Monday, January 17, 2011


Travel down any residential street, and here and there you’re bound to find a few homes that scream, Addition!  Ironically, if you design an addition well enough, no one will ever notice it.  That may seem like a pretty sad reward for a job well done, but it’s a lot better than the alternative.

How to decide where to build your addition? Here are some guidelines to the fundamental decisions: 

• First, check your local zoning code to find out how high your addition can be and how close you can come to the property line. Just because your house is built to within a certain distance from the property line doesn’t mean the new work can do the same. Zoning codes change, and your addition will have to comply with the new ones, not the ones in force when the house was built. 

•  As a rule, don’t add on to the front of your house.  Chances are its facade--literally, “face” --was carefully composed by the original architect.  Messing with it can end up turning the Mona Lisa into Mr. Potatohead.   Take the sort of addition that’s commonly seen on California Ranchers, in which a couple of extra bedrooms are expediently packed into the crook of the “L” beside the projecting garage.  The resulting U-shaped plan gives the facade a pug-nosed profile and also reduces the entry approach to a dark tunnel.  In most cases, adding onto the front or side of the house is a better alternative.

• Take care to locate the new portion so it won’t cut off light to other parts of the house.  Consider where and at what time the sun currently enters the windows, and make sure the new work won’t throw crucial areas into permanent shadow.  An extra bedroom or bath is no bargain if it makes other parts of the house unlivable.   

• If you can’t avoid covering up an existing window, make sure it can be regained on another wall.  Don’t figure on replacing windows with skylights--they won’t provide the same quality of light, and building codes may not allow it.  And don’t resort to trading away east, west, or south-facing windows for north-facing ones--you won’t get the sunlight or comfort level you had before.

•  Lastly, beware the old myth that adding a second story is the cheapest and easiest way to add space. It’s hogwash. On constricted sites where no reasonable alternatives exist, second-story additions can provide a fine solution. In most cases, though, it’s preferable to build at ground level.  Here’s why: 
Second-story additions often require reinforcement of the existing foundation, making them no less expensive and frequently even costlier than ground-level additions.   They’re also inherently less space-efficient, since both levels lose appreciable floor area to the staircase.

But wait, there’s more:  It’s also much more difficult to integrate the towering bulk of a second-story addition into the design of the existing house, especially a quintessentially single-story design such as a Rancher or Bungalow.  Last but not least, second-story additions are far more disruptive, since they involve the temporary loss of a rather crucial part of your house--its roof. 

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