Second-Level Home Additions

Everything you need to know about home additions, including second-story additions and fitting into your neighborhood

Ripping the roof off your house and adding a whole new level on top may sound like a drastic means of gaining space, but there are various situations in which it makes sense. In some cases, a new level can be a big money-saver; in others, the real payback is something you can't put a price on: the ability to stay in the neighborhood you've lived in for years or to continue enjoying a setting that couldn't be duplicated elsewhere.

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Three Basic Options

There are at least three ways to expand vertically during your home renovation. One is to literally tear off the roof and build a whole new upper level from scratch. Another is to sever the existing roof around the edges and lift it off temporarily, then put it back in place after the new level has been framed in. A third tactic for your house addition is to expand an upper level out across an existing one-story section, such as a flat-roof garage or porch.

Get on Top of Costs

If you need to add a sizable amount of space (several rooms rather than just one or two) but are faced with a tight budget, adding up may be your smartest option. One reason your remodeling costs may be lower is that you won't have to do any foundation work—'one of the more costly portions of any remodeling project—'because you'll be building on your existing foundation. (You'll need to have the foundation checked, however, to make sure it can support the additional weight.)

Second, you may be able to save a bundle on roof construction by lifting off the existing roof with a crane in one or two large sections, and then reinstalling it on the new second story. Renting a crane is expensive, but much cheaper than building a whole new roof from scratch.

Third, adding a new level that fits on top of your home's existing footprint means you'll double its square footage in a matter of days (the length of time needed to frame and "weather" in an upper level). After that, you can finish off the new space all at once or room by room, as your budget allows. And if you're handy, you might be able to do most of this work yourself. If the new rooms are simple spaces and you use inexpensive finishes, the total cost for these types of house additions could be about half that of a conventional ground-level addition of the same size.

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Embrace Your Neighborhood

For many families, location is everything. As the country's metro areas sprawl and the cost of buildable land skyrockets, the convenience and charm of a well-established neighborhood often become irreplaceable at any price. If you have little or no room to expand laterally but dread the idea of selling and hunting for a new neighborhood that feels just as homey, consider staying put and expanding vertically instead.

Even if your home remodeling plans are more elaborate than simply adding raw square footage as cheaply as possible, creating a much larger house within the same footprint can net considerable benefits—'financial as well as personal. In highly desirable older neighborhoods, houses that doubles in size are likely to double—'or triple—'in home values much faster than those in some of the newer, less convenient areas.

This especially tends to be true of one-story homes that gain a second level and make a more substantial or striking architectural statement when viewed from the street. But often the intangible benefits are the real reward. How do you put a price on being able to look out your windows at the backyard where your children once played in the sprinkler, or at the huge shade tree you planted with your own hands when you first moved in? Or knowing that every time you go to the local market or drugstore, the shopkeepers will know you by name?

Other Reasons to Add Up

When creating your home remodeling plans, remember that expanding vertically makes sense if your lot is small and you want to preserve as much open space outdoors as possible for gardening, outdoor living, or simply an adequate sense of separation from neighbors. Or your yard may include some landscape features you don't want to give up, such as a grand old shade tree, a tall hedge, or a picturesque wisteria-draped pergola. If your family is experiencing growing pains, adding up with house additions is a good way to create extra privacy for the kids or for Mom and Dad. It's also an opportunity to give the main floor some extra stretch by making the walls several inches taller before adding the new level, and by merging or annexing smaller rooms that will no longer be needed for sleeping downstairs when the new upstairs is done.

Avoid awkward massing. Doubling the height of a plain, rectangular house can create a boxy effect. Offset it with roof pitches, overhangs, porches, and trim details.

Deal with height restrictions. Local building codes may restrict the height of ridgelines for houses in your neighborhood. Check with your city officials before you draw up the plans.

Provide adequate structural support. Some types of house foundations can't support a multilevel structure. Also, rafters in a one-story house usually aren't strong enough to double as floor joists for a second story. Have a structural engineer evaluate your home's foundation and framing before you begin planning the new level.

Avoid awkward fenestration. Window size, shape, and placement in the new second story should coordinate with the existing story so openings line up or form pleasing patterns on each exterior wall from top to bottom.

Maintain pleasing proportions. Skimpy proportions that are unnoticeable on a small one-story house often become detracting when such a house doubles in size. Keep the individual elements of your house—'such as windows, trim, eaves, shutters, columns, and dormers—'in proportion with its new overall size by beefing them up or giving them extra visual emphasis (accent colors, contrasting finishes, etc.).

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