Split Level House Vs. Bi Level House: Mid-Century Modern Dreams

Split-level house vs. bi-level house? Have you been racking your brain trying to find out this difference? There are many different types of homes that are separated by stairs or different living quarters.

For example, most condominiums are actually one building that is split into two or more parts. But condos are still common today.

What isn’t as common is a split-level house or a bi-level house. This type of house was built in mid-century times. Although mid-century modern is popular right now, actually mid-century homes are not.

What Is A Split Level House?

Remodeling A Bi Level House
Image from SALA Architects

A split-level house is a house that has at least three distinct levels separated by raised ground and flights of stairs. Split level homes are noticeably staggered and usually have common areas on the lower level with bedrooms on the upper levels

Split-level homes weren’t very popular before the 1970s, but when The Brady Bunch debuted and their house was a split level, sales for split level homes skyrocketed. In the 1970s, more than 10% of homes were split level.

That may not seem like a lot but it’s twenty times more than today where the number is closer to .5% of homes. So they have seen the height of their popularity, but some people are still in love with the idea. 

What Is A Bi-Level House?

A bi-level house is similar to a split-level house but bi-level homes usually have two floors that are instead accessed by the same door. This is similar to many duplexes that have the same entrance, even with two families living in them. 

Split Level House Vs. Bi-Level House

Image from Red House Architects

Though they sound very similar, a split-level house and a bi-level house are two distinct types of houses. Since bi-level homes are technically one-story homes, let’s take a look at the distinctions of a split-level home. 

Split-Level House Vs. Bi-Level House: The Primary Differences 

These are the main differences between a split-level house and a bi-level house. These are fairly consistent and can be seen in almost every bi-level or split-level house. 

Half Stairs

A lot of time, split-level homes have half-stairs that go to the different levels of the homes. For example, imagine you walk onto the landing of a normal set of stairs. One-half of the stairs goes up while the other goes down.

This is the primary way that a bi-level home is set up, though it can be seen in split-level homes too. The difference is that split-level homes are multiple stories but bi-level homes are just one story that is separated. 

Low Basements

The basements in split-level homes are usually half-exposed but always used properly. There is usually use for the basement other than storing stuff. There is good lighting and the basement is used every day.

Today, egress windows are added to the basements to make them safe and provide a good escape route in case of a fire or another danger. Egress windows are required in many areas if you have a basement. 

Different Materials 

Most split-level homes are made with multiple materials. Usually, stone and wood are merged with one level being made of stone and the other of wood. This is one aspect that many people are drawn to. 

Use Of Every Square Foot

Split-level homes were originally designed to use up every inch of a small house on a small lot. Because of this, they are designed to not have a lot of open floor space while still being open-concept at times.

Even when the floors are separated and there are walls in-between, architects make the most of the space they have, packing each room into whatever space they are given. The basement is even used for living quarters or an office. 

Split-Level House Vs. Bi-Level House: The Secondary Differences

These are the secondary differences between a split-level house and a bi-level house. You will notice that they are consistent but are often noticed when the above confirm that you are looking at either a split-level house or a bi-level house.

Bay Windows

Though not all split-level houses have bay windows, it is very common for them to sport the gorgeous windows that often feature a window seat. When they don’t have bay windows, they have other unique windows.

The Brady Bunch house had clerestory windows and multiple windows at different levels to give it even more depth. But the clerestory windows were the real stars of the Brady Bunch House even though they didn’t have bay windows.

Attached Garages

There are many different types of garages, but since split-level houses tend to have smaller lots, an attached garage is necessary. Most of the time, the garage is lower than the house, though not as low as a basement.

This is also common in bi-level homes where the garage is just slightly lower than the home though still on the same story. There is simply a small step down into the garage which is a characteristic of bi-level homes. 

Low Pitched Roofs

The slope of roofs for split-level homes is almost always low. If it isn’t low, it is a flat roof. Flat roof homes have their problems, especially with draining, but a low-pitched roof takes care of those problems. 

Back when split-level homes were popular, the low pitch of the roof was in. Today, it still looks quite modern despite the houses themselves being one of the least popular styles of homes in America.

Types Of Split Level Houses

Remodeling A Bi Level House
Image from Matsuki Architects

Because a split-level home is simply a home that is split into different areas and levels, there are multiple ways to design them. Here are the most common types of splits in a split-level home and the primary ones you will see. 

Side Split

A side split home is a traditional split that separates the bedrooms from the living space. These homes will use half-stairs or even step-up half-walls to divide the two areas. It’s easy to spot this type of split home.

A common way to build a side split home is to put a garage on one side with bedrooms above the garage. Then the other side is where people will enter and it has the living room, kitchen, and any other common room.

Back Split

A back split home is split the other way and looks normal from the front. But on the back, there is a different level. The uses for each side are the same though there isn’t usually a garage on a back split. 

A back split home is great for privacy because the back side of the house is rarely visible, especially if there is a fence in the backyard. It also isn’t as intriguing to burglars because it looks smaller than it actually is. 

Standard Split

A standard split-level home has an entrance at ground level with a split staircase leading to each of the levels. Because a standard split has multiple levels with a split staircase, it is ideal for multiple-family homes.

When the standard split home is built for one family, the bottom is usually a garage or game room while the middle level has the kitchen, dining room, and living room. That leaves the top for the bedrooms. 

Stacked Split

A stacked split-level house has at least three levels, usually more. It has a similar entrance to the standard split, only has even more places to go from there. This is similar to a duplex or condo entrance.

If built for only one family, the stacked split works just like a standard split only for bigger families. Oftentimes, one floor is for the adults while the other floor is for the kids. Alternatively, you can have one floor as guest quarters. 

Remodeling A Bi-Level House

Remodeling A Bi-Level House
Image from here.

If you want to turn your bi-level house into a regular house to up the market value, there are a few things you can do. These things can transform the bi-level house into a modern-day house with a slight quirk. 

Eliminate The Overhang

The first thing you want to do is take care of that strange overhang on the front. Bi-level houses almost always have them. The best way to do this is to build under them then remove the previous load-bearing walls. 

It’s very important to build new load-bearing walls before removing the old ones. If you don’t then the entire home could collapse, leaving you with a mess to clean up at best. So get help with the load-bearing properties. 

Build Up One Side

Since most bi-level homes have different levels, it can help to build one side up to meet the other. Even if one side is a garage, it can help to make sure that the roofs of each of them are the same to make the home appear more normal.

Create Another Entrance

If the split-level or bi-level home has only one entrance, then consider making a normal entrance that enters into the living room or kitchen. Make it at ground level as this is what most people prefer in a home. 

Update The Decor

Finally, the most important part is to update the decor. This means paint, drywall, siding, and anything that dates the home. The best way to sell a home is to bring it into the 21st century. This is a problem with bi-levels.

Most bi-level homes were built in the 1970s, so this can be a challenge. Hire a professional to help you locate anything that can hinder the ability of the house to sell. Take care of those things and the money will be returned to you when you sell. 

If you want to roll with what you have, remember that mid-century modern is trending and has been for years. So take that home and highlight the best parts of the era, marketing it as a mid-century modern home!