Ranch Houses

by Erik North on November 29, 2011

Ranch house


What’s a ranch style house? Maybe because most ranches were built prior to the era of modern insulation, I run into ranches all the time (even accounting for their being the most popular post-war house style). Their ubiquity and often problematic nature makes it worth taking a gander at this well known style. I’ll cover split ranches and raised ranches in a few future posts.

Ranch Houses – Your Boring Wiki-style Definition

The ranch style house or ranch was extraordinarily popular in post-World War II construction. They originated in the U.S. Southwest and were a common sight in Baby Boom era housing developments (think of those Dayglo pillbox hats from Edward Scissorhands).

They are typically a single floor layout with a wide profile and a long roof. The roof line can have either end gables or hip roofs. The roof eaves usually extend far past the building foot print, providing essential shade from the Southwest summer sun. The floor plans are open, simple and spacious and often include an attached garage, bay windows and french doors.

By the 70s, ranches began declining in popularity for a whole bunch of reasons not least of which was the sinking suspicion that the occasional closet might be nice. Modern designs made ranches seem dull and the skyrocketing cost of building lots made additional floors more attractive to homebuyers. While new ranch construction is rarer, the older housing stock has risen in popularity. The ranches are an inexpensive alternative for new homebuyers and elderly buyers seeking single floor living.

Ranch Houses – Advantages

Even though they’re not as popular today, ranches enjoy a number advantages over other designs.

  • Ranches are very reasonably priced often chosen as low cost starter homes or retirement homes.
  • The style lends itself to open spaces and scenic views. Decks, bay windows and sliding doors are often incorporated into their design, overlooking a spacious backyard or view.
  • For elderly couples looking for single level living, ranches are one of the most obvious choices.

Ranch Houses – Disadvantages

Ranch houses rose to popularity in the Southwest during the 50s. Their design was optimized for wide open developments and warm, sunny climates. Ranches weren’t as well suited to new construction in the colder, more densely populated Northeast.

  • The same single level living deprives ranches of storage space. Closets are limited and the attics are usually not available for storage.
  • Ranches have been adapted to Northern climates but run into the same insulation problems as other homes that predate modern insulation. If they’re insulated, the walls and attics may have 2 or 3 inches of older fiberglass batts. The existing wall are usually 2×4 possibly even 2×3 framing, meaning dense packing cellulose may not be practical or cost effective.
  • The extended eaves which provide excellent shade in a sunny climate, provide an excellent ledge for ice dams in cold ones. Unless well air sealed and insulated, ranches are quite prone to icing problems.
  • The basements often occupy a wider footprint than their colonial or Cape Cod counterparts. This means more exposed concrete and more excessive basement heat loss.
  • Older construction on a slab is most likely uninsulated underneath. This is just a gargantuan heat sink which can be insulated on the slab edge.

Ranch style houses exploded into popularity in the Baby Boom era. Its charm and low cost made it an ideal choice for suburban families. The ‘tract housing’ stigma took its toll, with the ranch houses popularity declining through the 70s. Today ranches have regained popularity as an inexpensive starter home and single level living for retirees.

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