Picture it. You’re sitting in your house. You’re looking around the space, wishing it had something… more. No, not more living room space so your spouse can snatch up the next “amazing find” at World Market. Just something more. An office, maybe. Or a home gym! A separate room for the kids to play in, whatever it is, it’s something you don’t already have that you could really use. The real question you should be asking yourself, though, is do you add the additional space; tack it onto the back or side of the house? Or do you transform a space in the house that isn’t getting much use now, like an attic, garage, or basement?

It’s a fair quandry to make. Each one has its own set of challenges, limitations, pros and cons. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Add-Ons

Adding on to your home has the potential to take your house to a whole new level. When done well, these additions can increase your home’s value both as you live in it and when you sell. There are a lot of caveats to this claim, though.

For starters, you need to understand property laws in your area, know clearly where your lines begin and end, and how much you’re allowed to add to your property. Any time you do major construction or renovation, you need to know about the proper permits anyway, but city ordinances and HOA’s also affect what you’re allowed to do in an expansion.

Second, it’s vital that you maintain a cohesive design and feel with your addition. It may not be possible to get the exact same material used to build the existing exterior of your home (and even if you did, it would clearly look new compared to the weathered house it’s attached to). That’s no reason to panic and abandon this idea, but you do need to compliment the style of your home – inside and out – as best you can. It should feel like this new room was always part of the fold. 

The cost is also unpredictable, but most assuredly steep. Room additions can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000. Size, type of room, utilities, etc. all affect the cost. On average, though, you’re looking at $200 – $600 per square foot. Rooms that involve plumbing in addition to electricity and HVAC will cost more as they have more requirements. 

For the best results in home additions, consult an architect first (licensed, bonded, and insured) and make sure the brass tax of it all passes the bar. Weigh the cost vs. the necessity. If you really need an extra space but also need to save money, building a structure separate from the house is a great compromise. A She Shed. Yes, the name sounds ridiculous. But you can have the same functional space you need at a fraction of the cost.

Conversions

Or what about the space you already have that isn’t being used? You can really save some money – and obtain equally amazing results – by converting these rooms into the purpose you want it to serve. Garage, attic, and basement spaces are practically begging to be morphed into something other than a large empty room that just sits there. Any and all of these rooms can become whatever you want. With a few rules…

You need accessibility. If it’s hard to get to, will it really get used that often? The point is to improve your life, not create another challenge. You can work around it and build better access, just understand that will drive up costs. 

The specs need to be up to code as much as with an addition. Load bearing capabilities; required changes to the foundation; plumbing installation and other utilities all have specific needs. Get your space inspected before moving forward so you know you can actually do what you want both safely and responsibly. This too includes proper permits.

Since we’re talking about 3 different spaces with a multitude of possible transitions, it’s hard to get an idea of figures. Are you renovating for an office, gym, play room, studio apartment, spare bathroom, what? On average, however, when looking at the different spaces – since that’s the most distinguishing factor – garage conversions clock in anywhere from $10,000 – $15,000, attics put you out between $50,000 and $65,000, and basements come in between $22,000 and $46,000. Again, barring utilities and structural requirements, these are averages. As you specify, so will pricing.

Like with an addition, you also want to stay in line with style and design. Easier to do since you’re only altering the inside of four existing walls. And, yes, it will look new comparatively. But in all other respects, keep it cohesive. 

Up To You

Getting down to the nuts and bolts of things, it really comes down to what you want, what you’re capable of doing, and what you can afford. In general, room conversions bring back a larger return, in part for the lower up-front cost. Either way, the value of using your house and its space to the fullest potential is immeasurable.