Why an Addition is Really a Remodel

An addition doesn't make your home larger. It also reconfigures your entire home to work for you

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What do you do when your house is undersized or lacks vital amenities, like a master bathroom, family room, or spacious kitchen? You could sell it and trade up to something larger, but it almost always costs more to move than it does to improve.

If you’re happy with the things you can’t change about your home—such as the neighborhood, the yard, the school district, and the commutes to work and to shopping—adding on is the best way to upgrade your living conditions. Yes, construction projects are stressful and messy, but the payoff is huge. You get to transform your home into a perfect fit for your lifestyle, your taste and your budget.

The key to success is careful planning—and having a realistic understanding of what the job entails. In our guide, nationally renowned builders and architects will walk you through your addition project, from coming up with the right design to hiring the right contractor to ensuring that the job gets done right.

Getting Started

You can't simply tack on a new building to your existing house and call it an addition. You have to think of an addition as a whole-house renovation.

Adding on requires remodeling. Expanding the kitchen, for example, almost certainly means ripping out much of what's there and creating something new in the larger space. And even if you're adding a totally independent room, such as a home office or a master bedroom suite, you'll still have to make at least moderate changes to the existing home to provide access to the room—as well as to connect the structure and its utilities to the house.

So don't think of your project as an addition. Think of it as a remodel. The difference is subtle, but it's important, says Woodcliff Lake, N.J. design-build contractor Rob Wennersten. "You don't want the inside of your house to feel like old and new spaces that have been slapped together," he says. "You want a seamless home where the lines between original structure and addition are impossible to discern."

Plus, the remodeling-first approach can actually save you money, says Eden Prairie, Minn., design-build contractor Mark Mackmiller. "If you start by thinking about your existing space and how you can reconfigure it to meet your needs," he says, "you're more likely to wind up with something that ties in well to your home—and you may even limit or eliminate the need for the addition."

Since remodeling costs 25 to 50 percent of adding on, that can mean huge project savings—and it may also save you on the property taxes and fuel costs associated with expanding your home. "You spend less, you disturb your yard less, deal with less inconvenience, get the job done faster, and live a greener life," says Mackmiller.

Most importantly, though, you'll get a better result. "It helps to think about your project from the inside out," says New York City architect Dennis Wedlick. "Don't just tack on an addition to make your house bigger or add the family room you want, but reconfigure your space to work better and to incorporate the added square footage." You'll upgrade the whole home instead of just gluing an improvement onto it.

Next Up

Alternatives to an Addition

Consider ways to maximize your home's existing space before building more square footage

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