Update: Split level homes get something of a bad rap these days, but there are plenty of reasons they used to be so popular; they’re quieter, they’re more private, tend to be larger and have clearly defined separate living spaces. But there are problems for the modern homeowner; larger, more airy open spaces are fashionable whereas split level homes tend to be made up of several smaller rooms. The increased number of stairs and steps is also not ideal for the elderly or anybody that uses a wheelchair. This is why many split level home owners choose to remodel, but this type of home does present its own unique challenges.
Split Level Homes were designed and built to provide privacy, some separation of daily living activities, noise control, and spaciousness. To be sure, many split level homes have relatively small rooms, but this is not the case in all split level homes. The various types of split level home designs enabled builders to accommodate hills and slopes as they developed neighborhoods. Split Levels also accommodated the desire of homeowners to have a formal living area, a “recreation room” or informal living area, and to provide privacy and seclusion in the bedrooms.
Owners of split level homes frequently wish to add more living space or more accessible living space. For persons with disabilities and for the elderly, the number of short staircases can be very challenging. They are too steep for a ramp and too short for an elevator. Installation of a glide chair, however, is a reasonable option.
Positioning an addition is the major challenge in adding to a split level home. Some locations and neighborhoods restrict the height of houses. Local building codes might also restrict additions in one direction or another due to required set-backs from property lines. Further, the external appearance and curb appeal of the house may argue against some addition options.
Here are the major considerations in building an addition to a split level home:
- In general, do not add a new level
- Do not add to the length of the “long dimension” of the house
- If the “long dimension” of the house faces the street, build the addition in the back
- If the “short dimension” of the house faces the street, build the addition with at least some of the addition to the side of the entry
- Always match building materials as much as possible
- Add a garage on the “downhill” side of the lot
- If you must add to the “long dimension” of the house, add as little as possible
- If you add to the “long dimension” of the house, make sure you balance windows and doors
- If you add to the “long dimension” of the house, do so in a way that makes the two sides balanced in width and height
- If you will add a new level to the house, build it above the lowest part of the room line to maintain balance and symmetry of roof lines
- If your split level is designed so the roof can be raised over one level, add a dormer or two — it will provide additional living space, and it will make the addition look more planned
The unique challenges of adding living space in a split level home usually justify the time and cost of consulting an
architect or designer. A badly placed or poorly designed addition can create an atrocity. An addition that is carefully placed, designed for balance and symmetry, and built carefully can actually enhance the appearance of a split level. Designing with an eye to the external appearance of the house, as well as creating the additional living space you need, will ensure a successful project that will increase the value of your home and maintain its “fit” in the neighborhood.