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  • Carmel Homes

Is it cheaper to build up or out?

Updated: Dec 1, 2023

Thinking about giving your home a facelift or adding some extra space? Well, it's an exciting venture, but it can also be a real wallet-squeezer. Here's the big question: should you reach for the sky and add another floor or stretch outwards? In this article, we'll break down the ups and downs of both options and help you figure out whether going up or out makes more cents (pun intended!) for your home project. So, let's dive in and find out which direction suits your renovation dreams and your budget.

cream colored arches in a garden, building a garden, building garden features

Factors to Consider

When you're thinking about expanding your home, whether it's to accommodate a growing family or to create more living space, you'll want to consider whether to build up or out. Let's break it down. First off, think about where you'd put the stairs. If you're adding a second story on top of your garage, it's a smart move because it minimizes structural changes and keeps things tidy. But keep in mind that going up adds more visibility and cost to your project. If you want to maximize your space and resale value, think about putting family-friendly areas on the ground floor.

Next, take a look at your land. The layout and size of your property play a big role. If you've got a roomy backyard and think you might want a pool or other outdoor additions in the future, building out might cramp your style. In that case, building up is a space-saver.

Don't forget to check your local zoning rules. They can dictate how high you can build or how close to your neighbor's property line you can get. While most places allow multi-story homes, some neighborhoods or preservation zones might have different rules. But if you're set on your plans, you might be able to plead your case with the planning commission.

Speaking of costs, building upward can often save you some serious cash. You'll avoid the expense of a bigger foundation and more roofing materials. Essentially, you're doubling your livable area without doubling your costs. Plus, if you're in the business world, going vertical can make customizing an entire floor for your company a lot easier and more affordable.

So, in a nutshell, the choice between building up or out depends on your specific needs, your property layout, local regulations, and your budget. Consider all these factors, and you'll make the right call for your expansion project.

Building Up

  • When it comes to deciding whether to build up instead of out, there are some clear advantages and disadvantages to consider

Advantages of Building Up:

  • Cost Savings: Building up is usually the budget-friendly choice because it requires less material and labor. It's like adding an extra layer to your house cake – just more wood and framing, no need for footers, concrete, or extensive excavation.

  • Yard Preservation: The best part? You get to keep your precious yard intact. Since you're not expanding the house's footprint, you don't have to fuss over zoning rules.

  • Space Expansion Tricks: Homeowners can expand living space without increasing the footprint in creative ways. Adding another story using the existing foundation, installing large dormers in a pitched roof, or converting a one-story garage, porch, or wing into a new floor opens up possibilities.

  • Zoning Compliance: You won't have to sacrifice outdoor space to meet zoning regulations like minimum setbacks or floor space ratios.

a view of a tall house from the bottom looking up, building up, building tall houses

Disadvantages of Building Up:

  • Height Restrictions: Many towns have strict height limits for houses, which could cramp your upward expansion style. Plus, there's the issue of stairs, which might eat into your living space and floor plan.

  • Pricey Stability: Safety first! Ensuring your home can handle the added weight from an upward expansion can be costly. You might need structural support, inspections, and even roof removal, all driving up labor and material costs.

  • Extra Materials: Building up means buying extras like stairs and added support beams, unlike outward expansions. It's a pricier endeavor that goes beyond the basics of wiring and plumbing.

  • Permit Pains: Don't forget the permits – they're a must, and building upwards often means more of them, along with extra inspections to ensure safety. That's more money on your price tag.

  • Foundation Considerations: To handle the added weight, your contractor will expose and reinforce the foundation and walls, even if the new addition doesn't need a foundation. It's crucial to ensure structural integrity.

  • Space Challenges: Adding stories can eat up usable space, especially with having to include stairwells, often consuming 4-7m². You might need to remove basement floors and ceilings for support beam reinforcement and utility installation, which is essential for project success.

