10 Ways to Alter Your Existing Floor Plan

Whether it's renovating an attic or adding a second floor, there are lots of ways to add to your floor plan. See more home construction pictures.
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Have you outgrown your family home? Do you need extra space for an office or an in-law suite? Or are you simply getting tired of the layout of your current space? If any of this rings true, it might be time for a renovation intervention. In other words, you should consider making some changes to your existing floor plan.

Before you dive into an alteration of your home's existing floor plan, it helps to get in touch with your inner architect. Would your ideal dwelling have defined functional spaces or an open layout? Would it have sleek, modern lines, or a classical, romantic feel?

Once you've figured out who you are, you can begin to plan an alteration to your existing home. The word "plan" is important since most changes to an existing floor plan are not weekend DIY projects. These tend to be bigger jobs that require professional help and, in many cases, a skilled architect. And since certain alterations may not be allowed or require a permit, it helps to consult with the experts.

Not sure where to begin? To get some ideas, take a look at our list of 10 ways to alter your existing floor plan. We'll start at the top.

10
Attic Additions
This attic was renovated into a cute playroom.
This attic was renovated into a cute playroom.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

For homeowners who need additional living space, the attic often offers the most in terms of bang for your renovation buck. Since attics tend to run the length of a home, they offer enough space for multiple rooms, including home offices, home theaters, bedrooms and bathrooms.

One downside to attic renovations is that they may be expensive. For example, adding a bedroom and bathroom to an attic averages more than $50,000 [source: Remodeling Magazine]. The plus side is that there is also a high amount of payoff in terms of recouping those costs in your home's resale value –- as much as 73 percent.

As with any home remodeling projects, there are some important points to consider before you begin an attic renovation. For starters, you'll need to be sure your home is strong enough to support the added weight of additional rooms, which requires architectural expertise, according to Omar Garcia, co-founder of SOGA Construction. Additional considerations include the installation of stairs for attic access, re-routing of mechanical systems, and whether the attic has a high enough ceiling to accommodate the intended living space.

An attic addition can potentially be a do-it-yourself project if you're quite handy, particularly if you've hired an architect to draw up the plans for the project. Those with two left thumbs should hire a professional builder, at least to help with the structural elements. The last thing you need is to have your awesome new loft come crashing down into the lower levels of the house.

9
Transform One Room into Two

There are many different architectural approaches to homes these days. Some are designed with many small rooms, while others have fewer, larger rooms. In the latter case, homeowners may want to carve out a functional nook within a larger room, perhaps for a nursery or home office. You might also want to turn one large bedroom into two smaller ones for kids who are tired of sharing a room.

To convert one room into two, we suggest one of two approaches. The first is to build a permanent partition wall, which is any wall designed to separate a room (i.e., not a load-bearing wall). This is the more common method of dividing a room, and it is a fairly easy do-it-yourself project or a low-cost contractor job. The main consideration is re-routing of electrical lines, if necessary, which should be done by a licensed electrician.

The second option for transforming one room into two is by using a movable wall. This is a great way to partition off a space at certain times while allowing the flexibility to open it up at others. Moveable walls have been around a long time, but only recently have tracks and materials become highly operable and aesthetically pleasing. These days, homeowners interested in movable walls have a variety of options to choose from, including glass or other transparent materials [source: Garcia].

8
Make a Great Garage
This couple turned their garage into a home office.
This couple turned their garage into a home office.
FogStock/Thinkstock

Is your house feeling cramped or overcrowded? Evict your car and turn your garage into a spectacular party room or man cave! Garages are a great way to add square footage to your living space with relatively minor modifications. And they're also usually roomy enough for plenty of layout options.

Before diving into a garage renovation project, be sure to consider what it will take to make the space habitable. Is your garage currently wired with electricity? If so, space heaters may be all you need to keep warm in winter. Do you need a bathroom in your garage get-away? If so, adding a plumbing system will substantially increase the scope and cost of the project.

If you want to keep your car's parking spot, consider building a yoga space or art studio on top of the existing garage. In that case, you'd begin by removing the roof and building a floor that can accommodate the added level. Just be sure you've sealed the lower level ceiling so that carbon monoxide and other gases don't penetrate the space. You might still want to include fans and plenty of windows in your above-garage abode just to be sure the air is kept clean. Once you've framed out your new space, just replace the roof and voilá ... you have a fabulous new room.

One potential problem with converting garages into living spaces is zoning. Cities vary greatly in their tolerance of such renovations, so be sure to check with your local zoning office.

