The Tri-Level Home Is Actually a Form of the Classic Split-Level

While the name tri-level isn’t used very often anymore, this three-level layout is a popular interpretation of the split-level home.

Susan Gilmore
Susan Gilmore

You’ve heard of split-level homes and bi-level homes, but have you heard of their (less-common) sister floorplan, the tri-level home? This type of split-level layout was popular more than 50 years ago and combines a few different common home layouts you’ve likely seen before.

While tri-levels aren’t as popular today as they once were, they can still be a floorplan worth considering for certain families—and you might even stumble upon older homes that still have this layout during your home search. To help demystify this layout, we’ll go over the distinct features of a tri-level home and what you should consider when purchasing one.

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What Is a Tri-Level Home?

You can think of a tri-level home as a sort of hybrid—and many standard split-levels today actually have a tri-level layout, though the term tri-level has fallen out of popularity. These layouts typically combine both a two-story home layout and that of a ranch. But to highlight the obvious, tri-level homes have three floors.

“These houses comprise a front entrance towards the center of the house. The single-story section might be located on the right or left side of the front entrance,” says Alex Capozzolo, co-founder of Brotherly Love Real Estate. “It leads to the kitchen and the living area. The two-level side of the entrance has two sets of stairs—one leading to the bedrooms/washrooms and the other going down towards the garden level, laundry room, or storage space.”

These homes are different from bi-level and some split-level homes because of their specific layout, says Andrew Pasquella, a Realtor at Sotheby’s International Realty.

“It differs from a bi-level house in that the bi-level house only has two usable floors and a landing in between, while a tri-level house has three usable floors,” he says. “It’s also different than a split-level house that just has two floors, no landing, and no usable third level.”

Each level of a tri-level home typically contains various rooms with entrances that lead to outdoor areas.

“One level may contain the kitchen, dining, and living room, which could lead to an outdoor patio,” Pasquella says. “The second level up would have the bedrooms and bathrooms, and the level down could be a family or recreation room, laundry room, and garage entry.”

Even during their heyday in the 1980s, these homes weren’t built everywhere, and they’ve definitely fallen out of favor as more open-concept homes became the preferred layout for American buyers. (The staggered layout of a tri-level home doesn’t lend itself to open floorplans.)

“Although not famous anymore, tri-level houses used to be commonly found in the Northeastern United States around Connecticut, Maine, and Vermont,” Capozzolo says. “Tri-level homes were quite popular in the 1980s. These emerged as a hybridized counterpart to single-story ranch houses around the 1950s.”

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Jim Westphalen
Jim Westphalen

Pros and Cons of Tri-Level Homes

If you’ve come across a tri-level house in your search for a new home, be sure to consider its unique characteristics, which many feel can be drawbacks.

With three levels at play, you’ll be navigating stairs regularly. Maybe you’re game for that, but consider that older residents or those with mobility issues could have difficulty navigating the home. That also makes it less appealing for a section of potential buyers.

Capozzolo also points out that these homes are considered by many to be outdated, which can further complicate the resale process. Because the floors are stacked, remodeling could pose unique challenges. Finally, Capozzolo says the layout of these homes does not typically allow for a lot of natural light to filter in.

Because these homes were typically built in hilly regions, some levels below-ground might face unique maintenance challenges. If you already live in a tri-level, be sure your home is waterproof and that you’re addressing any leaks, mold, and other issues promptly. If you’re considering buying one of these homes, make sure to check thoroughly for any preexisting damage or issues during your inspection.

Of course, it’s not all bad news. Pasquella points out that the layout of these homes means each area experiences less noise.

“The separation that three levels offer cuts down noise and adds privacy from area to area,” he says. “This can be ideal for entertaining while keeping the more private spaces like bedrooms separate from the hubbub.”

These homes are often affordable, they efficiently use their space, and many offer a lot of outdoor space with patios or gardens, Capozzolo says.

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