When & How Did they Begin?

First emerging in the 1930’s in a Sears and Roebuck plan book, this style really flourished in the 50’s and 60’s, split-level homes began to appear on the American suburban scene. The style held wide appeal for its new design aesthetic as compared to the existing bungalows found along the streets and could be built affordably on smaller lots.

Originally built to accommodate sloping sites and minimize construction costs, the style offers a number of unique features, including:

  • Frank Lloyd Wright inspired design
  • Lower cost to build / affordability
  • Well defined public from private spaces
  • Substantial appearance

Made even more popular as a featured character in the Brady Bunch. The show illustrates how a split-level house works well for a blended family with two parents, six children, a housekeeper and the family dog, Tiger.

Entire subdivisions of split-levels were built in the 60’s and many survive to this day. Builders discovered that they could minimize their excavation costs by creating a partial basement that achieved the necessary frost depth without having to dig to the depth of a full basement. This resulted in brighter spaces and fewer steps to the main level. One can save as much as $100,000.00 as compared to other other model types from that era.

Why Are They Popular?

For many of the same reasons that they were originally created, Split-Level homes maintain their popularity to this day.

  • Affordable
  • Well defined spaces
  • Unique designs
  • Easily accessible levels

What Makes Them so Challenging?

The unique characteristics of Split-Level homes also makes them challenging to apply to today’s market demands. One realtor has been known to comment, “no one has ever asked me to ‘show me a split'”

  • Small windows and spaces
  • Low ceilings
  • Inflexible to expansion
  • Thermal comfort
  • Susceptible to awkward design solutions
  • Less than sexy

There are many who feel that modifying these homes to fit their needs is too difficult, or that it is easier to simply tear them down and build something new. Others feel that this is a unique style deserving to maintain its identity. In the end they do represent significant value and offer opportunities to become valuable members of today’s modern housing marketplace. Most importantly, they can be your beautiful and modern home.

Split-Level Types

Side split –  stacked levels are on one side

Back split – stacked levels are at the rear

  • Stacked split level – additional stories are stacked above others
  • Split level – three or four levels, entry at the main (public) level
    • Side split –  stacked levels are on one side
    • Back split – stacked levels are at the rear
  • Split entry – entry is located between floors
  • Raised ranch

What Can be Done?

There are a number of projects that can be pursued to help improve the appearance and performance of an existing split-level home. Because of the nature of the half story relationships, these types of homes are notoriously challenging to renovate. Great care must be taken in the conception and execution of renovation work on these homes. The traditional two story addition to the rear often is revealed as an awkward looking add-on. There are numerous examples of ill-conceived projects that shoehorn new spaces within or next to existing spaces without considering both their appearance as well as how they live. Split-level homes are uniquely susceptible to additions that “look like additions” and worse yet, have compromised circulation and function within. Here are a few ideas for potential improvements.

Low (effort & investment)

  • Replace existing windows with taller units
  • Add new windows
  • Open existing spaces to one another
  • Maximize storage with built-ins


  • Small addition
  • Entry renovation
  • Add new & wider windows
  • Narrower siding
  • Skylights
  • Vaulted ceilings


  • Major addition
  • Reconfigure existing spaces
  • Un-split the house