Q&A / 

Adding a Second Story

adding a second story

Adding square footage to your home by going up instead of out presents many challenges. © 2017 Tim Carter

Adding a Second Story TIPS

DEAR TIM: My current 1,100 square-foot single-story three-bedroom one-bath home is not large enough for my growing family. To get a somewhat larger new home that barely meets our needs costs $200,000 more than what I can sell my existing home.

It seems as if I need to stay put and add space here. My lot is small so a second story seems the only way to go. How hard is it to add a second story to a home? What do I need to think about? Maria E., Sacramento, CA

DEAR MARIA: It's not too hard to add a second story to a home. You have quite a bit to think about to put it bluntly. There are so many things to consider, I almost do not know where to start.

Old Houses = Big Bargains

Fortunately, you've already done part of the mathematical analysis that has illustrated a point many people overlook. You can almost always buy square footage in an existing or used home for far less than new-home square footage.

A new home in a great location on a nice lot can be very pricey. Older existing homes in great neighborhoods often can be fantastic bargains when you simply compare them to a new home if you find out how much each one is selling for per square foot of finished living space.

CLICK HERE to get FREE & FAST BIDS from local remodeling contractors that can add a second story.

Zoning Hassle

The first thing you need to do in my opinion is to visit your local government zoning office. They should be able to tell you if you're permitted to add a second story. Ask them about total structure height.

Many building and zoning codes only allow the top of the structure to be so many feet above the grade level. For example, the Ohio village I used to live in didn't allow the top of any part of the house's roof to be higher than 35 feet above the soil around the house.

You need to do some fast quick calculations to see what the total height of your house would be with a second story. If there are existing homes in the neighborhood with them, you shouldn't run into any zoning restrictions.

Subdivision Restrictions

You may have to visit your local recorder's office at the same time to see if any subdivision restrictions were recorded with your property deed or plat.

As crazy as it sounds, maybe the developer of your land included restrictions that simply do not allow second-story additions. This might be very common in the desert southwest and other areas where a taller home might block the view of another homeowner.

Get Current Remodel Costs

If you determine you can add a second story, it's time to talk with at least two remodeling contractors who have done this type of work.

Interview a few and ask them to provide addresses of several homes where they have added a second story. Ask them what they feel the current cost per square foot is to add the necessary room to your home.


Be sure to ask what the extra cost might be to add a full bathroom. Remember, these are just guesstimate numbers and you should be prepared to pay as much as 20 percent more as the plans are developed and challenges of your job are addressed.

Do Simple Math

Using these very rough preliminary numbers, see if you can afford to add the amount of space you need.

Let's say you feel you need 800 more square feet of space. If the current cost for a second story in your market is $175.00 per square foot, then you're already at $140,000. (2017 numbers) Add an additional $8,000.00 more for the full bath, you're looking at a possible cost of $148,000.00. Then you need to add the 20 percent contingency. You're now just south of $178,000!

Can you borrow this much comfortably? Visit your local banker or mortgage company and ask them to help you with a quick refinancing analysis.

Pre-Plan Checklist

If you qualify for a new loan, you should now start thinking about the actual project. Here's a partial list of the things I see as issues:

  • Will the current exterior walls support the load of the second story?
  • Is the foundation strong enough to carry the new load?
  • How will the plumbing from the new bathroom connect to the existing?
  • How will the new staircase between floors impact the existing floor plan?
  • Is it better to install separate heating and air conditioning for the new space?
  • Do you have to install a new electric service and panel for the added electrical loads?
  • Does the contractor know how to minimize sound transmission between the new and old spaces?
  • Is it wise/affordable to add special storage or possibly attic trusses in the new roof to gain bonus space?

How would you like me to build your new home? It's probably impossible for me to fit your job into my schedule, but I will gladly share hundreds of my tricks and building secrets with you and your builder. Check out my New House Specifications.

If you're lucky and the remodelers you speak with are experienced, they may add several more things to my abbreviated list.

CLICK HERE to get FREE & FAST BIDS from local remodeling contractors that can add a second story.

The Reality

Let's say you are a go to do the job. You can get the money, you can add a second story. It's nothing but rainbows and unicorns.

Here's the reality. Nothing could be more disruptive than ripping off the roof of a home, building a new subfloor, second-story walls and then a new roof.

I've read stories where some very skilled remodeling contractors were able to disconnect the roof of an existing home, have a crane lift it up and set it aside while they quickly build the new floor and set pre-fabricated exterior walls.

This all happened within a 36-hour period so the house would not get rained on while the roof was off.

Even with this kind of blitzkrieg work, it's enormously disruptive. If you do it the old way and it takes days to tear off the old roof, build the floor and walls and then the new roof and it rains at some point, well, you get the picture.

Major Disruption

Furthermore, as you begin to proceed with plans, it would be very wise to speak with two or three homeowners who went through the same process of raising a roof. Ask them about how they dealt with the disruption.

The best questions to ask might be what they would do differently if they could rewind the tape and play the experience over once more. You just might be surprised with their input.

CLICK HERE to get FREE & FAST BIDS from local remodeling contractors that can add a second story.

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