In the neighborhoods of Seattle, we find an abundance of beautiful homes around the 100-year-old mark. With the city’s tech and innovation companies bringing so much growth, many are looking at options for updating, expanding and renovating these beautiful historic homes. And why not, with the need for sustainable practices, making the most of what we have and avoiding more landfill, it’s a socially conscious decision. However, the options are limited and cost plays a prominent role in the decision making.
In this article, we’re looking at options for homes on small lots that aren’t meant to be rental properties, but rather, to be the forever home of a Seattle resident. Neighborhoods like Capitol Hill, the Central District, the International District and Queen Anne are in such close proximity to the downtown corridor, residents can easily walk or bike to work, restaurants, cultural events, and shows. The value of these properties is not just in the proximity and walkability for downtown activities, but also in the historic story of the city.
When problem solving for a house on a small lot, we’re looking to make the most of your home when you want to expand and to do it legally within Seattle code requirements.
For our example, we’re looking at a home in a neighborhood adjacent to the downtown corridor. When we started looking at the project potentials, we saw that they’re on a pretty tight 2,700 square foot lot, 25 feet wide. A typical Seattle lot is 30 feet. Of course, we considered adding height to the building, but with this 25-foot-wide lot, the height restriction is 25 feet, which is already maxed out. The Seattle Department of Construction & Inspections at times allows for a “Land Use/Master Use Permit – Land Use Variance” which allows the City to grant relief from certain code requirements. However, the city’s description clearly states that “you may not request a variance for prohibited uses or height limits.” This leads us to the title of this article, “If you can’t go up, go down.”
If we aren’t able to lift the building to create a full basement, we’re exploring what we could do with the building if we excavate to create a basement as the third floor, bringing in as many windows as possible to make it feel like a livable space.
This is where a good design process comes in. Hiring an architect to complete a feasibility study (or zoning analysis) and then create a schematic design allows the home owner to get a preliminary plan and even a 3D vision of what they’re able to do with their space. It also allows for a contractor to give price estimates, before anyone ever needs to hire the other players in a renovation – structural engineer, Geotech – and before going into the permit process and paying for many fees. Investing in a good zoning analysis and schematic architectural design package brings a realistic idea of what you can accomplish and a package to provide to the contractor to estimate what it will cost.
In the case of this Seattle home, a great way to get more square footage, including a new bathroom, a nice laundry room, a family TV room, and a work room, is to make more space for the family as well as adding a beautiful guest suite for weekend guests. To meet the building code, an exterior staircase provides required egress, a light well and a bonus small garden area for the lower floor. The option of going down also supports the desire to maintain the backyard space – a primary reason for not adding a detached garage. In this case, without approval from the City of Seattle to build higher, the way to get the most bang for their buck would be going down, excavating, renovating and adding to the basement, building a light well/staircase to the yard and building a big patio off the kitchen while parking the car in the back yard.
Once discussing the Schematic architectural design with contractors about pricing, the home owners are able to make decisions while fully informed after a thorough investigation into the possibilities for their particular property.
Benefits of exploring renovation and building addition options for your 100-year-old Seattle Home
- Working with a professional who hears your dreams, understands what you want to do and synthesizes it into the building potential, demonstrating ways to make it happen through preliminary plans, elevations, sections and 3D modeling.
- Gaining a thorough understanding of your property’s development potential through the feasibility study or zoning analysis.
- Quick consideration of renovation and building addition design options available.
- Receiving clear and detailed documents that will enable a general contractor to give you a preliminary contract price for your project.
- Preserving the city’s heritage and working sustainably by renovating a 100-year-old home. In our world where climate change, carbon footprints, reuse and landfills are on the forefront, preserving a classic home and making it livable to today’s standards is a socially and ecologically responsible thing to do.
The downside is that these projects can be costly. In this case, excavation requires reworking utilities and drainage, getting the house stabilized on beams prior to excavation, disruption to buses and traffic on the local streets, and then demoing and excavating materials under the home. Plus, finding a rental unit for when you home is uninhabitable.
When toying with an idea like this, it’s reassuring and helpful to have an architect guide you with your idea so you can get a design documented and submit the concept to suitable general contractors for preliminary pricing in order for you to make the best decision for your family. Are you passionate about sustainability and historic or cultural preservation? Is it too expensive? Would you be better off moving? Maybe it’s totally worth the investment and you’re ready to go for it! The real value of the zoning analysis and preliminary schematic design is in the knowledge you gain to make these big decisions.
If you have any questions about the possibilities for your Seattle home, reach out! We’d be happy to talk.