Why Boulder Additions and Renovations Make Sense

Additions and Renovations-welcome to colorful colorado

By Richard Keilman

More than 100,000 new Colorado residents each year see this sign as they start their dream of living in the centennial state. In fact, Colorado has seen the fourth highest percentage of population increase in the country since 2010. A strong state economy and steady job growth along the front range in areas like aerospace and information tech have fueled this population boom. Coupling this with the limited residential areas actually left to build-out is causing prices to rise and putting heavy stress on local housing availability.

Boulder, Colorado has felt this crunch more so than other communities. According to the Boulder Area Realtors Association, from 2011 to 2015 the median detached home sale prices in the city of Boulder have increased from $545k to $750k, a 38% uptick.

This graphic from the City of Boulder’s 2016 Boulder Community Profile, says it all. Housing costs rising dramatically, with median household incomes staying relatively flat:

2016 Boulder Community Profile

How to get into Boulder

In this challenging market, how can you turn your dream of living in the beautiful Boulder community into a reality? We’re finding existing, older homes in long established neighborhoods are an incredibly valuable resource, now more than ever.

A carefully planned and executed ‘reimagining’ of an existing detached home can often be created more affordably and more quickly, than brand new ground-up construction.

If you’ve been coming up empty on your Boulder home search, additions and renovations may allow you to realize the dream of living here in a custom home tuned to your lifestyle. We have been fortunate to work with several local clients recently who have elected to upgrade an existing home through extensive additions and renovations. Solutions like this create a great opportunity for prospective home buyers and are happy to share with you one of our experiences.

A modest ranch style home

BEFORE: A modest ranch style home built in 1956.

Case Study: Tree House Pop-Top

The site for this particular project is central Boulder, a neighborhood where many older homes remain little changed since first constructed. The 1/5 acre lot and existing ranch home with carport is a very common property description and fit well as a ‘case study’ to share.

Our first contact with this young, entrepreneurial family was serendipitous and began with one simple request, “more natural light in the living room, please.” They had lived in the house for seven years, and wanted a change.

From this seed idea of wanting more light a small remodel grew and eventually blossomed into a full “pop-top” where we planned to demo the roof and add a second floor. We recognized several challenges, but saw many more opportunities and worked closely with our clients to maximize the potential in their property and their budget. Starting from an unassuming 1,010 square foot ranch we created an elegant, bright 2,020 square foot, two-story modern home. The aging, open carport was demolished, replaced by a new one-car garage that also functions as a woodworking studio. New landscape features were developed in front and back to extend the living spaces outdoors and stitch the new home back into the surrounding property.

Model of the planned addition and renovation.

Computer model of the planned addition and renovation

One would think that as architects who are passionate about design we would only advocate new construction, so why do we recommend the addition and renovation solution? In short, it is budget sensible and environmentally responsible. Keeping a large portion of an existing house, and being smart about where and how to upgrade, can reduce your up front investment and save on the long term costs of home ownership. An important side benefit is the time saved from concept to move-in due to a shorter construction phase and by avoiding the site plan review process often required of new construction. Lower costs, shorter time frame and better use of our resources are the compelling reasons we recommend considering this course of action.

All existing buildings have ‘embodied energy’ associated with them, that is the energy inherent in the materials and labor needed for initial construction. Older homes have this energy too, so rather than simply ‘scrape’ the existing house we worked hard with the client and the builder to retain as much as possible. By doing so we realized the budget and environmental benefits of minimizing landfill impact and reducing the cost of new materials. Through careful planning the existing wood flooring and floor framing were kept along with much of the exterior wall framing and existing brick façade, which was painted to create a modern look. Some interior cabinetry and fixtures were temporarily relocated off-site and then reinstalled. Existing trees and vegetation were protected, trimmed and saved wherever feasible. Other existing features and systems that had long been outdated were replaced with new, high quality, modern versions. Leaky, cold metal slider windows were replaced with tight, thermally broken aluminum-clad windows. An inefficient forced air furnace and associated ductwork were replaced with a highly efficient natural-gas boiler and hydronic radiant floors. After interior demolition, the crumbling 1950’s insulation was removed and replaced with new and much more effective insulating materials. In the end these decisions to save and upgrade have allowed our client to live on the property they love and in a home that suits them specifically.

Treehouse Pop Top

AFTER: With construction nearly complete, the new modern form is a distant cousin to the ranch style original. While retaining 75% of the original first floor exterior and interior framing, the home both inside and out is completely refreshed and renewed in the couple’s modern tastes.

Explore with us

The next time you pass by that modest, outdated home for sale and think “that can’t possibly fit our needs” stop and stretch your imagination.

Or perhaps you’ve lived here a while, watching your neighborhood evolve, and you want to take this opportunity to upgrade and increase the value of your property. Is now the time to jump?

You may never know unless you explore the possibilities with an architect. We love to imagine the ‘what ifs’ and we know there is a great benefit in having one of our experienced architects visit your home with you. Even a brief encounter can spark an exciting idea or uncover potential pitfalls. We’ll also help you understand how far your budget will reach and discuss in more detail how we can leverage our combined 95 years of residential creativity and problem solving to create your vision for life in beautiful Boulder.


Rich is a licensed architect with Barrett Studio Architects. Rich relocated to Colorado from Ohio where he got his education in Architectural Design at Kent State University. He practiced in the Roaring Fork Valley for eight years before moving to Boulder in 2015.

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