The Challenges of Second Story Additions

A second-story addition on top of a house.
  • 100-300 hours
  • Advanced
  • 20,000-100,000

Building a second story addition is a great way to add square footage to a home. There are, however, several challenges to consider whenever you add an extra level to an existing structure. From weight issues to plumbing requirements, here are a few things you should keep in mind when adding a second story addition to your home.

1. Zoning Problems

The first thing you should consider is a potential zoning issue in constructing a second story. Zoning laws sometimes limit the height of buildings in a given neighborhood and could prevent you from building up. Contact your local zoning office to determine if such restrictions exist in your neighborhood. You can also look into the different kinds of permits you will need to obtain before starting the construction process.

2. Weight

One of the biggest challenges of a second story addition is weight. A single story building is not typically built to hold an extra level. This unfortunately means that the entire structure should be inspected to make sure it can handle the extra pounds. This includes the original slab, load bearing walls, beams, footings, and columns. If any of these structural points fail to meet the weight requirements, you will need to upgrade them. This can prove costly depending on how many things you need to replace.

3. Building a Staircase

A wood staircase being constructed.

Adding a second level also means building a staircase so that you can access it—and no, an attic staircase will not work. The new stairs should be placed on the ground floor and will eat into existing floor space. This can be a challenge, depending on the layout of the first level. If you cannot find a suitable place for the stairs, consider building a set on the outside. Although this is not an ideal setup, it avoids sacrificing existing floor space inside the home and tends to be less expensive.

4. Plumbing and Electrical

The plumbing and electrical work in a single story home is typically installed near or on the roof. If this is the case, then all of these systems in your home will need to be moved to accommodate for the second story. You may also need to upgrade electrical lines depending on the size and layout of the second level. As far as plumbing is concerned, new water lines will need to be installed and ran to upstairs bathrooms and showers, wherever applicable.

5. HVAC System

Ductwork framing.

Building a second story also means installing new duct work for the heating and cooling system. A good HVAC system in a two-story home is not something you want to skimp on. Inadequate duct work or a system not rated to handle the extra square footage can lead to uneven temperature swings throughout the home.

It can also put a heavier load on the system, which could mean a full replacement in the near future. In addition to the new duct work, you need to make sure your furnace and air conditioner can properly heat and cool the extra space. If the current units cannot handle the load, then you will need to replace them during construction.

6. Cost

Adding a second story can cost more than adding more space on the ground level. From installing new plumbing, electrical lines, duct work, and stairs, building a second story adds up fast. These costs, of course, will vary depending on the home and the required upgrades.

7. Living Space

You probably need to find a new place to live while the second story is constructed. You can sometimes live in the house if you are only building a partial addition and certain areas can be isolated. Otherwise, you will need to find somewhere else to live until the remodel is finished.