Developing Your Plan pt. 2: Assessing Your Home

Home | Wiring | Plumbing | Kitchen/Bath

A Survey Checklist

As you survey your house, record dimensions and mechanical system and fixture locations on your floor plan sketches. Keep notes on construction, condition, and design considerations on a separate sheet for each room or area.

Interior Rooms

Construction and condition

• Length, width, and height of room

• Door. closet, and window dimensions

• Type of finish floor, layers, slope (check with marble or level), stability (check for bounce or squeaks), damage

• Finish wall and ceiling materials, damage

Door and window materials and condition

Fixtures and mechanical systems

• Built-ins such as cabinets, fireplace, shelves

• Major furnishings and appliances

• Electrical outlets, switches, lights, and circuits

• Plumbing fixtures, pipes, and shutoff valves

• Heating registers or radiators

• Gas pipes, ducts, flues Design aspects

• Views, sources of light, eyesores Noise. distractions from outside Ill Use of space

• Overall feeling (open, crowded, active, dark, intimate, etc.)

• Special features

Room-by-room considerations

• Kitchen—counter space, condition of cabinets, condition of sink

• Bedrooms—window for emergency exit, walls with no window

• Bathrooms—ventilation, sealing around tub, condition of toilet and washbasin

• Hallways—lighting, potential entrances

• Stairs—lighting; safety of risers, treads, rails

Crawl Space or Basement

Construction and condition

• Length, width, and height

• Door, stairway, window dimensions

• Location and size of girders and posts

• Direction, size, span, and spacing of joists (are they level?)

• Size and spacing of cripple studs

• Type and condition of foundation (all wood 8 inches above grade?)

• Size and depth of footing

• Condition of sills

• Location of anchor bolts

• Material and condition of floor (evidence of seep age or leakage, especially under bathrooms and kitchen)

• Insulating material and condition

• Termite tubes, wood debris, or weak structural wood

Fixtures and mechanical systems

• Major utilities (furnace. sump pump)

• Location of main drain and water supply

• Condition of pipes and ducts (problems with support, corrosion, rust, clearance, or cleanouts)

Design aspects

• Current and potential access and sources of light it Potential for living space

• New posts or bearing walls needed for upstairs remodeling

• Furnace, pipes, or other obstructions

• Possible problems (seepage, headroom, heating, rains uneven floor)

Exterior Areas

Construction and condition

• Type and condition of siding (wood within 8 inches of ground?)

• Condition of doors windows and frames Condition of steps, handrails, and walkways

• Cracks, chips, or lean of chimney • Plates or leaders on downspouts

• Condition of deck (number and strength of footings, span for girder and stringer, spacing for joists, metal brackets, loose or rotted boards)

Site and landscaping

• Lot dimensions and location of house and garage Existing and potential parking areas

• Direction of slope; evidence of soil movement

• Direction of rising, noon, and setting sun

• Direction of views, eyesores, nearby houses

Existing and potential garden areas and trees

• Nearby storm drains

• Location of water meter, gas meter or LP gas tank, septic tank and leach lines sewer lines

Design aspects

Overall size, scale, and proportion of house Potential for expansion (zoning or setback laws)

• Appealing and unappealing aspects of house

• Serious and minor structural and maintenance problems


Construction and condition

• Dimensions, slope, valleys, hips

• Location and condition of skylights, hatches, chimneys, flues, and vents

• Type. layer, and condition of roofing material (patches, leakage, rot)

• Condition of gutters, decking

Design aspects

• Significant views

• Potential or existing rooftop deck areas

• Access


Construction and condition

• Size and spacing of joists and rafters

• Height of ridge line and collar beams

• Location, dimensions of door, stairway, windows

• Permanent subfloor

• Chimney, flues. vents, and exhaust outlets

• Adequate ventilation

• Insulation in ceiling, rafters, ducts t Signs of leakage

• Location and condition of light fixtures, outlets, wiring

Design aspects

• Potential for storage and living space Access

• Potential for dormers or openings to rooms below

Electrical System Details

• Number of wires entering service head

• Location of service and branch panels

• Service rating of main disconnect

• Location of circuits and corresponding fuses or breakers

• Condition of wiring

• Service panel and outlet grounding

Now it’s time to take a close look at the actual construction and condition of your home. This is important to do before any remodeling for two reasons: you may discover problems that need attention, and you will find it easier to plan remodeling projects that are compatible with the existing structure.

