Adding a second story onto a ranch house & beautifying....

aramintyFebruary 17, 2010

Hi all,

I am new here, and I have a question. my husband and I currently own a ranch house built in the early 1990s (my mother had it built). We're in the process of trying to decide whether to buy a 1912 farmhouse that needs fixing up (we'll be looking at it tomorrow--I think the old house-surprise factor will end up being too daunting for me, but we'll see! I LOVE older houses, b/c growing up, before my mother built this one, I lived in homes from the 1800s!).

Anyhow, if we decide not to go with the 1912 house, we are looking at some remodeling work here. Our house is 1150 square feet with a full, unfinished basement (part of that basement is a one-car garage). We are the fifth generation to live on our family farm, so even though the house itself doesn't charm me--it is a 1990s ranch :)--it is so fantastic to live on the farm near my family. Location is good, and property values are skyrocketing in our area.

We owe $15,000 more on this house, and then it's paid for in full! The tax assessment value is $160K (which I think is high). This year, if we stay here, we plan to renovate one bathroom, replace the carpet with wood floors, and do some other minor things (painting etc). We've been here 8 years and have renovated a bathroom, done lots of painting, and I've re-decorated/spruced up the kitchen. We do everything ourselves. The next step would be to finish our basement, and we'd do most of that ourselves as well, except for possibly cutting out windows (there's one window and I'd love more light). My dh is going to put up the drywall, build built-in bookshelves, put down flooring....

Even with the basement finished, the house's layout is not quite what we envision long-term. My mother did an amazing job designing a house that is full of beautiful natural light--wonderful windows. We have the original blueprints from the house, and are intimately familiar w/ the house--it's nice that there are no 'surprises' (at least, not so far--since no one else has owned it other than mom and us!).

My husband and I are in our early 30s and have a young son, and want to have a few more children. We are going to want and *need* (debatable :)) more space. I also want and need a more charming layout. This house has good bones, but I want to improve upon them, and try to incorporate some of the charming details that give older houses their appeal--if that makes sense. My vision is that our house would feel like a quaint country cottage--beautiful, clean lines, lots of light, flowers..... (my garden is getting there!).

So my questions are varied--

*how would you (or have you? photos would be great?) made a modern house feel more retro/older/cottagey?

*has anyone added a second story onto a ranch-style house? I'd get the structural issue checked out, of course--but that aside, I'm interested in the ins and outs of this option. How much does this type of work typically cost? We were thinking $100K, but I'm not so sure--if we could get contractors to do the 'major' stuff, we can definitely do plenty ourselves (drywalling, painting, floor installation, bathroom installation--as long as the plumbing is in--etc; my dh might even be able to do some wiring b/c he's an engineer and has owned a related business....). I wonder if we could feasibly do it for $50-$60K if we put in sweat equity ourselves. (My brother in law is also a contractor and I know he could help.)

*If you had a choice between buying a decaying (not sure of HOW decaying; will see tomorrow) 1912 house, 2700 sq ft (it's a foreclosure) in the country (beautiful views, remote location) for $89K which would almost certainly need $80K++ of work done to it v. putting $80K give or take into a modern home (lovely views, family farm, convenient to city--with all the improvement would wind up with about 2700/2800 sq ft), what do you think would be the better option for a young family?

There are so many questions here. My husband and I are at a crossroads, and we're happy to have options, but whew--we're overwhelmed! There's so much to consider.

Thank you. Sorry this was a tome.

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Post some photos. Everything depends on the configuration of the house and where the new stairway will be. It is difficult to add a second floor without redesigning the first floor. And then there is the "while we're at it" syndrome.

The major cost of an older home is upgrading mechanical and electrical systems so check that out carefully.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2010 at 8:53AM
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The structural modifications to allow a single story home to carry the weight of a second story home will quickly outstrip your budget numbers. Now, if the home was designed originally with a second story expansion in mind, that might be another kettle of fish. (Have an engineer examine your blueprints.) But, redesigning the first floor to accept stairs, redesigning the walls to carry the weight, redesigning the foundation---all of that will very quickly top 100K and you haven't even begun to talk about finished surfaces yet.

I think Door # 3 is the better option. None of the above.

Do a completely new build that suits you from the beginning if you are on the family farm and don't have to pay for the land. Or, look at doing an single story addition that joins on to the home that you own currently.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2010 at 10:46AM
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It will be much easier to add the load of another floor if there is a crawl space or a full basement and the first floor structure is accessible. If you have a slab on grade and the roof framing consists of trusses then there is probably no center load bearing structure and you would probably need to tear up the slab to add a footings in the middle of the house (depending on the width of the house). Spanning the second floor framing the full width of the house is an option but expensive.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2010 at 12:29PM
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Thanks so much for the replies so far!

Our house has a full, walkout, poured concrete basement which is unfinished--I look at insulation every time I do laundry! I think it was designed with a second story addition in mind, but would definitely have an engineer check the blueprints to see whether that's true or not.

Macy--I'll try to take and post some photos--what's the best way to do it? A link to photobucket? I think the stairwell would go in our main room (above what is a stairwell going downstairs, if that's structurally possible). It's a split bedroom ranch: master bedroom & bath on one side, an open kitchen/dining/living area (a lot of people love this but I loathe it!!) and 2 bedrooms and a bath on the other side of the house.

