Home Building - 1 or 2 Story - Utility Cost Concerns!!!

Updated on February 28, 2012
S.R. asks from Fort Worth, TX
20 answers

In my wildest dreams, I never imagined we'd be BUILDING our first home, but here we are! Thank you Lord for your blessings!!

Hubby and I are butting heads on 1-story vs. 2-story. We've made decisions in the past based on what we can afford, period, rather than what we can afford very comfortably. So, with the decision of what house to build, I'm trying to be VERY cautious. Hubby sees the 2-story and knows we can have it, so he wants it. I see the 1-story, know it's enough house for us and our 2 kids and 1 dog, and know that we can pay the mortgage and utilities. Don't get me wrong, I'd love to have the 2-story for the space factor, but I'm just really, really nervous about the costs associated with owning a 2-story home. Can anyone give some insight??

Our current situation...1,300 sqft apt on the 2nd floor. Our electric is easily $250-$300 in the summer and about $130-$150 in the winter. Water is anywhere from $70-80 each month and that includes sewer and trash.

New home possibilities...1,800 sqft single-story (mortgage would be $70/mo more that current rent) or 2,400 sqft 2-story (mortgage would be $250/mo more than current rent).

I know there are a lot of other factors to consider to 'estimate' utility costs, but at this point a very raw estimate is all I am concerned with. I honestly think our utilities are much higher currently because of a few factors...much smaller HVAC unit is the big one, seems like the thing CONSTANTLY runs if it's set any lower than 82 on cool or any higher than 65 on heat. We tend to keep ALL room doors closed...that will change in the new home!! Only 1 ceiling fan, with two speeds - low and almost medium. :o\ In the new home, we'll also have some gas appliances, which will cut on the electricity part, but I have NO clue what gas runs...??

Bottom line, we CAN afford the 2-story mortgage unless our utilities start to just blow the roof off of our budget. But I'm so nervous about the financial aspect of everything, I would really feel safer with the 1-story, despite the space factor, the yard factor, etc, etc. What to do...?!?!?

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So What Happened?

Thank you everyone for all of the responses! It made me think about a lot and I was able to make a decision today. We put a contract on the 2400 sqft 2-story. :-) Part of the deals they have going included a really nice efficiency package, which made me feel better about the utility situation. Even with the bigger house we were still well below what we were approved for...about 130K less. I just get nervous because of past situations and the state of our economy worries me too. Important thing is we have a plan and have committed to sticking to it so we can do this VERY comfortably. Thanks again, and God bless!

More Answers



answers from Dallas on

The utilities factor is just a smokescreen to your true feelings: You are worried about the larger house payment. The answer is to go with the smaller, less risky financial situation. If a utilitiy bill alone can cause a foreclosure, than that's not a good deal. You can always upgrade later.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Columbia on

Go with the one-story house. Save the extra money for retirement, vacations with your kids, and things that really matter.

When you look back on your life you've lived in 50 years, I guarantee the memories you make will be based upon experience, not squarefootage. If bills are tight because of higher mortgage and utilities costs, you'll have less time and ability to get out and make those memories.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

In hindsight, I wish we had built a one story.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from New York on

I don't know what your zoning allows for, but you might want to look into having ductless HVAC units. They look like small ACs set high on the walls. That way you can have one per room, and work them by a remote.

Also, if you go for two stories, consider having the laundry put near the bedrooms. Its a real boon not to have to schlepp stuff from the bedrooms to the basement.

Good luck to you and yours,
F. B..

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

We have a 2 story and love it. We built in 2000. If we were to downsize, I would choose a 1 story just for convenience for when we have guests, etc.

Builders tend to go cheap on things you can't see and those things can cost you money in the long run, prime example is not enough duct work, cheaper heating/AC units, cheaper furnaces, cheaper hot water heaters.

We ended up spending over $50,000 to upgrade many things around our house to increase efficiency within the 1st 3 yrs of living here. (EX:. 2 heating/AC units, 2 furnaces, 2 hot water heaters, drainage system to name a few)

My advice would stay below your means and don't bite off more than you can chew. Even if a banker tells you that you can afford a certain amount, stay below that because.....You WILL have repairs, you WILL have routine home care, etc and maintaining a house is expensive.

