Families grow over time and some eventually need more space. If you're toying with the idea of expanding your home, here's what you absolutely must know before you start construction.
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Home additions are an effective way to upgrade your living space without having to move. Adding an extra room or entire second floor to your existing layout ensures that everyone has a space to call their own.  

Additions can also be a great investment option for homeowners looking to increase the value of their homes by adding a few more square feet. Although building an addition is not an easy task, bathroom, primary bedroom and bathroom, sunroom, and second-story additions can all significantly increase resale value, according to HomeAdvisor.

white house brown wood front door
Credit: Greg Scheidemann

Renovating can be costly (approximately between $20,000 and $75,000 for a home addition), depending on the size and materials used. Also, building a home addition takes time (weeks, sometimes months). Not to mention, major repairs can be so disruptive that some families might choose to relocate in the interim, which can result in added costs and inconvenience. Whether it is a small or large home addition project, there are six things you need to know to help plan, budget, and design an addition.

1. Define the Objective

Ask yourself why you need the home addition. Whether it is to gain extra room for kids or to provide a private bathroom for guests, you'll want to share those objectives with the contractors on the job. Often, they know the simplest way to position these repairs so that the renovation project accomplishes your lifestyle goals and is only minimally disruptive.

2. Understand Permits and Restrictions

Building a home addition requires permits and inspections from the municipality or county. To ensure compliance with building codes, these fail-safes are meant to avert crises later on. And getting the right permits and inspections is important to verify that the work was done correctly, an important factor when trying to sell a home. Failure to familiarize yourself with required permits could compromise the structure's safety. Learn about regional restrictions from your city or county building and zoning websites.

Electrical, plumbing, and gas permits are the most common types, but depending on where you live, there could be many more verifications, like the limit on the number of stories you can have and access to well or sewer water sources. Some restrictions control how close your building can be to your neighbors, the curb, or adjacent lots. You will likely have to conduct a property survey to ensure your planned addition does not violate property line rules.

In many places it is the homeowner, not the contractor, who is required to request and obtain these permits, so be clear about who is responsible for each part of the process. Note that most homeowners' insurance will not cover damage caused by negligence or failure to comply with permit instructions.

3. Set the Budget

The costs to remodel can be high. To get an approximate value of your remodeling project, consider the current value of the entire house. The cost for a major addition is likely to be at least 10-15% of your home's value.

After talking with contractors to figure out the renovation cost, determine how you will fund the project. Are you paying from your savings, taking a loan, or applying for a home equity line of credit? The budget needs to fit within the limit of available funds. You can get creative about payment terms, with many contractors accepting a payment plan over one large lump sum.

To save, consider completing some demolition yourself, use antiques or vintage fixtures, purchase your own materials, or be the primary project manager. In each case, you're trading money for your own time and labor.

4. Choose the Right Contractor

Request bids from multiple contractors and compare terms, timelines, and customer reviews. Check references from previous clients to inform your decision. Ensure that the contractor you choose understands your needs and the project budget. Also, remember to discuss and agree on how to handle unforeseen issues.

Rather than share your absolute final dollar amount in the budget, have your contractor prepare to accept only 80-85% of the total budget available. This cushion will ease tensions when unexpected costs undoubtedly arise.

5. Define the Design

Your objective and the local building codes will largely determine the design of your home addition, but certain final touches can be personalized. Get the assistance of a professional designer to ensure that the new addition flows within the existing structure. If it deviates too much, the home might feel disconnected and it will be apparent which parts of the home are original and which are brand new.

6. Communicate Schedules and Timelines

Work with your contractors to create a schedule for the entire project. In addition to the completion date, ask for interim milestones that will help you determine when to make installment payments. Also, these smaller tripwires will provide hints about whether the original timeline is on track. 

For example, ask how many people will be on hand to complete the work on the established timeline. If the contractor says six people are needed each day and there's a week when there are only two, then you can expect delays (and a possible breach of contract). Asking when painting or flooring will be done are easy markers because they indicate that other major repairs behind the walls, like plumbing and electrical, are all wrapped up. 

Share any major events in your life, like travel or illness, that would stop contractor access to your home. And be sure to keep the lines of communication open with the contractor. Small decisions, like the color fixture you want, can make or break the timeline based on available parts. So be flexible and make yourself available to discuss the implications of seemingly little decisions.

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