By Arrol Gellner
March 27, 2012
Is it possible to double your home's living area without adding a single square foot?
Yes, and it's no joke. To pull it off, though, you need to change the way you think about the property right outside your home's walls. Rather than seeing it as leftover land to be prettied up with a few flower beds, consider it an integral, functioning extension of your home's interior.
The ground outside every house offers tremendous potential living space -- often several times the total square footage of the house itself. Yet more often than not, this valuable real estate is drastically underutilized. Even when a property is nominally "landscaped," it's usually treated as a static showpiece filled with cutely shaped planting beds, meandering plots of grass, and other two-dimensional treatments, none of which improve its usefulness as living space.
It's understandable why so few people make full use of their outdoor area. For one, many older homes provide only a minimal connection to the outside -- often nothing more than a front door and a back door.
Because the floors in older houses also tend to be raised off the ground a few feet, access to outdoor areas can be awkward even when more exterior doors are present. Yet even in newer homes, with more generous access to the outdoors, the surrounding property is seldom treated as a true extension of the indoor living area.
So how can you better utilize the land outside your own house?
First, conduct a survey of every ground-floor room that has the potential to access the outdoors. When I make this suggestion to clients, I'm always amazed at how few of them have ever considered converting windows to doors, even when the potential gain was staring them right in the face.
Often, this simple swap will completely transform a house, improving the traffic flow, making the rooms feel larger, bringing in more light and better views, and most importantly, enabling the full use of your outdoor areas.
Improving access to the outdoors is also among the simplest and most cost effective of remodeling projects. As long as the new door (or doors) aren't any wider than the existing window opening, no structural changes are necessary. The section of wall below the window is simply removed and a door unit installed in its place.
If you're worried about the security of glass doors, note that they're typically more burglar resistant than the windows they replace, as building codes require the glass in doors to be tempered.
Another common objection -- the loss of wall space for furniture -- is a very modest price to pay for a vast improvement in livability.
Once you've decided on where the doors will be, consider how you'll make the transition to the garden. If the floor of your house is considerably higher than the ground outside, a deck or terrace with a number of descending levels will bring you gracefully down to ground level. If this transitional space can serve exterior doors from more than one room, all the better.