How thorough does your assessment need to be? That depends. If your plans are simple and confined to a specific part of your house, your survey can be localized. Whenever you need more living space or additional plumbing or wiring, however, make a complete survey. An in-depth assessment is invaluable in making long-range plans for your home.

Examining Structure and Site

Besides inspecting the construction and condition of the structure, you will be noting your home’s use of space; the potential of the site for expansion, views, and solar exposure; and existing features that can make your home more livable.

The actual inspection involves a systematic survey of your entire house—inside, outside, under, and above. You can do it yourself or hire a professional. If you are having an architect do design work, he or she will most likely begin with a thorough house inspection. For projects such as enlarging rooms or adding a second story, it’s definitely wise to have a professional help with your survey For a list of the skills and responsibilities of different remodeling professionals, see page 93.

If you do your own inspection, you will first need to draw up rough floor plan sketches of each room in your house plus the attic and basement or crawl space. Make them. large enough to record essential dimensions and fixtures. You can keep these sketches in your project notebook.

Use the survey checklist on the next page as a guide, adding notes of your own and ignoring parts that do not apply to your home. Keep the following tips in mind:

• Do the survey with a member of your household. It’s easier, and one of you is bound to notice things the other may overlook. It’s also more fun.

• Wear comfortable, long-sleeved, old clothes that al low you to crawl in tight or dirty spaces.

• Carry the following tools: flashlight, screwdriver or ice pick, tape measure (16 feet or longer), small level or marble, clipboard with pad and floor plan, and pencils.

• Follow this sequence, as much as possible: inspect all interior rooms, the crawl space or basement, exterior areas, the roof, and finally the attic.

Rough Floor Plan Sketches: Make a rough floor plan for each room in your house. Note room dimensions and essential features when you survey your home.

Examining Circulation

Once you have surveyed your home inside and out, it’s time to assess another important aspect—how you use the space. What is an excellent room layout for one family may not be for another. You need to consider not only your household’s activities but also how activity in one location will affect people in another.

In planning your remodeling, you can apply specific rules of circulation and room layout. You should become familiar with certain planning guidelines and key dimensions whether you hire a professional or plan your project yourself.

The interior layout of your home is based on the relationships among three principal areas. The living or public area includes the living room, family room, dining area, and any outdoor decks or patios used for entertaining. The sleeping or private area includes the bedrooms and private baths. The working or utility area is the kitchen, main bathroom, laundry, and service areas. Traffic patterns and hallways connect these areas and allow passage between them. Several factors deter mine the best ways to arrange these areas.

• The need to separate noisy areas from quiet areas

• The use of buffers, such as closets, utility areas, hall ways, and stairways

• The outside environment, including views, parking, sunlight, wind, and external noise

• The existing structure—its limitations and possibilities

• Access to other rooms

• Arrangements in other homes, inns, or ideas books that please you

• Your underlying reasons for remodeling (Your initial goal may have been to add a family room, but the reason may really be to bring members of the house hold together more.)

• Circulation patterns

Traffic flow and circulation are a major consideration in room layouts. Although areas must be separated, they need to be properly related as well. Circulation provides the key to a good floor plan. Keep these considerations in mind as you lay out your remodeling.

Smooth and efficient circulation. Keep hallways and traffic areas to a minimum, but avoid creating disruptions or bottlenecks.

• Entries and exits. The front door should be relatively close to the driveway or street. It should open into an entry area that provides smooth access to the main living areas and blocks views into the private areas. If possible, there should be a secondary entrance from the garage or driveway to the kitchen. In colder climates consider an air-lock entry for more efficient heating.

• Room-to-room circulation. No plan should have a box car arrangement of rooms in which access to one room is always through another. In particular the living room and kitchen should be protected from too much through traffic.

• Within-room circulation. The layout of each room should allow free passage through the room and around furniture. Ideally, no room should have so many doorways that only one furniture arrangement is possible. Generally it’s better to locate a door close to an adjacent wall rather than in the middle of the wall.

• Hallways and entryways. There should be sufficient room for moving furniture. The minimum acceptable width is 3 feet, but 3 feet 6 inches is better. Stairs and landings also must be wide enough for moving furniture.

Room-by-Room Planning

Your completed house inspection should provide new data for revising and refining your goals. Perhaps it revealed urgent problems that should get priority attention, or even require demolition and replacement. Look at such situations as opportunities for redesigning your home rather than as unexpected headaches. If your home has no problems, at least you’re more aware of its construction and all the features you want to preserve.

