Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Rehabbing an Old House Step 6: Design

This is part six of our Rehabber Manual

Part 5 is here.

Now you've probably had ideas about what you wanted to do with the house since before you even found a property. Then you had new ideas. Now is the time to get them all on paper, one way or another.

If you're going to be doing a relatively simple renovation, a hand drawn design may be adequate for both your purposes and for getting a building permit. If you're going to be doing anything structural or major, you'll probably need an architect and possibly an engineer. Many will tell you that the engineer is more important than the architect. I'd buy that. We had a simple design and a simple house so we didn't need an engineer. We got some help with our plans from an experienced draftsman, but we did a lot of the design ourselves.

If you think you only need a little help, you can probably get an architecture student or draftsman to help you for a very nominal fee. Check Craig's list. Most estimates ran from $100-$750.

Even before you hire anyone, though, you need to have a working drawing of the structure and you need to know where all the load bearing walls are. Basically, if you're moving any of the load-bearing walls, you're going to want some professional design help.

So, how do you know if a wall is load bearing? First rule of thumb, go down to the basement and look for support. A major structural wall will have significant support down in the basement carrying the load to ground.

One thing to remember, however, is that some walls are "semi-load-bearing". People do funny things when building or adding on to a house. Chances are there's been a hundred years for folks to make mistakes or take short-cuts. If you're cutting a wall out, if the sawzall binds when going through the 2x stock (or whatever), stop and re-inforce the ceiling where you're working, then go figure out what it's supporting. It may be time to call in some knowledgeable help.

Now, some houses are very straight forward. The old Covington row houses are that way, for the most part. The buildings run perpendicular to the street and the joists run parallel to the street. Most don't have to span more than 17 feet or so. As such, most walls simply aren't load bearing, unless the home was added onto. As a rule of thumb, don't assume that a brick wall isn't load-bearing. There's a good chance it's carrying the load of the roof on it. Another rule of thumb is htat if a wall runs parallel to joists it's usually not load bearing (but not always). Perpendicular walls? Use some care. When in doubt, head down to the basement and look for doubled up joists or footers or other signs of load bearing.

So, why am I all over the "load-bearing-ness" of walls? Because in these narrow homes, you're going to want to open things up as much as possible. Chances are, the rehab you've bought (if it is in Covington) has been cut up into a couple apartments. This is going to make it even more claustrophobic. You're going to need to take walls out. You need to know which are easy and which are hard.

Anyway, back to getting your basic working drawing. Get yourself some graph paper and go through the entire building taking very accurate measurements. Don't measure from trim to trim. Measure from wall to wall. Measure the thickness of the interior walls, too. This can make a difference if you're removing them or replacing them. Once you get all these measurments taken, you'll be able to transfer them to graph paper, and from there you can figure out what goes and what stays.

Don't forget to do an "elevation" drawing. Actually, in most cases you won't need a properly done elevation drawing, but you should have a decent idea of where everything is on the vertical plane. Measure your windows and where they are, as well as doors. These sizes will be useful when you're trying to find replacement doors and windows. Again, don't measure from trim to trim. Get the rough opening size. This isn't imperative in most instances, but while you're measuring, you might as well do it. There will be times when your'e planning things out that you'll need a door size or a window's placement.

When you get around to actual design (most of which is beyond our
"pay grade") there are two things to keep in mind, where you are going to put the plumbing stacks and supply lines and where you are going to put the HVAC vents and returns. There are tons of books on plumbing and rehab that will give you an idea of how plumbing has to get laid out, but suffice it to say that it's generally easier and a good idea to locate bathrooms and kitchens over the top of one another, if possible. Plumbers are resourceful, but you really don't want them cutting joists if they don't have to.

On the HVAC, you need to be able to visualize at least one vent and one return for every room unless the room is very small. These take up considerable space. You may need to build soffits, so it's good to think about how you lay things out and where you might be able to run the HVAC.

Also, remember that pipes and ductwork cannot occupy the same space. Seems stupid to say, but trust me, it's worth remembering. In light of that, when you finally get your lay out the way you want it, and you're ready to start, arrange to get your plans to your plumber and HVAC guys, and then tell them you want to arrange a quick meet with the three of you to coordinate. These folks are pretty independant, by and large, and they will do their jobs without regard to each other. You can save them and you head aches and scheduling issues if you get them together and coordinate. If you're acting as the General Contractor, that's your job.

Things you might want to think about at this stage are things like sky lights or "solatubes", central vac (highly recommended that you plan for this even if you can't afford it yet), lighting placement, closets, laundry (I love laundry off the bed room), water heater and furnace placement, and anything else that might require working around duct work or it's own special framing. Also, now is a good time to discuss insulation with your HVAC guy. I highly recommend spray foam (see our series of posts), but if you need to have your HVAC guy on board, because this presents an entirely new set of requirements.

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