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The 5 Most Important Considerations for Building a Home Addition

You have outgrown your home. New additions to your family, growing kids who can no longer share rooms, maybe elderly parents moving in with you – there is just not enough space. Time to find something bigger? Luckily there is an alternative to selling your cozy home and leaving your neighborhood – a home addition.

Adding a room or several, or even an entire annex to your house can be a solution that involves a lot less hassle than moving. However, building a home addition can be a challenging process, full of pitfalls. Here are the five most important things you need to think about as you’re starting on your journey to the perfect home addition.

1. Purpose

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First off, you need to brainstorm what the ultimate purpose of the addition will be. Guest rooms? Children’s room? A second living room, or an extra bathroom? Will you shuffle rooms around in your existing space once the addition is finished? Knowing how exactly you want to use your new space will help you make major decisions about its placement and layout.

If it’s a new master bedroom you’re after, you’ll want to consider putting the addition on the quietest side of your property, or where there is morning sun. If you’re eying an additional bathroom, you’ll save yourself a lot of trouble by putting it near existing water and wastewater pipes.

2. Location

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Once you know what you want your new space to be for, you can decide where to put it and what style it should be. You have two basic options: adding a structure on top of your existing house (perhaps even an entire story), or building out to the side.

One essential element to consider is the foundations of your house. If you add a structure on top, you might have to strengthen your existing foundations to carry the extra load. If your foundations are strong enough, though, adding on top may be the cheaper option – plus, you get to keep more yard space. Adding a ground-floor annex nearly always means adding extra foundations.

Another aspect to consider is utility lines. In general, the less you have to move existing lines around, the better. In many cases, you might even have to start out by first ascertain where they are in your walls and your yard.

Also: consult an expert to see if your electric or HVAC systems need upgrades, especially if you’re planning a large addition.

3. Financing your Project – Setting a Budget

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With the basic plan laid out, you’ll have to think about how to best finance your project, and set a realistic budget. This budget should include the essentials – materials, work, maintenance – as well as unexpected expenses. If you’re handy, you can weigh some of the costs for work against your DIY engagement. Research the typical costs of materials, contractors’ fees, and the duration of various kinds of work. The clearer your ideas from the start, the fewer things will surprise you along the way.

To give you something to go on: Major upgrades (such as bathroom remodels and living room additions) usually cost $100 to $200 per square foot. When you get a bid from a contractor, you can typically add 15% to 20% to get realistic expectations about how much you’ll end up paying. Don’t forget to also factor in future maintenance costs, and changes to your insurance fees, and the overall value of your home.

4. Guidelines, Restrictions, and Building Permissions

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Before you get to work, you’ll have to make sure that your plan sticks to all the relevant guidelines, restrictions, and zoning laws – and you’ll have to obtain building permissions.

In many cases, Property Owners Associations (POA) or Home Owners Association (HOA) boards will need to approve your plans. Their guidelines often set down how far you can build from fences and curbs, or which materials you can use.

You should also get a property plan from your local Registry of Deeds. Especially in historic neighborhoods, fences don’t always follow exact property lines. Make sure that your addition won’t accidentally encroach on a neighboring plot.

Exactly which permits you’ll need will vary depending on your city and county. Check with your local government from the beginning. It’s a fairly safe bet, though, that you’ll have to get a general building and a separate electrical permit.

5. Finding the Right Contractor

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Finally, it’s essential that you find the right contractor for your particular needs. A competent, experienced contractor can be your greatest ally in building your addition. They’ll be able to reliably advise you on anything from the floor plan layout to the materials you’re looking at. But finding a contractor and comparing quotes can be a challenging feat in itself.

The best way to start is by getting recommendations from friends, family, and fellow homeowners. Most contractors put portfolios on their websites, which should give you a good idea if they’ve done the sort of work you’re envisioning. Online reviews and ratings should also give you good indications.

When choosing a contractor, their experience is a vital consideration – especially if you’re planning a very niche project, like adding to a historic home. In such cases, you should look out for firms that specialize in this sort of work. Online directories and best-of rankings such as can be excellent starting points.

Finally, make sure that the contractors you consider are transparent and efficient in handling your requests, and that they have the required licenses and permits.

The Bottom Line

The path to your perfect home addition is not an easy one. It involves lots of brainstorming, planning, administrative challenges, and likely some headaches. But by taking the most important things into consideration from the very beginning, and finding a competent contractor to help you along the way, you’re already off to a good start. At the end of the day, the more you plan before you start, the easier your journey will be – and the sooner you will get to relax in your new living space.

About David Montano