The next step is design. Design is probably the single most important aspect of your remodeling, so important that it can easily determine the success or failure of your project. Many people associate the word design with style and decoration. But in the context of planning a home, it means much more. It means an overall plan that offers the best solution to problems presented by the situation at hand. Design decisions involve intangibles. Often there is no one right answer. Any problem may have a number of good workable solutions.

In planning individual rooms, common sense often determines the appropriateness of space and furniture arrangement. Your experience and house inspection notes will guide you in many instances. But here are some overall considerations to remember.

• Consider key activity centers. Some rooms serve a single function only; others may have several uses. Imagine how your household members might use each room— for conversation, reading, game playing, television viewing, sleeping, and so forth. Also consider where guests tend to gather.

• What is the physical space like? Is the room large enough? Is it too large? If so, there may be visual and auditory problems. What is the shape of the room? Are the proportions pleasant? In general it’s best to keep room shapes simple for effective use of space and low construction costs.

• How can you affect living quality? Does the room offer more than function? Its size, shape, placement and size of windows and doors all contribute to the overall feeling. Are the views distracting? Is the light appropriate? Does the space suggest activity, rest, or interaction?

• Don’t overlook details. Minor details can make a big difference in how a room works. For example, do the doors swing the right way? Do they cause awkward disruptions? You may have enough light switches and electrical outlets, but are they accessible? Are closet space and storage adequate? Are several furniture arrangements possible?

• Do you have enough light and ventilation? Would a skylight or more windows help? Is the artificial lighting adequate? Even if you have air conditioning, each room should have natural ventilation as well.

• Can you improve energy efficiency? Do windows face south for heat gain in colder areas? Is shading from trees available? Do ceiling height and expansive window areas affect heat loss?

As you go room by room developing your plans, take your floor plan sketches along. One good way to play with alternative room arrangements is to make templates on graph paper like the ones in the illustrations. They needn’t be exactly to scale, but the walls, fixtures; built-ins, and furniture should be reasonably proportional.


First, consider the overall purpose of your kitchen. Is it to be a work center only? Or a multipurpose room for dining and family activities? Second, decide which type of eating arrangement you prefer. Do you want a break fast nook, a serving counter, an alcove that’s part of the kitchen or living room, or a completely separate dining room? Third, arrange the various activity centers to pro vide the most efficient kitchen plan.

Types of Kitchen Layouts: Island U-shaped kitchen; Island L-shaped kitchen; One-wall kitchen; Corridor kitchen

Every kitchen has three main activity centers.

• The food storage center includes the refrigerator! freezer, cabinets, and counter space.

• The cleanup center includes the sink, counter space on either side, a garbage disposer, a dishwasher, and trash compactor.

• The cooking center includes a range or cooktop, oven, counter space on either side, ventilating equipment, and cabinets and drawers for utensils.

The efficient arrangement of these three centers is called a work triangle. At least five good layouts are common.

• The U-shaped kitchen is generally considered the most desirable. It offers continuous counter area and the shortest walking distance between appliances.

• The corridor kitchen is the simplest and often the most economical arrangement. The corridor should be at least four feet wide to allow traffic to pass, but the kitchen location should not encourage through traffic.

• The L-shaped kitchen creates an eating area adjacent to the work triangle and eliminates through traffic.

• The island kitchen, a modified U- or L-shape, is a good plan for two people who like to cook together. If you use the island as the cooking center, venting can be a problem.

• The one-wall kitchen is the least desirable layout, but may be necessary in some situations. If it's , the sink should be in the center of the work flow. The overall length of the kitchen wall should be no more than 13 feet.

• The location of each activity center determines the efficiency of the kitchen. For example, the range should not be located next to the refrigerator. Nor should the range be located directly under a window. Breezes may interfere with gas burners, and curtains can catch fire. The local code may determine the location of the range for venting and safety, so check on this. The sink is best located under a window for natural light and a view. The dishwasher should be within 12 inches of the sink but not so its door blocks traffic.

Keep the following dimensions in mind:

• Recommended distances for the three sides of the work triangle are: 4 to 7 feet from the sink to the refrigerator, 4 to 6 feet from the sink to the range. and 4 to 9 feet from the range to the refrigerator. This means that no two basic appliances should be less than 4 feet apart.

