When a homeowner is considering an addition to his or her home, I am frequently asked whether it is better to go “up” with a second-floor addition or go “out” with a ground floor addition.
The first determining factor, of course, is whether there is room to expand on the same level. What are the required setbacks in your neighbourhood? Are you willing to give up space in your yard? Generally, if you have space, then a ground floor addition is the simplest and most economical solution. On the other hand, if you’re constrained by setbacks or don’t want to give up the yard space, then a second story addition may be a better option.
Homeowners often wonder if it is less expensive to build “up” because of potential savings on foundation costs. Well, yes and no. It depends on the bearing capacity of the foundation. Building over the existing house may require foundation work or support posts be added to existing walls. Some of this work and expense can be avoided by building over the garage since the garage is typically built on a slab and can bear a second story.
An additional consideration is the placement of the stairs. When the addition is put over the garage, space can be taken from the garage for the stairs. This limits disruption to the existing home’s floor plan.
In general, second-story additions tend to affect more of the existing home than ground floor additions, increasing the scope of the project and consequently the cost. If you’re going to go “up,” try to put as much of the addition as possible over the garage. But if space allows, going “out” is probably your simplest solution.
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There’s no surefire way to determine whether adding a second story or addition is the less-expensive way to expand your living space without considering the details of the property. For some homeowners, the addition is less expensive, but for others, adding the second story is a better alternative.
Space You Need
If you have a growing family and too few bedrooms or baths, building up or out are both good options. However, if your primary needs concern more recreational room, such as a den or playroom, then it may make more sense to build an addition than to add a second story. That’s because you must concern yourself with your home’s resale value, and most people prefer a ground floor family-type room rather than one based upstairs. Traditionally, the second floor is the province of bedrooms and not the place where you might entertain guests. If you want a bigger kitchen, it certainly doesn’t make sense to put it upstairs.
Consider Your Property
Your property’s size and shape will play a big role in your decision. If you have a large backyard, an addition won’t have as much of an impact as it would if your rear yard is relatively small. In some cases, you won’t have a choice, as your backyard is too small to accommodate the kind of addition you desire. Consider whether you may want to make other improvements to your property in the future, such as installing a pool. Many homeowners realize they can have a buildout addition or a pool but not both. If you like your yard, building up makes more sense.
Consider Zoning Issues
Before making a decision, contact your municipality about the zoning laws in your neighbourhood. Your town likely has ordinances regarding setbacks, which limit how close you may build next to your neighbour’s property line. A town may also have laws on how high you can build a home, but relatively few municipalities preclude building a second story per se. If your home is in a historic district or planned community of one-story homes, you may not have the option to build upward. However, if you have your heart set on addition and your plans don’t meet the setback requirements, you may have the opportunity to go before a zoning board of adjustment and make your case as to why the board should grant you a variance and allow you to build. Since your immediate neighbours are notified of your plans, it may prove best to discuss your plans with them ahead of time to see if they will object.
By building up rather than out, you add square footage to the building without increasing costs for foundation and roofing additional materials. Meaning you practically double (or multiply by however many floors you want) your occupation space. Of course, building up means you also save costs on the size of the lot you choose (especially when expanding lots out may not be readily available). A great deal of vertical space can be fit when building up in a narrow lot space rather than building out, which means often expanding inexpensive commercial or not-for-sale property.
There are other advantages as well to building up rather than out. Building up allows contractors to customize entire floors more easily if desired. That is, with less space, more companies can afford an entire floor to be fit to their liking, without worrying about having to share space with another company. Of course, any office space can be customized. However, smaller companies may find it more attractive not to share a floor. Also, separating offices by floors can be quieter for occupants than having more offices or stores side by side in a built-out scenario. Multi-story buildings also might have more impressive exteriors size-wise than single-story, and landlords can charge additional fees for signage (such as on the top of a multi-story office building).
There are, however, some advantages to building out rather than up.
For example, there is some attractiveness to being closer to the parking lot, particularly for businesses serving customers with disabilities. Also, more can be done for higher or more attractive ceilings in single-story buildings rather than multi-storey, such as skylights or custom vaulted ceilings.
Generally, it is cheaper to build up than out. However, factors that can cost more in some vertical cases can be expanded elevator shafts and more complicated HVAC systems when building up. Over twenty-story buildings can impact the costs, as opposed to less than twenty-story buildings, due to these and additional factors.
The vast majority of additions involve increasing the footprint of the ground-floor level of the building. That’s largely because so many additions are first-floor additions — whether you’re expanding the kitchen, adding a family room, or live in a one-story home.
What’s Involved: Generally, your contractor will bring in a piece of excavating equipment called a backhoe to dig up the yard in the area where the addition will sit, install a new foundation or slab, then construct the walls and roof of the addition before opening up the existing exterior wall and linking the new and old spaces.
Advantages: Building out typically involves the least disruption to the existing space — and to your life, if you’re living at home through the project — because you’re not supporting the new space over the existing structural framing or foundation. Also, if you’re creating only a small addition, you may be able to do a bump out and avoid any foundation work whatsoever.
Disadvantages: Building out means losing some of your yards and might even require a zoning variance from the town if you’re within the legal property line “setback” (typically 7.5 feet from the neighbor’s property). You could also face limitations from the town’s Floor-Area-Ratio rating, which dictates what proportion of a lot can be built on (including the house, garage and driveway.
There are many ways that additions can happen without expanding the footprint of the house: You can add another story onto a one-story (or even a two-story) home. You can expand an existing top floor by installing large dormers in a pitched roof to gain useful living space. Or you might add living space above an existing garage, porch, sunroom or another one-story wing.
