Dear James: I need a larger house, but my budget is limited and I want to stay in the same school district. Is it possible to add a second floor to my existing ranch home? The lot is too small to build outward. -- Zina G.
Dear Zina: It certainly is possible to add a second floor to your existing single-floor ranch house. Since your lot is too small to add more rooms on the same level, adding a second floor is about your only option for additional space.
Two-story houses are typically more energy efficient than ranch style houses of similar size. This is because there is less roof area for the amount of living space and the roof is location of the greatest heat loss during winter and heat gain during summer. Therefore, your utility bills should be lower year-round than if you expanded the house outward.
First, take a look around your neighborhood. If all the houses are single-story ranches, the zoning may not allow two-story houses because of a height limitation. If other two-story homes are within view, it will probably be allowed, but still check the zoning requirements to be certain.
Make calls to remodeling contractors in your area until you find several who have worked on this type of project before. Adding a second floor is much different than building a room addition from scratch. An experienced contractor will be able to give you a more accurate cost estimate and help with the design of the second floor.
There are some factors which you and your contractor will have to consider. It must be determined if the existing first floor walls are strong enough to support a second floor. If they are not, you may to scale back your project and just raise a portion of the roof to create an extra bedroom or two.
The strength of the foundation is also a concern. A check of your local building codes will indicate if the existing foundation is sized properly to handle the additional weight of a complete second floor. If the foundation has to be strengthened, it will definitely affect the construction methods and the design of the second floor walls.
You will have to determine how you will access the second floor. A stairway takes up more space than most people realize. This will also reduce the existing usable floor space on the first floor.
Consider building a deck with a sliding glass door off a second-floor bedroom to provide an opening to get furniture into the rooms. This will allow you to install a spiral staircase to minimize the loss of floor space. There are many premade, ready-to-install spiral staircase kits.
For a full second-floor, it probably makes economic sense to install a separate heating/air-conditioning system for it. A heat pump attached to a high-velocity system in the attic will require no additional modifications to the first floor.
You must also consider how you will attach the new plumbing and wiring to the second floor. A new bathroom on the second floor should be located over one on the first floor. This will simplify the plumbing layout and the time needed to get hot water to the new bathroom. It would be wise to install an additional electrical service panel dedicated to just the second floor.
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