How to Build Up on a Small House

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Small and economical houses, usually of wood frame construction, were built by the thousands immediately after World War II. They are usually convenient to urban areas and enjoy low property taxes. Their small lots allow light landscaping with minimal maintenance. However, outdated kitchens, baths and closets are often too small to meet today's standards. Adding on is restricted by zoning ordinances and lot size. The best, and sometimes only, alternative for the expansion of a small house on a small lot is to build up.

Things You'll Need

  • Zoning analysis
  • Building condition report
  • Project financing
  • Architectural plans and specifications
  • Contractor's proposal
  • Contract for construction
  • Temporary housing
  • Perform a zoning analysis. Confirm maximum construction allowed on the property by local zoning ordinances. Limitations may include building height, volume, area and distance to the property line.

  • Obtain a building condition report. Determine the thickness, depth and bearing capacity of existing foundations. Confirm condition, size and spacing of studs in exterior bearing walls. Confirm size of ceiling rafters and their bearing points. Note capacity and condition of existing heating, air conditioning, electrical and plumbing systems.

  • Estimate the total project cost. Calculate the approximate square-foot area to be added and list the electrical, plumbing, heating and air conditioning systems that will need to be expanded or replaced. Assign estimated costs to each component of the construction.

  • Analyze your finances. Confirm that you can either finance or pay for the project. Banks have specific requirements that must be met to obtain construction financing.

  • Request a contractor's proposal. The proposal should include project cost and his proposed construction schedule.

  • Execute a written contract between owner and contractor, fully describing the work to be performed, its total cost and proposed schedule.

  • Move to temporary housing until construction is complete. Building up requires the existing roof to be removed, and it can disrupt heating, electrical and plumbing systems. Asking a contractor to work around you can substantially increase project cost and the construction period.

Tips & Warnings

  • Assemble your project team early. Early advice from a professional builder and a licensed architect can help you avoid pitfalls of this complicated process.
  • Do not assume responsibilities for tasks if you are not certain of your capabilities.
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