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How to Add Space to Your 1-Story Boulder Ranch Home

Photo by Christina Kiffney Photography

Is it possible to expand a house?

A lot of the housing stock in and around Boulder are 1-story ranch homes built in the 50’s and 60’s. Oftentimes these homes have 3 bedrooms and 1 bath, and many people living in these homes wish they had more space . . . especially a 2nd bathroom!

We love designing additions to these 1-story houses. For one, these simple structures are often very well built and very straight forward. This makes them relatively easy to add on to and alter. We believe every custom home project deserves careful consideration of the lot, the existing house, and the needs of the homeowners.

The 4 most common ways to add space to a home:

The PopTop:

This is slang for a 2nd story addition on top of an existing 1-story house. In Boulder, this is a very common improvement. Here are some of the primary reasons why the poptop is so popular:

  • Bringing Flatiron mountain views into your home. A classic scenario is that the homeowner we’re working with invites us to climb a ladder onto their roof and says, “I would love to have this view in my master bedroom!”  
  • Creating a master suite upstairs. Oftentimes our customers simply want a secluded, bright sanctuary away from kids, work, and daily living. A smaller 2nd story addition can provide a gracious master bedroom, bathroom, and closet. There’s also opportunity for daylight and windows in all directions.
  • Move the family upstairs. We’ve done a bunch of pop tops that add around 1,000 square feet. We can create 2 bedrooms and a hall bath, plus a master suite with its own walk-in closet and master bath. It can be nice to have the whole family upstairs, and this frees up the main level for more public living space. With everyone living upstairs, it might be nice to move the laundry up there as well.
  • Keep the yard intact. There’s minimal digging or new foundation elements required for a poptop. Most foundations for mid-century ranches are built well enough to handle the added loads that a poptop creates. If you have spectacular landscaping or love your backyard, the poptop makes a lot of sense.  
  • If the main level needs renovation anyways, the poptop can make sense because a certain degree of remodeling is required to make the poptop happen. For instance, the existing ceilings/roof structure where the poptop is going have to be removed. Also, main level square footage has to be sacrificed for the stairwell that leads upstairs.

The Rear Bump Addition:

Perhaps even more popular than the poptop is the 1-story rear addition. Here are some of the primary reasons many people opt for the rear bump:

  • Minimize changes to the existing house. Oftentimes we remodel a significant portion of the house in conjunction with the rear addition, but it’s not a requirement. Especially if the existing house has been recently renovated, you may not want to tear things up.
  • Create favorable geometry with the backyard. A rear addition most likely will create a spot of outdoor living space that is protected on 2 sides that can become a lovely protected outdoor living area. The addition can create a cozier and more private backyard.
  • One level living. For people who are aging in place or don’t like stairs, the rear addition is a great choice.
  • Potentially more efficient use of square footage. 1-story homes don’t have stairwells.  Stairwells are in essence vertical hallways, and they require 70-100 square feet on each level.
  • Read more about a rear addition here.

The Separate Structure (ADU):

A 3rd, and increasingly popular, way to add living space to your home is to create a second totally detached structure. The industry term for this is the ADU (Accessory Dwelling Unit). The primary reasons people opt for this are:

  • Privacy: the goings on in the ADU are fully separated from happenings in the main house. This is terrific if you’re renting out the space or perhaps you have long term in-laws or rowdy teenagers.
  • Flexibility: The ADU is a mini-house that can have many different uses. With a kitchenette and full bathroom, this space is incredibly versatile.
  • Don’t want to disturb the existing house.  

Convert the Existing Garage:

Many homes have a 1-car attached garage. It’s definitely possible to convert this space to finished living space. This conversion can provide that 2nd bathroom and perhaps an office or 2nd family room. The only downside is that you lose the garage. One great way to fix this is to also build a new detached garage. If you’re building a new detached garage it can be larger, possibly an oversized 1-car or 2-car garage for bikes, skis, and other outdoor toys. Here are the major advantages to converting your garage:

  • Don’t have to add foundation, wall, or roof structure.
  • Significantly less expensive to add finished square footage to your home than the other 3 options. Of course, also building a detached garage in the backyard adds significant dollars to the project.
  • Easier, less expensive project than other options.

How much does it cost to add on to a house?

Which option is the most expensive? All of these options are complex and require a certain degree of design work to provide any kind of useful pricing. That said, if pressed to give an answer, here’s our ranking of least expensive addition to most expensive addition:

  1. Convert Garage space.
  2. Rear Bump addition.
  3. Poptop addition.
  4. Separate Structure (ADU).

In the end, the purpose of doing a major addition or remodel is to make your life better. We love digging into the possibilities and figuring it out with our clients, one home at a time.

Read more about the benefits of adding on to your home here.

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