7
Exposing a Ceiling

Taking down a ceiling isn't technically a floor plan alteration, but it can certainly transform a room, making it appear larger and brighter. It's also a great way to make a mediocre living room or master suite magnificent without a lot of work. In fact, taking down a ceiling is probably one of the few jobs in this list that don't require the help of a licensed professional. According to Mike Fowler of Fowler Architects in Washington, D.C., this you can do yourself since you don't need architectural plans to take down a ceiling.

Tearing down ceiling drywall is fairly easy, though some homeowners may want to hire a professional to re-drywall a vaulted ceiling for a smooth finish. You might also choose to install new lighting fixtures, which may require professional help to re-route electrical lines.

If you decide to leave your roof beams exposed, there are lots of ways to artfully incorporate them into the space. Options include traditional wood-stained beams, beams that are painted the same color as the room, or beams with additional design features, such as a modern lighting scheme.

There are also a few important considerations. For starters, you may not know what you'll find when you tear down the drywall that hides the rafters and other structural supports that hold up the roof. These may great-looking architectural elements, or stained and pockmarked old beams. The condition of these elements may determine whether you cover them with paint or other material.

6
Create an Open Concept

In the old days, residential architecture generally included several small rooms rather than one big one, mainly for ease of heating and cooling. These days the trend in floor plans is the open concept, in which one large space (i.e., a "great room") connects to smaller areas of a home. Having an open floor plan can add natural light, make a space feel bigger, and be great for entertaining. Each of these effects can also increase a home's resale value.

According to Tom Kavanagh, a realtor with the Capitol Realty Team, a lot of buyers prefer open concept floor plans, and homeowners who turn several smaller rooms into one large great room generally do well in terms of resale value, particularly if you can maintain the architectural character of the original home design.

"Having an open concept is great, but it may be valuable to retain some definition to your functional spaces," says Kavanagh. "It helps to work with a builder who will at least try to maintain original features of the home from a design perspective."

A general contractor is qualified to work with load bearing walls, installing beams to support upper floors where necessary. But some jobs require a structural engineer, especially when creating a very large great room from several smaller ones [source: Garcia]. In some cases, a structural engineer is needed in order to define what the structure needs in terms of support as well as the size and strength of each beam that will be bearing weight. You also need to consider the loss of walls for mechanical systems and making sure your heating and cooling systems can accommodate the new layout.

5
Design a Deck
Adding a deck is one of the top five ways to stretch remodeling dollars.
Adding a deck is one of the top five ways to stretch remodeling dollars.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Interested in dining al fresco? There is perhaps no better way to merge indoors with outdoors than to build a deck off the side of a home. It's also a great way to increase your home's value. Adding a deck is one of the top five ways to stretch remodeling dollars, with most homeowners recouping about 70 percent of the cost of the deck in their resale value [source: Remodeling Magazine].

Fowler notes that adding a deck is particularly important for smaller homes with interiors that can seem cramped or dark, such as row homes and townhouses. Deck additions are also a great way to add natural light to a home since they are generally connected to the house by glass doors.

"We do lots of decks that have large French, sliding, or folding doors," he says. "They can really brighten up a home."

One of the most important considerations when building a deck is maintenance – most homeowners would prefer to keep this to a minimum. To keep your deck structurally sound and looking good over the years, choose a higher end building material such as Brazilian hardwood. You could also go with a wood alternative such as composite decking, which may last longer than wood [source: Donaldson].

For homes in warm weather areas, having a deck is essential in terms of your home's value. This is particularly true if most of the homes in your neighborhood offer an outdoor living space. If so, buyers in the area will come to expect it.

4
Add a bathroom

One of the best and easiest ways to increase the value of your home is to add a bathroom.

"A lot of older homes were built with only one bathroom despite having two floors and at least three bedrooms," says Kavanagh. "Newly constructed homes typically have at least two full baths upstairs and a powder room below, so having only one bathroom can limit the resale value of a home."

One important consideration when constructing a new bath or powder room is whether you can afford to give up the square footage. For many older homes, particularly in urban areas, you may need to sacrifice closet space or a small bedroom for an additional bathroom or powder room. These can be tough choices, but ones that are important from a resale perspective since buyers have come to expect multiple bathrooms, particularly those who are making the switch from a newer home to an older one.

Additional considerations for adding a bathroom include where to put it –- you'll save time and energy by choosing a location near existing plumbing lines. If you need to tear down walls in order to bring plumbing from another side of the house, the cost of the job goes up substantially [source: Garcia]. You should also find out if a building permit is required. Homeowners who bypass this requirement may face fines or risk having a job that's not up to local building codes, which can be a problem for resale purposes.

