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The Benefits of Building Out - and What to Consider before you Add On

See how heading out instead of up or down with your addition can save money, time and hasssle.

Do you feel like your home is bursting at the seams? No playroom, no guest bedroom, no room for everyone to go to their own room? If you've already made the best use of what you already have, it might be time to dig down, go up or build out. If an addition makes sense with your home's structure and site, building out, rather than up or down, can be more affordable. But there's still plenty to think about before getting started.

Questions to Ask Yourself

Do you have room? If you’re hemmed in by land-use codes or just don’t want to give up your spacious backyard, building out may not be the right decision for you. But if you have room to spare and the addition can be designed around an outdoor gathering space, your addition can actually capitalize on a smaller yard.

Will it complete your house? Think about the new floor plan you are considering (for example, adding a third or fourth bedroom at the main level, relocating the kitchen, adding a great room, creating a circular floor plan) and whether it will really fix the problem you are trying to solve. If there isn’t space at the main level to solve the design problem, you may want to look to your basement or a second-story addition for the answer, or possibly a main-floor addition that includes a basement or second-story space.

Things to Consider

Feasiblity and cost. A main-level addition on a flat property can be the least expensive square footage you add to your home. But if you throw in a steep slope, an addition below grade, complicated tie-ins to the existing house or difficult access to the construction area, the costs can easily rival the cost of a second-story addition — or even be higher. Talk with your architect and general contractor about which parts of your plan are cost drivers, and make choices that will limit their impact.

The path of least resistance. Main-level additions are often the simplest, structurally. They can be built to code without having to retrofit much of the existing home or its foundation. This can help them cost a lot less than second-story additions, which often require structural retrofitting down to the foundation, removing siding and disturbing interior walls.

The only trick with main-level additions is connecting the new foundation to the old one if the original foundation is made from brick or another unreinforced masonry material. But it’s still far simpler than having to completely replace the foundation to build up.

Making a match. Anytime you add to the exterior of your home, you must carefully think through how the addition will either match or purposely not match the finishes of the original house. If your home has weather-worn wood, unmatchable vinyl or brick that’s no longer made, you will have decide whether to replace the siding on the entire house or have the addition not match.

Consider windows too. If you have leaky old single-pane windows, it may be time to replace them all with energy-efficient versions.

A whole-house exterior makeover can up a project’s cost, but it can also yield a unified, updated look for the exterior that makes your addition look like it has always been there.

Small solutions. Sometimes a very small addition can yield big results, particularly in kitchens. Adding just 3 or 4 feet to a cramped kitchen can open up a world of possibilities for appliances and additional cabinetry. If this can be achieved by cantilevering the addition (which does not require a foundation) and if the addition can be tucked under existing overhangs, the need to frame in a new roof is eliminated as well.

The building-out bonus. There's a valuable bonus to building out rather than up or down. Often the groundwork, concrete and framing for the addition can be under way for at least two weeks before the construction moves into your existing home. That buys you more time to pack up and prepare for the rest of the project. If the scope of work is limited to the addition, this also means you can usually keep the balance of your home furnished and functional, meaning you won't have to pay for a temporary move.

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