What’s Involved: Although there’s no need to give up a portion of the yard to a new foundation for the addition, your contractor will likely have to expose and then beef up the existing foundation and wall structure under the new space to ensure that it can support the added weight. Adding a room means adding a significant load to all of the elements underneath it.
Pros: You won’t lose any yard nor bump into zoning restrictions about setbacks or floor-area-ratio limits.
Cons: Many towns limit the allowable height for houses, which can be an issue when building up. If you’re adding a whole additional story, you’ll also need to account for a stairwell, which can easily eat up around 80 to 120 square feet or more of living space. And your contractor will likely have to tear apart the walls and ceilings in the space below to beef up the structural supports and feed in the electrical, plumbing and heating lines.
Up vs. Out
In general, it is less expensive to build up than out, but that comes with a lot of caveats. According to HomeAdvisor, the average cost for building additions is between $80 to $200 per square foot without regard to whether it is up or out. While it is usually cheaper to build up than out, that’s just the actual construction expense. When you add another story to your home, you will probably have to relocate until the work is complete, as the contractor must remove the roof. Unless you have friends or family willing to put you and yours up for a while, you’ll have to rent another dwelling or stay in a hotel during this period, and those costs are considerable. If you’re building out, you will have to deal with the dirt and disruption of construction, but you can generally stay in place. At MJS Construction Group, we have the best home builders selection to make your house a dream come true.
Costs also vary depending on exactly what the contractor must do. An addition usually costs more because the builder must perform excavation work and install a new foundation. When construction is near completion, the contractor must open up the exterior wall of your home, so the old and new are joined together. However, if you decide to build up, you have to make sure your current foundation is strong enough to support another story. If the foundation requires retrofitting, the expense includes removing your existing walls, which will raise your costs substantially. Keep in mind that adding another story means adding a staircase, which will take up precious floor space on your first floor.
The Sun Room Factor
One of the least-expensive additions is a sunroom, which can double as a comfortable playroom or family room. The average prefabricated sunroom costs about $16,315, according to HomeAdvisor. If you live in a warm climate, you don’t have to worry about heating the sunroom, and if you live in a colder area, you can save money by not heating this room and only using it during three seasons.
Consider Attic Conversions
If your home has an attic, an attic conversion into a bedroom and bath or a family room may give you the space you want at a lesser cost than either building out or adding a true second story. While you may have to replace the roof if it is old or leaking, that often means just putting a new roof on top of the old roof, which a contractor can usually accomplish in a couple of days. Expect to pay between $50,000 to $65,000 for an attic conversion. Unlike a second-story conversion, you won’t have to vacate the premises while work is happening.
Consider Cost Breakdowns
The only way to know whether building up or out is less expensive is to go over the numbers with your contractor or architect. Figure that the latter will cost between 10 and 17 per cent of the budget, but it’s important to hire an architect in most circumstances to ensure the addition complements the house. While an architect is necessary for a build-up, if your addition consists of just one room with a one-door entry to the main house, a general contractor should fit the bill. If you go that route, ask to see similar work the contractor has done. You don’t want to end up with an addition that looks tacked on to the rest of the house and is aesthetically unappealing.
Compare the costs of prep work. While excavation costs average $2,559 per HomeAdvisor, if your addition is larger than average, you’ll end up paying more. Concrete for footings is approximately $75 per cubic yard, while support beams and roof trusses run between $15 and $30 per square foot. Then there are the individual decisions, such as what type of flooring you want to install. Vinyl flooring is the least expensive, but it’s far less attractive than costlier wood, ceramic tile or natural stone.
Increasing Your Home Value
When it comes to costs, you should also factor in how much an addition will add to your home’s value. You will rarely get a 100 per cent return on your money for an addition, meaning that if you spend $75,000, you can’t necessarily add that amount to the value of your home. However, some additions pay back more of what you spent than others. Add a master suite, and you could get 63 per cent of your investment back when you sell. A new bathroom adds about 53 per cent, and a sunroom adds just under 50 per cent.
Building Up or Out: What Each Involves
When it comes to expanding the square footage of your home, you can expand your home’s ground floor footprint. You can add a full or partial second story, and you can even add a full or partial third floor onto your two-story home. However, it’s important to understand what’s involved when performing vertical and horizontal additions.
Vertical additions mean you are building up instead of out. This means that all or part of your home’s existing roof will be removed. Once the roof is off, you may want to consider staying in a hotel or with family members for the rest of the renovation due to the inability to heat or cool the home and use services like water supply, which may need to be turned off during the renovation process.
If your home only has a single story, expanding your home vertically will involve the addition of a staircase, which will occupy a portion of the first floor, thus reducing the amount of available square footage. If your first floor has enough space in front of the front door, you can put a staircase near the front door. If the foyer area of your home is already crowded, you can work with architects and designers to find a convenient location to put your new staircase.
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Horizontally expanding your home subtracts from the available space in your yard. However, if you don’t utilize your backyard often, this may be a great option when you consider you’ll have less grass and landscaping to maintain. Not to mention, horizontal additions aren’t as disruptive as second and third-floor additions because they typically occur outside of the home’s main rooms.
To build a horizontal addition, a foundation must be poured. Then, the walls are framed, and any needed plumbing and air ducts are added, and a roof is installed over the new addition. Horizontal additions must be placed and designed so that they flow with your existing floor plan, and the exterior siding or brick, as well as the roof, must be built so that it matches the existing exterior. Failure to match the existing home with the new ground-level addition can result in a visual and functional disconnect between the old and new portions of the home.
You are deciding to build horizontally or vertically will depend on your property size, your neighbourhood’s zoning laws and HOA requirements, the condition of your home, your specific needs and your budget.