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Split-level home designs: Why a sloping block house is worth considering

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split-level home designs

Building a home on an uneven or sloping site can work to your advantage. By choosing among split-level home designs, you can maximise a large portion of the lot while taking advantage of the views surrounding the house. 

In this guide, we’ll share everything you need to know about building a split-level home. We’ll also share some tips that will help you create an aesthetically pleasing and structurally sound house for a sloping block.

Let’s begin!

underground floor in split-level home

What is a split-level house?

Split-level houses are those that are built on uneven ground. They often have staggered floors on one or two levels. This method allows the builder to create a foundation that suits the lot, rather than doing extensive excavation work in order to build a foundation on a single level.

The most common split-level home designs feature the kitchen, living room, and dining room on the main level. Often, a small stairway leads to an upper level with bedrooms. Then, another small stairway leads to the basement and garage.

This style of home gained popularity in Australia in the 1970s and still remains one of the top choices for homeowners who want to build a house in hilly suburbs. They’ve also seen a resurgence in recent years due to shrinking lot sizes available in urban areas.

Building a split-level house presents unique design challenges and opportunities, but when done successfully, you can have a one-of-a-kind, spacious, and comfortable home with beautiful views. 

Split-level home designs vs. Multi-storey homes

Most people think that a split-level home is the same as a multi-storey home, but they’re actually quite different. A split-level home is usually composed of two stories or more, but the spaces are arranged in a staggered design. That’s because the shape of the house is meant to slope together with the natural slope of the land.

By comparison, a multi-storey house has two or more floors sitting directly on top of each other.

split-level home exterior with garage

Common features of split-level home designs

Low-pitched roofs

Split-level houses are usually designed with low-pitched roofs. This roof design requires less material to build and improves heating and cooling. 

Short staircases

The multiple levels of split-level homes are connected by several flights of stairs. These stairs usually consist of three to four steps.

Step-down interior

In some cases, split-level homes have an elevated area or a recessed area within the same floor.

split level home designs: down step

Finished basements

Split-level homes have basements that are not all the way underground. Homeowners usually tend to maximise this space by turning it into a utility room, den, or guestroom.

Bay windows

Split-level homes are all about working with the natural surroundings. They often feature bay windows to let people admire the views while letting in plenty of natural light.

Natural materials

Split-level homes that were built in the 1970s or earlier typically feature natural materials that were readily available at the time. These include brick, wood panels, and hardwood floors.

split level home with staircase

Types of split-level home designs

There are several types of split-level home designs to choose from, namely:

Standard split split-level home designs

Standard split-level home designs have a front door on the main level, which leads to the living, kitchen, and dining room. All bedrooms are usually located on the upper floor.

traditional split-level home designs

Side split-level home designs

Side-split homes are those in which multiple levels are visible from the front side of the homes. Small staircases connect the main level to the upper and lower floors.

side split-level homes

Back split-level home designs

Back split-level homes seem like regular houses when viewed from the front. However, they have multiple levels that are visible from the back or side of the home.

back split-level home designs

Stacked split-level home designs

Stacked split-level home designs can have up to four or five floors. Each level will be connected by a small set of stairs.

stacked split-level home designs

What are the benefits of split-level home designs?

There are several benefits to building a split-level home, such as:

They allow you to maximise your lot area

Split-level homes maximise the lot area because you can use more of the site compared to confining yourself to the parts that are flat. It’s also a suitable option if you’re looking for small lot house designs.

They offer more privacy

Staggered floors offer more privacy compared to flat, open spaces. They’re particularly useful for building a productive home office or study room. Additionally, bedrooms in split-level homes are usually quieter and more private since they’re on separate floors.

Split-level home designs can maximise the views

Sloping block houses are often located in hilly or mountainous areas. By building a split-level house with large windows or a roof terrace, you can create a house with breathtaking views.

Split-level home designs make perfect starter homes

Split-level homes tend to be more affordable per square metre compared to ranch-style houses. If you’re looking for a house at a lower price, looking at split-level homes may be a good idea.

navy blue cladding for a sloping block house

Challenges of split-level home designs

Before you commit to building a split-level home, you need to be aware of the following:

Site costs may add up

Building a split-level house means excavating steep areas to create a level slab. You may also need to add retaining walls to ensure that your house remains stable. These additional structural elements may cause the build costs for your split-level home to rise.

It may be difficult to have an open floor plan

If you want a house with an open floor plan, you might find that difficult with a split-level house. Since the house has staggered levels, the living area, kitchen, and bathrooms may be in different sections of the house.