• The total perimeter of the work triangle should be 12 to 22 feet.

• For efficiency the overall size of the kitchen should be not more than 160 square feet.

• Allow 15 to 18 inches of counter space on the latch side of the refrigerator for loading and unloading.

• Allow 30 to 36 inches of counter space on both sides of the sink.

• Allow at least 24 inches of counter space on both sides of the range; 30 inches is preferable.

• Countertops are normally 24 inches deep and 32 to 36 inches high, depending on personal preference and comfort.

• For specific appliance and cabinet sizes, measure your existing units carefully or take new dimensions from manufacturers’ catalogs and data sheets. Be sure to al low sufficient space for doors to swing open completely.

For more information and ideas about kitchen planning, see our Guide: How to Design and Remodel Kitchens.


First, consider the overall function of the bath. Is it a half-bath with a washbasin and toilet, or is it a full family bath? Do you want to include a dressing area or laundry equipment? What about extras such as a sauna or steam bath? Will the bath be used by all family members or only a few? The main family bathroom should be located so that it's easily accessible from all bedrooms.

Economy is an important consideration in deciding on locations and layout. Use existing plumbing lines whenever possible to save on labor and material costs. This means a back-to-back arrangement with another bath or kitchen, or an upstairs bath located over the first- floor plumbing connections.

The layout of the principal fixtures can be a U shaped, L-shaped. or corridor arrangement. If you live in a cold climate, locate the water supply and drain- waste-vent lines in an interior wall to prevent freezing. Avoid a layout that allows a door to swing into any fixture. Don’t locate the tub under a window. Cold drafts can be uncomfortable, and the window is more difficult to open with the tub in the way. The best tub layout is enclosed by three walls or an alcove.

Several dimensions are specified by the plumbing code (check your local code for additional spacing):

• Generally a full bathroom requires a space at least 5 by 7 feet.

• The thickness of the wet wall that conceals the drains and soil stack may need to be 2 by 6 inches rather than 2-by-4.

• Allow a minimum of 24 inches from the front rim of a toilet to a facing wall.

• Allow 18 inches from the center line of the toilet to an adjacent wall and 15 inches to an adjacent fixture.

The minimum size for a shower stall is 32 by 32 inches. For specific fixture sizes, measure the existing fixtures carefully or take new dimensions from manufacturers’ catalogs and data sheets. For more information and ideas on planning a bathroom, see How to Design and Remodel Bathrooms.

Bathroom Layouts and Clearances: L-shaped bath; Corridor bath; U-shaped bath

Living Room Layouts (top) and Traffic Patterns (above)

Living Rooms

The typical living room must serve several functions with a single furniture arrangement. First, list all the activities that will be going on in the room. Then select furnishings to fit those activities. This works better than creating a room scheme around a particular piece of furniture.

Plan your furniture arrangement for maximum flexibility You’ll need to have access to several activity areas at the same time. Avoid plans that require rear ranging furniture every time you want to play a game or watch TV.

Create one primary conversation grouping around a main focal point, such as a fireplace or picture window. Through traffic in this area should be kept to a minimum. If you have a large family or enjoy entertaining. allow seating for at least eight people in this primary furniture grouping. Arrange the seating so that conversation can take place without anyone twisting uncomfortably in his or her seat.

Depending on your family needs and interests, you may also want to provide secondary furniture groupings for reading, writing, listening to music and playing musical instruments, game playing, and TV viewing. Plan for TV viewers to be seated at no more than a 45-degree angle from the set. Keep in mind that viewing becomes difficult beyond 10 or 12 feet.

Traffic patterns are critical. The number of entry! exits to the living room should be kept to a minimum. An entrance hall or foyer should provide direct access to other rooms of the house, thereby protecting the living room.

The following dimensions will affect your planning:

• Although it’s difficult to give a minimum size, 12 by 18 feet is considered a small to modest size for a living room.

• The maximum distance that allows a comfortable arc of conversation is between 6 and 8 feet.

• The minimum width for general traffic is 40 inches. If there is only one doorway to the living area, increase this traffic lane to 4 1/2 or 5 feet. This allows two people to stand side by side without crowding.

Dining Areas

The dining area should be located near the kitchen, for obvious reasons. The dining area need not be a separate room. Although there are advantages to screening the dining area from the kitchen, an alcove that's part of the kitchen or living room saves space and allows for multiple traffic patterns. If you do choose an alcove arrangement. be sure that lighting is adequate. Plan the size of the area for the largest group that you expect to have in the dining room at one time.

