on adding on

It’s the beginning of a new year and now is the time that people begin to consider that house project they’ve put off too long. There are several good books and blogs out there can be very helpful in this process. In addition, I’ve read several magazine and newspaper articles on this subject including one recently in my local newspaper. However, there was something in the last article I read that had a tone that might talk someone from doing something that could be really smart. In addition, many articles often suggest simply hiring a contractor and having them design it. Perhaps I’m just predisposed towards architects, but in most cases homeowners could really benefit from talking to an architect…even for just an hour or two. I support working with good contractor early in the process; I know a few good ones that I highly recommend. Nevertheless since this is my blog, I will opine in my usual thoughtful but biased approach. I’ll lend some personal anecdotes to my suggestions.

RESEARCH :: Before you do anything, do your homework. Don’t go into this without considerable thought and research. And of all things, do not just call a contractor and ask them to come out to give you a bid or a cost estimate with no design and prior to contacting an architect or some designer.

I’ll catch heat for this, but let’s get something straight, builders build, designers design.

It’s worth a little time, effort and expense to explore your options, don’t be in such a big hurry, you’ve put it off this long, what’s a few more months to find out how to best expand your home and invest your money. There are hundreds of books, articles, blogs and magazines out there. At the very least, call an architect and see if she will consult with you for an hour.

LIMITS :: First, let’s find out what are the boundaries. What are the physical and legal limitations that you must work within that will influence how, where and how much you can add on to your house? This includes a review of any local zoning ordinances and perhaps building code stipulations.  You will need an up to date survey to confirm these constrictions. Other constraints that should be considered are your current HVAC and electrical systems, the existing topography and any potential structural concerns. Again, I advise hiring an architect who will be able to accurately determine what the relevant issues are and explain how one may affect the other.

OPTIONS :: Have you considered…? Oftentimes when asked to design an addition, I ask many questions like why do you want to do this? Have you considered moving? Are you willing to invest this much in this house in this neighborhood? Do you need to add on or can the existing house be reconfigured?

Other things that we explore are whether or not the owner’s requested program is what is really needed. Years ago I was approached to add on an accessible bathroom for the client’s aging parents. We looked at many locations to place a small bathroom addition only to find that it just wasn’t working. As soon as we considered that we were asking the wrong question, better options arose. We ended up adding on a new accessible master bedroom and converted the existing bedroom into an accessible bathroom and laundry facility. The client later told us how well it worked by hiring us to add on another bedroom suite, a small family room and a covered back porch. We also made plans to finish the basement into another bedroom suite with its own private entrance. Crazy? Perhaps, but it came from developing a smart overall plan and considering diverse alternatives. Now the house functions very well.

WHAT WILL IT FIX :: What advantages will this addition lend and what other problems will it fix? If you are just adding on to get more space, don’t waste your time. My advice…clean out your basement and your garage. It’s cheaper. However, if you find you don’t have a master bedroom suite with its own bathroom or a respectable kitchen (not necessarily luxurious) then you are probably justified in your quest to expand. Now if money is no object, well I suppose you can do what you want. However, that’s pretty rare.

We’ve done three large additions that not only gave the owner the added space but gave them a striking new entrance where none existed before. We had one other project that resulted in a wonderful outdoor space as part of the addition.

Lastly, the addition shouldn’t cause any problems. Be careful it is placed strategically not to block important daylight or upset the interior flow of the house or upset the natural character of the site. The roofline can also be a challenge. Watch that the new addition doesn’t cause additional snow to drift on the existing roof that it was probably not designed to carry. Again, with complex issues, hire a professional to review these matters.

COMPOSITION :: Make it look better, not just bigger. I’ve seen so many bad additions, it makes me sick. Why would you build something that looks ugly just to get more space…come on? Bad additions still cost a lot of money.

This takes a creative mind to place something new next to your house that improves it. My approach is to avoid trying to make it look original, don’t even try. However, developing ideas that will blend or make a good composition is really important regardless of your style or preferences. Curb appeal is everything.

This is harder than you think. It’s more than “watering” your house and causing it to grow or injecting its DNA into a new thing. A new addition doesn’t necessarily need to match your existing house, but it can challenge its composition. A contrasting addition might call more attention to the great features of your existing home. A new addition might be the opportunity to make alterations to your existing home to blend the two together into a brand new look. Either way, a design professional can review differing forms with you to consider things you would have never thought of on your own.

This is where architects really bring value. Don’t build a wart onto your most expensive possession so you can invite all of your friends over for the Super Bowl. Everyone can spot that sore thumb and they’ll talk behind your back.

COST :: What will it cost…find out before it’s too late. I said earlier you can’t ask a contractor the cost of something that is unknown. It’s kind of like going to a restaurant and asking how much lunch will cost. However, you will likely have to spend a little to get information…the knowledge of how much your dream may cost.

Our approach has always been to do a little design work to establish an idea that can be somewhat quantified. Then we recommend collaborating with a qualified contractor to assist in the budget development. Good contractors can bring benefit to the project in the early stages if you give them some information and/or basic drawings. They can discuss constructability issues as well as cost issues. There’s no point in getting romantically attached to an idea only to find out you can’t afford it. Stripping down a good idea to bring the cost down is not value. Building within your means is smart.

By all means, pursue your dreams and your plans. Don’t wait any longer; money is cheap right now. However, be smart. Hire an architect and hire a great contractor. If you hire the cheapest, you will get what you pay for every time.

This is a process, be patient, invest wisely. Regardless of the size of your addition, this is important. Once you move into your new addition, if you’ve approached it properly, you’ll forget how much time it took and you’ll see the overall investment as money well spent and good value.


top and bottom photos are from uglyhousephotos.com…way too funny to pass up…way too bizarre to believe

on adding on

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