A Beginner’s Guide to Planning a Home Addition

a blue home over a blueprint, showing plans for a home addition

Does your house seem to be feeling increasingly smaller? Perhaps your family has spent too much time cramped together over the past year, there is a new baby on the way, or you simply need some extra space for the home office or hobbies. If moving isn’t a desirable option, it is finally time to add more square footage to your house. How do you go about it? How do you plan a successful home addition?

This article discusses the steps involved in a home addition, how to make sure you are not in violation of zoning regulations, what to consider when building an addition, and how to budget for the project.

Stages Involved in Planning a Home Addition

1. Define your goal(s).

The first process in planning a home addition is clarifying what you want to achieve. You might find the idea for your home addition on the internet or in a magazine. However, you can’t afford to move ahead without pausing to think about how it would play out in real life.

Define the purpose of the home addition. Are you increasing your home’s square footage to increase the value or are you trying to build a private retreat for yourself? It is imperative to specify the size of your home addition as well as the layout and the materials to be used in the design and construction

2. Ask the right questions.

You need to ask the right questions to get the right answers for your home addition project. To get some ideas, check out home addition before and after pictures on Pinterest. Here are some questions to ask:

a) How much is it going to cost? You need to research and get a general estimate of how much home additions cost in your area, and then, factor in the specifics of your home and the extension. Prepare a budget for your project.

b) Is it going to be worth it? A rough estimate of the cost of the project will be valuable here, as you will be able to compare the potential benefits to the expense. If your goal is to raise the value of the house, a costly extension project may not prove to be worth the cost. Discuss your home renovation with a local realtor to understand the impact it will have on your home’s overall value.

On the other hand, if your goal is to improve the standard of living for you and your family, you may be able to rationalize the project expenses. Many people are willing to take on the expense if they are planning to stay in their home for the long run.

c) How much will the addition affect the layout of your home? It is critical to consider how the home addition will change the current layout of your home, and the flow. For example, adding a new floor to your home will also require you to build a stairway for access, and you’ll need to find a spot where a stairway makes sense.

d) How much space do you have for a home addition? Find out how much space your current home layout allows for additions. You should also check in with your zoning department to learn more about setbacks in your area. We’ll discuss more about zoning regulations later in this article.

e) Is a home addition really your only option? You may be better off making the best use of your current home layout by repurposing rooms and moving walls rather than adding a completely new structure.

3. Understand the different types of home addition projects.

You have several options when it comes to choosing and planning a home addition. They include:

the second level added to a home
  • Building an additional floor: This can often be the most effective way to add extra space to your home and can significantly increase the resale value. Unfortunately, it is also the most expensive and the costs can easily run in the range of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Ensure that your home can handle a second-floor addition by hiring a builder or architect to inspect it.
a basement in the process of being finished, a popular home addition
  • Finishing your basement: A common way to create additional space in a house is to excavate the basement. You can use the extra space to build a basement apartment, a home office, a home theater, or an entertainment area.
an porch that has been enclosed and made into a sunroom
  • Turning your porch into a sunroom: If your front porch is a top relaxation spot for you and your family, you can consider enclosing it and turning it into a sunroom. Add comfy furniture, heating, and lighting to create an extra living space.
an unfinished attic, an easy home addition project
  • Finishing your attic: You can transform your dusty, old attic into habitable space by making sure at least half of the ceiling reaches seven feet, and a stairway connects the attic to the rest of the house. Finished attics can be great guest bedrooms and playrooms.
a home addition to the side of a house
  • Add an extension to the side, front, or back of your home: Side and back home extensions are pretty common. Front extensions are less common, and you need to check to see if your district allows for them. You need to work with an expert in planning home extensions to ensure the design is compatible with your home layout.
a bump out structure under construction
  • Building cantilever additions: Cantilevers, also called bump-out additions or room additions, are micro-extensions of rooms which are supported by joists and internal structures. They usually vary in size, from as small as 2 feet to as large as 10 feet. Cantilever additions can make up space for walk-in wardrobe closets, kitchen counters, an eating area in the kitchen, and a separate master bathroom and shower.

4. Visit your local zoning department.

It is important to check in with the zoning department to find out what you need permits for. Taking the time to find out what is allowed and what is not can keep you from paying very heavy fines. Your home addition project must comply with established building standards in your municipality. Unpermitted work might cause problems when it’s time to sell. Although it is not illegal to sell a house with unpermitted work, sellers are required to disclose any additions or unpermitted renovations to a buyer.

