Describe Your Remodeling Job in 10 Words or Less

Believe it or not, you can boil down the nature of the remodeling you are planning to the simplest of terms.

Home Remodeling

inhabitat.com. Photo: inhabitat.com

Mies van der Rohe famously said that “less is more.” Ernest Hemingway answered the challenge to write a full story in six words with: “For Sale: baby shoes, never worn.” More recently, Larry Smith, founding editor of the online magazine, Smith, solicited six-word stories of readers’ lives. The entries poured in, spawning a book whose title came from a user’s submission: “Not Quite What I Was Planning.”

Well, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: You should be able to describe the nature of the remodeling you would like to have done in ten words or less. You see, I gave you a few extra words to play with.

Word challenges aside, remodeling jobs should fall within one of four categories:

1) A minor remodel of existing living space.

What this might involve:

  • new cabinets, appliances, or the arrangement of elements in the kitchen
  • retiling a bath
  • plastering and painting
  • the addition of wainscoting, wallpaper, or another surface finish
  • sanding, carpeting, or reflooring
  • adding or installing bookcases or built-ins
  • hiring a designer, carpenter, or painter

What this will not involve:

  • major changes in partitions or the overall shape of the space that you’re remodeling
  • changes in the electrical, plumbing, and HVAC systems
  • hiring plumbers and electricians
  • filing for a building permit

2) A major remodel of existing living space.

This might involve:

  • a building permit
  • the addition or removal of partitions
  • the modification or removal of bearing walls (after structural changes have been made in order to redistribute their loads in a safe manner)
  • new plumbing lines or electrical circuits
  • new openings in exterior walls for doors or windows

Typical projects:

  • opening two or more interior spaces into one
  • adding a new bath
  • remodeling your kitchen in such a way that necessitates new plumbing risers or electrical circuits
  • installing a new central HVAC system, electrical service, staircase, fireplace or chimney, or exterior doors or windows

3) The conversion of unfinished space to living area(s).

Perhaps you’ve decided to recast the attic, basement, porch, or garage in order to expand the living areas of your house.  Most likely, you’ll need to get building department approval due to electrical work and fire and building code issues.

Considerations for an attic conversion:

  • adequate headroom (most codes require that ceilings be a minimum of 7.5 feet tall)
  • whether the stairs meet code and safety requirements
  • adequate light and ventilation 
  •  Questions to ask: Do you need to add dormers (roof windows) in order to make the attic feel less cramped?  What about skylights? Will one or multiple electrical circuits be necessary?  Will you need plumbing risers and waste pipes?  How do you plan to insulate the space?

Considerations for a basement remodeling:

  • adequate light and ventilation
  • whether the stairs meet code and safety requirements
  • electrical and perhaps plumbing lines
  • specific to basements: dampness (note that if you have a wet basement, it may not be your best bet for a conversion into living space)
  • for a garage or cellar conversion, you’ll likely need to figure out how to cover a concrete floor

4) Putting on an addition.

Just as when building a new house, putting on an addition requires:

  • new foundation
  • frame
  • walls
  • floor
  • roof surfaces
  • windows
  • doors
  • wires
  • pipes
  • insulation
  • HVAC

A building permit will be required to put on an addition.

Recommendation: Hire a designer or architect to help you figure out how to integrate the new and existing structure in a way that’s cohesive and not disruptive.