Good luck with your building process. It can be a very stressful time.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Norfolk on

Our first house was 2 story.
Never cared for the stairs.
Our current house is a sprawling ranch (single story) and it's great to have all your living on one level.
No one falls down the stairs!
It's a great house for when you get older, and if anyone ever breaks a leg the lack of stairs makes it easy to get in/out and to your bedroom.
With some current incentives (tax breaks, etc) you might be able to install a geothermal heat pump for the same cost as a conventional heat pump.
They are very efficient and can save you lot's of money heating/cooling your home regardless of how many floors you end up with.



answers from San Francisco on

Congrats for being fortunate enough to have this delimma! (sp?)

I have never had a 2-story house so I can't comment on the costs versus a 1-story house. BUT the one thing I will say is you need to consider how many times per day you are going to be climbing those stairs. Not to mention the time and hassle associated with vacuuming the stairs!

I think if I were you, I would go for the 1-story house. It has enough room and there is nothing like knowing that you have enough money to meet your monthly obligations without stressing.



answers from Dallas on

If you do the two story, get two ac units; one for each floor. Get the radiant barrier and very good windows - triple pane. They are more expensive, but are worth it when the utility bills come in. Ceiling fans in all the rooms. Gas heat will feel so much better than the eclectric. 2-story will make the bills higher for sure. Can you just add a room or two on the 1 story?



answers from Dallas on

I would suggest getting a one story so you can actually enjoy the home without stressing over surprise high bills. $250 or more a month is a lot, not to mention all the upfront costs of a new home, such as decorating it like you want. 1800 square feet is still 500 more than what you are in now. We have lived in both 1 and 2 story homes and my family prefers one story for the accessibility, lower bills, wide open spaces. Best of luck to you.


answers from Dallas on

I have a two story and will definitely have a one story when we move. I just like having everything on one level. I had a 1 1/2 story that I loved but it was 4300 sq ft and I don't need that much space now. We had a family room, half bath,one bedroom, & a full bath upstairs. Downstairs we had the kids bedrooms and the master bedroom. It was a great arrangement. You might want to compromise with your husband an discuss a 1 1/2 story with just a game room upstairs.



answers from New Orleans on

I've lived in both type of homes in Dallas, Texas (HOT!!!!) and our energy costs were significantly lower in the one story. Also, I just like one story homes better - not so much to clean and everyone is in one space.

That being said, if you would really like a two story home for space, just make sure it is built well. For example, when we were looking at homes in Dallas, we saw a lot of two story homes where the main living room had the vaulted ceilings...all the way to to top of the second story. Although it looks beautiful, it's a waste of space...all that cool air moving up.

For some reason, Dallas homes are notorious for having three living rooms! I don't get that. So, maybe put all your bedrooms on the bottom floor so that you don't have to constantly cool your top floor. And put extra play rooms upstairs.

You could also have your builder do a one story and then just plan a very smart attic - i.e., build it so that you can possibly expand in the future.


answers from Jacksonville on

Have you ever lived in a home with multiple floors? My whole life we have lived in ranch homes, single story. I have lived in apartments on several different floors (3rd floor, 2nd floor or 1st floor, but not more than one floor per apartment). During the time we were building the home we are currently in, we rented a small townhome. IT was an up/down stairs. Like, 1100 sqft. The insulation was atrocious and the summer was almost unbearable upstairs in the bedrooms even with ceiling fans. In the winter, the downstair was like an ice chest. The bills weren't crazy, but they were high, and we weren't even comfortable.
In our current ranch, 2350 sqft, our electric bill has only topped $300 one time. That was last winter (the coldest and longest in these parts in a long time) and we ran the pool pump more than in the summers b/c of overnight freezing (it is usually so warm here we don't 'winterize' the pool).
Just for heating/cooling issues, I would be leary of the 2 story. BUT, there are other things to consider:

how happy are you going to be to constantly be running up/down stairs for forgotten things? This was a huge issue for us in the townhome rental. Kiddo forgot to brush their teeth? Back upstairs with you! My husband would call me on my cell phone from upstairs to bring him something from downstairs. We hated it.

