Bi-Level Split Entry Homes: The Hidden Gem for Upgrades

Dated: 08/13/2018

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Before: Nothing to see here. Move along.

The Bi-Level Split Entry Home: it is one of the most overlooked homes ever built.

It has some strong features but many home-buyers turn their nose up at them.
Why?
1. Usually because it is a plain vanilla box-like design with not much character. 
2. The idea of steps going up and down as soon as you enter the home. 
After: L-shaped addition on side and back, new trusses for modern roofline,
larger entry and porch, transform living room windows to doors with a
balcony to add another layer and offset the porch. Don't just slap on a porch.
3. The entryway landing is usually way too small. 
4. Coming home with groceries means a trek up and down stairs between the car and the kitchen.
With that in mind, let's look at a couple of cases of how these homes can be given a facelift easily - specifically because it is a plain vanilla box.  Because that also means it is a blank canvas, ready for a masterpiece to be created.
Before: Double whammy! Mansard roof and it's a flat one!
But before we go into that, let's look at some of the inherent features that make this a good home.
1. The basement is more usable than other homes of that era with lots of natural light and outdoor views.
2. There is a relatively open, modern feeling to the layout.
3. There is usually a nice deck off the backdoor, making for great outdoor living options. (Or a patio if built on a sloping lot.)
After: Embrace the flat roof and go modern! Raise the roof
over the living room and add clerestory windows.
4. The master bedroom usually has its own bathroom, one of the first decades to incorporate that.
5. The bedrooms are close together.
For more info on the history of this style of home, read: Split-Level Homes: Outdated or Underrated?
The photos on this page give examples of what some talented architectural designers have come up with for transforming a split-entry home.
The remodeling possibilities start with these tidbits of background building info.
Before: Another severely dated split.
1. The trusses usually span the entire width of the home so opening up the kitchen even more is easily done, since so many main level walls are not load bearing.
2. A porch with a larger foyer is an easy addition.
3. Redoing the roofline, by adding new trusses gives you the chance to add vaulted ceilings (if it doesn't already have that feature).
4. The "formal dining" area off the kitchen can be easily transformed into part of the kitchen by removing one wall.
After: Even with an extreme makeover you save money vs. tear-down/rebuild
by using the original homes foundation and walls strategically. 
5. The utility room is usually under the kitchen giving easy access to plumbing, electrical and gas range changes.
6. If you can move the laundry upstairs, it reduces the time spent going up and down stairs. 
7. The straight lines of a rectangular box make it easier to make major additions without the dreaded "I can tell that part was added on" look.
8. A basement window can be cut to the ground and made into a door without further reinforcement for easy access to an lower level addition.
Changes include wrap-around porch, raised entryway,
and second story loft with gable windows.
If you choose to do a completely gut and remodel, take advantage by considering the following:
1. Replace the insulation in the walls with higher R-value batting. 
2. Add earthquake upgrades. (Talk to an engineer.)
3. Jack up sagging beams and sister them with steel or wood beams to it to keep them level.
4. Add ring shank nails to the sheathing to further strengthen the home.
If done right, you can even make it Craftsman style.
5. Consider enlarging windows facing the backyard to add more natural light.
6. Embrace/disguise the existing cantilever design by adding wrap-around porch, balconies and such.
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Michael Barth

Michael Barth is a full-time Associate Broker/Realtor with an extensive knowledge of the communities along the Wasatch Front. As the former owner of Sundays Child and Kona Ice he brings over 20 years ....

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