Consider these key dimensions:

• The minimum size for a table with four place settings and a buffet is 10 by 12 feet.

• To seat eight people comfortably, you’ll need an area approximately 12 by 15 feet.

• Allow at least 24 inches of table space for each place setting; 30 inches is better.

• Allow at least 36 inches from the edge of the table to a nearby wall to provide adequate space for seating and rising.

Dining Area Layouts


First, consider the different activity areas and functions of each bedroom. The needs for a master bedroom are obviously different than for a child’s room. For instance, a master bedroom may include sitting and dressing areas, walk-in closets, and a private deck.

Unless you have a family room or play room, you may want to provide extra play space in a child’s bed room. Teenagers will need a place to study, including a desk, comfortable chair, and good lighting. You might build loft beds that create usable space underneath.

Because of drafts, beds should not be located under a window. One wall of the bedroom should be free of doors and windows to allow for the bed. Plan sufficient space on either side of the bed to accommodate a bed side table.

Here are some key dimensions:

• The minimum bedroom size is usually 70 square feet, but check your local code on this.

• Allow at least 22 inches from the edge of the bed to an adjacent wall or closet for room to make the bed.

• Allow at least 40 inches in front of a dresser or bureau to provide access to all the drawers.

• Allow at least 36 inches in front of a closet to provide access

Bedroom Layouts

Laundry Areas

Choose a location that's convenient and requires the fewest footsteps. Proximity to existing plumbing connections is a second important consideration. Don’t over look venting for the dryer. Check the manufacturer’s recommendation for maximum distances.

The bedroom/bath area is a good choice if the walls are insulated for sound. This is where most dirty laundry accumulates and where clean laundry is stored. The bathroom is a logical location if space allows. Plumbing lines are available and the wall surfaces are moisture-resistant. The kitchen area is another popular location since this is where most homemaking activities are centered. Stacked units can help save space. Other possible locations include a bedroom hallway or a spare bed room turned into a laundry/sewing room. In warmer climates a washer and dryer can often be located in a protected carport or breezeway.

Choose a basement location only it there is no other choice. This location is generally inefficient and requires too many steps up and down.

Laundry Area Layouts

Closets and Storage

Each person in the family should have 4 to 5 linear feet of closet space (8 to 10 square feet). All closets should have overhead lighting. Built-in closets prevent bottle necks and simplify room layout. Keep in mind that closets do more than store clothes; they also provide a sound buffer between rooms,

The following dimensions will affect your planning:

• Closet doors should open full width if possible. A pocket door opens 100 percent, a hinged door 90 per cent or more, a bifold door 66 percent, and a sliding door offers access to only 50 percent of the closet at a time,

• 24- to 30-inch depth is preferred for clothing; 16- to 20-inch depth is sufficient for linens.

The preceding design suggestions, together with your house inspection and priority goal list, give you the information you need to start the actual design of your re modeling. Design is both a process and an end product. The design process is a series of techniques used to create new ideas and to define the project.

The end product of this process is a finished design. Its first stage is a concept plan, which shows the general arrangement of space and how different elements of the design relate to one another. A working plan takes the concept plan one step farther and indicates the exact sizes, shapes, and materials to be used. The working plan, usually in blueprint form, is used by the building department and contractors for permits, estimates, and actual construction.

This section will show you how to develop a concept plan for your remodeling. If you hire a professional designer, he or she can do this for you. During your first meeting the designer will ask numerous questions about your needs and goals. Your responsibility will be to communicate as clearly as possible what you have in mind.

If you develop your own concept plan, you should still seek professional consultation and feedback.

Should You Hire a Designer?

If your job is a major remodeling, or if you aren’t entirely pleased with your concept plan, you should definitely consider hiring a professional designer—an architect, building designer, kitchen designer, or draftsman. (Here is discussion of the skills and abilities of these various professionals.) The many advantages of hiring a professional tar outweigh the cost of the services. The designer’s experience can pay off in several ways: saving money on materials; simplifying construction procedures; preparing contract materials for the con tractor; making sure the project meets local codes and zoning ordinances; and most important, creating an efficient and pleasing arrangement of space.