Also, your space and mortgage and electric bills won't be the only increases..you'll surely have a higher tax bill also. And higher insurance rates. Just by virtue of it being a larger home. And then you'll need to fill all that "extra" space. You will! And you will fill it, and end up feeling almost as cramped as you probably do already, but with more stuff to clean and keep up.

If you are comfy in the smaller home, why not go with that for now? You can always decide to move in 5-7 years and do what works best for you at that time. And in the meantime, you won't feel the burden of the additional risk you are obviously uncomfortable about taking. Go with your gut on that. You are NOT comfortable with the bigger house choice really, or you wouldn't be here posting about it... right?



answers from Houston on

I don't know where you are building but remember a one story will eat up a lot of your lot. Most new homes are very energy efficient especially in Texas because of the heat factor. Between the one and two story I don't really know if you will have that much of additional costs. Look at your windows very carefully. IF you are able to upgrade do it!

We bought our house (built 1983) 6 years ago. They had fixed pricing. We move in July and our first bill was 700!!! I about puked. We bought two new air conditioner units, new windows and doors and insulation. Our bill is now 250!! Our house is about 3300 sqft.

Congrats! Building a home is stressful but enjoy it as much as possible!



answers from New York on

Since you're building from scratch. You get to choose and determine what kind of insulation, energy efficient windows & doors, and all things energy cost savings you can pour into the house while it is being built so you will have very low bills after the fact.

Since you are building from scratch I would look into getting solar panels so your home is generating it's own electricity and the energy company is sending you a check for your excess.

To me knowing more would serve you better for making an informed decision.

I always preferred a home with stairs. I love the idea of forced exercise since I hate going to the gym. Congrats on your being able to build. Another thing I would do would be to think green. There are tons of earth saving, energy saving things out there in building. Yes the materials may cost more but they save you so much more in the long run. Just some more food for thought to add to your plate.


answers from Dallas on

hi we live in north FTW area and went from a one story to a two story (from 1800 to 3500 sf) we don't have a very expensive home so I would say the building products are probably not the most energy efficient, but our bills were very similar in both houses, we have our electric on an average plan it it ranges around the $200 give or take $20 year round, our water is around $100 average, and we do not have gas. in our 1800 sf home the electric was about the same even though it was half the size. we do not have any high/loft ceilings they are all 8 ft. except for the small stairway area which I would say is about a 4-5x12-15 ft area which is open to our children's play area on one side of the play area with about and 8 foot opening to the stairs, it is not a grand space by any means, just a basic stairway. we have 2 a/c units that came with the house that are the absolute minimum size for the space we have, and they work constant all summer long and last winter when it was so cold it could barely keep up with it and went into emergency mode a few times. (the a/c guy that came out last year to fix a problem we were having felt that they were very in adequate for our sq. ft) we keep our air set between 72-74 year round. we don't water the lawn all summer just enough to keep the ground around the house from cracking, and the front lawn green but not so much in the back yard.

in my opinion good insulation, good windows, and energy efficient a/c appliances is key, to overall lower costs. (we have a lot of insulation issues from cheap building products in my opinion) as far as budget, go with what works for your family, I didn't think I'd mind being house poor but I do wish we weren't quite so strapped, and I've considered going back to work/working from home, not sure yet. as far as stairs, I'd rather not have them, we have 5 bedrooms, guest down, master up, split bedrooms, so I'm going up and down them all day, but I love having a clean down stairs and toys up stairs (three kids 12 and under), I wish my laundry was up, that would be great!!! but it really is just a preference, we needed the square footage so we had to go up, we couldn't afford to go out.

hope that helps give you some ball park figures even if our sq. ft. is larger. our services are FTW water and Tri County Electric


answers from Los Angeles on

Its been really interesting to read all the responses. It seems if you like two story homes you can say they are less expensive to live in. If you like 1 story homes, then you feel they are cheaper to live in.

I have noticed that the homes with the best insulation are the cheapest to live in. Homes with small windows and good insulation are cheaper to live in than homes with big windows.

