Giovanni Valle is a licensed architect and LEED-accredited professional and is certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). He is the author and managing editor of various digital publications, including BuilderSpace, Your Own Architect, and Interiors Place.
There are many reasons why you might consider adding a second story to your home. Maybe you are expecting an addition to the family, or you want to make a cool game room for the kids, or you simply want to increase the square footage and value of your house.
But is it worth adding a second story? Here is what you must know. Adding a second story to your house can be an expensive endeavor. You will most likely have to live elsewhere during construction and the entire project could take over six months. However, if you have the means, a second story could significantly increase the square footage and value of your home.
There is a lot to consider when trying to decide whether or not to add a second story to your home. The project is more than simply paying for the labor and materials needed for the additional story. Below, I have collected relevant and important information you must know before you make your decision.
Adding a Modular Second Story
If you are in a hurry to pop on that second story, and your house fits the requirements, then you may want to check out buying a modular second story. That’s right, you can buy an entire intact second story and connect it to the original structure like a Lego.
Well, it’s not that easy.
Before you get excited about the convenience of a modular second story, let’s make sure that you meet the requirements, then we can go over the benefits. Here is a quick list of things to consider.
- Compatible dimensions – You don’t want to buy a hat that’s too big or too small for your head, and you definitely don’t want to buy a second story that crushes the first. You will have to find a manufacturer who creates a second story module that fits your house. However, the second story can be about three feet wider than the bottom story, creating a colonial look.
- Structural composition – If you decide to add a second story to your home, you have to hire a structural engineer, there is no way around it. They will make sure that the structure is suitable to carry the weight of a second story by checking your foundation. Again, you don’t want your brand-new second story module falling in on you.
- Design – Of course, you will want to make sure that the siding of the new module matches the original structure, if it doesn’t, you will have to replace the siding of either the original or the new module.
- Window alignment – Be sure that you can find a module that has windows which will line up with the windows of the original structure, while still allowing for the interior partition of the second story module to divide the rooms and windows in an aesthetically pleasing manner.
- Bump-outs – If your home has bump-outs, for example, bay windows, porches, porticos, or even just a garage that ‘bumps out’ from the main structure, you should take this into consideration when choosing a second story module.
- Chimney – If your home has a chimney, you will have to make it taller to fit the heightened roof of your new second story.
The most obvious benefits of buying a pre-built second story module are speed and convenience.
Here’s how fast it is.
Your original roof will be lifted off of your house and the module will be placed on top of your house with a roof already built onto it. It only takes a few hours to do this once the original roof is taken away!
Don’t worry, your temporarily roofless house will be protected from a sudden storm.
But where does the original roof go?
One of the downsides of going for a second story module is that you will have to cover the cost of disposing of the original roof.
So how much will a second story module cost?
“Every house is different but here are some typical ranges: For a full 2nd story on a 2000 square foot house, the cost can range between $150,000 and $200,000. For a partial 2nd story in the 500-700 square foot range, expect to pay $90,000 to $120,000, especially if there is a new bathroom upstairs. People are often surprised to find out that a new two-story, 20’ x 22’ garage (with living space on the 2nd floor) project, can cost between $100,000 and $150,000.” (Reference: legaleaglecontractors.com)
If your house meets the requirements, and you have the cash, adding a second story with a module can save you construction costs, and a lot of time that you could be spending enjoying a larger house.
Is the Foundation of Your Home Strong Enough for a Second Story?
Seeing as your house was built as a one-story, the original builders probably did not consider adding another house on top of it when they were building its foundation. Altercations to the foundation are often the most expensive part of a remodel, so there is a lot to consider here.
One of the most important factors when determining whether your foundation is strong enough to support a second story is the soil content beneath your current home. For this, you will need to hire an engineer to inspect the soil to ensure stability.
If the soil is not strong enough, don’t worry, there are ways to modify it. More on that next.
It is also important to consider the strength of the main-floor walls to determine how much weight they can hold. Your contractor may need to connect the main-level walls into the foundation using plywood and steel in order to comply with building codes.
Note that any issues with the foundation are exacerbated if you reside in an area with a lot of seismic activity.
Strengthening the Foundation for a Second Story
If you have found that your foundation is not strong enough to support a second story and you would still like to go ahead with the project, you will need to strengthen the foundation. Here are some common ways, called ‘underpinning’, contractors strengthen the foundation.
- Base and Beam – If the original structure’s exterior walls were not designed for a second story, then this may be the option for you. It requires the construction team to dig beneath the foundation in order to add additional concrete footing and beams and may require a truck to pump concrete. Footings are essentially trenches that have been filled with concrete and rebar to add extra support to the foundation.
- Soil Grouting – If your soil seems to be the problem then soil grouting will be the way to go. This requires actually drilling down into the original soil and then pumping a cement mixture into the soil in order to strengthen it so that it can support the additional weight of a second story.
- Adding Footing – If you have a basement, or for some other reason, the interior structure of your home must bear the weight of what is above it, then you may need to add additional footings to support the extra load.
- Renovate and Reinforce – If you live an older building, there is a good chance that it won’t be up to date with modern building codes. If this is the case, then you should get your footings repaired, or place addition piers and beams where required.
