Everyone’s Doing It

We have small homes here in the East Bay - small homes, small lots, small closets and small garages. My husband always says that our homes, many built in the 20’s, were designed for people with two coats, one for winter and one for summer. At first we make due but as we begin to burst from the seems we begin to improvise. Those who’ve worked with me have doubtlessly heard me recommend a Tuff Shed or some sort of prefabricated outbuilding. We insulated our 8’X8’ “cottage” with 3.5” thick rigid insulation, then sheetrocked. Our little addition has had many incarnations from office to extra bedroom.

Eventually though, enough is enough and an addition becomes necessary. Seems like a day doesn’t pass where I don’t see another project breaking ground. There are essentially four options, go out, go out and up or double the square footage by adding a second story either atop the existing home or by raising the first floor and adding on underneath.

The latter two are what I want to discuss. It may seem that adding a second story atop the existing home is the simplest and less expensive way to go but in reality, it likely isn’t.

In almost every situation the foundation will need to be replaced if you are doubling the load on a home so that is a given. And in both instances you will have to accomodate a stairwell and therefore likely lose some square footage of floor space.

When raising a home and adding square footage underneath, the roof stays, no tear off of roof rafters and roofing material nor replacement needed. Next, the entire structure of the first floor (soon to be second floor) remains essentially intact. When adding an addition on top of an existing home a substantial amount of the sheetrock must be removed in order to install point load posts to support the structure above and shear wall to stabilize it. When raising the home, the now second floor simply stays as is - unless the architect redesigns the original floor plan, it can be left untouched.

Another issue people often don’t think about is that the addition of a second story means that there will now be plumbing and mechanical chases, from the top floor into the existing bottom floor, where before you had none. This precipitates remodeling the existing first floor plan to accommodate them in some way. Essentially you are going to completely open up and remodel most of the downstairs to accomodate for the addition of the upstairs. Everything existing will need to be considered as a possible item that could be lost, for example, tile in the kitchen and bathroom, coffered ceilings in the living and dining room, hardwood floors throughout and in some cases, even windows - because of the requirements of the structural engineering, you simply cannot predict if you will be able to leave these items in place.

Not to put too fine of a point on it but there is much to be gained by raising the home and adding on underneath - the only element that some will find problematic is how to hide the fact that there was once a front porch and door. I challenge you to start paying attention to what are clearly raised first floors and you will see where a good architect has cleverly hidden a former front door on a second story.

I love to talk to my clients about their hopes and dreams for their homes. I am far from a designer but I am always happy to share professional referrals with you and ideas and stories of projects gone well or awry. There is always more to learn.