Renovations can be more challenging

If you plan on building a split-level house, you might find it more difficult to make changes to your home in the future. That’s because the layout is made specifically for the unique features of the surrounding landscape. By comparison, you can easily switch the locations of bedrooms if you live in a house with just one floor.

You need to deal with extra stairs

Unlike a home that’s built on a level surface, you need to deal with extra steps when you have a house built on a sloping block. If your family has someone with mobility issues, you might find this type of home inconvenient. This type of home may also make it harder for you as you grow old.

craftsman-style sloping block house

Is a split-level house right for you?

Split-level homes may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but they’re extremely advantageous for the right buyer. Here are some questions you can ask yourself if you’d like to buy or build this style of home:

  • How big is your family? Larger families may find it easier to live in a split-level house because of the additional privacy it provides. Each person can have their own bedroom that’s separate from the main living areas.
  • Are you planning to expand? Split-level houses have unique floor plans, which may make them difficult to extend or expand in the future.
  • How long do you plan to live in the house? Split-level homes can be difficult to sell. If you don’t plan to live in the house for more than five years, a split-level home may not be right for you.

Why do you need a building designer for a sloping block house?

Building on a slope is generally more complex compared to building on a flat piece of land. That’s why it helps to hire a building designer to create custom split-level home designs that are ideal for your site. 

Enlisting the help of a land surveyor is also crucial to avoid any surprises when you’re in the middle of construction. They will check the site for any drainage and soil stability issues so that your building designer is fully aware of the design and materials that will work best for the land.

To find a building designer or draftsman near you, sign up for Superdraft. Using our platform, you can access a network of thousands of professionals who are experienced in creating split-level home designs.

sloping block house cream exterior

Tips for building or renovating split-level homes

If you’re planning to build or renovate a split-level home, try the following tips:

Let the light in

Some people find that split-level home designs feel dated because they don’t capture enough natural light. This is especially true for parts of the home that are partially buried underground. 

To work around this issue, you can enhance split-level homes by adding clerestory windows. You can also ask your designer to create vaulted ceilings, skylights, and bay windows on the upper levels.

split-level home designs: interior

Remove non-weight-bearing interior walls

If you’re renovating an older split-level house, you might encounter ones with multiple interior walls. Removing these can create an open, modern, and airy space.

Consider adding some railings for elevated spaces

Some spaces in the interior living area may have a step-down or step-up. Consider adding some railings to make the space safer for everyone.

split-level home designs with railing

Mind the landscaping

When designing a split-level house, you need to pay special attention to the landscaping. Aside from creating a house plan, consider adding a landscaping plan so that the exterior of the house blends perfectly with its surroundings.

Frequently asked questions

Are split-level home designs the same as tri-level homes?

Yes. Split-level homes may also be called tri-level homes.

Is building a split-level home more expensive?

It may be more expensive to build a split-level home because of the structural challenges you’ll likely encounter. Unlike building on flat ground, you need to ask your builders to excavate some parts of the slope, build retaining walls, and add drains. 

Still, you can keep costs within your budget if your home’s design changes based on the natural features of the land. To get a clear idea of how much the design and build can cost, ask us for a free quote.

Are split-level homes worth less?

Since split-level home designs are not suitable for all types of families, they’re not as in-demand as ranch-style homes. They’re generally cheaper to purchase, but may also be cheaper to sell.

Can you build up on a split-level house?

Building another level on top of an existing split-level house is an easier way to expand the space compared to building out. That way, the sloping features of the site will not be a hindrance to adding an extension. However, note that you may need to adjust the roof of the house when adding another level upstairs.

Are split-level homes energy-efficient?

Split-level homes that were built in the 1970s or 1980s usually have a single heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system that makes it difficult to maintain a comfortable temperature throughout the house. It’s better to modernise the HVAC system and add thermostats to each section of the house for better energy efficiency.

split-level home designs: house with garage

Build a split-level home with Superdraft

Split-level homes are those that stack vertical spaces arranged in a staggered design. They’re made to fit the natural sloping features of the building site and to maximise the space of the lot area available.

Whether you’re building a split-level home or renovating an older one, Superdraft can help. With our platform, you can:

  • Connect with a qualified building designer or draftsman who can create a custom house plan for your site
  • Find a dependable builder that can tender your plans at the most cost-effective price
  • Learn and understand the requirements necessary for local council approval
  • Check the progress of your project using an efficient planning dashboard

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