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Front Page » March 1, 2007 » Home and Garden Focus » Making way for more space
Published 2,762 days ago

Making way for more space


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By RICHARD SHAW
Sun Advocate publisher

When planning an addition to a house it is a good idea to employ an architect so that the integrity of the style of the house is preserved.

Additional space in a home has always been the dream of many Americans. Whether purchasing new or used, people buy a house, thinking not only of what it is, but of what it can be. In fact in most people's discussions about a home when considering a buy, the idea of change is usually a prime component of the decision.

Of these changes that people think and dream of, first remodeling existing areas come first, then comes the idea of adding more space.

More space added to a home can be done in a number of different ways, but in simple terms it can mean a remodel of an existing space attached to the house (filling in a carport, remodeling an attached garage into a room or two or finishing an unfinished basement or attic space). It can also mean the construction of a completely new room or wing to the home.

All these construction projects are more complicated than they seem initially, and certainly more costly. When doing any kind of work to a home one of the first things that need to be considered is who will do the work.

Many homeowners do home improvement projects themselves. But when it comes to a fill in or revamp on the scale of up to adding on a new room, the skills needed to complete the entire project may not be in the homeowners repertoire. Even the planning, particularly for a complete new addition, may not be something the resident can do themselves.

The idea for an addition is a far cry from the reality. The steps that one must follow can take some time and thought.

Some people begin with figuring out what it will cost, but that really can't be done until some other steps are taken first. Without professional help, most homeowners who have never done or seldom do such projects usually vastly underestimate the cost of a project on their own.

"I think one of the biggest mistakes I see from people who decide to remodel or fill in a space is that they underestimate the size of the task and the cost of doing the project," says Dave Levanger, the director of planning and zoning for Carbon County. "And many who decide to try and do it themselves overestimate their own abilities and the time it will take to do the project as well."

So planning before looking at actually doing is very important.

Some things to consider...

•Go ahead and dream. Put together as many ideas as possible and talk to other people who have done additions to their home. Don't forget to include what you want in the plan. If you think about it later it will almost always cost you more.
•Spell out what you want for your home and yard in a master plan. Before contacting an architect or contractor, write down what you really see will be an important result from the addition. Think about views, angles and how you want your house to look.
•When an architect is a must. It's pretty clear that you will need an architect if the project requires extensive plans that must be submitted for review by the county. In addition, an architect can take concepts from an idea into a reality.
Define the Project Scope
•Keep the cost vs. what you want in mind. There is nothing wrong with dreaming, but remember that costs can spiral up fast, especially if you want a custom interior in the addition. Once you have figured out a budget, look at it again and keep about one fifth of the money you have for the project in reserve for those unforeseen problems.
•Keep a good file on the project. Use manila folders to organize the paperwork that comes about because of the project. All plans should be kept there, as well as contracts, receipts, zoning and permit papers, as well as anything else that might pertain to the addition. This is also a good place to keep addresses and contact numbers of contractors, designers, building officials and others so they are at hand if you need them.

The first thing that must be done is for the homeowner to put down on paper an idea of what they want to do. Use graph paper for outlining the project, so that specific sizes and details can be shown. If the addition is a complete add on and is of any real size, and the homeowner really cares about how it looks once it is connected to the existing house, the services of an architect should be enlisted. This is seldom important when doing fill in projects (garages or carports) or basement finishing.

The basic plan of what a homeowner wants to do becomes the blueprint for what will be built. If hiring an architect, it becomes a starting point for the professional to work from. If the homeowner decides not to hire an architect, it is important so a contractor can have an idea of what is wanted so they can give an estimate of the cost of the project. Even if the owner is doing the work themselves, the plan is a valuable for them to keep on track.

And don't forget that any addition, even a fill-in has to be approved by the county through the building permit process. While some minor remodeling projects do not require a building permit, all addition projects do. Building codes change and generally new construction, even within the old framework, need to be up to par.

"It's important that people file their plans with the county and buy a building permit so that things are done correctly," said Levanger.

The next step is to decide whether or not the project needs a contractor or the homeowner can do it themselves. These days things for the do-it-yourselfer is easier than ever, but depending on the project it still requires some real skill to do much of what needs to be done on a project.

