We are planning to add an upstairs dormer to our 900-square-foot ranch (adding about 500 additional square feet).

The entire project for us is very daunting and we don't yet have enough money to complete the entire project. We are considering two options:

  • Wait a year until we have all the money saved which we need, then do the whole project in one phase.
  • Do the project in two phases where the first phase would be to frame the entire space and do all the roof / exterior work. Then wait until we save the rest of the money needed and do the remaining work including insulation, plumbing, heating, electrical, floors, walls, and all fixtures. Possibly do some of this work ourselves.

The second option appeals to us for several reasons:

  • We would only be doing at each phase the portion of the project for which we had the money available.
  • We could put the project on-hold at various points to make it more manageable for us and to give us more time to shop around for contractors and finishings.
  • Since the project schedule would be more flexible, this would give us more flexibility to do work ourselves that we might otherwise not be able to.

Are there any disadvantages to a two-phase approach where we would have just an unheated shell on top of the house over a winter? Are there any significant advantages which we may not have thought about yet?

2 Answers 2


It depends on who you are going to hire and for what. If you will be doing most of the work yourself and if you know who you would hire for the remaining tasks then I would pick the second option. This is a big project. Things will take longer than you think, especially just getting the details down before you actually start doing things.

If you just want extra square footage and most of the work will be outsourced then I would strongly suggest doing it all at once. You will probably have to have a general contractor do/hire most of the work - you want them on a schedule. Even if you really have trust in someone, you want this job done on a timeline and as short as possible. Also if you are contracting out most of the work you are going to be paying one person or you will have a lot to manage and deal with. And if paying one person you don't want this split up. Let's say you pay someone to do the initial framing right now - let's say 5K. Well that is done. 6 months from now you hire people to put up walls, electric, hvac, plumbing and so on... everytime they have an issue they blame how it was framed. Well now if there was a significant issue, well that was 6 months ago - good luck getting the original contractor to deal with you. Even if you are dealing with original contractor, you will hear "well I thought that is what you wanted, it costs this much to change it". Lots and lots of issues breaking this job up if dealing with contractors. Not only will things go wrong but each person has their own way to do things, and some are not great at thinking outside the box - and some that do think outside the box, create an ugly box.

Now if you are really thinking about doing it all yourself or just hiring out for a couple things make sure you have all of the important things drafted out on paper. If someone is doing the original framing then have a permit pulled and the city checking it. Even if you will take your time between steps know that the city for the most part doesn't care but your contractor does. They will not come back months afterward (for the most part) to fix things or pick up loose ends.

Also be realistic. Do you want to do the renovation and do you have time? If yes to both good for you. If possible no's then know that if you do split up the work and you do outsource most things - it could possibly cost you more money in the long run. If you have a complete job to do then a contractor will give you a lower price for the most part than if you break the job into 10 parts (those 10 parts might cost double


The two phase may cost you more, unless you are doing some portions yourself. The reason is time. The general contractors major contribution is scheduling. He gets his best prices from subs by giving them consistent work of known quantities.

A two phase plan is really 2 unique jobs, from the general contractors' perspective.

What you are proposing is not unique. Interview the GCs and be upfront about the need to budget. Ask if there is a discount for a complete job vs 2 phases.

Having a larger "attic" has energy pluses, especially if you can insulate and add HVAC in the 1st phase. You see major benefits when doing interior finishes in later phases (especially drywall) if the interior humidity has stabilized.
This means the framing will have finished moving BEFORE you add onto it.

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