Build up or extend out: how to get more space for your money

December 9, 2014

To add square footage to a home, you can either add another floor or extend one out. But what's best: build up or extend out? Here's how to get more space for your money.

Build up or extend out: how to get more space for your money

With sizzling real estate markets characterized by skyrocketing home prices, many homeowners are deciding to stay put and add a floor to their house instead of upgrading to a larger place. When planning to add square footage to your home, the first question to ask yourself is: Do I build up by adding a floor? Or build out by extending a floor that already exists?

Sometimes the size of your home will determine the answer for you.

  • If the home has a small side or backyard, then up is likely the better—or only—way to go.
  • If the lot size allows for it, extending the main floor out may be the better option.

In either case, proper zoning approval and permits will likely be required by your municipality.

  • Before drawing out any plans, first visit your municipal offices to be aware of what you may or may not do. Many municipalities have strict regulations.

Going up

Building up means your home must have a solid foundation and be able to carry the weight of an extra room.

  • An inspection is always required before such an undertaking.
  • If you only need to expand an attic or den, the amount of reconstruction is small, which can be cheaper than enlarging an existing ground floor.
  • Going up also saves you money from heating costs. There is also less need for extra piping as having shorter ducts helps. However, the overall work required all depends on the type of home.

Going out

If you have ample backyard or side space, the addition of a room on the ground floor is the easiest and most practical option.

  • This requires much less disruption to the home’s foundation than adding a second story. The fewer architectural disruptions required, the less the cost and risk of unforeseen structural problems.

However, building out does not come without its own set of risks.

  • If you build a room on the ground level, make sure you know exactly what's underground. You may have to work around sewage pipes and utility or electrical cables that supply the home. Call your local utility company before you dig! Otherwise, you'll be on the hook for any damage that might occur.

Extra costs

Homeowners who want to add a room should be aware that there is a lot more involved than simply knocking down and reconfiguring a few walls. Going up means:

  • The roof may have to come off and be expanded. As such, you might have to live somewhere else for weeks or months.
  • There's also the possibility of more damage to the home due to unforeseen circumstances.
  • Don't forget that going up also means having to come down, hence you'll need a staircase —which is also labour-intensive and costly.

In contrast, going outward means:

  • Pouring a new foundation for the section you want to extend. A poorly built foundation, while cheaper to start, will soon cause you misery and cost money to fix. Going up means the foundation is already in place, however it might still need reinforcing.

Consider the basement

Perhaps the first option to consider before building up or out is finishing a basement. For those with an unfinished basement, this is a safer, cheaper and more practical solution than adding a floor to your house.

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