The Pros and Cons of One-Story and Two-Story Living

By Bill Primavera

It’s been almost five years since I gave up two-story living in a colonial single-family house for a one-floor luxury condo. The most noticeable difference during that time is that I’ve gained weight!

For most of my life I’ve lived a two-story existence, having to climb stairs any number of times during the course of a day, except for brief periods when I lived in a New York City apartment building on one level, 14 stories up, but of course with an elevator. 

Another rental experience on one level, thankfully short, was a five-floor walk-up that was a challenge for visitors who first had to catch their breath before we could embark on any kind of civil discourse.

Other than that, I subscribed to the credo that one of my first customers laid down: to show him only two-story houses where he didn’t eat and sleep on the same floor. (This reminded me at the time of the expression that conveys rather coarsely that you’re not supposed to have an affair at the same place where you work.)

For much of the history of single-family homes in America, the preferred style was the simple one-story ranch-style home, progressing from there to the Cape Cod with two bedrooms and a bath nestled nicely in the raised roofline of the structure.

But as families increased in size and we became a wealthier nation, first the split, with half the house rising to two stories, then the colonial became the preferred style by the 1970s. But one-level ranch homes have remained a good choice for starter homes as well as a preferred choice for seniors who prefer a no-steps option.

Just recently I ran across a checklist online of pros and cons of one- and two-story options as follows. For one-story dwellers, the advantages are:

  1. If you’re into fitness, it’s a benefit, but most of us consider it a hassle to go up and down stairs.
  2. Most homes don’t have noise proofing from above.
  3. At some point, many, if not most of us, will not be able to navigate stairs.
  4. Renovation flexibility. Load-bearing walls make knocking down walls a problem. With ranches, it’s easier to create open areas.

5.Adding skylights. You simply punch a hole in the roof. This is impossible with a second floor.

  1. Exterior maintenance. Cleaning gutters 10 feet up is easier than 20 feet. The same goes for washing a house, cleaning windows and performing roof maintenance.
  2. High or cathedral ceilings are easier to add than in a two-story home.
  3. More deck and patio potential from more rooms by just creating a door.
  4. Child safety is an issue with stairs in a two-story house.
  5. Easier escape in case of fire.
  6. Easier to clean, in terms of stairs and not having to lug vacuums up and down stairs.
  7. There’s no issue of having the laundry delivered up or down one or two flights of stairs.
  8. One-story homes are in demand, a great resale value.
  9. A one-story home is cheaper to heat and cool.

Advantages of two-story homes

  1. More square footage with smaller footprint; in other words, it’s cost-effective.
  2. Sometimes it’s beneficial to put bedrooms on the lower level and have the living area on top for a better view, especially on a sloping lot.
  3. If you like the idea of a balcony off your master bedroom.
  4. Distinct separation between bedrooms and living space, probably the most common reason most people claim.
  5. Easier to accommodate on most lots that might not be wide enough or big enough for a large ranch while leaving enough outdoor space.
  6. The aesthetics of stairs, which many homeowners desire for a grander foyer effect.
  7. Given the roof and foundation are expensive components of a house to build, a two-story house containing the same square footage as a ranch will generally cost less per square foot.

The obvious conclusion to be drawn here is that, while the list of advantages for a ranch-style home may be longer, the two-story home would appear more desirable simply because a second story is more cost-effective to build, not to mention a built-in aerobics program at the same time.

Primavera is a realtor associated with William Raveis Real Estate and founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc. ( His real estate site is To engage the services of The Home Guru to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.