How to Build a Room Addition: Advice on Working With Contractors

room addition just might be the solution to your space problems.  Less than a full-blown addition, more than refurbishing existing space, room additions suit the needs of many homeowners, both in terms of space and costs.

Seasoned contractor Larry Mock, owner of Portland Oregon's Cascade Custom Remodel & Construction, offers advice on building a room addition.  Mock has four decades of experience in the construction industry.

1.  Even Contractors Want You To Get 2 or 3 Other Bids

Though it seems preposterous, most contractors do not want you to hire them for this crazy enterprise if you are not 100% certain.  If you jump on the first contractor that comes your way, you may get cold feet later on.  Contractors do not want to be the first one that you choose; instead, they want to be the chosen result after all of your careful research.

Mock says:

I suggest interviewing 3 to 6 contractors, and then checking the last 10 projects the contractor has completed. One should also check with their state contractor's board for any complaints there. Angie's List and LinkedIn also offer ways to check on contractors.

2.  Too Many Bids Can Be Too Much

Soliciting over 5 or 6 bids wastes time--your time and the contractors'. Mock advises:

Bidding is a time consuming and costly process. Please don't waste contractors' time by having 6, 7 to 8 contractors bid on the same job. On a simple bathroom, I personally invest 4 to 6 hours, the other subs, another 8 to 12 hours... At $50 per hour, which is low by any standards for what we do, that represents $600 to $900 in time. I personally will not bid against more than two others and many times will not bid at all.

3.  Good Bids Will Be Closely Clustered

If you have chosen the contractors well, most of the bids will fairly close within the same range:

The point I am making here is that in my 40 years of remodeling, contractors who have the same passion and determination as we have, are generally very close to our price.

4.  Be Careful of Those Really Low Bids

When you get that too-low bid, this may be an indication of a problem.  It may not necessarily indicate a scam operation.  It may just mean that the contractor doesn't fully understand what you want and is bidding based on a scaled-down idea of your vision.  Mock recommends:

The last thing a home owner wants is the lowest price or a contractor who goes out to bid to get the lowest price in each category. This is a recipe for disaster.

5.  Remove Emotions From the Process

Contractors are in the business of construction and remodeling, not nursemaid, psychologist, and therapist.  He says that:

Remodeling is more about emotion than anything else. Yes, we have to maintain high quality, predictable and reasonable schedules and finally, a fair price. Many folks choose a contractor based on their first impressions or the lowest bid, which you and I both know this approach can create a plethora of problems.

6.  Exhaust All Other Options First

Room additions are not your first option; they are your last option.

Due to the price and complexity of building a room addition, you should exhaust every possible solution to your space and living issues—before undertaking this project.

  • Throw:  There is a structure that is about 12 feet long and 8 feet wide that is far cheaper than any room addition you can build.  This structure is called a rolloff container, or Dumpster.  Fill that with unneeded household detritus before even considering a room addition.

  • Rearrange, Organize:  Closet organization systems work wonders for cluttered bedrooms.

7.  You Must Be Able To Work With the Contractor

With a room additiongetting the contractor right is essential.

Your relationship with this contractor hinges on how well your personalities mesh.  But do not expect to become great pals during this project; this is primarily a business relationship.

The main issue is the contractor's reputation and how the owners feels about him/her. After all, that contractor is going to become a family member for the better part of 4 to 16 weeks depending on the scope of work. So having a contractor with a great rep and that they feel good about can lead to a successful project for all concerned.

8.  Sunrooms Are Not an Acceptable Substitute

No doubt about it:  sunrooms are attractive. They cost less than full-scale room additions, and they give you just as much square footage.

But sun rooms are just that: sun rooms. Most do not have plumbing, showers, bathtubs, toilets, and other essential services.  Most significantly, they are usually not conditioned (heating and cooling).  

Build a sunroom if you want a conservatory-type feel, but not because you think they will substitute for a real addition. 

