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What to Know about Building an Addition Shell for Your Home

When you’re building more space onto your home, there are two approaches you can take. Your contractor can handle every aspect of the addition, from framing to final touches. Or, you can have the contractor build the frame and “shell” of the new space, and then you can handle the finishing touches yourself.

Since having an addition shell is a common approach for homeowners, we put together some handy tips for what this approach to building onto your home entails—and what you need to know to do it successfully.

What Makes Homeowners Opt for Shell Construction? 

While a complete addition project means your newly built space will be fully move-in ready, shell construction means the contractor completes just the frame and certain other essential structural aspects. A shell will require you as homeowner to handle the details that the construction company doesn’t do. It can be an affordable approach in the right circumstances.

This approach can appeal to homeowners if:

  • You are personally skilled in construction and DIY projects.
  • You want to add your personal touch to your home addition’s build.
  • You have family or friends who work in remodeling and can handle some aspects of the work for you.
  • You need to customize the space to fit the needs of future tenants.

On the other hand, it’s not an ideal choice if:

  • You lack the construction experience to do the work to meet permitting standards.
  • You don’t have the proper licensing for certain tasks (like electrical or plumbing work).
  • You don’t want to or don’t have the time to act as a general contractor.
  • You prefer to enjoy a move-in ready space.

What Is Included in an Addition Shell? 

Since shell construction, by definition, means that portions of the addition are left unfinished, it’s important to talk with your building company to discuss what you will handle and what they will do for you. Communication is key, and it’s smart to put the details in writing so that everyone is on the same page.

Essentials the Builder Will Do 

Most contractors will expect to do the very basics of your addition’s overall structural features—such as the initial site work, placing footers (supports), laying the foundation, reinforcing masonry, and roof framing. But even these details should be spelled out ahead of time so there is no confusion.

At Action Builders, when we complete a shell addition, our normal approach is to fully complete the foundation, framing, rough mechanicals (including plumbing pipes and electrical wiring), insulation, drywall, and the exterior. 

Aspects the Homeowner May Do 

Beyond the structural aspects we usually handle, there are many addition features that can be completed either by the builder or the homeowner. For example, homeowners typically install all the finish materials including trim, doors, paint, flooring, tile, and fixtures. Even these may be assigned to the addition builder, though, so be sure to confirm what you want to do and what you’d like your contractor to do.

It’s also important to spell out who will handle the finish mechanicals—the builder or the homeowner. Finish mechanicals involve the placement of actual mechanical elements after all the other building work is completed, such as installing faucets, toilets, and light fixtures. It’s possible to have your builder (like us!) come back to install the fixtures if that’s most convenient for you.

Discuss Who Will Handle Inspections (and Permits) 

Since shell construction means the builder is doing only part of the project, it’s crucial to clarify who will get the permits, who will schedule inspections, and who will ensure the project is done to code. Keep in mind that there will be several inspections required for an addition project—including structural supports, framing, rough mechanicals, insulation, drywall, finish mechanicals, and the overall final inspection. 

During shell construction, Action Builders takes responsibility for the inspections on the work our team completes. The homeowner is responsible for handling inspections for any work that they do. Permitting is similar, though it’s wise to clarify this as well before any work begins.

Your Financing Plan Can Affect How Your Addition Is Built 

Getting a shell addition means your builder isn’t doing all the work from start to finish. They will also be buying fewer materials and handling less of the general contracting activities—which can make their overall fee lower. If you’re able to handle some tasks yourself and subcontract out others (like tile work), you may be able to complete your addition on a slightly lower budget than if the builder handles all the details for you.

Remember, though—overall cost isn’t the only thing to consider. Also, ask yourself if you’ll be getting a loan to cover the fees. 

If you intend to pay cash for your portion of the work, then it will be easy to do anything you desire. However, if you are financing the project, then your lender may have a say in how much work you can do. Since the bank will base their loan to you on the proposed value of your home, they will want to ensure their investment. Typically, a lender will only allow the homeowner to do minimal work such as painting or tile, requiring other aspects of the addition to be completed by your construction company.

Are you ready to dive into a home remodel? Our “Homeowners Guide to Interior Remodeling and Renovations” can help get you started. Read the Guide

Love Your New Home Addition with the Help of Action Builders   

Whether you prefer to hand off your addition project completely to a contractor or you want to be involved in taking on some of the finish work yourself, our team at Action Builders will collaborate with you to customize your project to your liking. 

Catch a vision for your home addition by seeing how Action Builders approaches home remodeling and additions—and call on us to help you with all your Pittsburgh area property’s needs. We look forward to serving you.