The cost of modifying your foundation in order to support a second story can differ greatly depending on your area’s seismic activity, soil content, and weather, as well as the age of the structure and its original design.
“Most homeowners will pay around $4,306 to repair foundation issues. Major repairs involving hydraulic piers can cost $10,000 or more, and minor cracks cost as low as $500. The typical homeowner pays between $1,900 and $6,711.” (Reference: homeadvisor.com)
Be sure to hire a contractor who will be thorough and honest as this is a crucial step if you decide to add a second story to your home. You don’t want your house falling in on you!
Adding a Second Story to a Garage
A typical two-car garage in the United States can be anywhere from 400 to over 500 square feet. If you add a second story to your garage, you are adding valuable square footage to your home. You can add a master bedroom, a den, a couple of kid’s rooms, or even an art studio.
While adding a second story to your garage might seem simple compared to adding an entire second story, there are challenges associated with the task. I have made a list of some commonly overlooked issues.
- Second story floor alignment – The roof of your garage may not perfectly align with the new second story floor. For this reason, you may have to modify the height of the original windows, doors, and headers so that the floors or aligned.
- Matching design – This is particularly important if you live in an older home. You might just need a new paint job around the whole house to fit the aesthetic design of the garage to the original. However, if you have trouble finding the original brick, siding, shingles, windows, or anything else associated with the exterior design, you may run into trouble.
- Bouncy floor – Due to the fact that garages are often wide, open spaces, it follows that the floor above them will also be very wide. In order to create a sturdy floor, you will have to make it thick, or add posts in the garage below. Either option may interfere with your ability to park in the garage, and a thick floor might get in the way of the garage door.
- Heat and cooling – If your home has the heating and cooling systems in the basement, it may be difficult to direct it to your new addition, therefore, you may need to buy another heating and cooling system.
- Connecting the new room – Aligning the new room above your garage to the original structure may prove difficult depending on the current design of your second floor.
As with any option concerning adding a second story to your home, the prices can range significantly.
“The average cost to build an addition or add a room to your home is $45,107. Most homeowners report spending between $21,056 and $69,230. Your total project cost will vary greatly depending on the type of addition, materials used, labor, and location of the job. It can cost as little as $5,600 and as much as $125,000 or more.” (Reference: homeadvisor.com)
If you already have a second story and just want to add another room or two, then a second story over an existing garage could be a great option for you.
The Costs of a Second Story
I have already gone over some generic prices for adding second stories, but let’s break down the details to help you determine roughly how much adding a second story will cost for your particular home.
Here are typical fees and common issues associated with building a second story.
- Hiring an architect – Adding a second story is not an easy project. Unless you are an architect yourself you will likely need to hire one. This can be anywhere from 5-7% ($2,000-5000+) of your entire budget, according to remodelingcalculator.com.
- Blueprints – Blueprints are produced by an architect working with a draftsperson using a software program called CAD. This service has an average cost of $1,200-$1,500 according to fixr.com.
- Cost per square foot – As mentioned previously in this article, the average cost per square foot when adding as second-story ranges from $100 to $300, though it could be well above $500 according to homeadvisor.com.
- Types of rooms – Are you adding on a bathroom in the second story? According to remodelingcalculator.com that could cost between ‘$25,000-$40,000 for a 5×8 room with a tub or shower enclosure.’ Of course, if you are making a simple bedroom, that won’t require things like plumping and expensive tile, it will be cheaper.
- Plumbing, A/C – You must consider that the second story will not be hooked up to the original plumbing and A/C right off the bat. You will have to pay to have those to be connected, which may cost extra, not only in materials, but also in demolition, and the amount of time something like working on plumbing takes will also cost extra.
- Stairs – Putting in a set of stairs can be complicated depending on the design of your home and may cost you more money if significant changes are required to fit the staircase correctly.
These are just some of the main costs associated with adding a second story to your home. Things like insulation, door installation, windows, molding, wiring, flooring, drywall, vinyl siding, roofing, and excavation must be taken into account when considering a project such as this.
Every situation is different, and you should familiarize yourself with the building codes in your area.
Build a Second Story vs. an Addition: What is Better?
If you live on a lot with a small yard, or there is generally not much space around your house to build out, then a second story may be your only option. However, if you have space, you might be considering building out rather than up.
Deciding which is better, a second story or an addition depends on your particular situation. Below is a list of factors that you should consider.
- Type of addition – Do you want to add a kitchen or a living room? Then you should probably make an addition rather than add a second story. Unless your dining room and entertainment area are upstairs, it would be a hassle to make dinner upstairs and then bring it downstairs. However, a second story may be better suited for a bedroom.
- Zoning laws – Every area has zoning laws that are unique to it, and you should do some research while you are still considering which option to choose. Some common zoning laws regarding additions and second stories are about height and the proximity to a neighbor’s house.
For example, in the Mid-Atlantic states most residential homes cannot exceed 35 feet in height.
- Living situation – If you want to build a second story, you will likely have to live elsewhere for up to six months or more. You wouldn’t want to be sleeping in a home with no roof, or construction going on right above you all day.
