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How to Plan a Successful Home Addition Project

Have you always wanted to add on to your home but don’t know where to start? You’re not alone. Home addition projects can be overwhelming for the average homeowner with no experience in construction.  Here in The Bay Area, home additions are a very popular option for homeowners due to the price of real estate and lack of available land to build a new home.  It’s easier and cheaper to extend your current home rather than buy new in most cases.

Even if your addition is not a DIY project and you plan to hire a contractor, there are still things to think about before you get going. If you plan ahead and follow these tips, it will make the process a lot easier.

Determine the Budget

It may seem backward to decide on a budget for your project when you don’t even know how much an addition will cost. Often in construction projects, though, the old saying holds true: our eyes are bigger than our stomachs. We want more than we can comfortably afford.

Then when you start talking specifics with a builder, wham! The evil budget rears its ugly head, and you’ve got to rethink the whole project. That can be so disappointing. Establishing a max all-in budget ahead of time defines the project scope and makes it easier to keep your wish list in line with your finances.

As you plan, be sure to consider the short-term and long-term costs of the addition you are planning to build. As the house grows in size, so do other expenses:

  • Energy bills for heating and cooling
  • Property taxes for increase square footage
  • Furnishings for the new space
  • Upkeep and maintenance for new appliances or fixtures like tubs or fireplaces

Not necessarily deal-breakers, but these future expenses are important to keep in mind since they will impact your ongoing budget for years to come.

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Consider the Type of Addition You Want or Need

Home additions usually come about because a family needs more space for growing children, or an aging parent needs to move in permanently. Whatever the reason, take some time to think about the type of addition that will best solve your space dilemma.

To help you decide, ask yourself these questions:


How Much Space Should We Add?

Of course, the amount of area you need to add depends on what you plan to put in the space. The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) offers the average room dimensions for new homes (across all sizes of homes). The chart below shows these sizes for the rooms most commonly added to an existing home:


Room Average Size

(in square feet)

Owner’s Bedroom 309
Other Bedrooms 481
Master Bathroom 160
Great Room 550
Kitchen 306
Closet 146
Laundry Room 102

How Will the Addition Fit with the Home’s Overall Appearance?

Function and form go hand-in-hand. Getting the space you need doesn’t have to come at the expense of the aesthetic look you want. We’ve all seen home additions that stick out like a sore thumb because they’re a different architecture style, use random materials that don’t blend, or don’t line up with the existing elevation.

Tying the addition into an existing home requires looking at both the interior and exterior of the structure to find the best fit, especially in these areas:

  • Roofline
  • Floor plan and flow
  • Materials
  • Interior finishes

Think about how your ideal home would flow and what would be included. Then begin to visualize the addition using the characteristics you came up with. Sometimes you have to pretend a current feature—like a bookcase or a window—isn’t present so your creative juices can flow more readily.


Will the Addition Increase the Value of My Home?

Before you begin a major addition, it’s a good idea to contact a local realtor for input about your home’s current value and how an addition might change that. Even folks who plan to stay in their home for a long time should factor in the resale value of an addition.

It’s not good business to add so much value to a home that you price it out of the neighborhood. Whenever you sell the home, you want to maximize the return on your investment and get the most out of the money you put into an addition.


Will the Addition Follow Zoning Laws?

Every community is different, but one thing they have in common is zoning requirements. Before you turn over the first shovelful of dirt, be sure to contact your local zoning department to find out what is and isn’t allowed.

If you’re in a rural area, you may have a little more freedom than those who live in an urban or suburban area. It’s a good idea to check anyway, just in case.

Most zoning laws in residential areas include setbacks from the street and all sides of the property. A typical law might allow nothing to be built closer than 20 feet to the front of the property or 15 feet from the rear line. Side to side restrictions might prohibit construction within 7-8 feet of the property lines.

Because zoning laws vary by state and even by municipality, always check your local office to see what applies to your specific address.


Would a Remodel Work Just as Well?

After considering all these questions, you may find that a full addition isn’t necessary to meet your needs. Maybe you can accomplish the same thing with a remodel or switching up some existing rooms, like turning a dining room into a study, for example.

If you’ve run up against the budget, finding a lower-cost remodel option just might check off the boxes on your wish list for less money.

