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October 2003  
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Second Story Addition Conditions
by Broderick Perkins



      Sometimes the only way to go is up. Adding a second story takes longer, it will be more disruptive on your lifestyle and it will cost you significantly more than adding on at ground level.
      Yet if you need more space but face lot restrictions that prevent you from enlarging your first floor or the prospect of moving up is too expensive, you probably don't have a choice.
      "The family is cramped a lot of times. I get calls from couples and they just want their own space. They want a master bedroom and a private office or they want to put the kids upstairs," said Jeff Winn of Big Sky Construction in San Jose, CA.
      You will, however, be rewarded for your efforts. Second story additions are among the most valuable home improvements, returning up to 100 percent and more of the cost to the value of your home, according to Remodeling Magazine's 2002 Cost vs. Value Report.
      Among the 45 metropolitan areas Remodeling Magazine surveyed, the return on second stories ranged from 45 percent in Columbus, OH to 177 percent in Washington, D.C., with most areas enjoying an 80 percent or better return to the value of the home for money spent on a second story addition.
      Before lifting a hammer, you must first get approval from your city planning or building department where zoning, building and planning rules could leave your blue prints tacked to the drawing board.
      Ordinances vary widely from city to city, but they all typically dictate how much square footage can be added to a home, how much of a lot can be developed, how high a home can be built and even how much of a neighbor's view or sunlight the new construction can block. Second story plans may call for as much as a city council meeting or other public hearing.
      "Depending upon the municipality, each city has a different requirement for how much square footage you can add on based on your existing land. You just have to go city by city to check," said Winn.
      If you manage to get out of the planning office unscathed, your home could turn against you. Structural engineers say, theoretically, a second story is possible on virtually any home, but depending upon the age and



condition of your home that can mean strengthening the foundation, and adding seismic or wind-resistant construction (depending on your region) to the walls, framing and connections. You may need new load bearing walls, you'll have to put in a floorspace robbing staircase and taking off the old roof to put on a new one may be necessary. "You don't have to lose the roof. You can raise it up and actually set the roof on the ground if you pre-build the walls and just lift them into place. I'm not saying it's easy, but there are guys who have thought it through that much," says Cincinnati-based general contractor and syndicated home improvement writer Tim Carter who publishes the AskTheBuilder.com Web site.
      In any event, it's the work that's unique to second-story additions that accounts for the big difference in building up instead of out - 20 percent or more to build a second story than to add the same square footage at ground level, contractors estimate.
      Along with the extras, second story additions come with the same considerations found in any extensive home improvement. Your existing heating, cooling and hot water systems probably won't be sufficient for the added square footage. Upgrades to the electrical and plumbing system also may be necessary. And you'll probably have to upgrade the look and feel of the existing home to match new materials you'll likely use in your second story addition.
      Some home owners bring their own architects and engineers to the job, but it may be best to hire a contractor as a single point person to handle such an extensive job from design, through engineering and to completion. If the contractor doesn't have a design team or engineer on staff, he or she likely works with sub-contractors who can get the job done.
      That's provided you find skilled contractors who regularly complete second-story jobs and can present you with recent work you can inspect and home owners you can talk with.
      "Schedule appointments with at least two contractors you have prequalified by asking them if they have done similar work. Let them come up with a budget to see if you're in the ball park. Why go through all the hoops if you discover it's out of your budget?" Carter asked.


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