Cost of 2 Story House vs. One Story

Hi Carl,

I understand that ranch style homes cost more per square foot than two-story homes because they contain larger foundation and roof areas, and because plumbing lines are longer, but what is the magnitude of the difference?

Are ranch style homes 20% to 40% more expensive? For example, if a two-story home costs $100 per square foot; will a comparable ranch cost $120 to $140 per square foot?

I am planning to build a 2400 square feet home in the Cincinnati, Ohio area.
If a ranch design is likely to be at least 10% more expensive to build, then I will develop a two-story plan.

Best regards,

Hi Curt,

There too many variables, such as slab foundation vs. full finished basement, steep roof pitch vs. minimum pitch, quality of shingles, number of plumbing runs, type of heating, etc., to give a percentage difference to the difference in cost in building a one story vs. a two story house.

That said however, two-story construction can be cheaper than one-story. Two of the most expensive parts of a house are the roof and the foundation. A two-story home with the same square footage as a one-story has half the roofing costs and half the foundation costs. There are also economies in plumbing and heating in two stories.

What I would do is calculate the difference using the Cost to Build Calculator found on my Getting Started page (see # 5).

Simply run two cost analyses for a 2400 sq ft home in your zip code, using the same “Quality Classes” for both a one story and then a two story. Use the lowest “Quality Class” for this experiment.

The calculator will know by the answers you give to a few of the questions (i.e. attic size, basement size, fireplace chimney for multi story, etc.) whether or not it is a one story or a two story.

The difference in total cost between the two should give you your answer.

Good luck and thanks for writing,


Hi Carl,

I used the cost estimator. I entered 2400 sf in a simple cube plan for both designs, and entered one fireplace of the cheapest type (under the appropriate single- or multi-story categories) in each design.

For design one, I entered a 2400 sq ft unfinished basement, and 2400 sq ft of unfinished attic (60-78 inch) to indicate a ranch style. For design two, I entered 1200 sq ft basements and attics. The designs were otherwise identical.
I used the cheapest quality (level 6) for both. The ranch design was 36.12% more expensive. I repeated the trial using the quality level 4 (a higher grade of finishes). With the higher-quality finishes, the ranch was only 27.43% more expensive.

This range agrees with three sources that I found on the Internet. One architect on wrote that ranches are 20% to 40% more expensive. One guest author on wrote that ranches are 30% more expensive. One Realtor on an industry blog wrote that ranches are 20% more expensive.


Hello again Curt,
That’s about right.
Carl Heldmann

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