The Comprehensive Guide To Home Renovations Large and Small
Home Renovation Guide - Chapter 4

Project Planning; Home Structure

Note: definitions for the underlined words in this chapter are found in the Glossary of Terms.

Before beginning a home renovation project, there are basic preliminary steps which must be taken. Before even formulating a renovation design plan, you must be knowledgeable about and understand important structural features of the home.

The preceding chapter provided an overview of house structure basics. It is vital to clearly understand the structure of your home before beginning any renovation project that will alter the structure in any way. Therefore, a review of that information as well as other aspects of house structure is important.

Since many renovation plans call for moving or removing walls and making changes to the building services such as plumbing, electrical, and HVAC, it is important you know details about each. A load-bearing wall, for instance, cannot simply be removed. By mapping out the structure of your home and service systems within it, you will have a better grasp about the feasibility of a project, and how much work will be required to complete it.


The framing of your home is the foundation, floors, walls, and roof which all tie together to form a solid structure. These are the actual boards which make up the floor joists, wall studs, and roof trusses or rafters. There are two types of framing used in home construction as noted in chapter 1 – platform framing and balloon framing:

  • Platform framing – the style of framing used in most modern construction projects. For each story of the structure, wall studs extend from a bottom plate at the floor (or foundation) to the top plate which is either attached to floor joists of the next story, or roof trusses. The floor structures for each story are platforms that extend to the perimeter of the house. Because each story has its own support structure, this style framing is much less complicated when making alterations.
  • Balloon framing – commonly found in older homes; consisting of wall studs that extend from the foundation to the roof structure – even multiple story structures. The first story rests on the foundation; second and third story levels are supported by 1X4 ribbons set in notches in the stud walls.

Both styles of framing are supported by the foundation and a main beam or girder, in the center of the structure. In platform framed structures, the load-bearing walls are easy to identify. They have a double top plate; consisting of two layers of framing lumber.

All exterior walls are load bearing. As are interior walls that are aligned above the center support beam, or any other support beams included in the structure.

Service System Review

It is equally important to understand the building service systems of the structure, as outlined in chapter 1. As well as the location of their components; plumbing sewer and supply pipes, electrical wiring and circuit loads, HVAC plumbing pipes, air ducts, and wiring.

When the renovation plan is just a re-design of existing floor space, chances are building service system components may only need to be moved, if affected at all. However, if you add floor space in a renovation design, keep in mind that it probably will place added demands on existing services, and upgrading system capacities may be necessary in order to meet them.

Plumbing systems usually consist of a drain-waste-vent system or DWV, and a fresh water supply system. DWV systems operate on gravity; the proximity of a vent is crucial to proper operation of each drain. Water supply lines are under pressure, but can be routed almost anywhere to suit a plan.

The electrical system is made up of many wiring circuits running through the frame walls, floor, and ceiling of a structure; stemming from a central electrical service box. They may be routed and configured in countless ways, making it difficult to follow wiring runs for each individual circuit.

Mapping the electrical system can be simplified by turning each circuit breaker off in turn to see which outlets and fixtures are connected to it. Following each wiring run is not necessary, but each fixture, outlet, and appliance connected to the circuit should be noted to accurately determine loads and capacities.

A forced-air HVAC system will have a furnace that heats the air and feeds it to a main supply duct. This in turn feeds branch ducts that supply heated air into each room or area of the structure. A second series of ducts returns cold air back to the furnace. To map a forced-air system, follow the ducts from each room or area back to the main duct, and the main duct back to the furnace.

Hot water or steam systems use a network of pipes that carry hot water or steam to radiators that heat the area. Some systems just have one pipe that connects all radiators together in a loop. Other systems may have an individual feed and return for each radiator.


Your first step in defining project needs is to determine “why” you are planning to alter your home. Is it to add more living space, such as a family room, office, or extra bedroom? Is it to increase floor space in existing rooms? Is it to update and modernize, or to make changes for greater ease of movement and convenience?

Is it for extra storage space or solely for cosmetic purposes? Or, to incorporate a more universal design to accommodate younger persons, older persons, or those who are physically challenged? Once you have determined purposes for wanting to make alterations, it is time to begin to make actual plans.

Before formulating your renovation plan, check building code requirements. Most local codes follow standard national guidelines; however, some localities may differ. Local building codes always supersede national standards, so it is best to consult your local building inspector for local guidelines.

In addition to code requirements for building services, there are also requirements for natural window lighting, entrances and exits, and minimum room dimensions. Checking codes prior to drawing out your plan will help determine whether or not your ideas are feasible, of if an alternative plan should be sought.

Any remodeling project that requires new construction, structural or mechanical changes during demolition, repair, alteration, or enlargement requires a detailed scale drawing of the plan. There are two basic kinds of construction drawings: floor plans and elevation drawings.

