Cape Cod houses pose a great opportunity for modern-day home addition projects. Although their existing layout can pose challenges, there are several solutions that work well and that our Action Builders design-build team often recommend for Cape Cod home renovations in the Pittsburgh area. These innovative ideas are budget conscious and yet provide sound structural solutions while satisfying the function, flow and space required by most families today.
These houses typically have a center staircase right when you walk in the front door, leaving little room for an entry. A dining room normally rests to the left and the living room on the right. The rear of the main level typically has a bedroom and bathroom along with the kitchen. Upstairs is usually two bedrooms and, if a homeowner is lucky, a full bathroom! The upstairs bedrooms have weird sloped roof lines but are still useable, pending that the heating and cooling is sufficient along with proper insulation.
Some of the Cape Cods in the area don’t have any insulation upstairs and minimal ventilation— maybe one vent. Other houses are more set up for comfortable living and have full ventilation and a full bathroom but only two bedrooms with weird roof lines.
These are all solvable issues but need looked at and resolved within the renovation. Let’s see some ways this can successfully happen.
1. Rework the Closed-Off Kitchen
Kitchens are typically the first issue people call about. They are in a small corner at the rear of the house with nowhere to expand.
Many times, the center wall between the kitchen and dining room has HVAC running through it, which needs properly rerouted. As a design-build contractor, we have also seen numerous renovations where previous homeowners removed the wall but didn’t replace the vent going upstairs or simply put a random one in the floor in the middle of the space. We have adjusted the HVAC up the outside walls for these scenarios, but we always take care of it in a way that all rooms are evenly comfortable, both on the main level and in the upstairs bedrooms.
Another kitchen issue is homeowners often desire an island in the space. We’ve addressed this issue with a rear home addition to include the existing kitchen space. Within this new footprint, a nice L shaped kitchen with a large island can usually be incorporated.
2. Adjust the Main Level
Depending on what the homeowner needs, we could also construct an addition across the back of the entire main level that includes the expanded kitchen along with a family room. In this scenario, it can be connected to the existing bedroom and living room to make the whole level open concept— or the family room can remain separate.
We have also reworked this design so the existing bedroom becomes a laundry room and pantry, the existing full bathroom becomes a powder room, and then the existing kitchen expands into the addition, which also includes the family room leading out to a deck. Any combination of the above can be accomplished, depending on the budget. But keep in mind that the more spaces renovated the higher the cost.
3. Reconfigure Lower Levels
The lower levels of the project can transform into another garage, expanded family room space, or just a covered patio space with the main level addition resting on posts. Sometimes, the grading of the back yard may not allow for the lower level without full excavation. Options exist but depend on your budget and how the yard and driveway are already situated.
4. Upgrade the Second Story
The second floor is usually the hardest part of the Cape Cod addition. Several factors come into play that can start to dramatically impact the costs and overall scope of the project.
First off, townships typically require a minimum ceiling height in order for a room to be considered habitable living space. Some existing Cape Cods don’t meet this current code requirement, meaning if we touch the space, the township will probably make us bring it up to current codes. Remodeling construction is tough because the goal is to bring the house up to modern building codes, but sometimes doing so is either cost prohibitive or a design challenge. Cape Cods are typically good examples of this type of challenge, and certain townships are stricter on these requirements than others.
Our Action Builders team is used to working with the strictest townships in the area, including the city of Pittsburgh, so we usually approach any home with those stricter requirements in mind.
Ceiling height is the first issue in most Cape Cods. It is lower than the requirement for habitable living space. Several addition options exist, and they vary by budget. Action Builders has done single dormer additions, double dormer additions, or additions over the rear addition below. The biggest issue with building over the rear addition is that the roofline for the second level would need to match the existing house so that it would not be seen from the front of the house. The addition’s ceiling height would be similar to the existing ceiling height in that the slopes would be steeper and the head heights would be the same.
Total Second-Story Transformation
To solve this issue, the home addition can transform into a full second-story addition. This increases the budget dramatically but transforms the house from the Cape Cod style into a full, two-story colonial. The wall heights and ceiling heights would be normal without the steep slopes seen previously.
Action Builders has done a version of this addition that turned a standard Cape Cod home with three bedrooms and two bathrooms into a full five-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bathroom home. The renovation also included a huge open concept living space with a kitchen/dining/family room, two car garage, main level laundry, and pantry space.
The Dormer Solution
The above example may be the ultimate dream for your Cape Cod house, but the reality is that the budget will not always allow for such an extensive whole-home renovation. Simple dormer additions can sometimes be the trick.
A rear, house-length dormer can sometimes accommodate two bedrooms on one side with a center bathroom and a master along the other. Depending on the scale of the home, sometimes a master bathroom and walk-in closet can also be configured into the existing eave space.
Most Cape Cods have center stairs, but Action Builders recently completed two projects that turned the stairs in the center of the house horizontal. We did rear dormer additions on both home renovations, and the end result was two nicely sized bedrooms with a full bathroom. One project also included upstairs laundry and a desk area in the hall. Both projects had nicely sized walk-in closets for the bedrooms too.
Various options exist, depending on the existing conditions, but simple dormer additions with an improvement of HVAC and insulation can always be an option for improved use of existing square footage.
It Comes Down to Budget
Costs and budgets vary for each project and can depend on a range of factors for each homeowner such as:
- equity in existing home
- value of existing home
- amount of cash willing to be spent
- length of time planning to remain in the house
- and more
Everyone has a budget and a limit to the amount of work they want to do.
Action Builders has done several dormer additions, including some form of bathroom, where the homeowner lived through the work, and it was completed in nearly three months for $50-$100k. We have also completed full-fledged gut jobs, removing the roof and replacing it with a full second story plus a three-story addition off the back. These projects lasted around five months and cost between $300-$400k. Middle options limit the work to the main level addition, not really touching the upstairs, for $100-200k, depending mostly on the if there is a kitchen or bathrooms and what the lower level work includes.
Give Your Cape Cod a Whole-Home Remodel with Room to Breathe
There is no doubt that Cape Cod additions and whole-home remodels are one of the most challenging projects to design. Moving through our Action Builders design-build process with our experienced design-build team will make the options easy to analyze to determine what makes the most sense for your family and home.
To discover more about how we can help transform your Cape Cod home, check out our home design services.
Need more information about home additions and interior remodeling before pursuing a project?
See our Addition and Remodeling Guides to learn:
- Why hiring a design-builder is in your best interest
- Top projects that solve the biggest problems for Pittsburgh homes (Check out options for Cape Cod homes too!)
- Budget and planning tips to get the best outcome for whole-home renovations or additions