Another option to consider is knockdown and rebuild, especially if your existing house doesn't meet your needs. This approach allows you to start fresh and design a modern home or a French provincial home that suits your preferences. However, keep in mind that permit requirements and foundation considerations still apply.

For those with a dual occupancy or a sloping block, building up can maximize the available space and comply with zoning regulations. Just be aware of the potential challenges, such as space limitations and the need for structural reinforcement.

Ultimately, the choice between building up and other construction methods depends on your specific needs, budget, and local regulations. It's essential to consult with professionals, such as architects and builders, to determine the best approach for your project.

an image of a wide town house, building out, building townhouses

Building Out

  • When it comes to expanding your home by building out instead of up, there are some notable advantages and disadvantages to consider:

Advantages of Building Out:

  • More Design Options: With a single-story ranch-style home, you have the flexibility to play with different ceiling heights and add skylights. Plus, you won't have to deal with the noise from stairs and second-story traffic.

  • Easy Maintenance: Future maintenance and upkeep become a breeze with an outward expansion. Accessing and cleaning gutters, roofs, and outside walls is more straightforward. It's also safer for families with kids and more practical for those with mobility challenges.

  • Cost-Effective: Perhaps the most compelling reason to expand outward is cost savings. You'll spend less money since you don't have to worry about expenses related to stairs and other materials required for building up.

  • Simple Planning: Planning is generally smoother when building out. If you prefer to avoid bureaucratic hoops, outward expansion is often the better choice. Obtaining permits is typically easier too, as townships are more accommodating for outward expansion, considering the challenges of building up.

  • Fewer Repairs: Building out versus up means fewer repairs. When you build up, you often have to address wear and tear on your existing structure before proceeding, consuming both time and money.

  • Speedy Construction: Expanding upwards tends to take longer due to the added work involved, like structural changes and roof removal. Opting for an outward expansion can be a faster way to achieve your goals.

  • Available Space: In most cases, people already have enough land to add extra rooms without hassle.

  • Convenience for Disabilities: Building outward offers advantages like convenient accessibility for customers with disabilities, such as proximity to parking areas. Single-story structures also provide more room for creative architectural features like skylights and vaulted ceilings.

Disadvantages of Building Out:

  • Loss of Yard Space: One notable disadvantage of building out is that you'll lose some garden space, which might impact your outdoor living area. Additionally, you may need city permits if your expansion encroaches on the property setback, typically about 7.5 feet from your neighbor's property line. Consider city Floor-Area-Ratio ratings as well, as they can limit your plans by considering the footprint of your house, garage, and driveway.

  • Excavation and Utility Challenges: Expanding outward increases your home's footprint and requires more excavation, potentially affecting your yard. Negotiating power lines and sewer lines could add to your project costs.

  • Cost Considerations: While building out is typically less expensive, the cost comparison can change with tall buildings exceeding twenty stories, considering factors like longer elevator shafts and complex HVAC systems, which can make vertical construction more costly. Most additions focus on enlarging the ground floor, particularly when extending kitchens, family rooms, or single-level homes.

  • Construction Process: Building out can be a hassle as it involves excavating the yard, which can disrupt your outdoor space. Installing a foundation or slab adds to the cost and complexity of the project. Constructing the addition's roof and walls can create noise and mess, causing inconvenience to your daily routine. While it may seem convenient to continue residing in your home during the work, the constant presence of construction activities can be disruptive and stressful. Even smaller expansions may still require a foundation, adding to the overall expenses.

If you're considering expanding your home, working with a custom home builder who specializes in design and build projects can help you navigate the process. And, if you have specific requirements such as dual occupancy or a sloping block, a knowledgeable builder can provide solutions that maximize your available space.

When it comes to modern home design, building out allows for more design flexibility and accessibility, making it a suitable choice for individuals with disabilities. However, keep in mind that you may need to consider factors like loss of yard space and potential excavation challenges.

alfresco with wooden beams on the top, building out, building an alfresco, building a patio

Out vs. Up

In the end, the choice between building out or up should align with your specific needs, budget, and property constraints. Weigh these factors carefully to make the best decision for your expansion project.

