Are single storey buildings (i.e. bungalows) cheaper to fix than multistorey buildings if they have major defects? For example structural problems.

Background. We're looking at buying our first house. We live in Melbourne, Australia. Laws regarding building construction standards are poorly enforced here and as a result there are many issues with new and recent build homes. Single storey buildings are still common here - of the market sector we're looking in, roughly 50% are single storey. If I brought a home and it later turned out to have a major defect / structural problem, would it probably be cheaper to fix for a single storey home compared to a multistorey? Do I therefore minimise my risk by buying a single storey?

  • Single stories can be cheaper to buy, but major defects can still add up to the cost of the home or to build a new home if the defects are bad enough. Usually buyers have a home inspection before buying.
    – crip659
    Feb 5 at 22:09
  • Point taken re: inspection. Because of the auction system here it's common to pay for an inspection and then not win the house at auction though. If I minimise risk by purchasing a single storey, then I could not even consider multistoreys and only pay for inspections and then bid on single storeys. Feb 5 at 22:23
  • That's less a problem of poorly enforced codes, and more a problem of shoddy building materials being permitted more and more. What used to be a 2x12 lumber is now an I-beam made of 2x2's and OSB. You know what happens to OSB when it gets wet? It disintegrates. There goes your I-beam. Your proximity to east Asia does not help. Feb 5 at 22:26
  • This question is too broad. The only answer I can give is "of course". Taller things are always more complicated to repair than shorter things, if only for the trivial reason that humans are short.
    – isherwood
    Feb 5 at 22:57
  • With no evidence to support this, I would expect single story houses to more regularly have problems due to economic reasons rather than structural. Far fewer "cheap as possible" homes are multistory. Feb 5 at 23:34

3 Answers 3


Like all questions that ask for a generalization, the only possible answer is “It depends.”

For the purposes of this discussion, there are two kinds of repairs that we’re interested in: (1) repairs of things that all / most 1 and 2 story houses have and (2) repairs of things that are unique to 2 story houses.

We should not consider things that two story houses usually have more of simply by virtue of their larger floor area in the same footprint, for example electrical outlets. If you have a 200 square meter house in one story and compare it with a 200 square meter house in two stories, they will have about the same number of electric outlets. So don’t conflate floor space with number of stories.

One story houses obviously don’t have stairs to the second floor, so fixing creaky stairs, loose handrails or installing carpeting where you pay by the step is a non-issue on one story houses.

As far as electrical, plumbing, flooring, windows and doors, heating and cooling, interior painting and similar maintenance and repair items, there’s no real difference in maintenance cost for one and two story houses of equal floor area.

A two story house will have about half the roof area of a one story house of equal floor area, so replacing the roof will cost less. But it won’t cost half, and roof replacements are typically a once in a generation thing.

Exterior painting or siding replacement on a two story house may require scaffolding so higher cost for the second floor where someone doing the same to a one story house might get by with a ladder.

Did I leave something out? Someone will surely chime in!

The bottom line: maintenance and repairs are much more strongly affected by the total floor area of the house, regardless of the number of stories. If I were in your shoes, I’d be shopping by square meters of living space, number of bedrooms and baths, etc., not by the number of stories.

  • Your living space is not taken up by stairs (but might be traded off for hallways, or traffic through rooms.) Access to repair the roof is less daunting as it's lower, but there is twice as much of it, as you mentioned. Two story may have more compact plumbing through vertical integration. One story will on average have better sound isolation.
    – Ecnerwal
    Feb 5 at 23:19

The US East Coast is saturated with multi-storey hones, some of them 300 years old. The front half of mine was cheap construction when built in the 1890's, and the only structural problem I know of was subsidence, which isn't unique to multi-storey buildings.

I've never heard claims that "ranch" (single storey) or "split-level" designs were inherently more reliable, just that in exchange for having a larger footprint they were sometimes more comfortable for some kinds of use. Of course that larger footprint can increase cost in an area like mine where most of the value of the house is in the land it's sitting on.


A single story structure by nature is not going to have the issues that can be associated with having another story built on top. So if you were to buy a single story home there is no risk of second floor floor joists being a problem, or the taller outside walls and such. Heck cleaning the gutters is easier.

That said there is no guarantee that a single story home won't have issues. I have seen homes over the 1 million range with multiple problems, and recently purchased a home for a few thousand, that had minor fire damage, but all the "bones" and needed systems were in very good working order. Problems can lurk under the skin of fancy finishes and high dollar "fluff" that looks pretty.

If you want some sense of security, hire a home inspector. Find one with years of experience and pay them what they want for a thorough inspection. Do this no matter what home you are looking to purchase.

Good Luck

  • In the other hand, the upper floor is far safer from flooding, if you live in an area where that might ever be a problem. It's all tradeoffs.
    – keshlam
    Feb 6 at 19:40

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