Should I Add a Second Story to my House?

Horizontal expansion or add a second story to the house? In which direction to renovate?

Many bungalows or one-story homes around your neighborhood have been built mid-century. Their primary purpose was to fulfil the basic needs of occupants at the time when money was hard to come by, and mortgages were not a common thing. More often than not, the available space was not sufficient to secure proper comfort.

Now that money is so cheap, and almost everyone can take mortgages for renovations, it has become a sort of trend to borrow money for the purpose of improving. Creating a better living space, adding an extra bedroom, making the kitchen and living room larger or adding one bathroom or two have never been easier.

The question is: should you go horizontal or vertical?

Hard to say. In some cases, going horizontal is great; in many others, vertical is a much better idea.

Coquitlam architect
Coquitlam architect

Why Going Horizontal?

A horizontal extension depends on the plot size: you need to make sure there is enough extra land on the plot. If its size is limited or the codes are too restrictive, then a vertical expansion is the only solution.

Going flat is a better option if you want to avoid stairs. Also, a broader floor plan with rooms further apart allows for a variety of designs and good separation between private and public zones. Horizontal expansion is a better solution for ageing-in-place, as it allows more freedom of movement. 

Ground floor extension can also prove to be a more affordable alternative, depending on your current roof structure. It allows for a better connection between indoors and outdoors, and it’s possible to reconfigure the floor plan to design the ideal rooms with a lot of open-plan space.

Why Going Vertical?

First of all: you can get a better view without losing your backyard, and maintaining the house would be much easier and cheaper. Next, going up will increase the floor area’s square metres without having to worry about the surrounding land.  

Many people are indecisive because of the footing, not knowing if it can take the load of the upper floor. No need to worry about that. A structural engineer knows how to investigate and to help us to create a point load. There is more than one solution available; for instance, we can enforce only some specific areas of the footing as a support and build the upper floor on it. 

You will get a new roof and a new lighting system. In some cases, we come up with a higher ceiling on the main floor, which results in brighter, more airy space. 

Coquitlam interior designer
Coquitlam interior designer

What Is the Typical Cost of Adding a Second Story to the House?

It depends on the house’s footprint, how many stories we are adding, and the condition of the footing. On average, the price will start somewhere around $200k and can go up as much as $500k or more (remember, you will end up doing some work on the lower floor as a result as well).

What Is the Price of Adding a Room Over the Garage?

Supposing that the garage is not too old, we would still have to do full insulation. This kind of renovation can cost from $40k up to $80k.

Some Factors Can Drive the Price Up

Demo, adding stairs, rearranging existing space, reworking plumbing/HVAC/electrical, and such. In most houses, the electrical wire and plumbing have to be altered to meet the new code. That is the main culprit of driving the cost up.

If we remove the existing roof, the new ceiling will sit on the existing wall, which then requires enforcement. In some other cases, we end up gutting the wall to the stud and applying new insulation. I don’t see any problems with rearranging as it does not present a significant factor. 

Are There Ways to Cut the Costs And Add a Second Story to the House?

A short term cutting cost might lead to long term pain of paying more on utility bills or maintenance. I suggest the best way to reduce the overall cost is to have a reasonable design and approach that will minimize the damage. Think ahead of time. A good designer’s work goes a long way when it comes to saving the construction cost.

Is It Cheaper to Build Horizontally or Vertically?

Absolutely it is cheaper to build vertically, 90% of the time.

1- the land is more expensive than air; by going up, you keep your valuable yard to entertain and enjoy

2- curb appeal, the house stands out much more handsome, and its full value will appear when selling the property

3- in many cases, you gain a better view with the upper floor

4- since the footprint stays the same, it’s cheaper to maintain, and the utility cost will be less

5- you save on digging and concrete works – instead, you get a brand new roof for the entire house

Modern home Coquitlam
Modern home Coquitlam

Should I Expect to Face Issues While Adding a Second Story to the House?

Weight out on the existing floor, lack of skill with some contractors, surprise costs…

Education is essential. The client should be prepared for the unknown and have the mindset to control their temper for unforeseen cases. An uneducated and abusive contractor can cause big problems, so make sure to hire an experienced contractor that doesn’t make a big deal out of every single issue. There will be many unexpected situations, but a smart contractor will solve them rather than use them as an excuse for a rip-off.

