Adding Up Instead of Out

The owners of this 1930s Washington, D.C., house loved their home, their neighborhood and their yard. But they also needed more room for their growing household as they transitioned from a couple living alone to a family with two young children. They didn't want to move, so adding on became the only option.

January 31, 2007

Products List
The Financials

By keeping part of the existing roofline and re-using salvaged granite from the foundation, Landis Construction was able to retain the cozy feel of the home while nearly doubling the livable space.
Photography by Yerko H. Pallominy

The owners of this 1930s Washington, D.C., house loved their home, their neighborhood and their yard. But they also needed more room for their growing household as they transitioned from a couple living alone to a family with two young children.

They didn't want to move, so adding on became the only option. The homeowners didn't want an addition that would take too much space in their backyard, leaving only one direction to go — up.

"We decided what made the most sense was to add another floor on top of the house," says Paul Irwin, the team leader on the project for Landis Construction of Washington, D.C. "They told us they didn't want to lose too much of the yard, and we just started filling in the blanks from there."

The homeowners were willing to trust Landis Construction's advice because of their experience with the company. The addition was the company's third project for them, having previously remodeled the master bathroom, as well as converting the basement into a nanny suite. This project, though, would be the most ambitious, adding two bedrooms, a bathroom and a playroom on the third floor; constructing a wrap-around porch; and expanding the first-floor kitchen.


From the time they made the decision to add a third floor, the design team knew there would be some unique challenges to the project. The new floor system had to be designed to span from one outside wall to the other because they didn't want any additional loads on the existing interior walls. Landis reinforced the exterior walls for the remodel.

"There's a large bay window on the first floor, and we weren't sure how much additional load we could add to it," Irwin says.

To help support the third floor and preserve the window, the company installed a four-inch steel column on each side of the window. The columns ran from the foundation to the third floor, where a large steel beam was placed between them to carry the load. The beam, which weighed more than 1,000 pounds, had to be lifted into place with a boom.

Quick turnaround

The first floor remodel included an extended kitchen and a sitting room with doors opening onto the back patio.

Although the homeowners were moving out, Landis still had to consider how long the house would be open to the elements.

"We were tearing off the roof and that process and the replacement had to happen very quickly so we could protect the finished floors below," Irwin says.

To make things run more quickly, the team had all the structural beams, floor trusses and wall panels designed and fabricated off-site. Then, the project team kept a close eye on the weather, waiting for a week that was forecast to be dry. Irwin credits structural insulated panels from Insulspan for the quick construction of the exterior walls.

"The SIPs really simplified and sped up construction and added insulation," he says. "It was a great product that really helped the whole project."

It took Landis just five days to remove the existing roof and get the home watertight — even with an unexpected problem.

"The project manager got appendicitis just as the structural panels were going up, so I had to go out in the field myself to supervise the project," Irwin says. "It'd been a while since I've had to do that, but we got the job done."

Once the third floor was constructed, the team wanted access to it without having to bring materials through the rest of the home and to limit foot traffic inside to speed construction.

Company owner Ethan Landis decided to install a temporary staircase in the back yard to provide direct access to the third floor.

"That turned out to be a great idea," Irwin says. "Those stairs were in service for five months and they took us less than a day to build."

One of the major concerns the clients and designers had was making sure the addition of the third floor didn't make the home stick out in its neighborhood of traditional homes.

"We were concerned from the outset about what the project would look like from the street." Irwin says. "We looked at this three-dimensionally, looking at the models from different vantage points to see how the finished project would look."

Designers took advantage of the previously unused space in the front attic to create a playroom.

To help blend the addition with the existing façade, Landis left about eight feet of the original roof structure intact on the front of the home. That area, where the small semi-circular window is located, was turned into a children's playroom.

"Everything is scaled to their daughter's size," Irwin says. "It's got a little door from her room to the playroom. We even put in a mail slot because they told us one of her favorite things is getting the mail at the front door."


Besides the expansion, the homeowners also used the remodel to make some changes they'd wanted to do for a while.

