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So You Want to Build a Second-Story Addition?: An Interview with Charles Brown, Owner, Founder, and CEO of Empire Construction Enterprises, LLC.

By Charles Brown

Tell us a little bit about your company and the services you offer.

Empire Construction Enterprises, LLC is a state licensed Residential Builder providing full-service construction, remodeling, and home improvements. We have been in business since 1996, and have made our mark through building a reputation of Trust, Service, and Excellence in the residential construction, remodeling, historic preservation, and light-commercial renovation market in Southwest Michigan and along the lake shore. We are an award winning builder of custom-designed, luxury swimming pools and service what we sell. We are affiliated with the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI), a Lead-Safe Certified Firm for the Renovate Right Program (RRP) with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and an A+ accredited business with the Better Business Bureau (BBB).

What are some of the biggest benefits of building a second-story addition to a house?

Provided you have the suitable soil conditions and can build within the setback limitations of your existing lot including those for any overhead power lines, it is always less expensive to build a second story addition as the extra living area that is gained more often improves not only the function of the home, but increases the potential for an increased resale value because it is then compared to different homes in the surrounding area with similar features. The most common additions are for adding sleeping areas and bathrooms to accommodate a growing family that has roots in the community such as stable employment and the desire to remain in a particular school system. It is always more economical to build additional living space vertically. For any addition, it is always recommended to build out two stories, just for the cost benefit of adding the extra space in the same footprint below.

Can you list the basic steps involved with designing and building a second-story addition?

The major steps to the planning, design, and construction process for a second-story addition are the condition of the existing frame construction, condition of the foundation wall, availability of similar siding materials, capacity for adding additional circuits, existing drainage, waste, and venting capabilities, and the construction methods and materials to best connect everything to the existing structure. There is a lot of research and coordination that needs to take place, not only between the homeowner and the contractor, but between the building department officials of the local municipality, and the subcontractors. In the case of building an addition for another restroom on the second floor, for instance, current DWV codes govern the sizes of discharge and vent stack plumbing to ensure adequate flow should multiple fixtures be in use at the same time. In the instance of adding to an older home, this could mean upgrading the entire DWV system in addition to building the extra living area.

Can you talk about some of the challenges that a homeowner in Southwest Michigan might face?

Foundation walls and footers below frost line depth are required for all home additions. Slab on grade construction is no longer acceptable for living areas. The overall foundation wall height can amount to a crawl space, but energy code requires specific treatment of the area when insulating and installing HVAC systems. When adding on, the existing structure must be brought into compliance with current construction and energy codes. This can be a deciding factor of whether to build over and convert a four-season room, for instance (since it may have been just a covered patio at one time). That implies a new foundation would have to be constructed to accommodate both stories.

What should homeowners take into consideration before deciding they want to build a second-story addition?

In addition to the foundation and condition of the existing structure, accessibility and living in active construction site are major cost decisions. Though it should go without saying, it has to be mentioned that the configuration of a home and access to the renovation area will affect construction timelines and could greatly impact the daily routine when living through the remodel. Factors such as the weather, anticipated duration, and laydown areas to store materials until they are used greatly affect construction timelines and how long a family's life is disrupted until the project is complete. Timing is essential, from the notice of commencement until beneficial occupancy is authorized. Planning a vacation or being able to stay with friends or family during key phases of the construction are highly advisable to enable workers to move freely around the worksite without having to worry so much about noise, traffic, or heavy equipment.

Do you have any tips to help people make the process as easy and stress-free as possible?

Prior planning and establishing a budget that includes a 15% allowance for overages is key. Having cash, credit, or other some form of monetary reserve available should it be discovered that there are things underground during the excavation process, or during the course of construction that are required to complete the project. Though we make the best effort to prevent cost overruns, it is not uncommon to find that extra work needs done somewhere in the construction process, and knowing you have the capital on hand over and above the original estimate or contracted price helps. If you watch any home improvement series on HGTV, you will know what I am talking about. Planning ahead and being prepared for when things do not go according to schedule is a huge part of reducing the stress of home improvements.

What's the best way for people to contact you and your company?

The best way for people who are interested in building an addition or any construction-related project is to contact us by calling the office at (269) 385-9827 and leaving a voice message with their name, date, contact information and a brief description of the work they are looking to contract. The alternative is sending an email with their contact information at charles.brown@empireconstructionofmichigan.com. Either way, we will get back to them as soon as possible to follow up on the nature of their interest.

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