Homeowners who might have tried to sell their houses a few years ago are staying put with the hope that they'll fetch a higher price if they wait out the bad economy. In the meantime, some are making their homes more comfortable by adding rooms–downstairs and up.
Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies notes that homeowners are redirecting their remodeling dollars away from kitchen and bath remodels, room additions, and interiors. But pros in some areas are still doing a brisk business in two-story additions, often to enlarge a kitchen, add a home office, or build a tricked-out master suite that's separate from the rest of the family's bedrooms.
That project is among the most expensive of remodeling undertakings, so contractors are taking care to add value to the home as they add space. Here are 16 tips from pros who are successfully building up and out:
--Use the existing house as inspiration for the addition. Installing a different style of siding, roofing, and windows on the addition will make it obvious that the new rooms were not built as part of the original house.
"It's like putting zebra stripes on a tiger," says architect JP Ward of Anthony Wilder Design/Build in Cabin John, Md. Atlanta builder Kevin Buckley of Kevin Buckley Builders agrees: "You see it all the time. It looks like they just tacked that addition onto the end of the house, like a caboose."
--Duplicate architectural elements from the main house in both the interior and exterior of the addition–on both floors–to create a sense of unity between old and new. In a home with a bay window and window seat in the existing living room, Ward designed a similar area in the new family room.
--Mismatched windows are a telltale sign that part of the house has been added on. Choose windows in the same style and material–or at least a lookalike material–as the ones on the original structure. Keep the sill lines even on both structures.
--Blend the new flooring with the old. Ward notes that the rich-but-worn look of old hardwood floors is hard to replicate with brand-new material.
--You can also make an addition "match" the rest of the house by remodeling parts of the existing structure so it includes some of the addition's modern touches. Buckley did this to a brick home whose owner wanted board-and-batten shake siding on the two-story addition. He re-sided a pair of dormers on the opposite end of the house, too, so the facade looks balanced and the addition appears to be part of the original structure.
--Likewise, try to replicate the addition's up-to-date structural, safety, and energy-efficiency improvements in the older part by suggesting that the homeowner bring the whole house–and not just the addition, as required–up to code.
--Incorporate modern materials that look authentic and match the main house but that are engineered to last longer, hold up better to harsh weather, and require less maintenance. Buckley has installed high-end, solid-core fiberglass doors and textured fiber-cement siding that he says look as much like wood as the years-old material on the rest of the home.
--Convince your clients to upgrade the HVAC. An air-conditioning unit that's properly sized for the original structure will not perform well if you add more than about 30 square feet to the house. Buckley says most of his clients resist replacing their existing units because of the cost, but that their homes are usually uncomfortably humid later if they don't–especially if the two-story addition includes an unconditioned garage under new living quarters.
--Consider the "flow" of the house. "This is a very big deal," notes Ward. "We put a lot of effort into making sure [the layout of the house] still makes sense" once it has an addition, "so you don't have to go to the middle of the living room to get to the new kitchen." Sometimes, Ward notes, that means reallocating the space in rooms besides the ones you're adding on.
--Step the addition forward or back a few feet from the original part to avoid turning the building into a big rectangle, advises Buckley. "It makes for a profile that's interesting to look at, rather than one gigantic box." Likewise, making the addition's roof line a bit lower than the roof on the main house can make it easier to flash, notes Paul Ledoux, owner of Wildwood Home Remodeling in Albuquerque.
--Still, the trusses between floors should line up precisely, Ledoux says. Otherwise, the floors and ceilings of the addition won't even out with those of the original structure.
--Plan for a large staircase. If you're lucky, notes Ledoux, the home's existing staircase is located close enough to the two-story addition that a new one isn't needed. If a new staircase is needed, however, it's likely to take up more space than the homeowner might want.
--Remove existing walls to create larger rooms. Ward notes that an addition can do more than add rooms; it can transform the small, separate kitchen, dining room, and living room into a single, spacious, open area for cooking, socializing, and watching TV. Vaulted ceilings are popular for additions for the same reason.
--Consider alternative framing members for large spans on two-story additions. Buckley says lightweight steel beams are thinner than I-joists or engineered LDL beams and have saved him from exceeding height restrictions. Using thicker framing members, he says, has created problems with head clearance at the top of staircases because the thicker product raises the thickness of the floor.
--If the addition leaves the backyard too small for a good-size deck, build the deck on the side of the house instead. Ward says three-quarters of his clients who ask for an addition off the back of the house also want a deck.
--Educate the homeowner about zoning restrictions. Many clients ask for additions that are larger than local laws allow because they are unaware of regulations restricting them from building too close to the property line or covering too high a percentage of the lot. Some communities have height restrictions for multiple-story additions as well. – Sharon O'Malley is a contributing editor to Building Products magazine and its website, ebuild.com.