9.  If Resale Value is Your Thing, Consult a Realtor or Appraiser

Are you putting on the room addition purely for your own benefit? Or do you care about resale value when it comes time to sell?

Even though you cannot do things just for the benefit of some nameless, faceless potential buyer sometime in the distant future, you do need to give some thought to resale value. Not all room additions give back adequate resale value.

The Realtor who sold the home to you will be more than happy to tell you how this added square footage (and the type of square footage you’re thinking of) will benefit you in the long run.

10.  Realize That You Are Building a Mini-House

A room addition involves all of the same things that you find in new home construction: foundation, footers, framing, zoning, permitting, HVAC, flooring, plumbing, electricalnew windows, etc. The list goes on and on.

Even if you are building a great room or living room (i.e., a room addition without services such as plumbing), you still have other services that you cannot avoid (electrical, heating, cooling, and more).

11.  Learn to Think in Terms of Square Footage Cost

Room addition building is complex. The only way to make sure you are comparing contractor estimates on a level playing field is to compare on a dollar-per-square-foot basis. But you’ll want to make sure that all contractors are bidding on the same thing, or your square footage cost comparisons will be all wrong.

Nightmare Home Renovation: What HGTV Forgot To Tell You

If you have ever watched any of the shows on HGTV, you might conclude that a complete renovation can be completed within an hour… including commercials. The dumpsters are clean, the workers are all fit and tidy, and everyone shows up on time to do their work with a smile. My wife and I just completed a lengthy and extensive nightmare of a home renovation. Several of the horrific business practices we observed are the same mistakes I see in other industries, too. You might not even realize you are doing them. We experienced painful lessons that HGTV forgot to tell you about home renovations. At the end of the article, I give you specific lessons to ensure you don’t make the same mistakes.

The First General Contractor

When we signed our agreement with our original general contractor, Scott, he immediately responded that he wasn’t going to make much money on the project. I replied: “I get the sense that this doesn't work for you. If we are not both comfortable with the terms, then it probably won't end well. If you are comfortable, then we can proceed. If not, then it's probably a sign that it isn't going to work.” Scott replied: “I have accepted the terms of the contract. If I could not accept them, I would let you know.”

Every subsequent discussion seemed to include a rant about how he was not making money. Of course, he was rarely on site to oversee the project. Big shocker: Without any oversight, his project was not being run efficiently.

The contractor failed the next county inspection because he had not met the base building code requirements. He responded by telling us that these were “extra items” and we’d have to pay for them in order to proceed. We declined his kind offer, fired the contractor, and took over the project.

Getting Wired

Our general contractor “could not find an electrician within the budget provided.” After a few phone calls, I found an electrician, Jason. He provided a fixed-price proposal for the project. We accepted the proposal and work began. Along the way, we added some lights, and agreed to the additional cost. The project was moving along well.

In the middle of the project, Jason landed a large commercial project. A few weeks later, there was about a day of work remaining. We had not seen Jason for a while. I asked him when he would return to complete the work. He told us “Tuesday morning, first thing.” By noon on Tuesday, we figured something was wrong. Upon contacting him, he said “Yeah – I can’t make it today. How about Thursday at noon?” Five times he failed to show up as promised. Finally, I sent a note that said “I think we may need to find someone we can rely on to complete the project. His response is something I had to share verbatim:

“Yeah probably a good idea to get someone else to finish it. I just don't have time… I'm done with houses anyway. It’s way too much hassle for zero money. Sorry to disappoint you and you can have whoever finishes the job call me with any questions.”

And, just like that… via text, the electrician walked away from 20% of the job with less than a day of work to go. He explained to the person who referred him to me that there wasn’t any money in it, and the project was taking too long.

What Can You Learn

I don’t think either person in the stories is a bad or evil person. Rather, each one fell victim to poor business practices. Here are a few key lessons for your business:

  • Be The Expert: Your clients engage you as a subject-matter expert. Once you agree to a scope, it is your job to manage the project and ensure you deliver results. Don’t let your problems become your client’s problems. If you have a labor issue, deal with it internally. Don’t air your dirty laundry.