"Nowadays it is much easier for people to do their own projects," said Levanger. "In the old days of lumberyards if someone didn't know exactly what they needed to buy to do a project, they could get themselves in over their heads pretty easy. Now the supply stores are large, diverse and allow people to browse and see how projects are done. In addition there have been many strides in building materials and equipment to help people put their projects together."

In the last 20 years programs on television, both on the public airwaves and cable have educated people about construction and remodeling projects. One of the early shows, "This Old House" on public television, got the ball rolling. Now there are a few entire networks, such as Home and Garden Television, that are entirely dedicated to homes, construction, yards, maintenance, etc.

"All of this information has been a very good thing," said Levanger. "The only problem I see is that sometimes they make the projects being done look almost too easy, and people can be fooled by these segments into how much time and patience it actually takes to do some of the things they show."

That means there are still a lot of people who want to, and even more that should, use a contractor to do the work for them. Under the county zoning codes a homeowner can be their own contractor, but they must still follow all the codes for construction, plumbing, electrical, structural support, etc.

If one decides to select a contractor to do the work, that professional must be licensed to perform the tasks that they are being paid for. Selecting someone to do the work is probably more important than any aspect of a project; good materials and a lot of money can be easily wasted by someone who doesn't know what they are doing. The county has available from planning and zoning a list of licensed contractors in the area for the publics use.

Once a contractor has been selected then it is time to look at the cost. Of course many people choose their contractor by price, so that may come first. That can be done by getting estimates from a number of good licensed contractors. However, do remember that most of the time the cost is an estimate; building projects can often get dicey because there are sometimes hidden obstacles, particularly in remodels. In addition prices of materials can change rapidly. For instance, over the past few years the price of lumber and concrete has often varied greatly over short periods of time.

Often when a homeowner sees the actual estimate they are shocked. What seems to be a simple project can easily amount to thousands of dollars. Just like repairing that dent that was put in the car fender last week, the cost of construction can be deceptive, and seldom comes in less than expected.

Once a homeowner has selected a contractor or contractors and know what the costs are expected to be for the project it is time to figure out where the money will come from.

There are three main ways a property owner can go about financing the costs. The first, of course, is to pay cash for the project. However this is often tough with the costs involved.

The second is to look at a home equity loan. Using the equity that has built up in a house over the years is a good way to finance such projects.

"The nice thing about many home equity loans used for home improvements is the fact that the homeowner can take out the loan and then draw on it as the project moves forward," said Errol Holt, the branch manager of Zions Bank in Price. "That means they only have to pay interest on what they draw out.A lot of things have changed over the years in banks and they are working hard to find ways to help people with their home improvement projects. In fact, at our bank homes are what it is all about these days."

Home equity loans work on the assumption that people have equity to use in a home, based somewhat on the payments they have made over the years, but in more cases than not, how the value of the house has risen since it was purchased. Most of these loans are usually set to be paid back over 20 years, although there are other terms.

The third approach to financing a project is to refinance the home for the additional funds. In a sense this is not much different, in terms of the money available to a homeowner, than a home equity loan. The difference is that it will create payments to only one loan, not two, and will, depending on the borrowers ability to repay the loan, will be spread over a longer time period. In this day of long term mortgage loans (up to and above 40 years) many people will take this option because their payments are lower. However, if one can afford something like a 15 year loan to repay the mortgage, it will save them considerable money in interest payments.

Holt pointed out by calculating a mythical mortgage loan for $200,000 based on the current interest rates that the difference in the payment between a 30 and 15 year mortgage is only a few hundred dollars a month. But when one looks at the savings over 15 extra years of payments, the amount is huge.

For large projects there is also the possibility of a construction loan, in which the borrower only pays the interest on the money during the projects progress. At the end the lender gets the money loaned back from a regular mortgage loan that the borrower arranges for. Usually these loans are used by contractors and are only utilized for new house construction.

If this all seems very complicated, it often is. Construction and remodeling from concept to completion is usually arduous and longer than expected. Delays and roadblocks are more often the norm than the exception.

But once the money, the contractor and the construction all come together, the good part begins; watching the dream of the remodel become a reality.


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