Generally speaking, is it worth it to add a second story to the house? Does it make more sense to sell and purchase an existing 2-story home? 

Nobody can make a home of your house except you. You are the decision-maker when it comes to the future of your living space and your mental health. Hire the right professionals and lead the team to make it happen. Financially, the renovation you do in your existing house is more valuable than buying another one that could turn to be a sack of surprises. If there is a bit of spark in you, then have no doubt about enhancing an inspirational home of your own in the lot where you have lived and grew already.

What is the job of an Architect? Is every Architect a Designer?

What is an architect’s job anyway? Is an architect a designer?

Like medical physicians, dentists, and lawyers, architects’ profession is to serve the public interest. Our job is to follow regulations and make sure to design the buildings in a safe manner that will not compromise the occupant’s well-being.

But wait a minute, is that the job description of an architect?

Many years ago, most of the world’s masterpieces were designed, coordinated, and constructed by one architect. The architects in charge had many apprentices to help them along the way. But along with technological advancement came the need for other professionals such as structural engineers, mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, geotechnical engineers, civil engineers, interior designers, building envelope consultants, building code consultants, building technologists, environmental consultants, landscape architects, and more. All of them have a role today in building design and construction.

In other words, a comprehensive team of consultants now have to go over the task of designing a building, the job that used to be done by one person. 

I want to remind you that once upon a time, architecture was a combination of technology, functionality, form, and art. Most people considered architects as technological artists. Architects were creators whose art was bound to last for hundreds of years. Unlike other artists whose art is passive, impossible to experience by all senses, architecture was a livable art to feel, experience, and flourish. 

Office design vancouver
Office Design Vancouver

So, IS every Architect a Designer?

The reality is that a good architect has to know all of the above. In order to be able to run a successful business, an architect has to master the logic of the mechanical system, heating and cooling, electrical, the building technology, and building envelope. Then come the zoning and building codes and the ways to keep the building safe from fire and water damage. Furthermore, an architect is also the manager. S/He has to run the team of office employees and HRs, possess the knowledge of marketing, and make sure the clients are happy and satisfied.

Really, Aryo, only that much? No, not even nearly. Then we have the skills to conduct the feasibility studies with the clients, making sure the end product is suitable for each client’s needs as well as the codes. The project has to fit the client’s budget yet to look as beautiful as possible. Does it meet the local market trend? The architect then has to make sure the municipalities will approve the documentation submitted. That involves a lot of communication.

An architect never stops learning. Learning about the general contractors and their expectations of management. Learning the software to design and prepare design development and working drawings, presenting, and above all running business management. Keeping up with education to fulfill the associations’ duties and fulfilling the annual learning units!

Oh, yes, and the architect should be the designer of the artistic looking buildings.

What Is the Problem?

The problem is that not too many architects are able to be an architect and a designer at the same time. What does that mean?

When our generations’ fresh minds leave university to enter professional life, they come across many hurdles. Each educational institution focuses on a different aspect of architecture. While some set the major goals on technological aspects, like construction challenges (what they now call a building technology), others prefer the artistic part of the work. 

When fellow students graduate from the faculty of architecture, they hear that, in order to call themselves “architects,” they need to register with the architectural institute of the country, province/state. 

That means they have to go through many hours of training and work in different architectural firms. They must gain a lot of experience and write many exams to make sure they meet the criteria to be able to practice “Architecture.” (similar procedure for immigrant architects) But there’s something many find out after getting registered.

After a couple of years of internship and passing the exams, they became a registered architect, yet learned how NOT TO DESIGN rather than becoming creative masters!

The building industry, unfortunately, is regulated by lawyers and left-sided brain people. It’s disregarding the artistic flair and beautification of the buildings for the purpose of bare function and safety. That’s why architecture becomes a commodity rather than a carrier. The architectural institute is a watchdog to ensure that a registered architect is the one who submits all building applications.

Most clients who want to build a house, a multifamily building, or a mixed-use building, approach the architect simply because the permitting authority obligates them. They aren’t looking to hire the architect’s creative mind but rather need someone to put the stamp on the drawing and get the building permit.

sunshine coast modern homes
Sunshine Coast Modern Homes

What Makes an Architect a Designer?