Floor plans

Floor plan s show a room from above; detailing room dimensions, closets, doors, windows, partitions, and the relationship that room has to other rooms on the same floor. A two-dimensional scale drawing that shows the design and layout of a single floor of a building structure, or proposed structure.

Elevation drawings

Elevation drawings provide a side view of a room; detailing one wall per drawing. Elevation drawings provide more architectural detail, and are made for both interior and exterior views.


Floor plans and elevation drawings combine all the detailed information about structure, mechanical system specification and placement, and project design features on paper.

Using existing blue prints or architectural drawings of your home can drastically simplify the process; change or add to the drawings to reflect the renovation plan. Working with

drawings also helps you visualize how the changes will affect the overall layout and feel of your home.

When creating drawings or altering existing ones, concentrate on one story at time; transfer room dimensions onto ¼-inch grid paper, using a scale of ¼-inch to represent 1- foot.

Label each room carefully. Note its overall dimensions, including wall thickness, without trim. Include all elements to your drawings:

  • Overall dimensions measured from the outside of the house. These can be used as a crosscheck for the accuracy of interior dimensions.
  • Permanent fixtures such as tubs, showers, sinks, countertops, fireplaces, major appliances, etc.
  • Plumbing, electrical, and HVAC components. Note: sometimes a separate set of drawings is required for these elements; their specifications and placement is crucial.
  • Windows and doors, including direction of door swing.
  • Stairs and their direction in relation to the house story being drawn.
  • Any overhead elements, such as wall cabinets or exposed beams; use dashed lines to represent these features.

For elevation drawings, use the same ¼-inch = 1 foot scale; draw each separate wall. Each room will have four walls, or views; each is called an “elevation.” You should include:

  • Floor-to-ceiling measurements, as well as floor-to-ceiling measurements for features such as exposed beams and soffits.
  • Doors, including height (floor to top of door opening) and width.
  • Windows, including height (floor to top of opening), sill height (floor to top of sill), and width of opening.
  • Trim and any other decorative elements.

Use tissue overlays to show any hidden elements. Tissue overlays also come in handy when proposing changes to existing plans, or for alternative plan purposes. Once you have settled on a design, draft a final drawing and begin a materials list for the project.


To finalize your project plans after completing your floor plan and elevation drawings, it is wise to consult with the local building inspector. They can help insure all code requirements have been met, and may also have helpful suggestions on ways to enhance your project design in ways that cut costs and are more energy efficient.

Design professionals are also knowledgeable about local code requirements. In fact, you may want to enlist the services of an architect or specialized designer to help you get your design plans down on paper. Consider the following:

  • Kitchen and bath designers are experts in the two most important areas of the home. They can provide you with detailed information and great design ideas, sometimes even acting as a general contractor for the project.
  • Interior designers work with each room in the home to create a specific style or theme, and can work in customized features to greatly enhance your project plans.
  • Architects are licensed professionals who design and produce detailed construction plans for a structure. Their services are expensive, but can be well worth the cost for a complex renovation or new construction project.
  • Building designers are similar to architects. But they usually have more experience with hands-on building and design, with less experience in engineering aspects.
  • Design/Build firms offer both design and general contractor services for a project, from start to finish; charging one flat fee.

Professional design services can be expensive, so it is wise do as much planning and preparation work as possible on your own. The more involvement you have in the project, the more money you can save.


An important aspect of every home renovation project is the materials list. Because a key factor of project success is proper planning, a detailed materials list should be prepared for even minor renovation work.

Imagine purchasing a piece of furniture that requires assembly. The kit may contain all of the materials necessary for proper assembly. But without a detailed description list of the various materials required for assembly, the project can become complicated. It may not get completed properly, or without a great deal of unnecessary frustration. Not to mention

wasted time trying to sort out what is required, and for what purpose. Or whether or not everything you need is there.

The materials list should not only contain the types and amounts of materials required to complete the project, but detailed descriptions of each item, as well. For instance, if the contractor you hire to install an oak hardwood floor lists just “oak planks,” on the materials list, request specifics.

The grade, dimension, and finish of the oak plank used all determine the quality, appearance, and durability of the floor. Not to mention cost; prices can differ from $2 to as much as $15 or more per square foot.

In addition to materials used, tools required to complete the project should also be listed. Again, include specifics. Instill of just “drill,” list size of bits required to complete the job. This will help insure you have everything needed before you start the project.

Formulate a materials list yourself or obtain one from the contractor, if any, who will be doing the work. The list will be used to help determine overall project cost.

Home Funds Piggy Bank


Once you have the completed the final floor plan drawings, you can proceed with finding a contactor and obtaining any necessary building permits. General contractor candidates can provide detailed quotes based on the project drawings, and formulate accurate materials lists and costs. It is important that you request a detailed quote for the project, with costs for services, materials, and other expenses broken down. Don’t settle for just an estimate.

Quotes are firm. Estimates are not firm, and costs can drastically increase for a project. By requesting a firm quote, you are asking for a cost guarantee. Contactors will make allowance for cost over-runs in the quote.

