The split level was conceived for the sloping or hilly lot. It takes advantage of what might otherwise prove to be a troublesome difference in elevation and uses it to advantage. As a general rule, a split level should not be built on a flat lot. Mounding up soil in front of the high section to give the appearance of a hill usually yields poor results.
The split level makes efficient use of space. The general arrangement of the split level separates sleeping, living, and recreation on different levels. Little or no hall space is required in a split level house due to its basic design, a positive factor fro consideration.
At the lowest level, there is a normal basement which houses the heating and cooling equipment, storage, and sometimes a shop or washroom. This area is the usual depth of a basement. In some instances the foundation may not be desired and a crawl space provided for maintenance and ventilation. The foundation ordinarily equals about 40 to 60 percent of the space occupied by the house. This is usually enough for efficient use without wasted space.
The next level up from the basement, the intermediate level, generally houses the garage and recreation area. This area is ground level and then lends itself to these functions. Patios and terraces may be attached to the recreation area which further benefits its use. The intermediate level may also have a large foyer, mud room, or family room.
Slightly higher than the intermediate level is the living level. Typically this area is located at grade also: the sloping grade makes this arrangement possible. The kitchen, dining room, living room and full or half bath are normally located on the living level. The foyer, mud room, and washroom may also be located at this level depending on the layout or preference. Again the use of patios and terraces adds to the usefulness and amplifies the attractiveness of the split level.
At the highest elevation in the house is the sleeping area and bath. The half level difference between the living and sleeping levels affords greater privacy and quietness. Split level houses do have some negative aspects. They are generally more expensive to build than the two story. In most cases, however, they are cheaper than a ranch. Heating may be a problem if not handled properly. The use of zoned heating (separate thermostats for the various areas of the house) will usually solve the heating problem.
Architectural Variations of the Split Level Design
There are basically three variations of the split level design: the side by side, the front to back, and the back to front. Lots sloping from the left or right are suited for the side by side design. This design places the living area opposite the sleeping and intermediate areas. Variation number two, the front to back split level, is suited for lots which are high in front and low in the back. This house looks like a ranch from the front and a two story from the back. The living area faces the street and the bedrooms are on the second level to the rear.
The third variation, the back to front split level, requires a lot that is low in front and high in back. The intermediate level faces the street at grade. The bedrooms are above, also facing the street. The living level is a the rear. This model looks like a two story in front and a ranch in the rear.
A preliminary consideration in designing a functional plan is traffic circulation. Traffic circulation encompasses those areas of the house which provide a means of moving from one area or room to another. Circulation must be planned for maximum efficiency. In a planned planned arrangement the distance from the garage to the kitchen in short and direct. The foyer is centrally located and convenient to all parts of the house. All bedrooms are close to a bath. Few rooms have traffic planned through them. The family room and eating nook are exceptions. An analysis should be made of traffic circulation to determine if the plan is as functional as it could be. Frequently, a slight change in the floor plan can increase smooth flow of traffic to desirable locations.