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Portland Design Build Remodeling Blog

Should You Build a Second Story?

Posted by Lane Cooper on Apr 10, 2020 12:23:47 PM

At COOPER Design Build, we have made many Portland homeowners happy with whole-house remodels that include adding a second story. But before you decide on such a major project, you should think long and hard about all the issues involved, because building a second story isn’t always the best option.


If you really do need more space in your home, you have some options. You can add a second story over all or just part of your house. You can build out, rather than up, creating an addition that doesn’t involve increasing the height of your house. Or you can move to a different home.


Since adding a second story is a significant investment, you’ll want to make sure that you get the most from it. In short, before you spend $150,000 or more, you should confirm that you’ll be pleased with the decision 5-10 years from now. Plan out what you expect from the addition and compare that to your needs in the future. For example, if you’re planning to expand your family and your home is already bursting at the seams, an addition might be an excellent choice. But if your kids are about to leave home in the next few years, that extra space might end up feeling like a chore.

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Wanting to build an addition on your house—whether up or out—requires that you really like your neighborhood and don’t want to leave it. Staying put allows you to keep your neighbors, your children’s schools, and the shopping, parks, and other nearby attractions that you’ve grown to love. Buildable land is becoming scarcer and more expensive in the fast-growing Portland area, and the cost to build a new home is going nowhere but up. And how can you put a price on the spreading shade tree in the backyard that you planted when the kids were little?


One of the reasons to build up instead of out is that it doesn’t require additional square footage on your lot. If it’s already a tight squeeze on your property, this might make adding a second story your only expansion option. Going vertical also will save the landscaping, trees, patio space, and outbuildings that might get in the way of a horizontal addition.


When you think about any big changes to your home exterior, you’ll need to consider if you could do it, if you should do it, and if you’ll be allowed to do it. Zoning guidelines are heavily dependent on the neighborhood. This means that a second-story addition might be just fine in one place but not allowed in a neighborhood a mile away. It’s important to consider these limits and work within them. This will help ensure that you’ll get to keep the result and get a fair price if you plan to sell in the future.


Sometimes, the decision to go either up or out depends on what kind of space you’re looking for. If you need to add bedrooms, that’s the most common use for a second story. If, however, you want more space for the kitchen, family room, and general entertaining activities, you’ll be putting that on the ground floor. You can accomplish this kind of expansion either by building out or by adding a second story for bedrooms and family bathrooms, and taking over the ground-floor bedroom space for your kitchen and entertaining area.


Home improvements are not all created equal. If you go big, it’s going to take a long time. It’s hard to put an estimate on it when second-story additions might be 200 square feet or 1,200 square feet. But it’s safe to assume that the work will probably take several months from start to finish. Portions of this time might not include active working on your home, especially during the design stages and waiting for permits or materials to arrive.


Many homes built in the last 40-50 years came as part of a larger development with several optional styles. This means that at the time, the homes in one specific neighborhood would be fairly comparable to each other. But over time, that ceases to be the case as people make improvements and expansions. Homeowners usually want a home to be unique, but not to attract attention for being hopelessly tiny or outrageously oversized. If most of the homes on your street have expanded up, it might make good financial sense for you to do the same.


Keep in mind that a second-story addition is more technically complicated than just building new ground-level space. There’s the demolition of your roof, engineering work to be done to determine how your walls, rafters, and foundation will handle the additional weight, and the connections and extensions needed for electrical, plumbing, and heating/air conditioning.

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Adding a second story is a significant addition to your home, and it may take over the entire living space. This means that for most people, this project requires finding a temporary living arrangement somewhere else. It depends on the expansion, of course, and homeowners making a minor addition might be able to stay out of the workspace while they live there. But it’s usually safest for everyone if you can plan to rent another place to live for at least a few months. This is especially true for homeowners with small children or indoor pets that usually roam free.


When adding a second story, you’re not going to just slap a rectangular box on top of your existing one-story house. You will need to have a skilled architect design the vertical addition so that it blends with your original home. This can involve issues of rooflines, dormers, massing, window size and placement, siding, and much more. Because you don’t live in a vacuum, you’ll need to make sure your new two-story house doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb in your neighborhood or dwarf all the other homes. The city and your homeowners association might have something to say about that.


With all of the factors involved in adding a second story, there’s no way to pin a meaningful cost estimate on such a project. Schedule an appointment with the professionals at COOPER Design Build to get a feel for what a second-story addition could cost in today’s Portland market.

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Topics: Home Remodeling, Remodeling Ideas, Home Additions