What follows is a long story. If you don’t want to read all the details, we have highlighted the key points in bold pink. Feel free to skip ahead and catch the main drift of the post by reading the pink parts.
Ever since we first saw the Pink House, we knew we wanted to add a third bedroom upstairs. The second floor is smaller than the first floor, so the house seemed to be asking for the second floor to be expanded to the same size as the first floor.
We started talking with designers around Christmas and chose a “design-build” firm in January. The first step was looking at our existing conditions, which involved them taking a bunch of detailed measurements and generally looking around the house. At the end of the month, we had a cool-looking sketch of the house as it is now (from the front and back), along with a drawing of the floor joists under the main level.
This drawing foreshadowed what would be coming. The floor’s support structure, along with the changes in the finished flooring on the inside, suggests that some or all of the kitchen, mudroom, half bath, pantry, and laundry room were not originally enclosed with the rest of the house. Maybe it was a porch. Maybe it was nothing and was added shortly after the house was built. Parts were probably an exterior staircase landing. At any rate, the joists under this part of the house are more widely spaced than the joists under the main rooms, and some are oriented differently. The main support beam under the hallway wall (which supports the center of the house) ends at the kitchen, and the beam that is attached to it to continue under the kitchen may not actually be serving any structural purpose.
We knew there had been issues when we bought the house, because the kitchen portion is supported by newer wooden posts with screw jacks rather than on the original brick columns supporting the rest of the house. A structural engineer’s letter (provided by the seller) indicated that what was there was sufficient to hold the house up. But we’ve also noticed some cracks that have widened since moving in, such as between the kitchen cabinets and the wall. These hints, plus the substandard floor structure, meant that we wouldn’t be able to add a second floor without some reinforcing work – which might mean tearing off the kitchen and rebuilding from the ground up.
When we met with the architect at the end of January, he said that, based on their assessment of the existing conditions, their team felt that the kitchen was not strong enough to support an addition and that it really wasn’t strong enough to support itself. They suggested that we have a structural engineer look at it to be sure.
The structural engineer (who was excited to come because he was renting a condo a few blocks away and was able to walk to our house) came the next week and examined the structure. His findings confirmed what the designers thought: “It is my professional opinion that the existing foundations are not adequate to support a new second story, and in fact are performing only marginally in supporting the current construction.” He said that it would be possible to repair the existing foundation, but that his recommendation would be to tear down the kitchen area (which includes the mud room, half bathroom, and laundry room) and replace it with new construction. He also suggested that it would not be much more work to add a basement under a new kitchen if we were tearing down the kitchen area.
We thought about our options a little bit, and to help us decide what to do, we asked the designers to prepare two cost estimates for us, one for the cost of tearing down the kitchen and constructing a new kitchen with a master suite on top, and the other for the cost of repairing the foundation, renovating the current kitchen (included so that the estimates would be for comparable projects), and adding a master suite on top. We had this meeting scheduled for about four weeks, and by the end of the waiting period, Amanda was kind of hoping that their estimates would show the costs being similar. She had been thinking about all of the possibilities for a new kitchen and a basement and was leaning toward tearing down the kitchen. That option would also allow us to build out into the back yard a few feet and expand the kitchen a little. Peter was more hesitant to tear it down because of the historic nature of the house.
As soon as we knew there was a slight possibility of tearing down the kitchen, we did not attempt to make any progress toward putting the finishing touches on uncompleted projects: the trim in the half bathroom, painting the mudroom, painting the end of the cabinet next to the dishwasher, etc. Amanda and her mom put up the half bathroom backsplash tiles in December, but Amanda hadn’t gotten around to the grout by the time we knew about the structural problems. “I’m not doing that if we’re just going to tear it down” has been a common phrase around our house for the past couple of months. It makes us kind of glad we hadn’t put any more effort into completing projects. Another common phrase is “Well, that will be fixed when we tear off the kitchen!” (leaky roof, slanted floor, lack of insulation or space to move around in laundry room, etc.)
We met with the designer and the lead contractor in mid-March to go over their estimates. Their numbers continued to indicate that it would be the same cost or slightly cheaper to tear down the existing kitchen and rebuild than to repair the foundation and then build on top of the kitchen. They said that it’s not often that they get to say you get more for less, but in this case, we would: We would come out of the process with more finished space for a comparable amount of money by tearing down the kitchen. Seeing the numbers was all it took, and we agreed on the spot that we would move forward with replacing the existing crawl space and kitchen with a basement, kitchen, and upstairs master suite.
We certainly never planned on taking this route when we bought the Pink House, but we are excited. We are slightly nervous about the period of time when we will not have a kitchen (and even more so about the time without a washer or dryer), but it will be an adventure! It pains us to have to tear down the work that we have already put into that part of the house, especially the half bathroom and the pantry. If we had known this would be happening, we certainly would have done things a little differently, but we probably still would have added a half bathroom. We might not have worried about the details as much (and would have given up on that stubborn drywall sooner!) and we would have gone with a very cheap vinyl floor instead of the tile, but we have gotten a lot of use out of that bathroom and are still glad we did it.
At this point, we are working with the designers to come up with floor plans for the addition. One of us (ahem, Peter) is known for not being a very good decision-maker. Deciding on a floor plan and materials for a master suite would have been enough to keep us busy, but adding a kitchen to the process adds a slightly overwhelming number of decisions.
We’ll keep you posted on this adventure as it unfolds.