Single vs Two Story – Which Home Is Right For You?

Should I Build a Single or a Two Story Home?

Buying an existing home or building new is predominantly the biggest purchase an individual will experience in their entire life.

However, as most people solely focus on the location and price of a home, many will forget to look at the advantages and disadvantages that a single story or a two story home can provide for a family. Overlooking this information can be very costly in the end. If you are truly unhappy with your house and choose to resell in a short period of time, expenses such as moving furniture and transferring utilities can double in a blink of an eye.

After all, home buying or building is most likely the largest expense in a persons life. Therefore, shouldn’t you at least be aware of the pros and negatives of the two most common styles of homes in North America?


A two story home is a house that has one floor on grade and another one above.

Advantages of a Two Story Home

Increased privacy. The upstairs area of a two story home usually consists of bedrooms. Being elevated off of the ground level makes it harder for people who are outside to look in. A floor separating the living room/kitchen from the bedrooms above increases “within” home privacy as well.

Better for large families. In most cities, you are restricted to build on a maximum of 40% of your lots entire area. Therefore, if you maximize the footprint of your home, you can double your living space by adding a second story.

Costs less per square foot of living space. As there is usually a smaller footprint in relative to a single story home, excavation and foundation costs will also be less. It is generally more expensive to work in the ground than to work above grade.

– Better views and a larger outdoor space. Since you are higher up, you have the potential to have a better view of the surrounding on decks and rooftop patios. While your building footprint is usually smaller in a two story, your outdoor space will be increased as well.

– Less fuel efficient. The HVAC system will have to work harder and become less efficient as there is more exterior walls exposed to the environment than a single story home. The air conditioner becomes less efficient in the summer as the air on a second story is warmer. With two stories, there is also a greater chance of air leakage in the building envelope.

Disadvantages of a Two Story Home

Sound travels between the floors. Flushing toilets, having showers, and hearing individuals walking around on the floor above is one of the most common complaints heard from homeowners while living in a two story house. Therefore, you can easily eliminate this problem by checking to see if their is a sound insulator such as Roxul Safe and Sound present in the joist space above the main floor. This will prevent noise travel between the main and second floor of a home.

Stairs can be dangerous and make it harder to age in place.  Having more stairs in your home increases the dangers for children and elderly individuals to get hurt. If you suspect that you will be living in your home for a long period of time, you should always ask yourself if you think that you will be able to use the stairs later in life. Forking out thousands of dollars for a new stair lift unfortunately be the only solution if mobility issues arise down the road.

Lack of architectural and ceiling height variations. One of the negatives of a two story home is that most ceiling heights are limited to 8 or 9 feet high. A single story home however, may have ceilings with greater architectural variations upwards of 20 feet high. If your not solely focused on an open concept homes, the variations in ceiling height won’t matter as much to you.

Advantages of a Single Story Home

Easier to age in place. As we said before, by simply removing the staircase, you now eliminate the risk of falling while traveling between the floors. If mobility issues arise later in life, moving around a single floor with a cane or walker is without a doubt easier than moving on the stairs. If you become wheelchair bound, it is easier to create a home free of obstructions by removing walls and opening up different rooms.

Increased safety.  In case of an emergency such as a fire or an health issue, it is easier to evacuate the main floor relative to the second. Furthermore, for first responders, it is harder to get to individuals and evacuating them out of higher story homes than it is on  main floor houses.

Increased energy efficiency. As stated before, less exterior wall surface area by having a single floor to heat and cool will drastically decrease your HVAC equipment run time. This equates to a smaller utility bill compared to that of owning a two story of the same square footage.

Less noise. You won’t hear plumbing fixtures and footsteps coming from above.

More architectural variations. With a single story home, height restriction issues will almost never come up. This allows for creative ceiling work and exterior protrusions from the home reaching greater distances from the core structure. It should also be noted that it is also easier to design an open concept living space.

Disadvantages of a Single Story Home

There is less privacy. Living on one floor means it is easier for people to look in from the outside. Second, you live in closer proximity to other family members as you will not have floor separation between common living spaces and bedrooms.

You pay more per square foot of living space. As I said earlier, the greatest costs associated when building a home occur below ground. More often than not, a single story home will have a larger footprint than that of a two story home with the same amount of living space. Therefore, there will be more concrete work and excavation when building a single story home. This is typically the reason why a single story home of the same square footage as a two story will cost more.

The size of home limited. A single story home must follow the land use bylaws created by the province, state, or municipality. The exterior footprint regardless if it is a single story or a two story home cant exceed a specific percentage of the entire lots area. Overall, if the maximum footprint is reached for a home, a two story home can double the living space by simply expanding upwards.


After building a home or buying new, the ongoing responsibilities of home ownership and maintenance will take place regardless if it is a single story or a two story home. However, there both benefits and negatives that come with owning one of the two most common styles of homes in North America. A single story home allows for greater architectural variations, is easier for individuals to age in place, but comes with a greater cost to build in relation to square feet of living space. A two story home on the other hand is more private, usually has more space to live in, but has a lower level of safety when it comes to emergency evacuations and stair accidents.

In the end, thought should always be put into deciding if a single story home or two story home will suite your families needs. Remember, always ask yourself when buying or building new, which home is right for you?

Braden Pleckaitis – Custom Home Builder for Poetry Homes