Architecture is part art and part science. As an art, it’s a channel for creative expression that affects the whole society. It allows them to change and improve their environment in many unique ways. As a science, architecture takes care of society’s functional needs, creates various living spaces, and covers different lifestyles by using modern technological advancements and techniques. 

An architect should be able to practice both functional and aesthetic approaches in building design. The limits are moving, and the architecture challenges are continually expanding. We get the chance to build new sorts of wonders day by day. Yet, the excessively complicated administrative procedure makes us sacrifice the aesthetics in the name of functionality. The bureaucracy preserves the status quo, slowly deleting the unique differences between artistry and engineering.

Instead of shaping the community, most architects obey dictations.

ElComalRestaurant
Retail Design Vancouver

The Solution

There is no cookie-cutter approach in architecture. Every single project should respond to a particular context. The design should be progressive and able to age well, and be flexible to adapt to changes. If architecture is only the building technology, then every single building existing would be architecture. But as it is, architecture is something different from building technology—just like artistry is different from engineering. 

Architecture is, above all, the realization of the concept, embodying an idea. It can grow from practical or metaphorical roots, from immediate needs, or the vision. Architecture, as we know it today, echoes the history of humanity. It tells the stories of society as it once was.

We need it to manifest the changes instead of being background.

Architects represent a force of society because architecture is an expression of its spiritual strength as well as technological progress. It’s a future display of society’s values, desires, ideals, ideology, and many other things at this particular point in time, serving as a time capsule of human history. 

Yet in today’s society, the treatment of architecture is almost exclusively shortsighted, following narrow terms of finance, cost, and return of investment. Politicians impose restraints and ever-growing rules about every single detail. That inevitably affects performance. It’s the road to the domination of uniform, ugly buildings that are not interpreted as any real threat to society.

If we better understood that issue, we might raise a more robust voice against it. If architecture’s significance for the psychological and mental health of society gets recognized, it might be treated accordingly. Then, instead of encouraging bad design, we might start promoting the benefits for the collective spirit. And that will make the architect a designer again.

The association which overlooks the building design community’s activity should watch the design quality as well as building code requirements!

Step Code Five: Get Ready to Build Net-Zero Homes

Step code 5 is becoming obligatory in most municipalities in the Lower mainland.

Energy efficiency first became a part of the BC Building Code objective back in 2008. Designers’ options to comply with the requirements comprised “prescriptive” and “performance” approaches, the first being a more common choice. The specific requirements for insulation, windows, heaters, lighting, and other equipment and systems focused on individual elements rather than the whole building as a system. Such an approach led to the performance below the projected possibilities. 

In contrast to that, the “performance” approach starts from a goal. It defines the desired overall outcome and establishes a structure to achieve it. Designers and builders can use software modeling and on-site testing to check the design and demonstrate how the constructed building will meet the requirements. Then they can determine which materials or construction methods will bring optimal results. Many green-building certification programs now take this approach.

The five-step code regulation sets performance targets for new construction, grouping them into steps. The so-called Lower Steps are easy to meet, while the Upper Steps require proper knowledge and efforts. As general guidelines, these will apply across various building types and regions of the province. 

The BC Energy Step Code is meant to ensure that new buildings will perform at their best. Still, it leaves builders and homeowners more flexible options to comply with the legislation. It will support innovative and cost-effective solutions, motivating designers to incorporate cutting-edge technologies, following the progress closely. 

Expectations are that the new five-step Code will keep innovative designs, materials, and high-performance systems getting more affordable and available. The higher steps should turn to a minimum requirement by 2032 in the BC Building Code and 2030 in the National Building Code of Canada.

Vancouver architect five step code
Vancouver architect

Benefits of the Five-Step Code

In Vancouver, for instance, step 3 (lower steps) is already the minimum. But a fully efficient, net-zero level home – step 5 – is an excellent idea for a number of reasons. Besides the obvious, like downsizing bills and doing your part for environment protection, net-zero homes come with increased comfort and resale value, to mention just a few. 

Lower energy consumption reduces overall housekeeping costs and even provides protection from future increases in energy prices, up to a level. Better air quality, achieved by using mechanical ventilation and materials with lower amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), means a healthier indoor environment. 

