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Building a Room Addition

Rules of Building Room Additions

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Room Addition Being Built

Room Addition Being Built

© Lee Wallender, Licensed to About.com

A room addition may seem like a win-win solution to all of your space problems. As with anything, this solution has its downsides. Save yourself the inevitable room addition-heartache by following these rules.

Contributing to these rules is contractor Larry Mock, owner of Portland Oregon's Cascade Custom Remodel & Construction, LLC.  Mock has four decades of experience in the construction industry, three of them with his own company.

Exhaust All Other Options First

Room additions are not your first option; they are your last option. Due to the price and complexity of building a room addition, it is in your best interests to exhaust every possible solution to your space and living issues—before undertaking this project.

  • Throw:  There's something about 12 feet long and 8 feet wide that's far cheaper than any room addition you can build.  It's called a rolloff container, or Dumpster.  Fill that with unneeded household detritus before even considering a room addition.
  • Rearrange, Organize:  Let's say you like being a hoarder after all.  Then rearrange your junk.  Closet organization systems work wonders for cluttered bedrooms.
  • Search Thy Soul:  You might be considering a room addition in response to a problem that has nothing to do with actual lack of space.  Classic example:  couples with a baby on the way tend to panic about space.

Hiring the Wrong Contractor Can Be Devastating

On other types of home remodeling projects, you take less of a hit if the job goes bad.  Sloppy paint job in the family room?  New crown molding fall down? Bad thing there—and you have my utmost sympathies—but you’ll get over it.  Hound the guy to make the job right; hire someone else to make it right; fix it yourself; or if you must, take him to small claims court. 

With a room addition, getting the contractor right is essential.   As Larry Mock points out below, the contractor becomes like a family member for awhile.  Your relationship with this contractor hinges on how well your personalities mesh.  But don't expect to become great pals during this project; this is primarily a business relationship.

Choose the contractor carefully because you'll have many weeks of close contact with that person, as well as many years of living within your new room addition.  You cannot undo a room addition the same way you might undo bad baseboards.

Know The Best Way to Solicit Bids From Contractors

Larry tells us:

Remodeling is more about emotion than anything else. Yes, we have to maintain high quality, predictable and reasonable schedules and finally, a fair price. Many folks choose a contractor based on their first impressions or the lowest bid, which you and I both know this approach can create a plethora of problems.

I suggest interviewing 3 to 6 contractors, and then checking the last 10 projects the contractor has completed. One should also check with their state contractor's board for any complaints there. Angie's List and LinkedIn also offer ways to check on contractors. The point I am making here is that in my 40 years of remodeling, contractors who have the same passion and determination as we have, are generally very close to our price. The main issue is the contractor's reputation and how the owners feels about him/her. After all, that contractor is going to become a family member for the better part of 4 to 16 weeks depending on the scope of work. So having a contractor with a great rep and that they feel good about can lead to a successful project for all concerned.

Bidding is a time consuming and costly process. Please don't waste contractors' time by having 6, 7 to 8 contractors bid on the same job. On a simple bathroom, I personally invest 4 to 6 hours, the other subs, another 8 to 12 hours... At $50 per hour, which is low by any standards for what we do, that represents $600 to $900 in time. I personally will not bid against more than two others and many times will not bid at all. On a 1,000 SF addition, the hours go way up. Forty (40) or so hours for me is not uncommon, and each of 10 or so subs will spend 3 to 12 hours bidding out their portions. If the issue is to hire a great contractor with whom you can get along, then the interview and research method is by far the least intrusive and the product is generally better. The negotiated contract is by far the best option for all concerned. This creates a win-win situation where all parties are part of the team. This creates a positive energy flow which translates into a quality job in a reasonable time frame at a fair price.

The last thing a home owner wants is the lowest price or a contractor who goes out to bid to get the lowest price in each category. This is a recipe for disaster.

Sunrooms Are Not an Acceptable Substitute For a Room Addition

Sunrooms are attractive. They cost less than full-scale room additions, and they give you just as much square footage.

But sun rooms are just that: sun rooms. Most do not have plumbing, showers, bathtubs, toilets, and other essential services.  Build a sunroom if you want a conservatory-type feel, but not because you think they will substitute for a real addition. 

If Resale Value is Your Thing, Consult a Realtor or Appraiser

Are you putting on the room addition purely for your own benefit? Or do you care about resale value when it comes time to sell? Even though you cannot do things just for the benefit of some nameless, faceless potential buyer sometime in the distant future, you do need to give some thought to resale value. Not all room additions give back adequate resale value.

The Realtor who sold the home to you will be more than happy to tell you how this added square footage (and the type of square footage you’re thinking of) will benefit you in the long run.

Realize that You’re Building a Mini-House

A room addition involves all of the same things that you find in new home construction: foundation, footers, framing, zoning, permitting, HVAC, flooring, plumbing, electrical, new windows, etc. The list goes on and on. Even if you are building a great room or living room (i.e., a room addition without services such as plumbing), you’ve still got other services that you cannot avoid (electrical, heating, cooling, and more).

Learn to Think in Terms of Square Footage Cost

Room addition building is complex. The only way to make sure you are comparing contractor estimates on a level playing field is to compare on a dollar-per-square-foot basis. But you’ll want to make sure that all contractors are bidding on the same thing, or your square footage cost comparisons will be all wrong.

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