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So You Want to Build a Second-Story Addition?: An Interview with Gilbert Rocha of Rocha Construction

By Gilbert Rocha

Tell us a little bit about your company and the services you offer.

Rocha Construction offers a full range of construction services from major additions and remodels to smaller repair jobs. However, home additions are our specialty. I'm a general contractor with over 27 years of experience who you can trust to give you exactly what you want for a fair price and who can guarantee that you will be completely satisfied with the job when it's done.

I have been doing additions for such a long time now that I know exactly what to expect and what to tell the customer to expect on an extensive construction job like an addition. I really love doing additions and I'm really good at them. I'm prepared for everything and anything that can come up on this kind of job. I have had hands-on experience with all phases of building home additions - demolition, footings, slabs, framing, plumbing, electrical, insulation, drywall, roofing, finish carpentry work, painting, tile work, etc. I've done it all!

What are some of the biggest benefits of building a second-story addition to a house?

When you add a second-story addition to a house, you increase the square footage of the living area without taking any square footage away from the area of the lot. You're building up, not out. You are able to preserve the yard and garden, the patio, the play area and the area where your kids and pets are free to run and play.

You are also doubling the square footage of the house without having to build a whole new house. Many people have chosen to tear their old house down to the slab and create a whole new home. That isn't necessary if you go with a second-story addition. You can have a "new" house, doubling the size of the old one by adding an addition.

Can you list the basic steps involved with designing and building a second-story addition?

Start by defining what it is that you like. Look at magazines, websites, other people's homes, etc. Make a collection of photos of everything you like: houses, interiors, floor plans, fixtures, lighting, window treatments, wall coverings, etc.

Hire an architect who will guide you through the process of design. Make sure you are involved in this process. Your ideas will be what the architect uses to design the addition. Without your ideas, he or she can't do their job. They can only create based on your input. Otherwise the architect's going to have to create an addition based on their own ideas and that's not your house. Your ideas become the plans! The architect will help you by asking questions (if he/she is a good architect) to draw out of you what you want. Make sure you are completely happy with the plans he creates. Look at the floor plan - from the entry door to the back door and everything in between - and make sure that you like the way it all flows.

Once you approve the plans, the architect takes them to an engineer who designs the structural changes to the house: the footings, beams, size of rafters, ceiling joists, etc. He does engineering calculations based on the increased amount of weight that the whole house must now bear. He makes a set of engineering plans.

Sometimes the engineer will return the plans to the architect if he feels that the architect needs to redo something that can't be done structurally. Sometimes the architect will return the plans to the engineer if he feels the engineer needs to redo something that is going to look ugly. The architectural plans plus the engineering plans become the "full set of plans" and this is what is submitted to the city for approval so that you can obtain the building permit.

The city goes over the plans to make sure that everything has been done according to code and that the house will be structurally sound. There are different codes for different conditions based on where the house is located. Is the house in an area where there are sometimes strong winds? Earthquakes? Flooding?

It can take 4-8 weeks for the city's department of building and safety to review the plans. Their engineers have to go over the plans and the length of time this takes depends on how busy they are. 90% of all plans are sent back with a correction sheet stating what revisions have to be made. The architect and engineer make the changes and resubmit the plans. It may take another 1-2 weeks for the final approval. Then the city issues a building permit and construction can begin.

While the plans are being reviewed by the city, the homeowner should be looking for a contractor and sign a contract so that he can start work as soon as the permit is obtained. While waiting for the plans to be approved, the homeowners needs to decide if they are going to try to live in the house while the construction is going on and make plans accordingly. It is a real challenge to the contractor and the homeowners if the homeowner wants to live in the house during construction. Talk to your contractor about this. A second-story addition is very intrusive and most people don't know this. The entire top of the house is open up to the sky. The roof, stucco and drywall are removed. There is major demolition on the first floor in order to reinforce the foundation to carry the weight of the new addition to the house. This may require opening up the walls and floor on the first floor to get to the supporting structure of the house.

It is much easier on everybody if the occupants of the house move out during construction and this must be part of the pre-construction planning and budgeting process. Even before the full set of plans are approved, the contractor will obtain bids from subcontractors for concrete, framing, electrical, plumbing, drywall and stucco work, tile work, finish work, etc. Once the permit is obtained, work begins. A complete second-story addition can take up a year to complete, depending on how extensive the job is.

Be prepared to have a temporary electrical pole and porta-potty installed on your property. There will be a designated area for the huge amount of debris that will be created. And, if you are not living in the house, there will be a temporary fence put up to protect your house at night. Parts of your house will have to be sealed off so that no dust or debris can ruin your belongings.