Too often the first cost-cuffing move in a re modeling project is to dispense with the designer’s ser vices. In many instances this is a serious mistake. The designer’s responsibility is to provide the best possible design for the amount of money you have to spend. Even if your project is small or you prefer to handle the design yourself, you should have a professional designer re view your concept plan. A few simple changes or suggestions at this point could save you hundreds of dollars and a lot of disappointment in the future.

The Design Process

The techniques used in the design process are divided into three stages of activity: research, create, and critique. During the design process you will be going back and forth between these phases in a continuing cycle.

Research. This is the preliminary stage of all design. Research is simply a matter of gathering all the information you can find that pertains to your particular re modeling. For example, your research includes reading this guide and others, studying product catalogs and brochures, inspecting the condition of your home, and map ping out a floor plan. It also includes a basic understanding of construction, which you can gain from the section that explains the anatomy of a house. You should also look ahead to later sections to learn more about specific building techniques necessary for your project.

Create. In this second phase, all the research you’ve assembled is put to use. Some of this information has an obvious, direct application to your project. Much of your research, however, is only raw material that you as the designer will transform into something totally new. Your creativity will develop new ideas and new solutions. Some of these ideas will be good, some not so good, but in this part of the process that doesn’t matter. The essential task is to create as many different ideas, sketches, and plans as possible.

Critique. In this final stage, you evaluate the ideas and plans generated in phase two. This involves a conscious sorting and selecting process. You discard poor ideas and refine those which show some promise. In phase two your thinking is imaginative, fanciful, and free wheeling; in phase three it's conservative, rational, and pragmatic. In combination, these two stages of the de sign process provide a natural check and balance.

Beginning to Plan

The basic tools you’ll need to develop a concept plan aren’t elaborate or expensive.

• Personal computer with home-design / architecture software. May supplement with Internet web site(s) and search-engine research. Software may have companion web site.

• Your project portfolio. This includes any product literature you’ve filed away, as well as your list of remodeling goals. You may have expanded this into a “must/wanted” list that itemizes every feature and de tail you’d like to include.

• A pad of 1/4-inch graph paper, 8 1/2 by 11 inches or larger.

• Pad of tracing paper, 8 1/2 by 11 inches or larger.

• A straightedge ruler.

• Several soft lead pencils, and a set of colored pencils.

• Templates for furniture, fixtures, and appliances.

• Optional equipment: a portable drafting table, triangles, and 1-square.

• A set of floor plans. You may be fortunate enough to have a set of your home’s original blueprints. If not, use the room-by-room floor plan sketches you drew up when you surveyed your home. Combine these sketches on a smaller scale to produce a plan of each floor. Don’t forget to represent the thickness of the walls.

Your first remodeling plans should be rough sketches, even doodles, that merely show spaces and zones in relation to each other. From your list of goals and needs, you probably see certain groupings emerge. Represent these on paper with blobs or bubbles, linking them to each other where there should be a passageway or flow of space. You do not have to worry about scale, size, or shape.

At this point you are seeing how various functions relate to each other in terms of the space they occupy in your home. For instance, areas for eating and areas for preparing food should be close to each other, if not connected. Will you also want them connected to an entertaining area? Do you want eating areas close to sleeping areas? How do the sleeping areas relate to entertaining areas? Where should working areas be?

Experiment with many different arrangements— paper is cheap. At some point you will need to merge these bubble diagrams with the floor plan of your existing house. One way is to draw the floor plan as a bubble diagram and see how it meshes with your experimental plans. You may see a way to alter a few spaces to accommodate all your needs; or you may have to consider an extensive addition.

Refining Your Plans: 1. Rough original floor plan; 2. Bubble diagram of experimental plans; 3. Bubble superimposed on floor plan; 4.

Your next step is to convert the bubble diagram into a more refined representation of spaces. Now the size, shape, location, and relationship of these spaces become more important. You must take into consideration the dimensions of existing rooms, the condition of your house’s structure, and environmental factors like views and sunlight.

Use graph paper to speed the measuring process, choosing a convenient scale, such as a quarter-inch square to 1 foot. Then use tracing paper to refine ideas by duplicating only certain rooms or sections and trying out variations for adjacent areas.

Keep playing with various ideas, spaces, and sketches. For example, you may turn a sketch upside down and ask yourself “What if we did this?” Or you might remove all the labels from your plan and switch rooms around to see what happens. Just because a room is designated as a laundry room or bedroom doesn’t mean it can’t serve another function as well. Re member that walls aren't permanent either. Some of your most creative ideas will emerge from this type of playful attitude. Relax and have some fun while you’re planning. The design process is a cycle that takes time. Don’t expect to design everything in one sitting.