The home had a side porch, but the homeowner had always wanted a big front porch, so the plan called for the side porch to be expanded into a large porch that would wrap around the front. As construction started, though, the crew discovered that termites had seriously damaged the porch roof.

"We had anticipated reusing that as part of the new porch, but instead we had to tear it off and replace it," Irwin says.

To make sure the porch blended with the rest of the home, the crew not only matched the trim but also salvaged some of the granite from the existing foundation to use on the porch footings.

"The exact materials used in the original porch weren't available, but we were able to match the details, with the same column size and same railing types," Irwin says.

The kitchen was redesigned to incorporate hardwood floors and custom walnut countertops.

A unique feature of the porch was the addition of skylights in the roof above the front window. The homeowner worried the new porch would leave the living room too dark, so she asked for skylights to add natural light.

The homeowners decided to expand and redesign their kitchen, extending the back of the house to create more room.

"It was a small galley kitchen that was very chopped up with four doors leading to other rooms in the house," Irwin says. "We turned that into a butler's pantry that acts as a circulation space and pushed the kitchen out the back."

One of the homeowners' requests was custom wood countertops.

"This was the first time we'd ever done a substantial amount of wood countertops, so it was a learning experience for us," Irwin says. "We did a lot of research and worked with the homeowners, who selected black walnut for the counters."

Landis sent an employee to a lumber yard in Pennsylvania to hand-select the pieces that would be used for the counter. A woodworker in Maryland crafted the wood, which was brought to the job site for installation. While it's not something Irwin anticipates installing on many projects because of the high cost and maintenance, the clients said they were very happy with the final appearance. Landis recently returned to the home to extend the kitchen counter peninsula. The same woodworker came to the home to make the new counter out of the same black walnut. The finished product matches the original countertop flawlessly, Irwin says.

Attention to detail like that, as well as a good relationship with the client, led to a successful project, he says.

"There are always going to be issues, but these were good clients with good taste, so it was an enjoyable project," he says.

When all was said and done, the Landis team managed to accomplish the clients' goal of additional living space that seamlessly blended into the existing home and neighborhood. In total, they almost doubled the size of the home by adding 1,200 square feet of finished space, along with the 360 square foot porch.

And the project is still paying dividends for Landis; several new clients selected the company because of it.

"We've gotten some press for it and it's won several awards, so it's really gotten the attention of potential clients," Irwin says.


Products List

Appliances: Miele, Sub-Zero  Cabinets: Crystal Cabinetry  Faucets: Grohe, Kohler  Structural Insulated Panels: Insulspan

The Financials

Quite a few changes to the project during the design and construction added nearly $120,000 to the tab.

That's an unusually high amount for Washington, D.C.-based Landis Construction, Irwin says, but in this case the client made significant changes during the design process. The majority of the increased cost stemmed from the addition of the wraparound porch.

"As a percentage, it's an unusually high delta for us, but the bulk of the differential is covered by that additional work," he says.

The addition of a third floor also took more engineering and reinforcement, such as steel pillars and a beam, than Landis had anticipated.

"We wound up spending more on those materials than we had planned," Irwin says. "That probably added a couple thousand dollars right there."

The project team also had to partially tear down and rebuild the existing chimney to accommodate the addition, adding several thousand dollars to construction costs.

The nature of the project — adding a third floor to a 75-year-old house — lent itself to unpredictability and naturally resulted in higher costs, Irwin says. That said, he would undertake such a project again, but it's important that it's a situation and market where it makes sense, he says.

"We knew going in that the third floor addition was expensive space because of the engineering and design issues involved," Irwin says. "It's still a success, though, because we didn't greatly reduce the size of their yard. Because of where it was located, the decision to go up was a good one."

Budget History can be found on page 36 of the February issue.


Paul Irwin, Landis Construction
Location: Washington, D.C.
Type of Company: Design/build
Staff model: 25 office, 40 field
2006 sales volume: $8.9 million
Projected 2007 volume: $10.5 million
Annual jobs: 30
Biggest challenge: Increasing the livable space without greatly reducing the size of the back yard

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