Live wire oak (I love that username--my dad is from Charleston SC :))--we would have to pay for any additional land. Sadly. (My grandparents own the farm and will not be handing out free land, I wish they would! Though this area is getting 'built up' and my husband wants to live in a more remote location, long-term.)

    Bookmark   February 17, 2010 at 12:47PM
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Here are some photos--I hope the link works! I have to apologize--my house caught a bad case of the MESSIES today! It's actually a little mortifying, but I'll live. You can see the stairwell to the basement; above there is where I was thinking we could do a stairwell up. I'm not sure how we'd reconfigure the living/dining/kitchen and current master BR area, but we'd make those 'public' spaces--probably creating a den/away room in the current master BR and doing something to get the kitchen hidden a bit more.

On the other side of the house, we've got our guest bath and 2 BRs. This is where I'd put the master BR area, I think.

Upstairs, if we were to build an upstairs, would house 3 bedrooms (possibly 2 BRs, 1 'study'), and maybe a bathroom.

Here is a link that might be useful: Photos of current house

    Bookmark   February 17, 2010 at 2:29PM
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There is probably a center girder at the ceiling of the basement supporting the first floor joists. Even if the roof is built of trusses, you can probably reinforce the basement girder and supports to carry the new second floor load. Look up in the attic and see if it is full of truss chords or open.

Poured concrete basement walls is good news. Do you have the original design drawings? Can you get them at the building department? Just go in and ask to see all the information on your property.

Putting the new stair over the existing basement stair solves a major issue.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2010 at 2:44PM
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We have the original blueprints--the big, rolled up things I've been storing in a closet for years! Also a whole photo album and video of the house being built, stick by stick, thanks to my conscientious grandparents!

I'm not sure about the attic being made of truss chords or open--I'll have to google it to see. I've been up in the attic plenty of times b/c we store items up there, but since I don't know building-terms I'm not sure what we've got. There are a bunch of beams running across the attic 'ceiling' but I don't know what they are.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2010 at 3:47PM
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Sounds like the roof is made of conventional rafters with horizontal collar ties. Trusses would be pretty obvious.

It all sounds good.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2010 at 4:23PM
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Thanks so much.

How much do you think a second-story project would cost (there are so many variables, I know, but sq footage about 900 and including a bathroom)? We have thought of paying a contractor to do the 'heavy duty' stuff that we simply CANNOT do, but we *can* do all the finishing work ourselves (or most of it): drywall, painting, trim, flooring, all bathroom fixture installation, etc. And we'd probably pay to get an architect to draft the plans first, then work on saving for 5-10 years so we could pay mostly or all cash. Such a fun thing to be able to plan!

For now, too, any advice on how to make a 'modern' house have more vintage charm would be great. I think when we replace the carpeting (ugh) with hardwoods, I'll also install higher baseboards--mine are pretty short. And I'm thinking of handscraped hardwoods or wide planked, perhaps!

Thanks so much. As an aside, I'm happy to report that we went to see the 1912 farmhouse we were obsessed with for 3 days and it's a definite NO---a gorgeous, beautiful house with so much potential,and the most beautiful views I have ever, ever seen from a residence, but *too* much potential for us at this point in our lives. I have always lived in older houses (except for the one we're in now) and I walked out of there, turned to my husband and said "run away NOW!" :-) One day perhaps we'll find the right older home for us, but that one needed an extraordinary amount of rehabilitation! I hope and pray the right buyer finds it--it could be fantastic!

    Bookmark   February 17, 2010 at 7:13PM
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My husband and I are both pretty handy too, and we have just purchased a ranch. We are looking at our options as far as an addition as well, I'm hoping we will be able to add a second story over the center of the house. I have always loved old farm houses, but the property sold me on this one.

We have several plans to bring an old farmhouse style into this panelling filled 1970's ranch. The biggest things I olan to do (after ripping out all of the panelling and carpeting that is) is install plank floors and big heavy woodwork. Our floorplan is nothing like yours, but I plan on remodelling the kitchen: adding new cabinets,countertops, slate floors. I have fallen in love with the Martha Stewart cabinets at home depot. There are a few with real old kitchen details. I also plan on replacing my fireplace surround with brick and adding a wooden mantle. I am putting a claw foot tub in the bathroom and built-in book cases in the dining-room. The biggest thing that says old beautiful home to me is wood floors and thick woodwork.

    Bookmark   June 30, 2012 at 1:24PM
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You should contact EngineerChic (find something she has commented on, and click "MyPage" and email her). They tore the second story off their cape cod, and redid it/are redoing it--almost finished, I think. She might have a better idea of cost. But, also, cost is very area-specific.

    Bookmark   June 30, 2012 at 7:35PM
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since you love where you live use your money to make over
your mom's house into your country cottage.

our builder built all the walls for my second story addition on the ground.
his crew cut the top of my house off and then the tree guy used his crane to take them off and place the new sides and roof in place.
it was very cool to see, and the difference was AMAZING.
show us pics of your house and let's play with it.

and if the property values are really soaring maybe buy the other as an investment.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2012 at 9:24PM
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