Find out where you’re legally allowed to build. Zoning laws and building codes vary across municipalities but your building is generally required to be set back from the property line at least 20 feet on the front, 5-10 feet on both sides and about 15 feet on the back. Sometimes, there is a maximum allowable height for houses. This can limit how high you can build up. Also, having utility lines close to your home can affect where you can build.

It is critical to check in with the zoning department as early as possible to obtain the necessary information. It is possible to get a variance for your addition project, but they are the exception, not the rule.

5. Collaborate with vetted contractors.

The importance of collaborating with reputable contractors cannot be overstated. Unless you have the professional experience and time required, you may find yourself overwhelmed quickly. Don’t let the cost of hiring a contractor deter you from doing things right. Keep in mind that you can negotiate costs with your contractor. You can offer to take on some of the work yourself in exchange for a reduced price.

You should meet with local contractors to discuss the project, the anticipated timeline, and possible cost-saving strategies. A contractor may be helpful in referring you to an architect or a structural engineer to inspect the project plans.

Working with a contractor with years of experience under his or her belt can save you time, money, and a lot of heartache. Be sure that all costs are spelled out in the working contract to avoid any unforeseen expenses.

6. Create your plan.

You may decide to work with a ‘design-build contractor’ or an architect in designing your home addition plans. A design-build contractor is a building contractor who works without an architectural company, choosing instead to employ an in-house designer to design the plans. Whoever you choose, look at their past completed projects to evaluate if they are the right fit for your project.

7. Get your permits.

Obtain (or make sure your contractor will get) all necessary permits for your home addition project. Contact your municipality and inquire about the permits required for your project. If stated in the contract, your contractor can get the permits on your behalf.

8. Consider moving out, temporarily, or setting start and stop times for the work crew.

Unless you’re perfectly fine with being assaulted with the constant thrumming of power tools, you should consider moving out until construction is completed. If you cannot move out, be sure to establish start and stop times for the construction crew. This will allow you to plan your day and anticipate potential disturbances.

9. Set a reasonable overage to cover hidden costs.

Hidden costs will come during a home addition project, such as septic upgrades, costs of obtaining permits, and an increase in property taxes due to the added square footage. Allow as much as 10 to 20% of your total projected expenses as overage to curtail sneaky costs. You might not need it, but it will come handy if things don’t turn out as planned.

How Much Should I Budget for a Home Addition?

You can carry out your own research about what your home addition plans may cost before getting in touch with a contractor. Researching previous projects in your area will help give you a rough estimate. After getting a rough estimate, you may have to meet with multiple contractors to find the right fit for your project.

Each home addition project is different, so the expenses vary too. A second story addition could cost around $100,000 – $500,000 while a building with a sunroom might cost about $10,000 – $30,000. Only a professional contractor can give you an accurate estimate of how much the project expenses will likely be. Factors that should be put into consideration when drawing up your budget are local zoning regulations, the size of your project, the design, the home addition design software or labor, and materials to be used.

You can choose to finance the addition yourself or investigate options for various loans.

Can I Draw My Own Plans for an Addition?

You might be wondering if you really need an architect to draw out plans and create a home addition checklist for your addition.

You can incorporate real photos while creating a visual for your home renovation project by using home addition design software like Virtual Architect Ultimate Home Design. These programs let you create 3D home addition plans and room addition plans quickly and easily, even if you have no design experience.

And while it might be possible for you or your builder to construct plans that will be accepted by the local building department, it is not recommended to forego a licensed architect on a home addition project.

Architects typically have a wealth of expertise and knowledge that is rare to come by in designers and most design-build contractors. A licensed architect will help you make the best of your home’s space and layout and come up with improvements that your contractor can bring to life.

Conclusion

In conclusion, a home addition can be an excellent way to add more living space to your house. You should be clear on what you want before you start construction. Build the right team, learn about zoning laws, create a home addition checklist, and set the right budget for the project. Home additions can be easy to get right when you take care of the basics.


AUTHOR BIO: Agnes A Gaddis is a freelance writer and blogger from New Jersey. She writes about investing, real estate, mortgages, and marketing. She is a contributing writer for Mashvisor, Rentals.com and Inman news. She’s a big fan of caramel coffee and mystery novels. Get in touch with her on Twitter @Alanagaddis or visit her blog.

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