Estimating the cost can be rather complicated: homeowners will need to know exactly what materials will be needed, and at what price. As mentioned earlier, specifics for lumber dimensions and quantities, hardware and fixtures, concrete, roofing materials, wiring, plumbing pipe and fixtures, floor coverings, sheetrock, siding, paint, appliances, and any other materials are required to help calculate project costs. Don’t forget to include all contracted services and building permit fees in the final figure.

The general contractor contract should specify who will be responsible for obtaining necessary permits. Usually the contractor is named; he is more knowledgeable about

legal requirements and can answer questions from the building inspector more efficiently. As a rule several copies of your drawings should be submitted to the local building inspector for examination and approval.


Investing in home remodeling and improvement is a very popular trend. Not only do home improvements enhance home usability and quality of life; they improve the appearance of the home and increase property value, as well. Your final floor plan and elevation drawings, along with detailed project and materials costs, are necessary information required when applying for one of the following two types of home improvement loans:

  • Unsecured loan - in an unsecured loan, the borrower agrees to repay the loan in installments according to a pre-set schedule. The only guarantee the lender has is the borrower’s signature. This also referred to as a signature loan.
  • Secured loan - with a secured loan, the amount borrowed is secured by an asset; owned free and clear by the borrower. This can be seized and sold by the lender in the event the loan is not repaid according to the agreed upon repay installment schedule. Proceeds gained from selling the asset go toward paying off the loan.

In home improvement loans, the asset most commonly used to secure the loan is the home itself. This pledge or promise to pay is called a “mortgage.” There can be more than one mortgage secured by the home. When there is more than one mortgage on the property, they are ranked in priority; hence the terms “first mortgage” and “second mortgage.”

There are essentially three good reasons to acquire a secured loan:

  • To borrow more money
  • To get a lower interest rate
  • To reduce taxes

In preparation for applying for a loan, gather information about options from different lenders. A mortgage broker usually has more lending resources available; a bank often has the “small town” touch, with a loan officer you may know personally. A specialized lender deals with one or two specific types of loans, such as home mortgages or re- financing a mortgage.

A lender can help pre-qualify you for a loan, and can give insight about what the likely result of your application will be. There are three types of lenders:

  • Mortgage broker
  • Bank
  • Specialized lender

When evaluating a loan application, lenders consider the following:

  • The applicant’s income
  • The applicant’s debts
  • The applicant’s credit history
  • The applicant’s property value

Many lenders assess a fee based on points. One point is usually 1-percent of the loan amount; a typical fee might be 1 to 3 points. In addition to loan fees, a borrower will have to pay interest on a loan. This will be either fixed or variable.

A fixed interest rate is one that remains the same throughout the payment cycle of the loan; 5yr. – 10 yr. – 15 yr. – 20 yr. etc. A variable interest rate can fluctuate throughout the payment cycle of the loan. Interest rate changes are commonly based on what the current market prime rate is.

There are also other financing options available. Including savings accounts, credit

cards, mortgage re-finance, home equity loans, homeowner loans, value added loans, and contractor financing.

The two most popular choices for home improvement projects are home equity loans and value added loans. A home equity loan is a second mortgage based on the equity the homeowner has already built in the first mortgage. A value added loan is based on what the value of the home will be once improvements are completed.


Elderly homeowners on limited fixed incomes or that have physical limitations may qualify for assistance from several resources. If equipment or accessibility modifications are prescribed by a doctor, there may be federal income tax benefits as well as Medicaid benefits available.

Contact your local county welfare office for Medicaid eligibility. Also contact your local

Social Security office for any equipment covered under the program.

Local Vocational Rehabilitation programs have “independent living” projects that provide assistance for modifications. Also, under the Technology Related Assistance to Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1988, many states offer assistance with acquiring equipment and locating funds. Contact your local Center for Independent Living for information on funding and resources.

Other Programs

Other financial help possibilities include programs that provide low-interest deferred loans for low to moderate income senior citizen homeowners.

Emergency energy repair and regular home maintenance loans may also be possible. As well as those available through private donations and major utility providers for remodeling efforts that include energy efficient furnaces, storm windows, etc.

Canada’s Senior Citizen Home Repair Program (SCHRP) is another possibility. It provides a one-time grant that enables qualifying senior homeowners to make necessary home improvement repairs.

In America, numerous resources exist for the elderly on city, county, state, and government levels. The city of Hemet, California, for instance, offers qualifying senior citizens up to $800 per fiscal year, free home repair; with no repayment required.

Kent, Washington has a home repair program funded through federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) money to help their elderly with home repairs, large and small. Including plumbing, disabled access, storm doors, complete roof replacement, new heating systems, electrical system upgrades, and more

Research online for existing senior citizen home repair programs. Available on a national government level, or through local resources. Some programs offer assistance to persons 55-years and older.

< Chapter 3 (Universal Design)  |  Chapter 5 (Finding the Right Contractor) >


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