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Choose a Design-Build Team

With a realistic budget and wish list in hand, it’s time to choose a builder. Home additions can, and usually do, run into thousands of dollars in costs. Those kinds of numbers are serious business, and finding a reliable, trustworthy builder can save you a lot of heartache and headache on a project.

You’ve got a few options when it comes to hiring a professional to handle your home addition project. The size and scope of your addition will determine which option is preferable:

  • For larger projects, hire an architect to create the design and hire a separate contractor to manage the project and execute the architectural drawings and specifications.
  • For smaller projects, engage an experienced contractor to help with the design and then build it.
  • Look for a design-build firm that rolls all aspects of the project into one. This type of company has designers/architects and general contractors on staff, who work seamlessly as a unit to give you a turn-key project.

A reputable design build contractor will be able to provide specific details about your project and should be willing to communicate continually about the status of their work. Before you sign on the dotted line with them, ask the following:

  • What is the total, all-in cost of my project?
  • How much is allowed for contingencies?
  • What kind of payment schedule should I plan for?
  • What if we need to change something during the project? How is that handled?
  • How long will my home addition take to complete?
  • Who will be in charge onsite?
  • What subcontractors or tradesmen will be in and out of my home?

Narrow your choices down to two or three companies that come highly recommended. When you’re buying a car, you do your research and then take several brands and models for a test drive, right? Spending thousands on a home addition warrants at least that much attention.

Sometimes, after meeting with a design-build team, you just know they are the right choice. Communication is fluid, and it’s obvious they “get” your vision for the project. Still, it always makes good business sense to get project bids from all those on your shortlist. With competitive bids in hand, you can then make an informed decision based on facts, not just feelings.


Should I Ask for References?

By all means, ask for references. Just do your own research too. Companies in any industry are going to showcase their stellar reviews and offer names of satisfied customers. These references can be helpful, but nothing beats asking around about the company’s reputation and track record.

The goal isn’t to dig up dirt on your builder. You just want to get the complete picture to see if any red flags pop up that cause you to rethink your choice.

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Secure Financing for the Project

Unless you’ve got thousands of dollars ready to pay cash for everything, you’re going to need some financial assistance. Before going too far down the path, make sure you can get the financing that works for you.

Financing your project will cost more in the long run, but if it adds value to the home and fills the need for more space, it may be worth it. With the advent of online lenders, there are more options than ever to find the right financing with reasonable interest rates and payback terms.

  • A personal loan is an unsecured loan meaning it’s based on credit scores and doesn’t use your house as collateral.
  • A cash-out refinance rolls the current mortgage and the home addition amount into one new, bigger mortgage amount. The difference comes to you as cash that can be used to finance the project.
  • A home equity line of credit (HELOC)uses the house as collateral which results in lower interest rates. Funds are available to draw from for a set period (ten years is typical). But it also means you can lose your house if you don’t make payments on time.
  • A cash-out refinance rolls the current mortgage and the home addition amount into one new, bigger mortgage amount. The difference comes to you as cash that can be used to finance the project.
  • A home equity loan is basically a second mortgage. You receive a lump sum amount that has to be paid back on a fixed payment schedule over a set number of years.
  • Credit cards may be an option if the amount you need is small, but be very careful about charging huge sums. If the balance isn’t paid off as dictated, you’ll end up paying significantly higher interest on the revolving credit balance.
  • Cash is always easy—if you have it. Paying upfront or as you go means no additional debt load, but it also ties up that money so it’s not available for emergencies. If you want to pay cash, it may take years of dedicated saving or a generous family member to fully fund the home addition.

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Select Your Materials

Sticker shock often accompanies the search for materials in a home addition project. Costs continue to climb. The materials you select will be determined by the budget and the finished look you’re going for.

Work with your builder to find appropriate materials and finishes that won’t break the budget. A compromise in some materials may allow you to splurge for that “must-have” high-end fixture or flooring.


Final Thoughts

In the end, you want to create a home addition that is worth your time and investment. A poorly planned house addition can lead to an even more expensive mistake down the line or, worse yet, something that never gets finished!

Several factors go into successfully adding on to your home without breaking the bank or losing sleep. With careful planning and a trustworthy design-build team, you should be able to add the space you want that looks and feels like it’s been there forever.

Element Home Remodeling is a home addition contractor in Mountain View, CA.  We offer innovative and modern home addition designs and a reputation in The Bay Area for great customer service and high quality work.  Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.

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