Why and How We Strive to Avoid Additions

Why and How We Strive to Avoid Additions

  • A beautiful, functional home: no addition required.
By Rachel White

It's easy to solve a client's problem by adding square feet. The living room is cluttered with toys and games? Just add a family room! There isn't enough space to eat in the kitchen? Just bump out to create a breakfast nook! Time and again we encounter clients who assume that in order to meet their needs they need to make their homes bigger. Frequently we show them that this isn't true.

While it may be easier, at least initially, to expand their home, it isn't necessarily better, especially over the long term.

Before I explain what we mean by this, a little historical perspective about home size is in order. In 1950, the average US home was 983 square feet and the average household size was 3.37 people (www.census.gov). Flash forward to 2010: the average new home is 2392 square feet and the average household has 2.58 people. In just two generations home size has increased by almost 150% and average household occupancy has dropped by 24%. Square footage per household member has more than tripled from 292 to 927 square feet. At the same time, use of home electronics has also skyrocketed (www.eia.gov). Since 1978, our use of electricity to run appliances and electronics in our homes has nearly doubled from 1.77 to 3.25 quadrillion BTUs annually.

Energy use in homes pie chart

The upshot of these interrelated trends has been to undercut the energy efficiency gains achieved over the same time period. Despite better insulation, more efficient mechanical systems, etc., the residential sector uses roughly the same amount of energy it did thirty years ago (www.eia.gov).

While it goes without saying that larger houses with more gadgets are more expensive to build, people often forget that they are also more expensive to heat, cool and power over the long-term. Not to mention that building large eats up money that could be spent on more durable, efficient and sustainable finishes; and less durable finishes need to be reapplied more frequently, less efficient appliances use more water and energy, etc. In short, the costs of living larger with more stuff don't end when the job ends but go on and on and on...

The ongoing costs to our clients would be reason enough to avoid building additions whenever possible. But an equally important factor for us is our commitment to sustainability. At Byggmeister, we have long strived to build homes that are functional, beautiful, cost-effective and environmentally responsible. Environmental responsibility means, first and foremost, focusing on energy: not just efficiency, but overall consumption. Because larger homes use more energy, we always try to meet a client's goals within the existing footprint of the home first. This can be a challenge, especially during the design phase of a project. Fortunately for us and our clients, our team is up to the task.

This kitchen renovation project is a case in point. The project started out similar to many: the clients came to us with an addition project. They wanted more storage and workspace in their kitchen, but wanted to continue to be able to eat there as well and didn't see how they would be able to achieve all of these goals without adding on.

But through a series of creative design decisions we were able to fulfill their needs within the home's existing footprint. By enlarging the door opening between the kitchen, the mudroom and butler's pantry, we were able to expand and brighten the space while also improving traffic flow. We also closed off an unused back staircase in the kitchen, which allowed us to add storage and work space where there previously hadn't been any. A reconfigured butler's pantry offers additional overflow storage space. Finally the decision to include a tall table that doubled as a breakfast table and an island allowed us to preserve the client's desire for eating space in the kitchen without a breakfast nook bump-out.

We spent more hours on the design than we would have if we had gone with an addition, but in the end, we lowered the costs of the project overall. The result was a win-win for all parties involved. The client was happy because they fulfilled their goals at lower cost. The planet was happy because the project didn't increase the home's ecological footprint. And we were happy because we'd met our client's needs and held firm to our commitment to environmental stewardship.