Updated May 10th, 2019

If you’ve been searching for a house recently, you’ve probably come across a ranch-style house. Here are the reasons you may—or may not—want to buy one.

What is a ranch-style house?

A ranch-style house is a laidback, asymmetrical home that emphasizes the outdoors and outdoor living as much as possible. It does this through its use of large windows and doors that slide open to patios.

Unique to the US, these homes are found all over the country but are especially prominent in California (where they originated).

While there are many offshoots of the ranch-style house, the originals feature a slab foundation and pot and beam ceilings.

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History of the Ranch-Style House

American homes throughout the 19th century were heavily influenced by the vertically inspired architectural style of the Europeans. This European styling included the famous brownstones and Gothica cottages still found throughout America today.

The ranch style home was introduced to the market in the 1930s, throwing off the norm and giving an alternative look and feel to the traditional European home style.

Designed by Cliff May in California, the first ranch-style home was based on the cowboy ranches of the southwest and Mexican haciendas.

The design was considered conservative at the time of its development but it was a radical change in the building community. Featuring a modernly simple exterior, the ranch-style house was in stark contrast to the decorated exteriors of many of the neighboring houses. Without a steep roof, porticoes, tall gables, and porches, the ranch-style house was changing the look of 20th-century neighborhoods.

Rising to popularity in the 1950s and 1960s, ranch-style homes started showing up more in the suburbs. But, as with many fads, that popularity waned in the 1970s due to rising land prices, which made one-story homes a more expensive building option.

The 1970s also saw a massive growth in population which sparked an energy crisis that making it more expensive to heat the open floor plans of the ranch-style house.

Ranch-Style House Characteristics

There are several defining characteristics of ranch-style houses.

The first characteristic is the open floor plan that is typically only one room deep, emphasizing the warmth and connection to the outdoors. Many of these homes boast large, sliding glass doors that open to vast patios with large backyards where the residents can enjoy a pool or simply relax outside.

The sliding glass door concept really blurred the lines between indoor and outdoor living in a way that the more formal homes of the era hadn’t done before.

Ranch-style homes were the first to meet a new need: storage for a personal automobile. The 1930s were right at the dawn of the automobile craze, and the ranch-style home could accommodate this luxury in its very own room—the garage. These garages were much like the rest of the house: on the same level of the rooms with access to both the front and back of the house without walking through a mud or greeting room.

The ranch-style home was designed to be simple and modern to place more emphasis on the setting the home is in rather than draw attention to the house itself. Many ranch style homes are conservative with decorative shutters and not much else in way of outdoor personality.

Updating Your Ranch-Style House house

Ranch-style houses are some of the best houses to update. Here’s why.

Non-Load-Bearing Walls

One of the best features for the ranch-style house is the non-load-bearing wall. In a traditional house that is several rooms deep, there are walls that you cannot knock down (at least not in their entirety) without weakening the structure of the house.

That is not so with the ranch-style. If you want to combine a bedroom or two or open up the kitchen and dining room, you are free to knock down the walls that divide them.

Easy to Landscape

The long face of the ranch-style house allows for landscaping out front to give the house a facelift. If you’re looking for a quick way to add life to your ranch-style house, plant short bushes and flowers around the front of the house. It offers welcoming curb appeal that may add to the look and value of the home.

Paint to the Climate

One of the main complaints about ranch-style homes is their inefficient floor plan. The stretched-out plan offers plenty of room for heat or cool air to leave. But did you know the color you paint the home can make it more energy-efficient?

Ranch homes in warm climates benefit from a fresh coat of paint in a light color, as it releases more heat. Paint it a dark color to help it trap more heat from the sun if you live in a colder climate.

Not a fan of monochromatic color schemes? Break it up by painting the shutters a bold, contrasting color.

The Executive House

There is a newer term among popular home builders today to describe the ranch-style house: an executive ranch. What is an executive ranch house? Basically, it is a beefed up version of the ranch-style house.

While your typical ranch-style house has a nice open floor plan to allow the family more time spent in the same room, the executive ranch inserts a luxury kitchen and double the number of bedrooms. It doesn’t change the original purpose of the ranch, but it adds a higher class element to the already modern house.

The Raised Ranch vs. the Split-Level

The raised ranch house, on the other hand, is a spinoff of the original ranch-style house. You may have heard of raised ranch homes called “split-level homes,” although the two have some major differences.

The raised ranch house has two distinct floors. When you enter the house, you are greeted by the living room and you must enter deeper into the house to climb or descend stairs to other parts of the house.

Split-level homes, on the other hand, can have two or even three levels. When you enter the home, stairs greet you from the small entryway. Right off the bat you must choose, do you go up the stairs to what is normally the main level of the house, or down the other stairs to the bedrooms and lower living area?

Potential Problems with the Ranch-Style House

If the ranch style home isn’t in the southwestern region of the country where they originated, it could lead to potential problems for the owner.


One of those problems is the low-pitch roof. The ranch-style home offers extra shade with its low-pitch roof and wide eaves making it great in sunny climates. But the same roof located in a winter environment can form ice dams on the edge of the roof. Excessive rain can also cause lots of issues because the nearly flat roof will eventually begin to leak.

Regulating Temperature

A heating issue known as a “cold spot” can arise in single-story ranch-style homes. Natural heat isn’t contained as well in ranches as it is in a multi-story home.

Multi-story homes often handle heat much better than single floor homes because they aren’t as long. If it is a traditional ranch-style house, it is most likely built on a concrete slab. Homes built on concrete slabs also lose a lot of heat through the foundation, making the temperature more difficult to regulate than those with a basement or crawlspace.

Benefits of Buying a Ranch-Style Home

There are a few benefits of owning a ranch-style house that keep people coming back to them through the years.

One Level

By now, you’ve heard us praise ranch-style homes for many things, including their traditional single-story layout. One level is perfect for those who use a wheelchair or have difficulty climbing or descending stairs. Having everything on the main floor is also great for cleaning! Nothing like walking downstairs with your arms full of laundry…

Natural Light

The ranch-style home design melds outdoor and indoor spaces together. That means there is a lot of natural light in ranch-style homes. From the picture windows to the glass sliding doors, these homes require little to light up the space.

Easy Update

How about those non-load-bearing walls? That, along with the open layout and simple exterior provides a blank canvas for your remodeling dreams. These are the perfect homes to buy and remodel when you can’t afford to build a custom home.

Great Outdoor Space

If you love gardening, then you’re going to love the ranch-style homes. Ranch-style homes are a gardener’s dream. With emphasis already leaning to the yard, you have the perfect space to create the plant-paradise you’ve been hoping for.

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