Complete Guide to Attics and Basements: Projects: Getting Started: Planning the Project

After you’ve evaluated your basement or attic and have determined that the space is usable, the next step is to plan the construction project. Having a complete construction plan enables you to view the entire project at a glance. It helps you identify potential problems, provides a sense of the time involved, and establishes a logical order of steps. Without a construction plan, it’s easier to make costly errors, like closing up a wall with wallboard before the rough-ins are inspected.

It may help your planning to start with the end-results and work backwards. Think about each room in its finished state and consider how you will use it. What will you need for lighting? How will the space be heated? Is an emergency exit required? Defining the finished product now will also help you sort out the details, such as whether the cabinets should be installed before or after the flooring.

The general steps shown here follow a typical construction sequence. Your plan may differ at several points, but thinking through each of these steps will help you create a complete schedule.

(1) Contact the building department. To avoid any unpleasant—and expensive—surprises, discuss your project with a building official. Find out what codes apply in your area and what you’ll need to obtain the applicable permits. Explain how much of the work you plan to do yourself. (In some states, plumbing, electrical, and HVAC work must be done by licensed professionals.) Also determine what types of drawings you’ll need to get permits. (2) Design the space. This is when you put your dreams to the test. Take measurements, make sketches, and test different layouts—find out what works and what doesn’t. Consider all the necessary elements, such as headroom, lighting, mechanicals, and make sure everything adheres to local building codes. Determine whether mechanicals must be relocated.; (3) Draw floor plans. Most attic and basement remodels can follow a simple set of plans that you can draw yourself. Start with copies of the original house plans, or simply measure the space and transfer the dimensions to graph paper. Basic floor plans should include dimensions of rooms, doors, and windows; all plumbing fixtures and HVAC equipment; electrical fixtures, receptacles, and switches; and closets, counters, and other built-in features. If you want professional help for this step, contact an architect, interior designer, remodeling contractor, or a design specialist at a home center.; (4) Hire contractors. If you’re getting help with your project, it’s best to find and hire the contractors early in the process, as their schedules will affect yours. You may also need to have certain contractors pull their own permits at the building department. To avoid problems, make sure all of the contractors know exactly what work they are being hired to do and what work you will be doing yourself. Always check contractors’ references and make sure they’re licensed and insured before hiring them.

(5) Get the permits. Take your drawings, notes, and any required documents down to the building department, and obtain the permits for your project. Find out what work needs to be inspected and when to call for inspections. This is a critical step, as the permit process is required by law. Failure to get permits and the required inspections can make it difficult to sell your house and can negate your claim in insurance matters.; (6) Make major structural and mechanical changes. Prepare the space for finishing by completing structural work and building new stairs, if necessary. Move mechanical elements and re-route major service lines. Also complete any rough-ins that must happen before the framing goes up, such as adding ducts, installing under-floor drains, and replacing old plumbing.; (7) Frame the rooms. Build the floors, walls, and ceilings that establish your new rooms. In most cases, the floor will come first; however, you may want to rough-in service lines and insulate for soundproofing before installing the subfloor. Next come the walls. Cover foundation walls, and build partition walls and kneewalls. Build the rough openings for windows and doors. Enlarge existing basement window openings or cut new ones for egress windows. Install the windows.; (8) Complete the rough-ins. Run DWV (drain, waste, and vent) and water and gas supply pipes. Install electrical boxes, and run the wiring. Install additional wiring, such as speaker wire and cables for phones, televisions, intercoms, and Internet access. Complete the HVAC rough-ins. Build soffits to enclose new service lines. For future reference, it’s a good idea to take photographs or jot down some measurements of pipe and wire locations.

(9) Insulate. Insulate the walls, ceilings, and pipes for weatherizing and soundproofing. Install fiberglass insulation used as fire-blocking. Make sure protector plates for pipes and wires running through framing are in place. Add vapor barriers as required by local code. (10) Finish the walls and ceilings. Make sure everything is in place before you cover up the framing. If you’re installing wallboard, do the ceilings first, then the walls. Tape and finish the wallboard. Install other finish treatments. Texture, prime, and paint the wallboard when it’s most convenient. If installing suspended ceilings, do so after finishing the walls. (11) Add the finishing touches. Complete the general finish carpentry, such as installing doors, moldings and other woodwork, cabinets, and built-in shelving, and lay the floor coverings. The best order for these tasks will depend on the materials you’re using and the desired decorative effects. (12) Make the final connections. Install the plumbing fixtures, and complete the drain and supply hook-ups. Make electrical connections, and install all fixtures, devices, and appliances. You’re finished with the construction when you get the final inspection and approval from the building inspector.

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