Going Up — The Second Story Remodel

Home additions can go many directions – up, down and sideways. Downstairs additions usually mean basements. Sideways expansions are the most common, provided your property allows for an addition. If it doesn’t, you may want to consider building up. A second or third story addition, often called a “pop­-up,” can be an efficient use of space, and it can create a whole new home for a fraction of the cost of moving. Older homes on smaller lots are most commonly considered for pop-ups, as well as houses built in the Cape Cod style. Note these considerations before embarking on an upward movement:

second story addition


  • Zoning – be sure your local zoning laws allow upward building.
  • Weight – consult an experienced contractor to be sure your current ground floor can hold the weight of a second story. To determine this, you will need to know how the second floor will be used. Will it include bedrooms? Will it be a high-traffic area?  Your custom builder should be able to calculate the weight-bearing capacity of the main-floor walls and foundation, and design the structural support necessary to hold up the weight of the new addition.  Building codes usually require plywood and steel connections at main-level walls and down into the foundation of the home to hold the most weight. 
  • Heating, cooling, hot water heater units – Sizes of these units are based on the square footage of your home. A significant increase in the square footage raises questions about how your current system will handle the additional load.
  • Exterior Materials – how will the contractor address materials like siding, windows and doors, so that the first and second stories look unified, not like a box with a lid on it?
  • Stairs – do you have enough space on the first floor for a stair case?
  • Chimney – if your house currently has a working fireplace with a chimney, can you open it up and extend it through the second story, so it remains functional?

Once you have determined the answers to these questions, you need to find a custom remodeler you can trust.  This is very important no matter what your remodeling goals might be, but it is essential when you are undertaking such a large and – let’s face it – difficult job. You will rest easier knowing that you won’t have the ceiling crumbling on your next dinner party because the contractor didn’t make the second story flooring strong enough.

Work with the remodeling contractor to iron out all possible wrinkles. He will evaluate the framing of your home to determine its strength and ability to hold the second story. If he determines that it is not strong enough due to aging wood or simple weakness, he may recommend rebuilding a whole new floor. Because this work relies on weather being cooperative while the second story is open to the elements, contractors will need to know the job’s exact requirements before removing the roof.  They will need to work quickly and efficiently to enclose the structure again. This first phase will also include constructing the stairs to the second floor. You can consider more than one staircase if your first floor allows for the space. If space is at a premium, position the stairs in a corner of the home, to take up less floor space. Use a design that’s consistent with the rest of the home – whether it be traditional staircases or curved, be sure they are measured and built to compliment the lifestyle of the homeowners.

Pay attention to your heating and air conditioning system, as well as your hot water heater. Most people who remodel will invest in an additional HVAC unit to take care of the new zone, or they will replace the existing unit with a larger one. Two- or three-zone heating and cooling is most efficient, and it lets you check the heat and air conditioning in each zone to be sure it is maintaining a consistent temperature. It will also allow you to divide the home into sections that don’t have to be heated or cooled constantly, because they are used only seasonally. Investing in a zoned system or a separate unit now can save you money on the cost of your heating and air conditioning bills well into the future. 

If you are including a bathroom in your second story addition, you’ll require more hot water. Be sure your water heater can handle the anticipated usage. Otherwise, resign yourself to enjoying cold showers and wishing you’d invested up front.

A second-story addition can also give your home greater energy efficiency. Consider upgrading your existing windows and doors during the second story renovation so that they match the new addition, not only for a unified look, but to step up your home’s energy profile. The cost of upgrading all windows will likely pay for itself in one season with the amount of energy you’ll save. New siding for the whole house will also make it look new and seamless. Replacing siding will give you a chance to install new insulation – capitalizing on the energy efficiency. Older homes (50-60 years old may not even have insulation behind the siding. The insulation will result in extreme energy efficiency throughout all parts of the home.

Overall, the cost of a second-story addition is comparable to a regular ground-floor addition, and certainly more desirable than moving.    

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