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House plans that can grow with your family

Working with families that home school, have lots of growing kids, or both, we've learned a lot about how those families live and grow, and how the house they live in either supports or stunts their growth. Here we'll share some lessons learned about building a house for future growth.

House design priority: Space over fashion

Everyone wants her home to look nice. Of course. However, for many families, the need for space trumps pretty much every other consideration. Designing the perfect house plan is a matter of your priorities.

Maybe you have lots of kids, maybe you home school those kids, and they keep getting bigger (or maybe you are blessed with an ever-growing number). If you are committed to the idea of building a new house to accommodate your large family, you've probably realized building what you need right now might not fit what you'll need in 5 years. How do you solve that problem? 

If you have an unlimited budget, that's an easy problem to solve. If you're a human being like the rest of us, you don't have an unlimited budget. Here's how you use that budget to build the house that can grow with your family.

Overall design philosophy

Prioritize. If space is the most important thing, focus on that need and don't get distracted by shiny objects. You can add in the small touches later that won't cost a fortune.

What I mean by this is, the overall size and shape of your house is going to be dictated by your need for certain room sizes and locations. That will largely drive how the house looks from the outside. From there, the house designer can tweak window locations, roof lines, etc. to give the house curb appeal that doesn't negatively impact the function. Contrast this approach with one of designing first for the pretty picture and sacrificing space or layout to get a certain look. It's all about priorities, and you have to know yours well and communicate them to the designer or builder. 

The space you need now... and later

Key concept: don't name your rooms. Today's "formal dining room" can be tomorrow's "office" or "study". The key is designing for flexibility. 

If your kids are small now, and you can use a 14 x 14 room for home schooling, but you know that as they grow (or as the number increases), you're going to need something bigger. Your current budget won't allow for bigger right now.

One solution: build stairs to an attic space that can be converted to living space later. Make sure the ceiling structure is built as a floor structure, make sure the roof structure doesn't interfere with the future space, set the furnace and ductwork off to the side, and in 5 or 10 years, you can frame in the walls and ceiling, hang the drywall, paint, etc., and boom! It can even be an educational family project...

Once you convert that attic space, you now have the old home school room to use for something else. If it's near the kitchen, maybe it will make a great dining room. It could be an office. If you set it up to be accessible from a hallway shared by the bedrooms, it could turn into a spare bedroom. 

Another idea we've learned from our clients is to arrange the garage so that it can be easily converted to living space later. For an extra fifteen hundred dollars or so, you can go ahead and insulate the walls and ceiling of the garage while you're building, maybe even put in a heavy-gauge insulated garage door, and when you're ready to convert, you're really only doing some flooring and adding a small air conditioner and furnace. This is some of the cheapest and easiest square footage there is. If you live on an acreage, you can add a detached garage or metal shop to replace the garage you converted.

Making it easy to add on

The above ideas are the most budget-friendly, because they don't require additional structure - the added living space is contained within the original foundation, exterior walls, and roof. Adding on to the exterior of an existing house is always more expensive, but if you plan for it when you build initially, you can eliminate some of the "gotchas" that go with the typical add-on.

The easiest thing to do is convert a covered patio. When building the house initially, include the patio slab as part of the house slab. That means extending the foundation and slab out to make the patio as if it were part of the house. It will be a little more expensive to do it that way, but probably less than $1,000 for a 150 square foot patio. When you're ready, you can frame up the outside walls and enclose the space right under the original roof, add some heat and air, and you're ready to go. 

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Easier and cheaper

When thinking about future add-on space, here are some things to consider to make it easier and cheaper:

  • -Grade the site as if the future space is going to be built initially. Getting a tractor or dozer in there next to an existing house is asking for trouble and / or expense. Depending on the land and what's around it, you might not even be able to grade the dirt properly for the add-on, unless you did it up front.
  • -Don't let the plumber stub out the sewer line where you're planning to add-on later (that goes for a future pool as well). You don't want to have to move it later.
  • -Watch out where you put the septic tank. 
  • -Have the electrician size the electrical panel to accommodate extra circuits you'll need to serve the new space. That includes capacity to add an air conditioner (even 220 volt service) if needed.
  • -If the original heat and air system is run overhead, with ducts in the attic and vents on the ceiling, make sure you'll have access in that part of the attic to run the new ductwork for the new space. That might mean designing the roof with a gable (large triangle at the end) rather than a hip (sloping, shingle-covered roof that descends to the top of the wall). The gable will leave lots more room in the attic for equipment and / or access.

Conclusion

The above are just a few ideas our clients have come up with to accommodate future space needs with current budget constraints. There are many, many ways to creatively solve problems in a house design if you use a little creativity and vision.

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