At the end of the day it boils down to personal preference.
If purchasing an existing home, it depends on the inventory in your area.
If building a home, it depends on your lot.
Nevertheless, there are some objective pros and cons to both styles of houses.
Before we get into this analysis, see what other people think…
A. Advantages of a Rancher (1-Story) Home
1. No stairs (the lazy factor)
If you’re a fitness fanatic, you like stairs. If you’re like the rest of us, stairs are a hassle to go up and down.
I’d rather walk on a flat surface than climb up and down stairs. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone here.
2. Less noise (from above)
I don’t like hearing noise from above, footsteps included. With a 3 year old in the house, I hear a lot of foot-stomping and jumping around from upstairs. I’d rather not hear it.
Most 2-story homes aren’t built with perfect noise proofing between floors. Some are better than others but I’ve yet to be in a house where I don’t hear noise from above.
3. Great for mobility issues
At some point stairs are more than a hassle. They’re an obstacle. Many people with mobility issues sell their home because they cannot go up and down stairs. If you’re building or buying your forever home, this is a good consideration. At some point many of us will not be able to navigate stairs.
4. More renovation flexibility
Load bearing walls make knocking down walls a problem. Yes, these days expensive beam-work can replace a load-bearing wall, but it’s expensive.
When you have a rancher, it’s much easier to knock down walls and add on extensions because there’s much less weight to consider. Consequently, it’s easier to create open concept living areas.
5. Easy to add skylights
In fact, it’s not only easier, it’s pretty much possible anywhere you like. You simply punch a hole in the roof and create the skylight. This is not possible when you have a second floor.
6. Easier for exterior maintenance
If given a choice, I’d rather maintain a single story home over a two-story home. I’m not too wild about cleaning gutters 20 feet in the air; whereas 10 feet up isn’t so bad. I can do it on a step-ladder.
Same thing goes with washing a house, cleaning windows and performing any roof maintenance.
7. High/cathedral ceiling
It’s far easier to add cathedral or tall ceilings to an existing single story home than it is to a 2-story home.
One of my favorite interior design elements is elevated and cathedral ceilings.
8. More deck/patio potential
With a single story, you have more rooms from which to add a deck or patio. Just create a door and a patio and you’re done. It’s not so simple from a second story.
9. Child safety
My wife and I have a 3 year old and 3 month old. While stairs aren’t an issue for our 3 year old, they were and they will be again in less than 1 year.
Moreover, even though our 3 year old can navigate stairs very well, there’s always the chance of him falling down the stairs.
10. Easier escape
Nobody like to contemplate a house fire, but it’s always possible. It’s much easier jumping out of windows from the first floor compared to the second story floor. It’s not pleasant to think about, but it is a consideration.
11. Easier to clean
I’m not keen about vacuuming any room, but I particularly don’t like vacuuming stairs and I don’t care for lugging cleaning supplies and heavy vacuums up and down stairs.
When you live in a rancher, you don’t have the issue of having the laundry room one or two flights of stairs from the bedrooms where most laundry must be delivered. With a rancher, delivering completed laundry is easier (unless it’s a 20,000 square foot home and the laundry room is far from the bedrooms).
13. They’re in demand (great resale value)
14. Cheaper to heat
Surprisingly, a one-story home is cheaper to heat and cool than a two-story because 2-story requires two HVAC systems (source: More Home).
B. Advantages of 2-Story Homes
1. More square footage with smaller footprint (i.e. smaller lot)
This is a no-brainer advantage of 2 story homes. In other words, it’s cost-effective. Moreover, many lots, especially city lots, aren’t large enough for a rancher.
At the end of the day, we like large homes. The average home size is much larger today than it was 50 years ago. You can see this in any town. The 1950’s bungalow is tiny compared to homes in newer suburbs.
We expect each of our kids to have their own bedrooms, we like large kitchens, sumptuous master suites, larger bathrooms, family rooms, media rooms, etc.
2. Get a View
Yes, one story can improve a view. Sometimes a lot makes it beneficial to put bedrooms on the lower level and have the living area on top. This is especially the case on sloping lots with a view.
3. Balcony potential
Balconies are romantic. If you like the idea of an elevated balcony off of your master bedroom, you definitely want a 2 story home.
4. Distinct separation between bedrooms and living space
While most ranchers’ layouts have the bedrooms on one side and the living space on the other side, 2-story homes create even more a separation between living and sleeping quarters (assuming the bedrooms are or mostly on one floor).
5. Easier to accommodate on most lots
Many lots aren’t wide or big enough to build a large rancher (and leave sufficient outdoor space). With 2 young kids, outdoor space is important for us; we would not sacrifice outdoor space for house unless the lot was fairly large (i.e. 15,000+ square foot lot).
6. Use stairs for aesthetic effect
For example, a 2-story foyer with winding or half-landing stairs is much grander than a single story foyer.
7. Create an open loft area with a 2-story home
I like open loft areas of a home that look down on the first floor. These look great from the first and second floor. Obviously this is only possible with a 2-story home.
8. 1-story houses are generally cheaper to build
Given the roof and foundation are expensive components of a house to build, a 2 story containing the same square footage as a rancher will generally cost less per square foot.
Strictly form an objective consideration, ranch-style homes offer more advantages.
Moreover, when you take our poll above, you’ll see that ranchers are definitely more popular which is good data supporting that ranchers are great for resale value.
Yet, 2-stories are so tempting because it’s cost-effective to simply add a second floor that can double square footage. After all, bedrooms aren’t that expensive to build.
Therefore, while our list of advantages for ranch-style homes is much longer than 2-story home design, the strength of the individual 2-story benefits can still outweigh the benefits of a rancher.