen, and has a short flight of stairs leading up to bedrooms, and another short flight of stairs leading down to informal living areas and garage.

Split Entry

The Split Entry has two or three short sets of stairs, and three or four levels. The entry is between floors. The front door opens in a foyer or entry area located in a wing off the main house. From the entry, a short flight of stairs leads up to the top floor, and another short flight leads down. The house usually resembles a three-level or split-level from the exterior, but is actually a bi-level with an entry wing. In most cases, this entry area is part of a garage wing. In others, the entry area might be a separate living room wing.

Raised Ranch

The raised ranch has two common forms, both two levels. One form is to have one full flight of stairs. The entry at is at the lower floor. A full flight of stairs, usually near the front door, leads up to the living level. The second form is to have a small external flight of stairs lead up to an entry, which opens onto a small foyer in between the floors, with a half flight of stairs up to the upper floor and a half flight down to the lower floor. The top floor tends to have full height ceilings with the living room, dining room, kitchen and bedrooms. The lower floor often has lower ceilings. Although in the first form the door is at or nearly at grade, sometimes the back and/or a side of the house is partially below ground. In the second form, the front of the house may be slightly below ground, and thus there may be just a few stairs that lead up to the front door. Many have the appearance of a ranch house that has been stretched upward and had the door lowered.


The split-level home offers a convenient way to accommodate uneven property. Since the main floor is about halfway above the basement, the house can be built into the side of a slope or soft hill, providing a very efficient use of space.

Moving throughout this type of home can be easier for people with disabilities, since fewer steps are required to go from the bedrooms to the rest of the house when compared with a traditional two-story house.

In an area where the number of floors is limited by a local ordinance, split-level homes can sometimes offer an additional livable level while still remaining legally compliant.


Since the first floor and driveway are at different levels, porch steps are required between the front entrance and the driveway; steps can be hazardous when icy. Though the interior stairways are divided, there are as many steps in this type of house as in any other that has one floor above another (given equal ceiling heights). Persons with impaired mobility, often including the elderly, would find stairs an impediment. Stairs also present a falling hazard; therefore, preventive "child-proofing" measures should always include gates to any stairway entrances — preferably of a type that is installed, rather than a portable type — as well as a solid covering over any open railing posts or the like.

Multi-level living space is more prone to uneven heating and cooling. The split-level (tri-level), however, is one of the more susceptible designs.

Regional Variance in Usage

In some regions such as the northeastern United States, the term "split level" is used to refer to a bilevel house with a split entry. This style of house is also known as a "split foyer." This is a two-story house that has a small entrance foyer with stairs that "split"—half a flight of stairs go up (usually to the living room, kitchen, and bedrooms and half a flight of stairs go down (usually to a family room and garage/storage area). This style is very popular in other areas of the country as well.

Suggested Home Styles Books

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