A Guide for Building an Addition to Your Home

My wife and I have four children, ages 25, 23, 20, and 17. The three oldest are more or less on their own and the youngest will start his senior year in high school this fall.

I have dreamed of building on to our house for a number of years. It’s not a terribly small place – 1600 square feet. It has two bathrooms and three bedrooms and has served us well for about 15 years even though we became progressively more cramped as the children got older and larger (not to mention ourselves!).

But now we have more than four children. My oldest (my 25-year old son) got married about a year and a half ago, so when everyone is home for holidays, more and more of which are being celebrated at our house rather than my parents’ or my wife’s parents’, we are practically stacking people on top of each other. Also, my younger daughter (the 20-year-old) will marry this December; so it gets worse and worse, as you can well imagine. It will get worse still when grandchildren come along.

And so, this last Christmas, with most of us home for the holidays and wedding plans for my daughter seriously taking shape, what had long been a wonderful dream suddenly became a necessity. We were no longer saying, “Wouldn’t that be great?” We were saying, “This has to be done, and soon!”

I have always been a planner and had drawn more than one floor plan for an addition, one of which involved two wings with an enclosed garden between them. That never did seem practical, especially since the two bedrooms contained in one of the wings could be reached only by going outside. It would be an interesting layout, one which I would enjoy; but it might make the house hard to sell, should we ever want to do so in the future.

I drew the plan we are now using more than two years ago. It had been sitting on our bookshelves all that time. The only significant modification I made to it after showing it to my wife was to add four feet to the width, making it 24 feet wide instead of twenty. Our original house is 56 feet in length, so the addition will be 24 by 56 – a little bit more than 1300 square feet. We will be increasing our living space by about 80%!

I live in west-central Texas and have taught in the state prison system for 18 years, but more than two decades ago (“back in the day” as my students might phrase it) I worked in building construction for about four years. There is little about building a house that I was not exposed to or didn’t learn fairly well. What I don’t know I can learn from books and by talking to some friends and relatives who have more experience than I do. This is a challenging goal. Daunting might be a better word for it. However, as I teach my inmate students, when a goal begins to feel overwhelming, you have to break it down into little action steps and focus on each one in turn. I have no doubt that I can accomplish each action step, so I’m confident I can do this. Besides, I don’t want to have to call DIY to the Rescue to bail me out on national television!

I sort of jokingly call this “Not a How-To” because many readers who know more than I do might say I’m doing it all wrong, and they may be right. So, it’s not so much a “how-to” but a “how I did it” or “how I’m doing it.”

Having decided that an addition had to be built and having received the go-ahead from “the management,” I arranged for a loan to finance the project and began to purchase a few hand tools that I didn’t already have, tools that I would need to get started. I bought a sledge hammer and the parts to make what I call a water level. I made the water level from an ordinary garden hose and three feet of transparent hose attached with hose fittings to each end. I used this to set the height of my batter boards and strings. A transit (it’s like a rotating telescope mounted on a tripod), used by professional builders for this purpose, can be quite expensive, and the water level does a very adequate job.

Here’s how to make the water level. Even though this is not a “how-to,” I’ll word it like one, since that’s easier. So, here goes . . .

  1. Buy an inexpensive 50-foot garden hose (5/8 inch diameter), a set of 5/8-inch hose fittings, and six feet of 5/8-inch transparent hose. These should all be available at your local lumber yard/hardware store.
  2. Cut the six feet of transparent hose into two three-foot pieces.
  3. Take the set of hose fittings and attach each side of it to one of the three foot transparent hoses, the male side to one of them and the female side to the other. (My wife would say, “I bet a man named those!”) Follow the package instructions. Different fittings are attached by different methods.
  4. Attach the three-foot transparent hoses to the ends of the garden hose. Which fitting goes on which end? Refer to step three. You’ll figure it out.
  5. Fill the hose with water, making sure to get all the air bubbles out. Put in enough water so that the water level shows in the transparent hoses on each end. It’s like that glass tube on the side of a huge coffee maker that shows how much coffee is in the pot.
  6. Have you ever heard someone say, “Water finds its own level”? That’s the principle at work here. Hold the transparent ends up vertically, next to each other, open ends upward and at the same height. Notice how the water settles at the same level in each one. Put in enough water so it comes about halfway up each transparent tube. This will give you about 1Ã?½ feet to play with as you make height adjustments. Move one of the transparent hoses upward several inches and wait for the water to settle again. I was surprised how slowly it does this. It will again settle at the same level in both tubes. I hope you can see how this can be used to place two pencil marks, even if they are fifty feet apart, at exactly the same height. Let’s say you have made a mark on the original house at exactly the level of the floor. It is possible now to make marks in other places on the house and on stakes driven into the ground that are at exactly the same height. It works like a charm.

In my next installment, I will explain how I set the batter boards and strings, using the water level I just described.

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