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Finding more space without an addition
After: An area in the garage that tended to be a catch-all for junk was re-purposed into a shower and changing room for the indoor pool. - photo by Annie Schwemmer and Ann Robinson
Most people who want to remodel crave more space from their house. They want more storage space, more living space, more garage space, more office space, or more gathering space. In general, people want more space.

While most people initially think of an addition to accomplish the goal of adding more space to their house, that is not the only answer. The goal is not just additional square footage, but space that is usable to enable your family to function well on a daily basis. There are several solutions to gain more usable space from your house.

Reallocating space

Many of our clients actually find their house has plenty of space, but it is not being used as efficiently as it could be. A layout designed in a previous decade probably does not support the more casual, open lifestyle popular today. Reallocating existing space can actually make the house live larger because the space is being used differently. There are a lot of houses with wasted space due to a layout that doesnt fit the homeowners lifestyle.

For instance, if the main living room is too small and the formal dining room is never used, it makes sense to blow out the wall and make the living room bigger. Suddenly, the living room has doubled in size and the formal dining room is not even missed.

The same idea goes for unused bedrooms or nooks and crannies that can be repurposed. When the house is designed to meet the needs of the occupants, it suddenly becomes the perfect size. Like magic, they dont need more space anymore, even though the home is exactly the same square footage.

Finishing the basement

Another way to find additional space is to finish or refinish the basement. Converting this space to functional and attractive living space usually takes less money than an addition. Obviously, finishing the basement will add new (or better) living space to your house.

Remember, you need to define what kind of space you need. If you want additional bedroom and gathering space, then finishing the basement to create more bedrooms and a family room will accomplish that goal. However, if the problem is you dont have enough kitchen and dining space, then finishing the basement to solve your problems may be a bit more complicated. It is then a matter of moving some main floor function(s) to the lower level in order to provide the room on the main level to create a larger gathering space.

If you are adding bedrooms to your basement, then you will need to add egress windows as well. Older homes generally have small basement windows. Todays safety codes require that each basement bedroom have a window with a sill no more than 44 inches from the floor and at least 5.7 square feet of clear opening space.

Remodeling the attic

Some clients find unused space to finish in the other direction up in the attic. Most attics, however, are not tall enough to create useful finished space. If your house has an unusually tall attic, you may be able to convert it to living space. Keep in mind that the usable space of an attic begins where the height of each side wall can reach at least 5 feet. Ignore this rule and you'll often be bumping your head on the attic ceiling! Additional ceiling height can be created by adding dormers or changing a hipped roof to a gable which allows for windows on the end walls.

In addition, you will probably need to strengthen the ceiling joists below the attic to support the new livable space above. The roof joists above the attic may also need to be upgraded so they can hold a sufficient amount of insulation. Both of these modifications will slightly reduce the usable attic space.

In newer homes built since the 1960s, the roofs are often built using prefabricated wood trusses that crisscross throughout the attic space. In order to make the attic space usable, these trusses will need to be replaced, or in other words, you need to replace the roof. Unless you are adding a complete second story, you can see that accessing attic space is rarely practical.

Finally, remember that you will need a staircase to access living areas in a remodeled attic. For a straight run of stairs you will need an area of at least 3 by 16 feet on your main floor. A spiral staircase requires a 5-foot-diameter space, but makes getting furniture into the attic a trial. By code, ladders are acceptable for accessing only a loft, not attic bedrooms.

Eliminating stuff

The simplest way to create additional space is to throw something out. Need we say more?

Adding or creating space for the sake of more space is not a good reason to remodel. By analyzing the deficiencies of your current home, you can identify what existing functions can go and what new functions need to be added. Before you consider an addition, look carefully at the potential of your existing space and do all you can to maximize it. It is great fun to take something good and make it better.
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