Home Remodeling Basics: Examining Your Site Structure and Circulation

Examining your site structure and circulation throughout your home is vital before the process of remodeling can begin. 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.

So just how thorough does your assessment have 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, and it starts with assessing your site and structure.

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 perform 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.

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 a project notebook to bring with you throughout the process.

One thing to keep in mind is doing 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 when brainstorming the possibilities.

Wear comfortable, long-sleeved, old clothes that allow you to crawl in tight or dirty spaces. In addition have these tools handy: a flashlight, screwdriver or ice pick, tape measure (16 feet or longer), small level or marble, clipboard with pad and floor plan, and pencils.

It will benefit you to follow this sequence as much as possible: inspect all interior rooms, the crawl space or basement, exterior areas, the roof, and finally the attic.

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 determine the best ways to arrange these areas: the need to separate noisy areas from quiet areas, the use of buffers like closets, utility areas, hallways and stairways, and access to other rooms. Of course it doesn’t end there. The outside environment, including views, parking, sunlight, wind and external noise also come into play, as well as the existing structure’s limitations and possibilities.

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 and there are several considerations to keep in mind as you lay out your remodeling.

One such consideration is smooth and efficient circulation. Keep hallways and traffic areas to a minimum, but avoid creating disruptions or bottlenecks.

Entries and exits are also huge. 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.

It goes without saying that room-to-room circulation is paramount. No plan should have a boxcar 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.

What about 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 should be handled with equal caution. 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. All areas are key to appropriate circulation and flow of the house.

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