  • Don’t Whine: Business people earn their pay. Beggars get paid out of pity or compassion. There is no begging in business. If you are losing money or poorly estimated the project, don’t complain. I doubt that you call to gloat when a project was completed ahead of schedule with huge profits, right? Think long term. Learn your lesson, and serve your client. You just might earn repeat business or a referral.

  • Think First: The electrician could have found a buddy to do the remaining tasks for 1/3 of what he was still owed. However, because he might have been embarrassed by his repeated no-shows, he opted to walk away. He could have said “I really messed up. I’ll have a guy there tomorrow at 8AM. If we don’t show or don’t complete the job tomorrow, you don’t have to pay me.” Think through your options before jumping off the cliff.

  • Know Your Customer: I ended up finding some brilliant contractors who completed our project successfully. I’ve already referred each of them projects that exceed the value of our project. Your reputation is one of the most valuable things you have. Don’t wait to find out that the person you treated poorly has a large social reach. The easiest way to do this is to treat everyone with care and respect.

You might be a skilled professional with great technical prowess. But, if you are hired as a professional, you have to act like one. I’ve never seen a company communicate too much with their clients. The formula is simple: Sell Value. Manage Expectations. Own All Issues. Deliver Results. Rinse. Repeat.

Above and Beyond with Architects and Clients


With the nature of the remodel business, and customers demanding more for their home improvement dollars, it makes sense to duplicate what successful remodelers are doing working with existing customers and architects. I recently spoke to Dennis Allen, the principal partner of Allen Associates, a custom home building and remodeling company in Santa Barbara, CA.

In one communication, Dennis told me that: “we are having a banner year. We’re ahead of our target for sales. This is a nice change after we had a slow 3-4 months at the end of last year. We are really concentrating on sales and landing projects. It seems to be working. The service aspect of sales is rarely discussed in building magazines or at conferences, yet we find it to be critical. It is what builds trust and pulls prospects into signed contracts”.

Dennis does quite a bit with green building, and oftentimes works with architects. I asked Dennis to review what he is doing, and he shared a number of specific suggestions. I’ve included the 12 best here:

  1. Prompt & effective communication –

    • Architects feel responsible for the project, and they like to know what’s going on. Copy the architect when communicating with the client. This builds the team and helps lead to future work.

    • Frequent updating on a project’s status. Short e-mails are the best. Blackberries are a good tool to accomplish this

    • Get numbers to both client and architect early or, at a minimum, when you said you would

  2. Do them a BIG favor (We dug and located a large water line on the property of an important architect’s client and didn’t charge either the architect or the client) – a small investment. In this case, it is leading to a 6000 square-foot new house that the architect will design and we will build. Big favors impress both architects and homeowners.

  3. Always be available within reason (for example, Dennis visited a property that a past client was thinking of buying. Always, when the client asks, “When can you meet?” your response should be, “what works for you? I will make myself available.”

  4. Help assess issues on a project (for example, an architect who has questions regarding the heating system. If you can, arrange for the heating contractor to visit job site, assess the situation and answer questions).

  5. Make major efforts to beat whatever schedule you set up—getting numbers together, pre-construction commitments, or building the project. Beating schedules wows architects and clients. It is an important form of under promising, but over-achieving.

  6. If possible, offer a home performance assessment for existing homes. If you don’t do home performance testing, work with someone who does. This establishes your professionalism and quantifies your advice. We charge for this service but it impresses our clients and architects.

  7. At any meeting or phone call with an architect, client, or both, arrange for the next step and when it will happen. This builds progress, shows that you are proactive, and creates openings for many of the other items mentioned on this list.

  8. If you see issues that can be a problem on a job, that could potentially embarrass an architect, pull them aside and inform them. If there is a problem at a job, suggest 2 or 3 solutions on how to fix it but let the architect and client decide.

  9. Budget numbers – If working with an architect, send them to the architect first and help them to understand them. They will often explain the numbers to the client and make your job much easier.

