Armchair Builder

What Does it Cost to Add Living Space?

Finished Basement Rec Room

Finished Basement Rec Room

Finishing a Basement; Framed in

Finished Basement Framed-in

With the economy as it is today, people are looking for ways to save money.  Many families have moved in together to share costs. So, how can you add space to accommodate the extra occupants comfortably?  The truth is, there are some very affordable ways to add living space to an existing home and some, not so affordable.

The most cost effective way to add space to a home is to finish the basement.  Finished basements can cost anywhere from $10 to $30 per square foot depending on the finishes, mechanicals required, and whether you take on the role of the owner-builder/general contractor.  If you are adding living space without a bath or kitchen, and your HVAC is of adequate size to condition the new space without upgrading equipment, you can finish off the area for as low as $10 per square foot.  At this price, you are acting as the owner-builder.  Of course, you can save even more by taking on some of the physical work yourself.  For some over the top basement design ideas and photos go to 10 Basement Remodels and Renovations by Candice Olson.

The second most cost effective way to add space to your existing home is to finish off the garage.  You will first need to contact your local building department to make sure this is allowed and if so, ask for their requirements.  If you call the space a bedroom, you will most likely have more stringent requirements than if it is an office.  The cost to finish off a garage can be similar to a basement but it depends on mechanical and insulation requirements for the space.  If you’re in a cold climate, you will most likely need to add HVAC capacity and you will need to insulate the floor, walls, and ceiling…these will add costs.  Don’t forget to consider the affect losing a garage would have on your home.  If every home in the area has a garage, you may be decreasing the overall value of your home.  In this case, you may want to finish the space with the intention of turning it back to a garage when you go to sell.

The next option to add living area would be to finish off attic space above your home.  I always tell my customers when planning a new home to consider adding open roof trusses.  It is much cheaper to build roof trusses that have open space for future finish on a new home than it is to retrofit an existing home with standard trusses.  Engineered drawings, building department review, and materials and labor to retrofit standard roof trusses can get expensive and time consuming.   My experience with finishing attics is minimal…just because I think the cost/benefit analysis makes the project less attractive (so I’m not going to try and share costs with you).  However, if you must have extra space, your lot is small and you don’t have the option to move, this may be the only way to add space for you family.

The final option for you to add space is to put an addition onto your home.  This is typically the most expensive method to add square footage to an existing home.  If you plan to build out, you will need a foundation, roof, exterior cladding…etc.  All of these items are not required if you are finishing a basement, garage or attic space.  The costs for additions will typically be at or above those for building a home from the ground up.  So, depending on your finishes, you could start at around $50 per square foot.  You could save the money on the foundation by building up if you have a ranch, but the extra rework required with the existing building can negate those savings.

For more information on how to save money on your next building project, go to

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4 Comments for What Does it Cost to Add Living Space?

Pre-Planning for Finishing Your Basement, Part I- Armchair Builder :: Blog :: Build, renovate, & repair your own home. Save money as an owner-builder. | August 31, 2011 at 2:34 pm

[…] a previous post, we talked about different ways to add space to your home.  In this post titled What Does it Cost to Add Living Space, we talked about how finishing your basement was one of the least expensive avenues to add square […]

Erasmo Zeyer | November 1, 2011 at 11:17 pm

Hello.This post was really interesting, especially since I was searching for thoughts on this issue last Thursday.

Add Space to Your New Home: 50% Off- Armchair Builder :: Blog :: Build, renovate, & repair your own home. Save money as an owner-builder. | January 25, 2012 at 2:57 pm

[…] Because you’ve decided to build your own home, you get to choose exactly what your plan looks like.  And if you choose to add a few feet here or there, you will get a great deal on the additional square footage.  As an owner-builder, you will save the typical markup from the general contractor…but the savings go farther than the typical 15-20%.  You can save an additional 50% or more on the square footage you add just by following a few simple guidelines.  If you’re looking for ways to add affordable space to your existing home, check out our previous post titled What Does it Cost to Add Living Space. […]

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