Defined: Imagine having an extra bathroom and not having to coordinate shower times. Better yet, you now have a proper dining space to host a dinner party. Have a master bedroom that feels cramped and is undersized? Dreaming of getting your new pool table set up and having friends over for game night in the den where you currently have an oversized back porch that you barely use? Maybe your parents are getting older and you need a mother in law suite to ensure everyone’s privacy and comfort. The possibilities for a home addition and/or pop-top are quite vast and additions are used for all sorts of purposes. You are only limited by your imagination, budget, and the available space.

Regarding imagination, ask yourself some tough questions.

  • If you were building your house from scratch, what would you change and how would you lay it out? Will an addition fulfill this wish?
  • Is there a cheaper route to get what you want?
  • Will it add value to your home and will the neighborhood support it, or will it be a completely sunk cost? You may not be planning on selling anytime soon, but eventually your family will sell the home and these projects are some of the costliest you can do to a home.

An addition(out) is exactly what it implies. Additional structure added to the additional structure on the ground.

pop-top(up) is a second floor addition where currently a roof or attic sits. You are adding square footage above the existing square footage. Something similar to this is an attic conversion, which doesn’t add actual space, but ads livable square footage as long as there is an egress and it fits the zoning codes.

Pricing- The Basics: Because of how vastly different every addition and pop-top is (out vs. up) having a realistic budget prior to the first couple of design phases is quite difficult. For example, in Houston, a typical home addition or pop top will vary in price from $80-$200/sf. This is a very wide range due to the complexities and unforeseen of each project. They are like snowflakes. They are all very different even if they seem similar on the surface.

The cost is more than just labor and materials. You must hire design professional, management professionals, and obtain permits. For planning sake, plan on it being somewhere in the middle, like $125/sf, prior to even contacting a contractor. If you want to add 500 sf this will cost approximately $62,500, but this is an extremely wide ball-park figure. It just serves to give you some idea of the type of dollars these types of projects require.

Below are some average project costs for common addition jobs, from Remodeling magazine’s 2010-11 Cost vs. Value Report:

  • Bathroom Addition: $40,710
  • Upscale Bathroom Addition: $78,409
  • Family Room Addition: $85,740
  • Garage Addition: $60,608
  • Upscale Garage Addition: $90,053
  • Master Suite Addition: $108,090
  • Upscale Master Suite Addition: $232,062
  • Sunroom Addition: $75,224
  • Two Story Addition (master suite over family room): $165,243

Also, If you build up you will likely have to relocate because your roof will have to be removed, but if you build out you should be able to stay in place. This can alter costs and could make or break your decision due to not wanting to move for the duration of the project.

Below we will touch on the five major steps and considerations when planning for a home addition and pop top. By the end you will have a better understanding of this process in its entirety and can then make an informed decision as to which solution, if any, to pursue.

1. Obtaining a Plot Plan

Get a hold of a plot plan of your property and include all landscaping. A local title firm can generate a formal copy of the plot plan. A general contractor can also obtain or create one as well as a surveyor. A surveyor is usually the more expensive route. Local governments and housing departments can also get or generate a plot plan for you. If you have a good relationship with a realtor you may be able to access these plans from them for a fee. For more information our friends at SF Gate have a great write up here on obtaining a plot plan.

With completed plot plan in hand, make sure your addition can fit and will pass all permits relative to the physical space you have on your property lines. Local codes have restrictions, called “setbacks” on how close you can build to your property line or neighbor.

You may also have future plans to build a pool, but an addition would be in the way. You can have a pool, or an addition, but not both. Some of these restrictions will actually prevent your from building up as well. There are height requirements in some historical neighborhoods, for example. All things a plot plan will uncover.

This is where a General Contractor comes in handy. Navigating this part of the process is oddly enough one of the hardest parts. It is full of red tape and nuanced research best done by a professional. It is wise to leave it up to someone who can nail this part right the first time. Imagine building an addition and you can’t pass an inspection due to being too close to your property line…yikes.

2. Designing Based on Needs and Current Floor Plan

For this part of the project we are assuming you have located a plot plan and have already determined where and how big or high your addition can legally be.

