What’s the Deal with All the Short Houses in Central AZ?

January 6, 2016

You might have noticed how few two-story buildings there are in Central Arizona. From Phoenix to Tucson, and all the way around, there are more single-story houses than anything else.
This extends to homes, as well. While many newer homes have two stories, particularly in mountain foothills and suburban communities, there are still more one-story houses than anything else.
There are a few good reasons for this trend in the Grand Canyon State, and in the Southwest at large. Read on to find out why our architecture is so flat.

Building Ordinances

According to the City of Tucson’s land-use code, “Tucson’s mountains and foothills are valuable scenic resources which should be preserved. Dominant peaks and ridges should be protected in order to preserve the city’s unique visual setting, promote its economic well-being, and encourage tourism.” In other words, the buildings are so short in the valley parts of Tucson so that everyone can see the mountain surroundings, no matter where they live.
Even though Downtown has its share of multi-story buildings, they are clustered together in a small enough area that the mountain ranges are still unobstructed throughout most of the city and its surroundings.

Cooling and Heating

A standard home has 8-foot ceilings, no matter how many floors it has. It is cheaper to heat and cool a one-story home with 8-foot ceilings than it is to cool a two-story home with 8-foot ceilings.
Not only does heat rise, making upper floors warmer than lower floors, but there is more space in a two-story home to be heated than there is in a one-story home. Even a one-story home with 9- or 10-foot ceilings will be cheaper to heat than a two-story home with shorter ceilings.
Of course, this means that one-story homes are going to be more expensive per square foot than two-story homes because they are more desirable. But the savings throughout the life of the house outweigh the costs at the time of purchase.


You will often hear people refer to the one-story homes in the southwest as “ranch-style” buildings. Indeed, much of the architecture in the Tucson area ad throughout the Southwest is influenced by the area’s history of cattle ranching, farming, and homesteading.
From the Spanish colonists and the Mexican homesteaders to the American ranchers and farmers who took over after them, single-story, adobe ranch homes were ubiquitous throughout history. Not only were the flatter homes cooler and more desirable before the advent of electricity and air conditioning, but they were also easier for homeowners to maintain, and they were more secure from attackers or during times of conflict.
So now you know that this trend has its roots in our region’s soil, climate, and history. Southwest architecture is just one of the many things that set us apart from the rest of the country and all those multi-story houses that cost a fortune to heat in those long, cold winters.
(As if we needed another reason to appreciate Arizona more.)


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