An energy-efficient building envelope improves overall comfort by maintaining steady indoor temperatures with lower variations. It’s supported by the effective use of daylight, which further reduces your electricity bill.

Moreover, reduced energy use significantly lowers greenhouse gas emissions. Increased insulation levels also reduce sound transmission from outside. Combined with passive solar design, it prevents discomforts during power outages, maintaining stable indoor temperature levels.

Last but not least, net-zero homes feature increased resale value. They are also getting sold more quickly than conventional homes.

The Five Steps

  • STEP 1: EnerGuide Rating System, Built Green Bronze: Code requirements promote a learning process. This step makes the industry more familiar with energy modeling and airtightness testing.
  • STEP 2: Built Green Silver – Making improvements to the building systems based on lessons learned from Step 1
  • STEP 3: ENERGY STAR, Built Green Gold, and Platinum. Further improvements, developing better enclosures and potentially smaller mechanical systems
  • STEP 4: R2000 – Construction of high-performance buildings based on lessons learned from the Lower Steps and facilitated by a mature market.
  • STEP 5: Passive House, Net-Zero Energy Ready

The BC Energy Step Code defines a straightforward path to achieving net-zero energy ready buildings. It starts from the basics, the enclosure-first approach, and guides to progress by helping to minimize energy demand through the use of highly efficient mechanical equipment. 

A continuous air barrier should be considered throughout the design process, to eliminate or severely minimize air leakage. As a result, the heating and cooling demands of the space get significantly lower. Designers and builders learn in the process, including feedback from energy modeling and airtightness testing. Steps 1 -3 (lower Steps) should require little to no market transformation. 

As technology availability develops, together with growing demands for better products and more efficient systems, the capacity to improve will also increase. 

Maple ridge modern home designer
Maple ridge modern home designer

How the Five-Step Code Works

The BC Energy Step Code is a series of measurable requirements. Step 1 requires confirmation that new buildings meet the existing energy-efficiency requirements, while step 5 represents a fully energy-efficient home that is net-zero energy ready. A Step 5 home is the most energy-efficient home level achievable today, and it complies with the Passive House standard.

According to the BC Building Code, all buildings belong to the two basic categories – Part 9 and Part 3. Part 9 buildings are three-story or less with a footprint of no more than 600 square meters. This category includes single-family homes, small apartment buildings, duplexes, offices, and industrial shops. For small buildings, lower steps are achievable using construction techniques and products commonly available in today’s market.

Part 3 buildings are complex, four stories and taller, with a footprint of over 600 square meters. Those are condos, larger apartment buildings, office buildings, shopping malls, hospitals, theatres, restaurants, and more.

The regulation is fully performance-based. Therefore, it doesn’t specify the materials and strategies but rather sets measurable execution targets.

The five-step Code recognizes three categories to meet: airtightness, equipment and systems, and building enclosure. The airtightness and building enclosure metrics take the enclosure-first approach, essential for minimizing heating demand. The equipment and systems metrics then define the total energy consumption of the building to establish optimal performance.

Building Envelope

Adding more insulation to walls is easy to design, build, and maintain. While new technologies might be the first thing to come to mind when looking for an energy-efficient home, it’s a good base that will ensure their performance. 

Without excellent insulation and proper enclosure, complex technology systems will not be able to perform as expected, turning more costly to operate and maintain over time. The building envelope is not only the correct path to high energy savings but also to the improvement of overall comfort and reduced noise levels. However, making major changes to the building envelope during a renovation can be difficult and costly. Hence, it’s better and more cost-effective to insulate and make the home airtight during construction.

The minimum levels of insulation are defined by R-values by Code. The minimum effective insulation levels by the BC Building Code are between R-15.8 and R-21.9. The requirements vary based on climate conditions, region, and some accessories. The Vancouver Building Bylaw, for instance, requires R-22 effective insulation since January 1, 2015.

