Here at Grisafe Architecture, we love a good home renovation television show as much as anyone else, but they definitely haven’t done a lot of favors for those of us working in architecture. In a half hour television show, viewers can see house flippers, interior designers, and even DIYers tearing down walls to create an open concept main floor, renovating an attic to turn a three-bedroom house into a four-bedroom, or taking a spare bedroom and turning it into a huge master bathroom.
What you don’t see in these shows is the all the behind-the-scenes work that goes into making projects like these happen—the code research, the calculations, the creation of construction drawings, and the permitting process. All of this has to be done even for the smallest interior remodeling project that involves moving or removing walls.
Tearing down a load-bearing wall is a prime example. People seem to think tearing down a wall is an easy, straightforward project. In reality, everything that wall was holding up will now have to be held up by new posts or beams. Since the load is no longer spread out, and instead concentrated, deeper footings may need to be dug, and since those footings are being designed under today’s standards, rather than the standards of 50 or 100 years ago when the house was originally constructed, there is likely to be a significant difference in the amount of steel and concrete that goes into this new, modern footing. Complex calculations will also need to be made to determine the requirements. Creating an open concept home isn’t as easy as they make it seem on television.
Our Long Beach architecture firm gets regular requests from homeowners who want to capture some of the existing under-used space in their home and turn it into useable square footage. It’s natural for a homeowner to see under-used space in their home and want to capitalize on it. While we applaud people who aren’t limited by conventional thinking and their existing floorplans, we have also found that the plans for reallocating space can require as much (or even more) energy and money to develop as the plans for newly added space.
Unfortunately, people seem to assume that if the space is already there, and they are just changing it, it shouldn’t take that much time to develop plans, and therefore, the design fees should be low. In reality, not only do we have to make changes in ways that meet current codes, but we also have to work around things that are existing (A/C units, framing, etc.). Nine times out of ten, a small project like this ends up taking our architecture firm just as much time and effort as a larger one.
There is a house in my neighborhood with a nice big attic. Each time a new person moves into that house and finds out I’m an architect, they inevitably ask me the same question: “Why can’t we just turn that attic into a bonus room?” To the average homeowner, this seems like an easy, straightforward renovation that would yield some valuable square footage. The problem with this particular attic is that its ceiling height is inadequate and creating proper access would be complicated. When I describe all that would be required to create a bonus room that complies with our local codes, each homeowner decides that they don’t actually need the extra space that badly.
In another scenario, I actually did help a friend create a permitted storage area in his attic. A little while later, his neighbor with the same floorplan asked us to design something similar in his attic, but wanted it permitted as a bedroom. He also thought our design fee should be much lower than the price I quoted him, since I already had the plan on CAD, and he only wanted to make a “few changes” to his neighbor’s design. I had to explain to him that the calculations for habitable and non-habitable spaces were completely different, and that we also had to take into consideration things like light and ventilation if he wanted to turn his attic into a permitted bedroom. In other words, it wasn’t the same design with just a few changes. It was a completely different design, and I would have to charge him accordingly.
The moral of this blog post is that homeowners shouldn’t assume that their small project is a simple one from a design perspective. It could be, but more often than not, there are factors that homeowners don’t consider that can keep a project from being “simple.”
At Grisafe Architecture, we put a lot of stock in our relationships with our clients. We do our best to inform new clients of the cost and possible challenges of their desired project early on. We also try to make helpful suggestions that will accomplish their desired goals, but in a more cost-effective manner. We pride ourselves in our creative problem-solving abilities at our Long Beach architecture firm and work hard to give every homeowner a design that meets their needs and stays within their budget.
Contact us to learn more or to get started on the design of your residential or commercial project.