When it’s time to add living space to your home, it’s good to know what your options are.

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Q: We need more space in our cramped quarters. What’s the best option to attack our square footage situation?

A: When it’s time to add space, it’s good to know what your options are. Is it easier to go up by adding a second floor? To go out with an addition on the same level? Or go down by cleaning up the basement, digging down or lifting the house for more headroom?

In seeking answers, you could go to the local building department or hire a professional, architect or remodeler to walk through the process with you. There are lots of rules, and with all rules there are exceptions, so it’s best to find out what your home’s potential is before setting your heart on a specific direction.


Building up is an option when you don’t want to lose the yard space, or don’t have any room on the lot to go out. Things to consider when thinking about going up:

Room for stairs. Often, a main room floor is sacrificed for a new staircase, assuming the new space will replace that room.

Existing foundation. How much work is required to accommodate additional weight?

Earthquake codes. Today’s codes may require a lot of work to the main level.

The view. If a second floor has view potential, that will add more home value.

One advantage of going up is you can double your square footage — or more. But going up is typically more expensive than going out.


Building out is an option when there is room on the lot.

There are two factors in deciding if your house can have an addition: lot coverage and setback requirements.

A setback is the required space from the house to the front and sides of the lot. Lot coverage is how much of the lot can be covered with permanent structures like a house or detached garage.

An addition is a great choice to expand a small kitchen or add space for a family room. It can also allow a small or nonexistent master bedroom to become a master suite with bath and walk-in closet.


For many homes, the basement represents a lot of underused space. When you want more finished space, a basement can be easily redone. Here’s what to keep in mind.

  • The basement in a house built before 1920 may have a low ceiling or an uneven floor. Either can be dealt with by lowering the floor or lifting the house, both of which can be costly but still cheaper than moving.
  • If your basement ceiling height is 7 feet or more, it may not need to be dug out and can become a very nice space.
  • It is typically less expensive to finish the space than adding up or out.
  • An additional bathroom in the basement will often add more value to your home. People often think they cannot add a bathroom in a basement if the main drain does not go through the floor. Not true. This problem is easily solved with a simple sanitary pump that sits below the floor and pumps the sewage up to the level of the sewer drains.

A house has a lot more potential when you consider all the ways it can be expanded. All it takes is a creative look at the existing space to begin to see your dream home.

Gary Potter owns Potter Construction and is a member of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties.