Home Additions and Renovation Projects: Where to Begin

Home additions and renovation projects are not identical, but essentially consist of the same first steps.

Home Additions

Photo: bradfordandkent.com

Doubling the size of your house with a new addition is not identical to, say, putting a second bath in that small back bedroom, but the steps in the process essentially match. The bigger the project, the more time, money, and headaches are involved, but it is generally a matter of very similar elements. Home additions and remodeling projects, while different, both begin with the same steps.

After you have a thorough understanding of your existing house, you are equipped to think about renovation ideas. It’s time to define the task and to put some notion of what you want to do on paper.

You need to decide whether the task consists of adding new space, improving existing space, or simply putting unused space to use. Perhaps you’re undertaking a few home additions; maybe you’re finishing the unfinished, converting a basement or attic into a livable, finished space; or you may be transforming what you already have in your home or apartment.

Regardless of the scope of your project, the first step is to decide what you want and need. Thus, you need to explore those desires. The next step toward actual construction, will be to create—or have created—plans that conform to the require­ments of local building ordinances. But in moving toward those plans, you need to make numerous subjective decisions about style and materials and answer a multitude of questions for yourself or your architect/designer.

So, at this stage, you should be able to describe in ten words or less the nature of the remodeling you would like to have done. Much more can be said about size, configuration, style, finish, and other details, but in the simplest possible terms, how would you answer a friend or neighbor who inquires, I hear you’re thinking of remod­eling?

In general terms, the options are these:

We’re planning a minor remodeling of existing living space.
A job of this sort will involve no major changes in partitions or the overall shape of the space being remod­eled. The electrical, plumbing, and HVAC services are also to remain essentially unchanged. Such jobs might involve new cabinets, appliances, or even the arrange­ment of elements in the kitchen; retiling a bath; plastering and painting; adding wainscoting wallpaper, or other surface finishes; sanding, carpeting, or reflooring; adding or installing bookcases or built-ins; and so on. Minor remodeling may involve a designer, carpenter, or painter, but probably will not require filing for a building permit or hiring plumbers and electricians.

We’re planning a major remodeling of existing living space.
These are bigger jobs, for which a building permit is probably required. In a major remodeling partitions might be added or removed. This may involve bearing walls, these being walls that support the structure above. In most instances bearing walls can be removed or at least mod­ified after structural alterations have been made that safely redistribute their loads. If new plumbing lines or electrical circuits are required or new openings need to be cut in exterior walls for doors or windows, your job will also classify as a major remodeling.

Typical projects of this sort would be the opening of two or more interior spaces into one; the addition of a new bath; a kitchen remodeling in which new plumbing risers or electrical circuits are required; or the installation of a new central HVAC system, electrical service, staircase, fireplace or chimney, or exterior doors or windows.

We’re converting unfinished space to living area.
It may be in the attic, basement, porch, or garage. But you’ve decided to add the space to your living quarters. This probably will require building department approval, as there is likely to be electrical work, as well as fire and building code issues.

In the case of an attic conversion, you need to consider a range of questions. Is there adequate headroom? Do the stairs meet code and safety requirements? Is there adequate light and ventilation? Do you need to add dormers? How about skylights or “roof windows”? Will you need one or more additional electrical circuits? Plumbing risers and waste pipes? How will the space be insulated?

A cramped attic space can, with the addition of dormers (or roof windows), become a livable and even welcoming space.

If you propose to remodel a basement, your list of concerns will be similar, with light and ventilation uppermost. Again, stairs will be an issue, as will electrical and perhaps plumbing lines. Dampness is often a big problem downstairs: If you have a wet basement, converting it into living space may not be the answer you’re looking for. With either a garage or a cellar conversion, you’ll probably need to iden­tify a means of covering a concrete floor.

An addition can add that space you need—perhaps a family room, multi­purpose kitchen, a study, or another bedroom

We’re going to put on an addition.
Home additions are a bit like building a new house: you’ll need new foundation; frame; walls, floor, and roof surfaces; windows and doors; and all the connective tissues, too, like wires, pipes, insulation, and HVAC connections. An addition will certainly require a building permit and I’d recommend hiring a designer or architect to help you think through the delicate matter of inte­grating the new structure into the existing one.