Many municipalities have zoning restrictions that require attention before any alterations can take place to an existing structure. If you're going up, you might not have to worry about a zoning board. But, if you're going out, get ready.
- Find out what your setbacks and building lines are in your neighborhood or community. The more you know, the better you will be able to know what you can add on.
- Don't assume anything. Just because your neighbor is 2 feet from the property line, doesn't mean you can be there too.
- Be careful with what you tear down. If you remove a section of the structure that's already over the setback, you might have to reapply for a variance to build where you were.
- Try to steer clear of front additions. Many municipalities are very hesitant to grant a variance to the front setback.
- Get the facts first and ask as many questions as you can. I went over the application with the city manager, but still forgot to include a revised site plan. That easy mistake almost cost us a month.
- The city will usually send letters to all adjacent property owners, but I found it was a good idea to talk with each of them personally to ensure they understood what we were doing and why.
- Have a contingency plan. I went in with plan B in case plan A was not approved. Many municipalities will not allow you to reapply within six months if denied. Ultimately, my plan B was accepted. Without it, I would have been out of luck.
I designed the addition so that we would be able to live in the house while construction proceeded by placing the addition on one side of the house. Here are a few things we learned while living through the process.
- Plan ahead. Even though you're living in the house, pack up items in the affected areas and store them neatly in an unused room.
- Design well. Try to design the addition so it will affect the house the least. We only had to remove two windows and add the arches to make a connection between old and new.
- Be patient. Sure you want the work done, but realize there are many steps in construction. The more you understand the process, the better the work will progress and the higher quality of work you will receive.
- Clean up. The builder should have a clean-up guy, but help him out if you can. Keeping grime and dust under control will help make your time in the construction zone easier.
Think of the room's use as you design and build. In our family room, we have a wall of base cabinets to store all our audio-visual equipment, toys, games, and bar items. By planning ahead, we had the cabinetmaker add two drawers in one of the cabinets to hold tapes and CDs. When planning a project, think of these tips to help you plan your space.
- Look to commercial establishments--sometimes they make the best use of space. Look at how restaurants store kitchen items or how shops display their wares. I found the drawer idea in a Dallas clothing store.
- A picture is worth a thousand words. Tear ideas out of magazines. A cabinetmaker can usually create anything, but you have to be able to show him what you want.
- Think ahead. The bar area in the family room is wired and plumbed for an ice maker and refrigerator. We couldn't afford them now, but one section of cabinetry can be removed and easily retrofitted with the appliances.