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Build an Addition: the Emotional Costs


It's all well and good to dream of that extra space your new addition will give you. It all seems so easy. After all, how hard can it be? When you look at it, you see that:
  • Someone else does the hard work.
  • You only have to deal with cool stuff, like talking to the architect and picking out fixtures.
  • It all happens outside of the house. No restless work crews roaming around your house, using your bathroom, eating Subway off of your good dining room table.
The reality of addition building goes far beyond that. Because the timeframe is so long, and because so many complex details are involved, it is not quite as easy as ordering up an addition and waiting for it to be finished.

The Fallacy of the Addition "Breakthrough"

When we built an addition, we imagined that everything would happen outside of the house, leaving us clean and dust-free indoors. We imagined that the only moment of dust would be that equally triumphant moment called the "breakthrough."

The "breakthrough" was unknown to use before we built an addition. In theory, the addition is supposed to be built up against your house (at least in the most common example), and only at the last minute would the contractor punch a hole between new and old. It's a nice fantasy.

What really happens is the "breakthrough" occurs a number of weeks before the addition is finished. It takes a long time for the work crews to finish off the passageway or door, connect HVAC, electrical, plumbing, and otherwise mate new addition to old house. An addition is much more than just a box glued to the side of your house, after all. It is supposed to be integrated with your house.

And this just pertains to a ground-level addition. Can you imagine how upset your life will be should you put on a second-story addition?

Work Crews in Your House

Even long before the breakthrough, various people need to come into the house. For instance, at the least invasive level, you will certainly be meeting with the contractor in your house, simply because you need a place to do business. Then, the electricians will need to check out your electrical supply, and by the same token the plumbers will need to check out water supply and drainage. Don't forget city and county permitting agencies, HVAC crew, painting foreman (Perhaps you want the addition paint to match paint in the main house? Yes, we thought so.). The list goes on.

Crazy Hours, Nailguns, Saws

Then, you begin to see that subs do not hold down regular 9-5, M-F work hours. Often, they will show up on Sundays or Saturdays, or their work hours will spill over into the early evening hours while you and your family are eating dinner.

Of course, when you sign the contracts on Day One, certain provisions will be made about late hours, noise, weekend work, and so on. But if you have any sense of urgency about the project, you will waive any provisios about work-free weekends. After all, did you really want this project to go on until Christmas? And be prepared for subs taking you up on your offer. It's not their fault. They are independent businessmen, and they need to do work whenever they can squeeze it in. If some desperate homeowner lets them work on Saturdays, then by all means they will do this.

Long Timeframe Kills Good Intentions

Additions take months. Not weeks or days. So, like any long-term commitment--exercise, reading Moby Dick, learning the guitar--you find that you blast off the project with unbridled enthusiasm. Everything is grand, everything is perfect.

But as the weeks turn into months, promises you made to yourself and your family begin to erode. You let one crew member into your bathroom, and soon they all would rather use your fine porcelain than the portable toilet outside. You begin to tolerate slow return calls from the contractor. You begin to compromise on design features you were so adamant about.

Privacy - We Don't Need No Stinking Privacy

When you begin to let work crews into your house, you wish to maintain some level of decorum and privacy. As time goes by, you find yourself letting down your guard, and you will be surprised at how far down you let it drop.

Our family is fairly private--as private as most families are, I suppose. But I clearly recall an incident when I came downstairs at 7:00am in a t-shirt and boxer shorts--the complete morning picture, with tousled bed-head and morning whiskers--and I fixed myself coffee in the middle of three guys painting our kithen walls.

And I wasn't fazed in the least bit. Not at all. That's the surprising part.

Summary - Do It, But Do It With Caution

Be prepared for how much addition-building will upset your life, and how it might strain marital, paternal, and maternal relationships. It's all true, so be ready for it.
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