Gradually you’ll refine your ideas to the point where one or more concepts show possibilities. Now is the time to begin incorporating dimensions and standard lumber sizes. Many building materials come in 4- by 8-foot panels; lumber is sold in 2-foot increments. Plan to use these standard sizes in your design. You should provide as much detail as you can, but it’s fine if your plans remain rough at this stage of the design.

Testing Your Plans

Use your templates to double-check space allotments. Review the key dimensions in the section on design basics to be sure you’ve allowed minimum spacing, You should also trace the traffic patterns on a separate overlay to see if the circulation is efficient.

Determine if your concept plan really meshes with your remodeling needs and goals. If it doesn’t, refine the plan until all your requirements are satisfied. Don’t com promise your goals because you haven’t found a solution just yet. Keep designing until you do.

After you have created one or more concept plans that seem right, there are several techniques you can use to test them. Each of these ideas can help you visualize your plans more easily and possibly point out flaws and problems.

A walk-through. In your mind’s eye simply imagine yourself walking through your plan from one end to the other. Reverse directions and walk through the space again. Concentrate on imagining yourself in each part of the room. Imagine each member of the family doing the same. You may ask other members of your house hold to look over your plan and imagine themselves walking through it.

Interior elevations. Doing scale drawing of each room’s walls is useful for seeing how things fit and for selecting finish materials.

• Scale models. Take the template concept into three dimensions. Use cardboard or balsa wood from hobby shop to construct a simple model of your remodeling. But don’t worry about details or exact sizes—it’s the overall space that’s important. This may take five or ten dollars in materials and an evening or two, but it can certainly be worth the effort.

• Masking tape and paper Put masking tape on the floors and walls where a new partition wall will be. You can also tape kralt or butcher paper to the ceiling to show how the space will be divided. Or hang old sheets or fabric to divide the room. Leave this up for a few days, and you’ll get a good feel for what the new space will be like. Unfortunately, there is no real way of knowing what a space will be like once you tear out walls or partitions. You’ll have to rely on your imagination here.

• Slides. If you are planning an addition, take several slides of the exterior, and project them onto drawing paper. Use the projected house to trace your old house and sketch in the form of the addition, (You can also use snapshots blown up to 4 by 5 or 8 by 10 inches.) This will help you visualize the size of the addition in proportion to the existing house.

• Stakes and paper. Set up stakes at the outlines of the addition and then stand back and photograph the house and the stakes. You can also build a simple wood framework and hang paper around the frame. Cut out window and door openings and walk inside. Or put up “walls” with large sheets of corrugated cardboard. This may seem like a lot of work, but would you rather botch a $20,000 remodeling job?

If you’re not sure about how your plans will look, by all means take the time to use these tools.

The Working Plan

Your concept plans shows the general arrangement of spaces and how different elements of the design relate to one another. The dimensions may be only approximate. Before you can proceed with your project, you need to develop a set of working plans and drawings. These plans include accurate dimensions and the exact sizes and types of materials to be used. You may be able to draw these plans yourself, or you can hire a professional to do it for you.

First find out if the local code requires working plans to be professionally drawn and if any structural elements require engineering analysis. If so, you will have to con tact an engineer, designer, or draftsman to provide these services. If the building department does permit you to draw your own plans, determine how de tailed they must be.

In general, provide the most complete drawings you can, including specifications for materials. This is definitely to your advantage if you plan to hire a contractor or subcontractors for your job. Step-by-step instructions for drawing working plans are beyond the scope of this guide. To learn the proper symbols and procedures you can use a drafting text or computer program.

Drawing a Rough Elevation

Zoning, Codes, and Permits

Before you begin your remodeling, it’s wise to investigate several limitations that may have an impact on your plans—zoning, codes, and permits.

To learn about the legal restrictions enforced in your area, call or visit your local building department. The purpose of your visit is fact finding. You want to learn all you can about how zoning regulations and building codes will affect your plans. These laws can vary from county to county. Don’t assume anything until you’ve checked it out.

Zoning Regulations and Ordinances

Zoning regulations usually affect exterior construction only, not interior remodeling of existing living space. Zoning protects the quality of a neighborhood. In some areas only certain architectural styles are allowed. Ordinances can also prevent the unsuitable use of properly within a specific zone. If your neighborhood is zoned for single-family houses, for example, you’re protected from any business that wants to build a factory or a fast-food restaurant right next door to you.

