Home additions in Washington, DC and the surrounding metro areas have long been popular remodeling projects as they’re typically the most efficient way to add living value. And considering the red hot housing market and increasingly limited inventory, building an addition is now often the only way to find the space you need in many established metropolitan area neighborhoods. However, building an addition is a major construction project and a solid foundation of research, planning and preparation is critical. Below, we’ve outlined the design process and the key things to consider when undertaking a home addition project.
Additions Design Process and Considerations
Unlike most kitchen remodels and bathroom renovations, home additions are not a by-right remodeling project and are by no means guaranteed. Zoning restrictions, historic-district preservation ordinances and even neighbors can often prevent a home owner from constructing the home addition of their dreams. Zoning restrictions include by-right lot coverage, floor/area ratio and rear, side and front yard setbacks. In Washington, DC neighborhoods such as Georgetown, Dupont Circle, Capitol Hill, Kalorama Triangle among others, exterior construction can be highly regulated by various entities; the neighborhood board, Commission of Fine Arts, Historic Preservation Review Board, and sometimes all three. Additionally, in certain areas of Montgomery County such as the Town of Sommerset and Bethesda, Home Owners Associations or town boards control the construction of home additions. Lastly, when shared property is involved as is often the case with additions in Washington, DC there are various mechanisms that a neighbor can use to stop the project.
Therefore, it’s important to conduct preliminary research prior to getting too involved in the design of a home addition. When the legality or logistics of a proposed home addition is in question, Four Brothers’ architects typically perform a feasibility study as a first step. This can involve an informal meeting with relevant local committees, production and presentation of preliminary drawings for concept approval, and pre-design review meetings with zoning board members.
Once we are fairly certain that the proposed home addition will be approved, one of Four Brothers’ architects will begin the design process proper. The majority of our remodeling projects are in the Washington, DC metropolitan area on older homes that have excellent bones along with details original to when the house was built. In such instances, the challenge is to integrate modern amenities, while preserving the historical integrity of the home. Our architects take this responsibility seriously and design with a careful eye to the relationship between the old and new structure. Important design aspects include: scale and massing, exterior tie-in, and interior flow.
While such integration is generally more costly than “slapping on a box” to increase square footage, we believe that as good stewards, the extra expense is always worth it.
With the feasibility study behind us and these considerations in mind, one of Four Brothers’ registered architects will lead you through our standard home addition design process. The steps involved are outlined below:
Initial Design Consultation: This meeting takes place in your home and is critical in establishing the direction of the home addition project. Visiting with you, walking around your home and engaging in open conversation allow us to understand your vision for the new addition. Problems with the current kitchens, baths, bedrooms and floor plan in general are just as important for us to understand as to what you want from the new addition. Do you entertain frequently? Are you a passionate chef? Do you want separate sinks in your new master suite? These are just a few of the questions our architects will ask. This meeting should be informal and conversational and our designers will also run through inspirational images on Houzz and Pintrest.
Schematic Design: We’ll draft a set of as-built drawings, along with a number of iterations of the proposed new addition and design program. These will include floor plans, elevations, three-dimensional renderings and digital storyboards for finish concepts. For spaces that are particularly hard to envision, we’ll give you the option of a virtual walkthrough using our Oculus technology.
Schematic Revisions: Based on your feedback following the initial schematic meeting, your project architect and other members of the design team will refine and develop the design package; all of which will be presented at a second schematic design meeting. Typically, within a week of this meeting, clients provide the necessary feedback for us to finalize the conceptual plan. We often combine elements of the various design options as were presented in the first meeting to arrive at the final schematic layout.
Trade Partner Walkthrough: Once you’ve signed off on the schematic design of your addition, Four Brothers will schedule a walkthrough with our trade partners. We’ll spend a good part of a day in your home with plumbers, electricians, engineers, and others. These trades women and men comprise a critical part of the Four Brothers construction team so it’s important that we communicate well at an early stage. Trade partner feedback will also allow us to develop accurate pricing for your home addition.
Finish Selections: By this point in design, we’ll have a good idea of your aesthetic and will have defined the finishes for your addition in broad strokes. However, we will now need to begin the process of selecting, pricing, and documenting the specific finishes that will be used in each part of your addition and existing home. We will help you prioritize selections by lead time and connect you with appropriate showrooms. Many Four Brothers’ clients finalize the majority of their selections in our office using our finish library. Others prefer to spend the time to visit tile, counter, and appliance vendors with whom we have existing relationships and negotiated discounts. Yet other clients employ a combination of both strategies.
Construction Documents: Once finish selections have been finalized, plans will be brought to a level needed to communicate the design intent to our in-house construction team. While some of these drawings are boring and technical, other elements are critical to make sure the final renovation is refined and detailed. We’ll need your input from time to time, but our architect and design team will work largely independently at this point.
Addition Permitting and Construction
Following the trade walkthrough and the first round of finish selections, we have the information we need to write up the construction contract and finalize construction pricing for your home addition. In areas where finishes for the addition have not been finalized, material allowances are used. This enables us to move into contract and begin the permitting process.
For a project such as a home addition a number of permits are needed before construction can begin; generally a building permit, plumbing permit, electrical permit, mechanical permit and public space permit at a minimum. Submission requirements vary between jurisdictions but in Washington, DC, Montgomery County and Northern Virginia, a comprehensive application packet (including plans stamped by a registered architect) must be submitted. Applications are then reviewed, clarifications requested (when necessary), eventually approved and permits issued. The review and issuance process can move as quickly as several weeks in Montgomery County, but drag on for five-months and beyond in the District of Columbia.
Once the necessary permits are obtained, we are ready to begin construction. However, long in advance of the first day of construction, Four Brothers conducts a number of pre-construction meetings internally and with you, the home owner. These are important meetings for our design and production departments, and give you the homeowner the opportunity to meet Four Brothers’ construction team. We’ll cover logistical issues such as living arrangements, access, work hours, dumpster placement and much more. Due to the size of most home addition projects, it will be necessary for you to vacate your home during periods of the renovation. During the course of construction, Four Brothers’ on-site project manager will remain in constant communication, update the construction calendar weekly and lead regular job-site meetings with you and our team. The construction phase is always exciting as the fruits of our combined efforts take shape in the form of a tangible structure. Before you know it, you’ll be settled back in to your new and improved home!
“We are so happy with our new kitchen, laundry room, addition and deck! It’s funny thinking about how we managed with our old tiny kitchen for so many years!”