When it comes to choosing between building up and building out, there's a lot to consider. First off, let's talk about the cost. In most places, building outwards is generally more budget-friendly than going upwards. The reason is simple: building up involves more labor, more materials, various permits, and often the expertise of a structural engineer. So, unless you're dealing with sky-high land prices, building out is usually the more wallet-friendly option.

But cost isn't the only factor. Building out is typically easier all around. It's less of a hassle, takes less time, and is simpler to plan. Unless you run into major permit roadblocks or have limited land, most folks find horizontal expansions to be a smoother renovation journey.

Of course, building out isn't the right fit for everyone. Even if it's cheaper, there are times when building up makes more sense. For instance, if you're short on land or expanding out would make your home look like a total oddball in the neighborhood, building upwards might be the way to go.

Sometimes, building out just isn't feasible due to local laws. If your town says no to expanding your yard space, your only option might be to build up.

So, is it cheaper to build a second story or build out? Well, in most cases, building outwards will save you some bucks. But remember, this decision is a personal one and involves weighing various factors. Think about local laws, land availability, and permits. It's not just about the price tag.

Now, let's break it down even further:

Advantages of Building Up:

  • Cost Savings: Building up often costs less in terms of foundation, roofing, and materials.

  • Space Efficiency: You can maximize your yard space.

  • Energy Efficiency: It can be more energy-efficient for heating and cooling.

  • Less Plumbing and Wiring: Shorter lines mean less expense.

  • Privacy: Bedrooms upstairs can offer more privacy.

  • Better Views: You might get improved vistas from higher up.

  • More Outdoor Space: Building up can give you a larger outdoor area.

  • Design Freedom: You have more opportunities for architectural accents.

Advantages of Building Out (or Going One-Story):

  • Accessibility: One-story homes are more accessible for all ages and abilities.

  • Stairway Concerns: Avoid the hassle of stairs.

  • Shorter Build Time: One-story homes can be quicker to build.

  • Ceiling Design: Enjoy a wider range of ceiling design options.

  • Efficiency: Everything is on one level for easy living.

  • Less Noise: Fewer stairs mean less foot traffic noise.

So, whether you build up or out, it's a big decision. Consider your specific needs, budget, and what works best for your home and lifestyle, and factors such as dual occupancy or a sloping block can also influence your choice. Remember, it's not just about the cost, but also about creating a space that meets your needs and enhances your lifestyle.

Building a house or giving your current one a makeover can be a big, expensive deal. So, you want to make sure you're using every square foot wisely. Now, when it comes to adding more space, you might wonder whether to "go up" or "just go" and expand outward.

First things first, consider your current rate of development – is it sustainable? If you've got enough room in your yard, a ground-level addition is usually your best bet. It's not just easier on the wallet; it's also the simpler option.

But if you're in a situation where you can't move closer to the street or your neighborhood has strict setback rules, a second-story addition might make sense. That said, it's essential to think about whether your home can handle the extra weight and if you're ready for some foundation fixes or adding support posts to your walls.

Now, here's a tip: if you're planning to build on top of an existing garage, you can save time and money because garages are usually built on a slab that can handle extra stories. Plus, it keeps the disruption to your existing structure minimal.

One more thing to consider is the location of your stairs. If you're going for a second story on top of the garage, you can stash the stairs there, which keeps things simpler and less disruptive.

But there's no one-size-fits-all answer to whether going up or out is cheaper. It really depends on your home's foundation and other factors. So, ask yourself questions like whether stairs will ever be an issue, if you have enough yard space for an outward expansion, and whether there are any setback rules in your neighborhood.

In a nutshell:

  • For budget savers, building up is often the way to go.

  • If you're in a place with wild weather, building out might be better.

  • If you or your family have mobility concerns, expanding outward is a good call.

Remember, it's your home, and the best choice is the one that fits your unique needs and situation.



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