Determining the right amount of insulation for a high-performance house depends on several factors, including the local climate, budget, and elements specific to your building. Some studies show that the optimal range comprises R-0 to R-10 under the slab, R-24 in basement walls, R-30 to R-40 for main walls, and R-60 to R-80 in the roof. Lower values are suitable for warmer coastal climates, and the higher ones apply to colder interiors and northern regions of the province.

north vancouver architects five steps code
north vancouver architects

Airtightness Testing

Airtightness testing of the building as a whole is an absolute necessity in all steps of the BC Energy Step Code. Whole-building airtightness testing utilizes blower door fans to pressurize/depressurize the building. This includes fan airflow and the pressure difference across the enclosure. The results of testing determine the overall building airtightness characteristics. 

Building airtightness is an energy model input, both at the pre-construction stage and after building completion. The steps for airtightness vary regarding the building type and size, as well as the testing standard used. Airtightness testing should be conducted by an Energy Advisor or other qualified contractor.

Mechanical Equipment and Systems

The mechanical equipment and systems have an enormous impact on the building’s energy efficiency, directly impacting overall energy consumption. The required capacity varies with the performance of the enclosure and vice versa. Heating and cooling, ventilation, water-heating systems are all part of the metrics essential for achieving net-zero levels as Step 5 of the Code. 

Backyard renovation or building a new home, financing your construction project

Five-Step Code Is the Future

The BC Energy Step Code is a result of a desire to manage a consistent set of higher-efficiency standards for the building industry. It offers local governments a simple and effective set of guiding standards to meet energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions targets.

Over the coming years, the Province of British Columbia will gradually align the base BC Building Code with the BC Energy Step Code standard, with the goal to make Lower Steps a standard practice for all new construction. 

The Energy Step Code Council encourages local governments by requiring the Upper Steps for any upcoming public-building project. These buildings are meant to serve as high-profile case studies. By referencing one or more steps of the standard, you are doing more for yourself and the community than just accessing co-benefits. It is a contribution to a growing effort to dramatically reduce energy demands across the country. 

Finance Your Construction Project: How to Use Your Resources to Maximize the Outcome

I dream of renovating but am not sure if I can afford it.

– Yes, I know what you mean; it’s easy for so many people who have unlimited cash or enough savings to run their project in any way they want!

Really? I am a Home Designer, and I don’t know anyone like that!

Most of the people I came across don’t know much about the construction costs, nor haven’t set a budget for their project. Even better, they have no idea where the money would come from!

Before you start any construction project, it’s essential to get a clear perspective of your budget and how much you can pay for your renovation or custom home building. Better said, to finance your construction project, you need to be prepared to stretch and to know precisely how far you’re ready to go.  

I see many of my clients taking their project and asking a builder to provide them with an idea of the cost. Without a plan or drawing in hand, how could anyone expect the contractor to give an even remotely accurate estimation? 

Allow Me to Show You How to Finance Your Construction Project, and Do Things the Right Way, in Your Best Interest

Firstly, try to have an idea about what you want to do, even a basic one. Secondly, make sure to consult an experienced designer who will understand your needs and properly involve. Share your dreams and ideas of the renovation or custom home with a designer who knows their job well. 

An experienced home designer can offer you a reliable plan to develop based not only on your dream but also the approximate cash availability. Only after that you can decide how to finance your construction project. 

These are some options you can look at:

Savings Account

This is the most reliable way to finance your construction project, as long as you have enough money sitting in your account. The best use you can put it in is your overall life improvement.

Borrowing From Friends or Family

Many of my clients, who want to add a secondary suite to their property for the purpose of creating an extra income, rely on this idea. They borrow from their siblings, children, or parents to build a laneway home or an ADU, and pay them back in installments as the investment starts to pay off.

This way they don’t have to go through getting approval from a financial institutions. But what if you don’t have someone to borrow money from? That where you should get creative!

Finance Your Construction Project Through Shared Accommodation 

If all of the above fails, there are still many additional ways to jump over the financial obstacle. Some people dream of building a single-family home, and they don’t want to live in a condo. Usually, they team up with a friend and buy a duplex or a single-family house with ADU. This way, they can share the cost and still get their own paradise, avoiding significant debt along the way. 

Finance your construction project
Finance your construction project

Just the other day, a client called me to discuss the idea of building a duplex in Vancouver. She had it arranged with a friend to purchase a lot, build a passive house duplex, and share the cost so they can own a great affordable home, each on its own side. After calculating their budget, I told them the money wouldn’t be enough to finish the project in the way they want. But the solution was easy—they can apply for a construction loan, which I will explain next. 