One of the benefits of building an addition, rather than a second story is that you probably can still live in your home while the construction is taking place.
- Yard space – If you have ever dreamt of having a pool, garden, basketball court, or any other yard centered space, then building an addition will eat up a lot of that potential space.
It is also important to check the zoning laws concerning floor area-ratio rating in your area. It is possible that you may have to consider the proportion of the yard that can be built on.
- Expenses – Building out is often more expensive because, unless you are building a small shed, you will need to build out a new foundation. That means excavation.
It’s true that adding a second story may have costs associated with a foundation, however, it might not. And even if it does, it is likely it would be less than constructing a foundation from scratch.
It might be worth having a structural engineer or contractor come out to your property and give you an estimate before you even decide on an option. Make a pros and cons list, consider your finances, how long you plan to live in the house, and what additions or landscaping you may consider in the future.
Foundations for Additions
When the contractors begin construction on your new addition, the first thing they will construct is the foundation, after that, they will raise the walls, build the roof, and finally connect the new addition to the original structure.
We have covered foundation modifications for adding a second story, but what about adding a completely new foundation for an addition? What are the costs? And what are the options? Let’s take a look
- Basement – This is the most expensive option for a foundation. If you live in California, where basements are relatively rare, this may not be your first option. However, in tornado states like Oklahoma you may want to consider an underground shelter.
If you turn your basement into an extra living space, it will add value to your house as well.
- Crawl Space – This is a bit cheaper than a basement, about $3,000 cheaper. Rather than creating an entire room below your house, a crawl space adds less additional space. You can’t turn it into a playroom, but it means you can have solid wood floors and easily add insulation.
- Slab – This is the cheapest foundation option if the original structure of your home is set on the appropriate grade level. A slab is what it sounds like, a slab of concrete, like a city basketball court. Once the slab is poured, the footing is placed around the border to reinforce the foundation.
One negative thing about a slab is that your floors will most likely be cold because you will not be able to have it insulated well.
As with all the costs mentioned in this article, the true answer is, ‘it depends’. However, here is some general information concerning costs associated with the foundation for an addition.
“Building a foundation costs an average of $8,118, with most spending between $3,979 and $12,273. Foundations’ costs range between $4 and $7 per square foot depending on type: concrete, post and beam, or crawl space.” (Reference: homeadvisor.com)
Keep in mind, this is just the baseline cost of getting the footprint of your new addition on the ground. If you are building out a kitchen or bathroom, it will cost more than a simple bathroom or even living room.
How to Find a Good Contractor
This is perhaps the most important part of making any addition to your house. You want to find a licensed, honest, and hardworking contractor who will give you a fair price and do quality work.
But how do you find one?
Here are some tips on finding a good contractor to construct your addition or second story.
- Interview multiple contractors – It might sound like a hassle, and maybe you have a friend of a friend who was recommended to you… But are they the right fit for your particular project? This process will not only help you find a good contractor, it may give you a better idea of what you should be paying, and what options you have for your home.
- Availability – Contractors are often busy with projects, so don’t expect that the one you have finally found will be able to hop on the job right away. You might have to wait a few months for them to complete their current project.
- Subcontractors – Make sure your contractor is going to do the work required for finding, managing, and scheduling the subcontractors that will do specialized work like plumbing and electrical.
- History – You can check your contractor’s license and history in your state’s disciplinary boards, local court records, or the Better Business Bureau. Make sure to get copies of the contractor’s license and any subcontractors he hires.
- Understand your needs – Before you meet with the contractor, have a clear vision of what you want to do with your house so that you have an idea of how much the contractor’s estimate should be.
To get in contact with a contractor you should first ask around your neighborhood. Maybe someone in your family has had similar work done to their house. Word of mouth is still a great way to find reliable people to hire.
If that doesn’t work try a quick google search for contractors in your area or visit a website like angieslist.com.
Working with a contractor
Once you have found a contractor, it is good to understand what to expect when working with one. You have probably heard horror stories from people who have done big remodeling projects.
Here are some tips to help ease the process.
- Contract – In the contract you should outline deadlines, payments, schedule, and a detailed materials list. If you are unhappy with the contract the contractor provides, create your own. Make sure you are both clear on what’s agreed upon before anything is signed, or money exchanges hands.
- Permits – Make sure your contractors are prepared to acquire the proper permit and won’t cut any corners so that they can keep the extra cash. If you violate your local ordinances you may be subject to fines and it may be an issue when you sell your home.
- Payment – You should not pay in full until the end. It is typical to pay about 10% before the project begins, but do not pay more than that. Also, be sure to budget for unexpected costs, it is common to have some surprises along the way.
Other than this, you should keep in contact with your contractor throughout the process to make sure you are on the same page, and make sure you don’t need to make any amendments to your contract.
“General contractors (GC) typically charge about 10 to 20% of your total construction project cost. For larger projects, you might pay closer to 25% for their services. They do not charge an hourly rate.” (Reference: homeadvisor.com)
Whether you choose to build a second story or build out an addition, expanding your home is a big step and can have a great return in the future. Just make sure to plan and weigh your options carefully.
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