Zoning regulations also define the required set backs for buildings. (A setback is the specified distance a building must be from a property line.) These distances can vary from front to back and side to side. For example, the setback from the street property line may be 25 to 30 feet; on the side or adjoining property line the setback may be only 5 to 10 feet. You should know your properly lines exactly. A fence or other such boundary isn't an assurance of the legal property line.

There may be other special zoning requirements in your area. You’ll want to find out what these are before you begin to plan in detail, For example, your zone may have a limitation that restricts how high your building can be. This is especially important on a sloping city site.

Zoning regulations can block your plans in a number of ways. For example, if you plan a second-story addition, the restrictions may require the addition to be set back farther from the street than the first floor is. Depending on the size of your lot, this may mean that the only place you are allowed to add on is to the rear of the house. The zoning may require off-street enclosed parking for your car. If so, that affects any plans to convert your garage to living space. If you plan an addition that provides living space for your parents, the building department may interpret this as a two-family dwelling (yours and your parents’). Under existing zoning ordinances, your plans may be disallowed.

If you find that your plans conflict with the zoning regulations, you can apply for a variance, or exception to the law. The permit appeals department can tell you how to apply for a variance hearing if it’s necessary Once you present your case, the decision is up to the local planning board.

In addition to zoning regulations. your property may have other restrictions you should know about. For example, an easement gives someone else, such as the utility company or local municipality, the legal right to cross your properly A deed restriction may be written into your deed and limit the use of your properly in some way. If you own a condominium or belong to a homeowners’ association, a set of conditions, covenants, and restrictions may determine what you can do to your property. Be sure to anticipate any of these potential problems by examining your deed and checking with the building department.

Building Codes

Local governments also decide what building codes apply in your area. The purpose of the codes is to ensure that you and others follow minimum standards for construction. Different codes may be in effect in different regions. These include the Uniform Building Code, the National Electric Code, the Uniform Mechanical Code, and the Uniform Plumbing Code, plus any state and local codes.

The building department can tell you how to obtain a copy of the appropriate code. If you’re planning to do much of the work yourself, buy a copy and study it. Usually you won’t need the complete code; a condensed version or guidebook can summarize the important facts you’ll need to know.

The building code influences your remodeling plans by specifying the following:

• The type of materials that can be used. For example, can you use plastic pipe for your plumbing? In some areas you can and in others you can’t.

• Whether you can do the work yourself. Some codes require electrical and plumbing work to be completed by a licensed professional.

• Structural requirements and installation techniques. For example, the code will tell you how large the headers must be over doors and windows.

Building Permits

Most remodeling projects require one or more permits before work can begin. Permits are generally needed for any alteration that changes the structure. size, safety, or use of living space. They are usually not required for projects considered to be normal maintenance such as painting, wallpapering, reroofing (unless you remove the sheathing), or window and door replacement.

But don’t attempt to interpret the regulations yourself. One of the reasons for your preliminary visit to the building department is to find out the type of permits necessary for your project. Ask if inspections are necessary and at what stage of construction. Once the work begins, an inspector will visit the site to be sure that you’re in compliance with the code.

Generally the code applies only to new work that’s to be done. Inspections aren't retroactive. If your house is old, you will probably not be expected to bring the entire structure up to code when you remodel—unless, of course, the building inspector finds something that's a definite safety hazard. Then you’ll be expected to correct the situation within a reasonable amount of time. Also, improvement over a certain percentage of property value requires up grading the whole structure to code.

You also want to find out what you need to apply for each permit. How many sets of working drawings? Can you draw the plan yourself or must they be done by a professional? If you’re planning an addition that changes the exterior dimensions of your house, do you need a plot plan that shows the re modeling in relation to the property lines? If you’re planning a second-story addition, do you need a structural evaluation from an engineer to be sure the foundation is adequate to carry the load? At what stage of construction will inspection schedules be necessary? What is the permit fee? How much time is necessary from the date of application to approval? Don’t assume you can get a permit on the spot as soon as you present your plans.

Remember, this is only a preliminary visit. You’re seeking information that may affect your plans. It’s too early to apply for a permit. That comes later, once you have finished your working plans.

Thursday, March 24, 2016 12:37 PST