The construction will be done in "phases." After certain phases, the contractor will need to get an inspection from city inspectors in order for work on the job to continue. If the work on the house fails an inspection, the matter must be corrected before work can be resumed. All of this adds time to the job. If you decide that you want to make a change or addition to the job while work is in progress, discuss this with the contractor. He usually will work with you to give you exactly what you want but remember that this will probably cost more money and will add time to the job.

When everything is done, you will walk through the job to ensure that you are completely happy with it, including the clean-up of the whole job site. You sign off on the job, make the final payment and move back into your lovely new home!

Can you talk about some of the challenges that a homeowner in Southern California might face?

The main concern in anything like this is the weather. You don't want to have the house open during the rainy season. The work needs to be planned so that the house isn't open to the elements in the winter months.

You will pay a lot more here for a project like this than you would in other parts of the country. We pay top dollar for everything here in Southern California. Because this is an area where we experience a lot of earthquakes, the requirements for structural reinforcement add more time and cost to a job like this.

Finding a good contractor is also a challenge. There are many people operating as contractors here who are unlicensed and unethical. Take the time to check out your contractor before you sign a contract with him.

What should homeowners take into consideration before deciding they want to build a second-story addition?

Look to the future! How long are you planning on living in your house? 10 years? 20 years? The rest of your life? You're probably considering an addition because you have kids or plan on having kids. What is going to happen when the kids are grown up and move out and you're alone in a big house? What will your future lifestyle be like? Are you going to be adding 2-3 small bedrooms and later on down the road you may not need them. Think ahead. What will it be like when there are only 2 people living in a house which might be too big and empty.

You don't want to overbuild a house in an area where all the other houses are tiny, single-story homes. You won't be able to sell the house for what you put into it because the "comparable" houses in the area are valued at a much lower price. It's too big and too beautiful for the neighborhood, no one will pay for it and no bank will give anyone a loan to buy it. If you are in love with your house and plan to live there for the rest of your life, this is not an issue.

Do you have any tips to help people make the process as easy and stress-free as possible?

You have to plan and be realistic about the time this is going to take. It can take up to a year or more. Sometimes it takes 6-8 months to get a full set of plans made and approved before you can even start to build. Some cities will take longer than others to issue a building permit. For example, it takes months to get a permit in Manhattan Beach where the plans have to also go through the marine division. Go to your city and ask what the average time is for getting a permit.

People expect that when they do a second-story addition that it is not going to affect the first level at all. They seem to think that a helicopter is magically going drop a new level on their home! Knowing what to expect will make the whole process a lot more stress-free than if you are surprised by certain aspects of the process. The contractor will have to open walls in sections of the first floor in order to add new posts and new beams to carry the increased weight of the house. If you've recently remodeled any room below, the walls of these rooms might have to be torn open. Tell your architect up front that you don't want your newly-remodeled kitchen or bathroom walls demo'd so he can work around this is the design stage. Otherwise you're in for a bad surprise and an additional cost of $10,000 to 30,000 to fix your kitchen and/or bathroom.

Expect to redo the windows on the first floor so that they match the new windows on the addition. Be aware that you're going to have to redo all the stucco on the whole house. You can't just sort of patch it together where the two levels meet. Tell your architect that you want to preserve the look of the old windows and stucco and he can possible help in this area in the design phase. It helps to be in good communication with your architect.

You need to realize that the contractor's job is difficult from the get go because all construction jobs are different. All houses are different. No two are alike. It isn't like an assembly line in a car manufacturing plant where everything is the same. In order to make the job as easy and stress-free as possible, make all design decisions up front in the planning stage. Many people want to make changes or additions to the plans after the job is well underway. This is like telling the car manufacturer that you want a different color seat, a bigger rear view mirror or a different kind of steering wheel when the car is halfway down the assembly line. To make things as easy and stress-free as possible, make ALL design decisions in the planning stage upfront and then don't make changes or additions once the job has started. Make sure everything is clearly defined up front.

MOVE OUT OF THE HOUSE DURING CONSTRUCTION! This will make things go a lot easier and stress-free. Having the homeowner in the house during construction makes it difficult for the contractor to do his job and will cause delays in the job which will increase the job time and cost. The contractor doesn't want to be building a house around you and your family! The cost of renting a temporary home is worth it in the end, and you can live a normal life while your house is being remodeled.

What's the best way for people to contact you and your company?

By phone at 310-484-4256or visit our website.

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