Six Easy Steps for Planning an Addition

It pays to plan ahead when making an addition to your home.

Are you running out of space in your current home, but don't want to move? Perhaps it’s time to consider an addition, such as an extra room or an extension to an existing room.

Plan ahead to make the job flow smoothly. Although planning takes time and includes many mundane tasks such as getting permits and financing, the benefits are immeasurable both in time, money and frustration saved.

Individual plans will vary depending on the scope of the project. Steps overlap, and sometimes a change in one aspect of your plan forces changes in others. Almost every plan will include at least the following six steps:

1. Dream Your Concept

Make sure your concept for the addition blends with the existing house materials and design: adding on a Cape Cod family room to a 50s ranch style home would look silly at best. Look around your neighborhood - has anyone else added on and how attractive is addition? Will your addition stand out in an attractive way or an unappealing way? Some additions are too big for the lot and appear overbuilt for the neighborhood.

Do a quick sketch of your addition even before consulting with a builder or designer.

2. Put Together a Design

If your plans require the removal or alteration of a supporting wall, contact a building engineer or architect to find out if your idea will affect the strength of the existing structure. Major structural changes may increase the time and cost of your project. A consultation may provide you with alternatives.

Consider whether a small add-on of about two to four feet will be sufficient for your addition. This may allow you to cantilever the floor joists and eliminate the need for excavation and foundation work. If possible, be careful not to extend beyond the roofline so you do not have to add a new roof to your job.

3. Budget for Your Expenditures

Establish a budget for this project and determine where the money is coming from. Will you get a home equity loan? Refinance an existing mortgage? Do you already have money saved? The money available will impact the scope of the project.

Allow 20 percent of your budget to account for unforeseen contingencies, changes and problems.

Remember that anything not included in the original contract will cost extra. It's tempting to start making changes and expanding the original plan, but try to control yourself, or you might be adding hundreds, maybe thousands, of dollars that will shatter your budget and your timeline.

4. Check Codes and Get Proper Permits

Don't attempt an addition without permits. You’ll be asking for trouble.

If you've hired a local contractor or architect, he or she should be able to tell you if your idea will pass the building inspection. (If not, find someone else who can give you this information.) A professional should be able to handle the entire permit process, from drawing up plans, applying for the permit and scheduling inspections.

If you're doing it yourself, visit your planning department and research the codes that pertain to your project. If certified plans are required, you may still have to consult with an architect or engineer who can provide them.

5. Decide Whether to Do It Yourself or Not

Decide early on the role you will play in the project. How much can you do yourself? Know your limitations. Will the money you save by doing it yourself be worth losing vacations and weekends? If you're going to hire a professional, give yourself extra time at the start to find the right one.

Because additions usually require major structural modifications to your home, you will probably need to consult a professional to draw up or approve your plans.

6. Schedule the Project

Establish a time frame for the project. Much of an addition is exterior work and will need to be done according to the seasons. Your start date should be the date you actually begin construction, so make sure your financing is in place before this date.

Your timeline needs to take into account who is doing the work. If this is a do-it-yourself project, your time will probably be more limited because of work and family commitments. If you estimate that the job takes eight full days to complete, and you can only work weekends, it will take you at least four weeks. Consider whether the money saved by doing it yourself is worth the extra time it takes to complete the project.