Your Split Level House


Back when the Beatles were on Ed Sullivan and the USSR was launching sputnik,  those of us boomers who grew up in the suburbs very likely lived in one form or another of the split level.  A two car garage with room for bikes and sports gear, a finished playroom on the lower level, perhaps a raised deck off the kitchen in back, the yard not so big that you couldn’t mow it in well under an hour, even with a non-powered mower. 

In the ‘50’s, 60’s and 70’s split levels were the step up for growing families who wanted something a bit grander and more modern than the Cape Cod bungalows that were the first stop for returning WWII veterans.

With its short staircases and compact design, the split is a very livable house that was still affordable.  The fact that they are less popular today makes them even more economic.

When you look at the split with energy use in mind, it really looks like two houses – joined by a common wall that accommodates the short flights of stairs between the levels.  The top of this wall connects with the attics that sit over each of the two houses and runs to the basement.

If the top and bottom of the walls around this common wall are open at top or bottom, as is usually the case, cold air can circulate inside the walls, pulling heat through the walls and letting it escape, wasting the oil or gas burned to heat it.

The lower attic in a split level house has one end that buts up against the side wall of the other part of the house. In many cases this junction is not air-sealed or insulated, so that the cold air in the attic makes the upstairs bedroom cold.

Very often that two car garage under one side of the house is another culprit.  The ceilings of the garage, under the floor of the rooms above, are usually not well insulated. Holes in the garage ceiling, for electric garage doors and the like, let cold air into the space beneath the floor above, making it cold.

Overhangs – where the second story is bigger than the first floor by a foot or two – also make for air leaks into the cavities between floors, making the house cold without creating visible drafts and wasting energy.

And of course with the rising cost of heating fuel, attics that were properly insulated  when the house was built now benefit from  twice as much insulation to keep that expensive heat indoors where it does some good.

As the Crosby, Stills and Nash sang: “Our house…is a very, very, very fine house. “