Next is a two step design process. You will determine how to:

  • Complement your current floorplan
  • Make the addition eye appealing from the outside of the home.

If you need more bedroom space, consider most bedrooms are on the upper floors of multi storied houses. Do you already have a second floor over part of the existing floorplan? This would indicate a pop-top is best to suite your needs, unless the bedroom you want to add is a new master bedroom. A lot of times, especially in Houston, we see nice master bedrooms on the first floor with the remaining bedrooms on the upper floors.

Similarly, most entertaining spaces are on the bottom floor. Trying to extend out the kitchen or living room, best not to put these on the upper floor where the living spaces are. The bottom floors are typically reserved for entertaining. An addition would be a better choice for a space that you plan on entertaining guests in.

You should involve an architect and an interior designer to nail this part down the first time. A General Contractor is golden in this scenario too, because you can tap into this professional network to involve people who are proven and reliable. A General Contractor worth his/her salt will have a good professional network to utilize as part of their service.

3. Draft Plans – Pulling It All Together

This section is the final stage before setting a firm budget and then sticking to it. You and the design professionals along with your general contractor put together detailed descriptions of the materials and the scope of work to be done as they relate to the discoveries already made in steps one and two.

For budget purposes, make 2 or 3 finish lists that include different materials based on cost from high to low. Depending on the final number for each material list you can choose a list or combine lists to fit your available budget. You may find your preferences are more expensive than you originally thought, but the second list fits your budget better and is easily acceptable. Figure out what you can’t live without and build up from there.

During the final planning stage make sure you don’t add too much. Not only will this inflate costs, but with all the bells and whistles, new flooring, paint, electrical fixtures, etc your addition doesn’t jive well with the rest of the home and sticks out unnaturally. It feels like a totally different home just by going into another room. This can be kind of strange if not considered. If you aren’t looking to update the rest of the home, you might feel like the rest of the home now needs it.

If you don’t want to update the rest of the home you must still make sure the new flooring matching the adjoining room’s flooring and paint color/wall texture. New flooring looks different than aged flooring even if it is the same product. Don’t worry, after a year or so the new flooring will break in and match better. It’s just something to consider.

4. Execution

Finally, you have your plans, permits budget, finishes, and overall layout and design picked out. It is ready to pool all of this together and execute on all of your planning.

The players:

The General Contractor (GC), again, is the wizard behind this effort. The GC likely has crews already picked out for the scope of work involved and will also have plans to subcontract some of the specialty items, like electrical and plumbing, that will go into the project.

In addition to the GC is the Project Manager (PM) role. In residential projects this role is often split between the home owner and the GC. The main responsibilities here are to keep up with the progress and flow of the work, catch and document mistakes as they happen, and making decisions as they come up.

Pre- Construction Meeting:

Prior to the job starting, the home owner and GC should have a thorough pre-construction meeting to go over all the aspects of the job in slightly more detail than have been discussed so far. Expectations will be established and both parties should leave the meeting better informed of everyone’s perspectives than before.

For this meeting to be of value to the homeowner the GC should have discussed with all of the trades and crews prior to the meeting and everyone should, as a result, be on the same page. A good GC will anticipate common questions and have answers prepared as they relate to the job at hand. The key is to not have any surprises for either the GC or the homeowner as the job progresses.

The working hours of the crews and trades will be established, where/how access to the interior of the home will work, and any other ground rules that either party requests of the other. It is important everyone on both sides of the aisle has their expectations laid out so that they can be properly managed.

This walkthrough should also set in stone the pay schedule based on completion of benchmark items. Some hypothetical benchmark items are things such as framing completion, electrical/plumbing rough in, drywall and paint completion, punch list completion, and final walkthrough.

Ongoing Project Monitoring

A walkthrough schedule should also be laid out indicating when the GC and homeowner will come together in increments to walk the project. We suggest do this walkthrough once a week on the same day to establish a routine between the GC and homeowner.

Conversations that have happened can be summarized and stored in this journal as well. This helps for accountability purposes and just for reminders to all the involved parties. Document everything! There are too many moving parts to remember it all.

  • Dust
  • Increasing Costs
  • Landscape Damage
  • Delays
  • Change Orders