Since each unit would have a secondary suite, the money they could collect from the rental could easily pay for that loan. After several years, the loan will be paid off in full, leaving them with an extra source of income.

Now, I am aware that my readers come from different regions, but most places have collected equity over the years. If the property you own doesn’t have any mortgage, there’s a good chance that the bank will grant a loan or refinance the house. The same applies if the mortgage amount is less than 30% of the house market value. Naturally, as long as you meet their other criteria and credit requirements.

Using the Bank’s Money

If you plan to renovate your house, you can ask your designer to draw the plans and have the contractor write an official cost estimate for you. Next, you have to present your project with the estimated cost and timeline to the financial institution’s representative. Banks love to give loans as it allows them to collect interest. However, for the same reason, they have to make sure that their money is safe, granted to a reliable person. 

If you are planning to build a new house, however, the scenario is a bit different. I had a client who bought a lot and paid a 40% down payment. He also had some cash aside, ready for starting the project. He hired me to design the house and help him to manage the builder and all trades for him. While revising, I found out that he didn’t have enough money to finish the project after all. The next step was to help him apply for a construction mortgage.

We finished the house’s framing, installed the windows and exterior doors, and fixed the roof membrane. This stage of the building is called “luck-up.”

This is where I introduced him to a bank rep and presented the bank with the drawings. We went over the total construction cost, the amount that has been spent to that point, and the estimated value of the house after the finish. The bank sent an appraisal, and I had to present the same documentation to him, now for his approval. After the assessment has been done successfully, the bank granted my client the money he needed to finish his project.
If you think you need help with a similar process call me to discuss further at 604-929-6696.

organic architecture
More budget, more features and benefits

Why Is It Good to Use Banks’ Money to Finance Your Construction Project?

Firstly, you can take advantage of the low-interest rate and use it to upgrade your project further. That is particularly convenient if you have the potential of implementing a rental suite within your project. The income you collect from the rental unit will pay for the mortgage.

I understand some people are afraid of going under any dept. Like another client of mine, who could have been easily approved by the bank for the entire renovation of his house. The only problem? His wife was against any loan or mortgage. So they ended up living in their run-down house for the rest of their lives.

What Exactly Is a Construction Loan

A construction loan is a segment of short-term loans, tailored specifically for use by an individual home builder. Construction loans serve to finance your construction project of either building a new home or renovating the existing one.

Construction loans are not supposed to cover the entire cost of the project. Instead, those are used as a temporary financing bridge that can cover the missing part of the budget during the build time. Typically, after the construction is complete, the homeowner will obtain a longer-term solution. The options include refinancing the existing construction loan and transition to a conventional mortgage.

It may happen, though, that a bank considers your construction project as a risky investment. In that case, you may still get the money, but the interest rate will likely be somewhat higher. Also, such a loan will feature strict terms that you must adhere to, like paying off in entirety by the time the construction is complete.

What A Construction Loan May Include

A construction loan comprises one application and one closing. Those cover the construction phase and the permanent financing.

It can start with the initial loan payment you need to purchase a lot. If you already hold a loan on that property, the first disbursement of the loan will pay off that specific loan before the construction starts.

The bank may make scheduled payments to your builder during the 12-month construction phase. Subsequently, they will offer a transition to a fixed-rate mortgage after that period.

Finance your construction project and build a laneway house
Finance your construction project and build a laneway house

How Can You Use Construction Loans to Finance Your Construction Project

Construction loans provide more flexibility in utilizing your budget to get the most out of it. That may include expansions, hiring better designers, making payments to contractors, or even getting more luxury materials. Even when the initial budget seems sufficient, by upgrading it with a loan, you can get more quality in each segment and get more creative with design solutions.

The Bottom Line

As Robert Kiyosaki says, there is good debt, and there is bad debt. To apply for a loan and mortgage to upgrade your living standard, which gives you better mental and physical health, especially if you can collect rental income, is good debt.
So, do not be afraid to get into a good debt if the end result will give
you a better financial outcome as well as more comfort and mental health.

After all, life is too short and we should live it to the fullest!