PATH - A Public Private Partnership for Advancing Housing Technology

[IMAGE: New Kitchen; Photo by Heartland Photos. Courtesy of MOBA]Adding On Without Regrets

More kids on the way? Kids already in the way? Maybe you're working from home more often, or you just want a good workout at home - instead of paying a membership fee and driving to the club?

You need more space.

An addition can make living much easier but, before you get too far, make sure it's carefully planned and well built. You want an addition that solves your problems without creating others.

Adding On, Adding Value

An addition will be quite satisfying when it's complete, but it's a big project that can be a major distraction and disruption while being built.

Despite the difficulties, the National Association of Home Builders finds that more American families are choosing to improve their existing homes, rather than move, for several reasons:

[IMAGE: Interior of the new addition]

But remember that all projects are not created equal. The rule of thumb is that any project that makes your home as valuable as your neighbors' is a worthy investment. But owning the most expensive house on the block often doesn't pay. Real estate experts recommend that a remodeling investment should not raise the value of your house more than 10-15% above the median sales price in your neighborhood.

Define the Project

Once you've decided to add on, carefully consider the addition's size and the type of room(s) you need. You may know what function the space will serve when it's complete, but how might those needs change in 5 or even 20 years?

How can you make it flexible enough to enhance your home's resale value? Your new exercise room might be the next owner's master bedroom. Make sure it accommodates your needs but don't make it so quirkily use-specific that it can't be easily adapted for more conventional purposes.

Before getting too far with a contractor, walk through your house and decide what else needs fixing or upgrading. You'll get the best value when supplementary work is included in the initial contract. Any additional modifications you decide on after a contract is signed are handled by change orders.

Change orders can be costly because they often require subs to make a second trip, because of the added labor costs to change something that's already done and because extra materials are required. What's more, change orders tend to drag out a project (extending the disruption of living in a "construction zone").

So take a look at the big picture. Do your old windows need replacing or does your heating and air-conditioning system need upgrading? Is that dingy bathroom sink worth keeping? Have you always detested the kitchen floor? Do your walls need new siding? Could the attic use better insulation? You'll have to adjust your budget - upward - but if you can afford to do it, do it now for less, and come out of this project with the home of your dreams.

The Home is a System

Now you have to decide how the addition integrates with the rest of the house. Of course, you want it to match or somehow complement the appearance of your existing home but, equally important for long-term livability, you will want the existing structure and the addition to be as one.

Sure, the walls and roof should come together attractively and seamlessly, but the heating and cooling system should also serve the entire home without fault. You'll be more comfortable, the system will need less maintenance and it may be more efficient - reducing your energy bills.

In most cases, it is better not to add a separate furnace, window air conditioner or heat pump to handle your addition. It may seem easier, but you could be doubling the potential maintenance problems with two separate systems. Also, the area where the addition joins the rest of the house might be drafty or otherwise uncomfortable because it is conditioned by separate systems.

[IMAGE: Exterior shot of the addition]

[IMAGE: House before the addition]

Control Your Energy Bills

Make sure to specify ENERGY STAR® qualified windows, doors, skylights and appliances, and ENERGY STAR-recommended levels of insulation in the addition (also see " Building Technology 101" ). ENERGY STAR qualified products meet strict energy efficiency guidelines set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Energy. By using these products, available from almost any retailer or supplier, you can actually lower your energy bills, even as you increase the size of your home.

If you also plan to replace windows and doors and upgrade the insulation in other areas of your home, its energy efficiency could increase so much that you will be able to heat and cool the whole house (new addition included) with only minor changes to your existing heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system. While the upgrades may be expensive, the added cost will be partially offset by not having to increase the size of your HVAC system.

Remember that your lower monthly bills will also pay for the upgrades over time, and better windows, doors and insulation will make your home much more comfortable. For another $100, add an ENERGY STAR qualified programmable thermostat and lower your bills even more. For any major addition, your contractor should calculate the requirements of your HVAC system using Manual J, published by the Air Conditioning Contractors of America.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has also developed an easy-to-use, web-based tool, the Energy Efficient Rehab Advisor, to show you what kind of energy savings you can achieve with these products. Just fill out a brief, 4-click profile of your home and then click on "Add a Room" underneath the "Select a Project" column.

Ask the Builder:

Avoid Common Problems

Durability by Design, a publication by PATH, lists the ten most commonly reported durability issues in new construction:

  1. Paints, caulks and finishes

  2. Flooring

  3. Windows and skylights

  4. Doors

  5. Foundations and basements

  6. Siding and trim

  7. Structural sheathing

  8. Wallboard

  9. Foundation insulation and waterproofing

  10. Framing

In other words, almost everything. Avoid these problems by making sure the building materials are properly selected and installed. A good contractor is your best insurance. Check your contractor's references carefully. If possible, visit some of the homes the contractor has worked on (preferably at least 5 to 10 years ago so you can see how they've aged) and talk to the owners.

Some remodelers specialize in additions; others specialize in kitchens or other inside-the-building projects. Additions are more complicated since they involve the entire building envelope (roof, outside walls and foundations). So be careful to select a qualified contractor.

Here are some things to watch for:

Select good, long-lasting siding and trim that match or complement your existing siding and trim. If you are having the siding painted, ask the contractor if the proposed siding holds paint well. Fiber-cement siding is a good, durable choice, made mostly from recycled materials. There are also new vinyl siding materials that are almost as durable and don't require painting. Learn more about fiber-cement and insulative vinyl siding options by visiting the PATH Technology Inventory.

Ask the Builder:

So maybe you can have it all: stay in your favorite neighborhood in a comfortable, low-maintenance home adapted exactly to your needs. During construction, you might have some qualms, but - if you've followed these tips - you should have no regrets when your addition is done.

This article, written by PATH, first appeared in the Summer 2005 Her Home.

Content updated on 8/7/2006

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