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Building Options for Home Additions

A description of three building options for home additions: stick-built, modular, and kit-built additions

The type of construction that will work best for house additions project depends on several factors. Some projects call for a great deal of custom design work, whereas others fit a more standardized concept. Some contractors specialize exclusively in stick-built, highly customized construction; others routinely work with a broad range of construction methods. Some sites pose special challenges that require a custom approach, whereas most will accommodate any of several approaches. Which of the following three basic options looks like the right fit for your situation?

Stick-Built Home Additions
Additions are usually site-specific, and contractors who work on them tend to favor traditional, tried-and-true construction methods, so most projects are built piece-by-piece on-site. Other options are slowly gaining ground in the remodeling industry, but stick-built is a smart choice for projects that involve quite a bit of custom work to achieve a certain look or to get an exact match between existing and new. The chief advantage of stick-built construction is maximum design flexibility. Virtually anything you can dream up can be stick-built—assuming it fits your budget, of course.

If the addition you're envisioning will have unusual architectural features—such as an odd-shape floor plan, an artfully sculptural exterior, or lots of rustic cottage styling—or if matching your home's existing exterior calls for some painstaking, hand-built reproduction windows or trim details, stick-built is almost certainly your best choice. It's also the way to go if you're dealing with a tight site—one where the houses are built close together, the trees and shrubs are mature, and the yards are small. These conditions make it necessary to deliver materials to the construction area in small loads and do all the heavy work with small-scale machines.

The main disadvantage of stick-built construction is that it's labor-intensive. Building from scratch on-site means hiring expensive skilled laborers to work on your project for several weeks or months. This not only drives up costs, but also causes a lengthy disruption of your household routine and generates considerable clutter and mess—debris, dust, litter, noise, traffic, parking problems, and so on. Also, lengthy construction means the project's financing plan will need to span the construction period as well as the years you'll actually use the new space.

If you're envisioning a fairly simple, straightforward addition and your site poses no special structural challenges, you may consider a speedier building method. The fastest of all is modular construction. Most of the structure is built on an assembly line at a factory, then shipped to the site and erected in a matter of hours or days. Module sizes range from small bump-out bays to multiroom sections similar to large mobile homes. To achieve a custom look or match the design of an existing structure, modular home additions can be assembled like giant building blocks, with rooms and dormered roofs stacked to form different levels. Factory construction allows more efficient use of materials and more control over the quality of work, and it eliminates many delays caused by weather. Also, because much of the work is done at a factory (the foundation and a certain amount of finish work still need to be done on-site), the usual mess and disruption associated with remodeling is minimized.

Like modular units, kits are manufactured on an assembly line under controlled, indoor conditions, then shipped to the site for erection by a local contractor (or do-it-yourself homeowner). And like modular units, kits are available in a wide range of types, from bump-out bays to multiroom structures. Kits have been used for addition projects for several decades. One common example is sunroom kits, which come in various shapes, sizes, and materials. Another is vacation homes, such as log cabins and A-frame cottages. As long ago as the early 1920s, kit homes were available from mail-order catalogs; today, semicustom kit designs can be ordered by mail either as additions or new homes.

Kit-built house additions are a particularly smart option if you're an experienced do-it-yourselfer and can do some of the erection work yourself. Also, kits make sense if your design is fairly simple but your site is too problematic for delivery and erection of whole modules. Kit manufacturers tend to offer more design flexibility than those that produce modular units, because varied component combinations lend themselves more readily to packaging and shipping requirements. However, like modulars, kit-built home additions require site-built foundations. They also require more on-site construction labor and generate more construction debris and household disruption (though not as much as stick-builts).


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