  10. If you have the expertise, provide green building advice to the architect and homeowners. When you mention a green product or system, send follow-up written materials to both. This applies not only to green building materials, but any product or system that you recommend. Written materials help substantiate your professionalism.

Whether or not you offer green building expertise, or can do a home performance assessment, the idea behind all of these suggestions is to exceed expectations. Wow the client you are working with. Wow the architect if one is involved in your project. People so seldom have “wow” experiences anymore that when they do have one, it is something they remember.

Planning a Successful Home Addition or Remodel

Have you ever been through a remodel..?  Yea.. well then you know about the emotional highs and lows.  It doesn’t have to be that way – Paramount Remodeling is here to help you every step of the way.  Here are some tips from experts, to get you started.

Make a list of your wants and needs

A great place to start when you’re ready for a home addition or remodel is to write down what you want to accomplish changing your home.  If it’s an addition, you want to add more space, but more importantly, what is this space going to be used for?  This changes from family to family.  The more you can hone in on your end goals, the easier it will be to design with your Contractor and Architect.  Keep in mind, you have likely selected your Contractor and Architect because you trust them, their quality of work, and their opinions.  Lean on them to help decide what is feasible, whether or not it’s a good design idea, and if it’s something you can fit in your budget.

Think about your routine

Routines, for most, are a way of life.  Before you begin the project you should note what rooms you use most, and when.  If you want to have work done in that room, whether they are interior changes, or an expansion, you will have to work around the construction, so it’s a good things to plan for now.  If you keep an open line of communication with your Contractor, they can help work around days/times that are important to you not to be disturbed, and they can let you know days/times it’s unavoidable and to plan around it.  This will create a much more enjoyable environment for your family.

 

Check the calendar

It’s important to make sure your project works with your schedule.  Do you have a party coming up?  Family or friends visiting?  If so, discuss this with your Contractor, they can help plan to be done beforehand; we suggest giving yourself a few extra weeks so there isn’t any overlap in case there are delays or changes to the project.

Get inspired

Time to figure out what you love, and what you don’t!  There are many places to find inspiration; Houzz, Watching remodeling TV shows, reading magazines, and checking out Paramount’s website.

Consider your space

Houses come in many shapes and sizes – What worked on your neighbor’s house wont necessarily work on yours.  Spend some time considering how your home, yard, and surrounding areas will change.  Adding space doesn’t have to take away any yard, you can also build up. 

Hire a professional

This is the this is the most important beginning step to your project.  Find someone you can trust, someone you can communicate with openly, someone you want in your life for several months;  It’s a lot like dating (don’t worry, you don’t actually have to date us).  Find a contractor that can help you with your plans, interior design and material selections.  Having a one stop shop will save you time and money.  At Paramount, that is our M.O.  We help you from concept through completion.

Get your permits

If you’ve picked a good team (contractor/Architect) this part should be easy on you.  There are many building codes and legal restrictions that need to be followed closely.  From working in a historic district, to building heights, building to land ratio, setback restrictions (how far from your property line/neighbors), and covenants for designs in your area.  In many cases, one or more of these items might restrict you from what you want, but with the right team you can successfully apply for a variance (permission to disregard a particular ordinance).

Plan your renovation free area

This is an important step before your renovation begins to help reduce or eliminate stress of the work.  We also recommend “relocating” any areas that will be out of commission during construction.  Living without a kitchen will get old fast.  Make sure you have a temporary kitchen set up; fridge, water source, microwave, and if you can, BBQ often.  This same rule applies to any area in your house – it’s important to have areas in your house, if you’re living there during construction, that you can escape.

Let the excitement roll in

Building your new project is an exciting and important endeavor, and Paramount Remodeling wants the process to be as smooth and enjoyable as possible.  That is why we provide each of our clients with access to a secure website with all of the details of their project. Whether you are at home, at work, on the road, or on vacation, Paramount puts the information you need, at your fingertips; Selections, Upgrades, Financial decisions, questions, documents, photos, and more.