3
Build a Basement Bonus Room
Basements are great for transforming into guest rooms, workout areas, or game rooms.
Basements are great for transforming into guest rooms, workout areas, or game rooms.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Whether you're looking for an additional bedroom, home theater, or man cave, finishing a basement is a great way to add much-needed square footage to your home. Basements are also wonderful for guest rooms, workout areas, playrooms, or home offices for the increasing number of Americans who work at least part-time from home.

There are a several important things to consider before designing a basement space, including any zoning or permitting requirements as well as issues that arise when building below grade, such as air quality and susceptibility to mold [source: Garcia]. Safety is also an issue for basements – you need to be sure there are adequate escape routes in case of fire. Water is probably the biggest potential enemy in a basement. Before you build, make sure your underground lair is dry. Any water seeping in is bound to cause problems down the road.

Overall, basement renovations command a lot of bang for your renovation buck, even in a soft real estate market. According to Kavanagh, this is especially true if the basement re-do includes an extra bedroom, home office, or the potential for rental income from a self-contained flat.

"Having a basement apartment that could potentially be rented out adds a lot of value to a home," he says. "In some markets and depending on the size and finishes of the space, basement apartments can off-set a sizable portion of the homeowner's monthly mortgage."

2
Lateral Expansion

Building laterally onto a home is a common way to alter a floor plan and gain additional living space. Examples include expanding a living room or kitchen or adding a sunroom or other entirely new space to an existing floor plan.

According to Mike Fowler of Fowler Architects, lateral additions are very common and can be a good alternative to building an additional level in historic districts or in areas where building up is not an option. Two important considerations are having the lot space to accommodate the addition and maintaining harmony between rooms.

"You have to consider the arrangement of windows, furniture placement, and the flow from room to room," says Fowler. "You want the addition to complement the existing space, not overpower it."

The best thing about building an addition onto an existing property is that it's relatively easy to construct and it adds substantial value to a home in terms of resale. Lateral additions also offer flexibility. You are limited only by your imagination. Well, that and your local zoning commission.

1
Add an Additional Floor

Do you need a lot of new space in your home, but don't want to move? Consider moving up in the world. Up a floor, that is. What's great about adding an additional floor to your existing home is that there are infinite possibilities for what to do with the added space, including extra bedrooms for your growing family or the master suite of your dreams.

Once you've decided to go vertical with your floor plan alteration, there are a number of important considerations to take into account. For starters, you need to know if your beams will carry the additional load of an added floor and whether the foundation of your home is strong enough to hold the extra weight [source: Garcia]. Also, you may need to consult an architect and a structural engineer about whether the interior walls will need to carry some of the additional weight and, if so, if they will need to be reinforced. Lastly, you may need a new roof to go with the additional level, though in some cases the old roof can be reused.

Additional considerations with a vertical addition include building the floor to withstand high winds in hurricane regions and seismic activity in earthquake zones. Finally, there may be zoning issues that would prevent the addition of an upper level. Every city is different in this respect, so be sure to check with your local zoning office.

"The addition of an upper level is a great option when you don't have the ability to expand laterally," says Omar Garcia of SOGA Construction. "More importantly, it's a blank canvas in terms of designing the space exactly how you want it, and that's extremely appealing for many homeowners."

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Author's Note: 10 Ways to Alter Your Existing Floor Plan

In this article, I was surprised by the strong opinions people have about the layout of a home. Sure, we all live in them, but I wasn't prepared for the level of detail the average person has about the merits of kitchens that open to the dining space versus formal dining rooms. I was also surprised by the importance many people place on maintaining the original architectural features of their home, as if the builder of an historic neighborhood might roll over in his grave if we deviate from his design vision. Happily, after working on the piece, I too had come to know my inner architect, and there may be a vaulted ceiling in my future.

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Sources

  • Donaldson, Adam. Quality Decks, LLC. Personal interview. (April 26, 2012)
  • Fowler, Mike. Fowler Architects. Personal interview. (April 26, 2012)
  • Garcia, Omar. SOGA Construction. Personal interview. (April 26, 2012)
  • Kavanagh, Tom. Capitol Realty Team. Personal interview. (April 26, 2012)
  • Remodeling Magazine. "Remodeling Cost vs. Value Report 2011-2012." (April 26, 2012) http://www.remodeling.hw.net/remodeling-market-data/about-the-report.aspx
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