Some say two story homes are more difficult to clean. If you have 2000 sq ft to clean, what difference does it make if its 1000 sq ft on top of 1000 sq ft, or 1000 sq ft beside 1000 sq ft? Its the same 2000 sq ft.!

I liked 2 story homes better than the one story homes I lived in. My wife and I designed the one (2 story) home we built. We bought 2 home plan books of about 500 home designs each. We picked out one and two story homes and finally chose a 2 stroy home. We bought triple pane windows, R-30 in the walls and R45 in the ceiling/attic. Our ceilings were 9 feet and our entry way was 19 feet tall. We would cut a large tree and put it in the entry way and decorate it. We could see it from both the livingroom and up stairs den. (It was really nice having an upstairs den so if the kids got it messy, company could still come to a downstairs clean living room.

As far as keeping it cool inside, we installed a whole house fan and would bring in the cool air at night, then close it up and be comfortable during the day. We had ceiling fans in every room. The ceiling fans enabled us to have the temperature 4 to 5 degrees warmer for the same level of comfort.

We had our bedrooms up stairs. The only thing I woyuld have added was a laundry shoot from upstairs to the downstairs laundry room.

If you would like to ask any questions, feel free to e-mail me. Good luck to you and yours.

BTW, I'd rather have another 2 story than the one story I'm currently in.


answers from Kansas City on

We had a two story for 15 years, in fact it had a finished attic with bathroom, 2 bedrooms and so three flights of steps counting finished basement. It was a lot of steps but our older girls had the attic and they swept those steps. The heating wasn't bad but the cooling was not good for even the second floor. I did like the space, the privacy of bedrooms upstairs and if you are like me ( hope not ) you can keep the downstairs spotless and not worry if company comes as they won't go upstairs. We had more privacy or quiet in the evenings downstairs if kids were little and in bed. But now we built a ranch with finished basement, reverse whatever they call it, and it is cheaper utilites, plenty of space but smaller, easier to cool and fine for us. We have no kids at home now though. I do have grandkids some and they can play in the finished basement and it's very nice for that and can fit more people in it than upstairs. We have about 4000 sq ft with this and a ranch is not as cheap, at least here, as building a two story, but the basement area is less costly to finish it out. I would do the ranch with finished basement, if they do that in TX, and you would have less cost, lower utilities, more space in the basement for kids to play, etc. and it is cool down there so little cost for cooling in summer.



answers from Dallas on

As you can determine by now the answer lies in the quality of your insulation and windows and I can add a good radiant barrier. You can throw out all the answers from cold climates and those with basements. If I wanted a good investment I would get a well built house and that would determine what size I would buy. I have a 2700 sq foot now with an upstairs. The one I moved from had 2000 sq feet. Our electric bill about doubled and the rooms were not comfortable upstairs, too hot! We made a lot of changes and it's better. If you do go with a two story, always get one bedroom downstairs, as was mentioned there are may health reasons that make a downstairs bedroom a must! A 1/2 story with a rec room is a good compromise because as kids get older they (and you) really like a separate space to chill! Good luck and keep asking questions, you need all the information you can get from people who have been there!



answers from Dallas on

It really depends if you are going to have one or two ac units. We have a two story with two units and our bills are lower than in our one story with one unit. A newer house will be more energy effecient and if you have programmable thermostats you can set them to your household habits.



answers from San Antonio on

We have owned a one and two story house, and our utilities didn't change significantly between the two. It is much warmer upstairs than it is downstairs, which can be difficult during the height of both of the seasons (our winters I feel are too cold downstairs, in summers I feel like it's a furnace upstairs).

The bigger picture for us, and other things to consider, is to make sure that you buy for the future and stay within your means. Also, for us an issue is that both my hubby and I HATE having a two story home now that we have one. If the kids are upstairs playing I feel like I need to be upstairs too, especially when they get too quiet which I know can be a sign of trouble. My hubby hates hauling laundry up and down, not to mention cleaning the stairs. When we go up to bed, we often wake my daughter who is a light sleeper and hears us coming upstairs. The space is great, but we are both looking forward to having a 1 story home back when we move to our forever home.

Good luck with your choice!

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