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How to Build an Addition

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A new addition...ahhh. Extra space, new bathroom, separation from teenagers - the reasons for building an addition are manifold.

That's the fantasy part of building a addition. What's the reality like? Here is a no-holds-barred description of what you will encounter when you decide to build an addition.

1. Get Real: Why Do You Want This?

We built an addition. Spent the equivalent of a Harvard education. And in the end we decided that we may have made a mistake. You will spend many months or years soul-searching before deciding to take the plunge. "Do I really need this...or just want it?" you will ask yourself. If the answer is, "Is just want it," you might want to back out now.

2. Talk to Neighbors to Find Contractor

This is one job where you need to get real, from-the-gut recommendations from neighbors, friends, or relatives. If they can't recommend a contractor, lose your shyness and knock on the doors of homes that have recently had additions put on.

3. You Are Building a House

...albeit a mini-house. Look at this project in these terms, and you will be much happier in the end. Just like building a whole house, you will deal with permits, contractors, electricians, plumbers, and so on. Just on a smaller scale, though.

4. Secure Funding

Most home renovation projects can be completed with cash. Even if you aren't pulling in a lot of money, you can always break down projects into small chunks so that you can build it - and pay it off - over time. But the house addition is the one exception: you need a loan. Most homeowners get a home equity loan or line of credit.

5. Initial Meeting with Contractor

Everything passes through the contractor (some exceptions listed below, though). This job is too big for you to contract out on your own, unless you have professional experience and ample time. The first meeting establishes the scale of the project, the contractor's timeframe, general design issues, and cost-saving issues. Do not be shy about asking the contractor how you can control costs during the process. This is your money, after all, and a huge chunk of money, too.

The contractor will take a percentage of the gross costs. So, a $100,000 addition, at an 18% contractor commission, means that the whole cost will cost $118,000. Yes, the contractor rakes in $18,000. For those hefty fees, do not be afraid to assert your vision for the project.

6. Meet with Architect

Some contractors can design your addition, or they may have stock addition plans. Alternatively, you can hire an architect. There is some value in going with an architect recommended by the contractor. With this arrangement, you have two parties who are accustomed to working with each other. But even if you eventually choose this arrangment, you should still elicit two or more additional architect bids to determine if the contractor's architect is trying to gouge you.

7. Permits, Demo, and Prepare Site

Anything other than level bare dirt will need to be demolished, removed, and graded. A crew will come and drop off a portable toilet, and perhaps put up a sign telling the world who is building your addition. Your contractor should obtain permits, and will most likely be required to post the approved permits in a visible spot on your property.

8. Slab, Basement, or Crawlspace? Pick Your Foundation.

Depending on the plans discussed with your contractor, the crew will begin pouring a concrete slab or digging out a crawlspace or basement. Foundation footers--the peripheral base upon which the addition will rest--are poured or constructed of block concrete.

9. Framing: Walls Go Up

Then, one day you come home from work and, miraculously, your addition has two, three, or even four walls up! The basic, framed walls go up fairly quickly. In some cases, these frames are even constructed off-site. At this point, you feel like the project is merely a few days from completion.

10. Wall Panels and Roofing

Wall panels and roofing are necessary to protect all work that will come after. Panels are installed quickly, with house wrap or tar paper on the outside of the panels.

11. Electrical and Plumbing

But the process slows again as the electricians and plumbers come in and work their magic. Also, the HVAC crew comes in and installs ductwork.

12. Insulation and Drywall

Insulation and drywall are the next steps. Now the addition is beginning to look like a real structure.

13. Windows

The contractor might board up the open spaces until the windows are ready to be installed - or he might install the windows now.

14. Flooring and Paint

Flooring might be installed before paint is applied, or paint may come first. Usually it's a toss-up as to which is the most effective method (in terms of cleanliness), so this is often dictated by scheduling. Paint contractors are experienced at painting cleanly after finish flooring has been installed.

15. Trim Work and Doors

The carpenters come in and put up detailed trimwork such as baseboards, window trim, crown molding, and so on. Doors are hung.

16. Bathrooms

Now you're nearing the end. Shower tiling, tubs, and any pre-fab shower stalls and bathtubs are installed.
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