The Complete Guide to Home Remodeling - Chapter 8

Projects; Before You Begin

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

Before beginning a home renovation project, there are questions to ask and considerations to be made. First and foremost, identify the purpose; what is it you are seeking to accomplish? Is it to add living space, improve appearance, or to serve a special function? Are you seeking to increase energy efficiency, value of the property, or several factors at the same time?

For adding living space on a limited budget, homeowners can turn to the attic or basement to utilize space already included in the structure. This avoids undertaking new construction and the associated high costs.

To achieve new décor with updated furnishings, bathrooms and kitchens offer an opportunity to drastically change appearance and design; also without the costs and complications of new construction.

In Chapter 8 we will look at these four important areas of the home and considerations involved in project planning for each: attics, basements, bathrooms, and kitchens.


Attics are commonly overlooked as a resource for adding finished living space to a home. That’s because not all attics are suitable, due to inadequate headroom and small space

that does not meet minimum local building code requirements. That being the case, it is necessary to carefully evaluate your attic to make sure a renovation project is feasible before making plans to utilize the area.

The best guideline for evaluating an attic is your local building code. This defines all requirements that must be met in your renovation; including minimum headroom, minimum number of electrical outlets, ventilation requirements, etc.

The best resource for these guidelines is you local building inspector, who can oftentimes provide you with requirements specific to your type of renovation project. Local building code requirements are also frequently available at the local library.

Begin your attic evaluation with an inspection of the framing members. If your roof is supported by rafters, you can proceed to the next step. If it is supported with trusses, you will have to find another way to add space to your home. Trusses have support members that do not allow enough adequate open space in the room for inhabitable purposes.

Next, check for headroom and overall floor space. Local building codes commonly require a minimum of 7 ½-feet of headroom in at least 50-percent of what is termed “usable floor space.” Usable floor space is usually defined as the portion of the room with headroom of at least 5-feet from floor to ceiling. Minimum requirements apply to the finished space after all flooring and ceiling surfaces are finished off.

Sometimes rafters and floor framing requires reinforcement, which will also affect the finished headroom space. Rafter support elements such as collar ties, rafter ties, and purlins can sometimes be moved and adjusted. But only after consulting with an architect or engineer, to insure that the load bearing capabilities of the roof system are not compromised.

Rafters will need to be inspected for any signs of stress or damage; including cracks, sagging, or insect damage. Also check for signs of water leakage; if present, this indicates that roofing will need to be repaired or replaced before engaging in the renovation – adding to project cost.

Even healthy rafters may be too small to support the added weight of finishing materials, or provide enough space for adequate insulation material. If this seems to be the case, have a professional check your attic from the rafters to the floor and the supporting walls below.

Sometimes it is necessary to reinforce supporting walls. Floor joists can be reinforced by adding “sister” joists or new joists between existing ones. Reinforcing support walls can sometimes be complicated; requiring support beams and posts or reinforcement of the foundation.

There are other code requirements that must also be met. If the space is to be used as a bedroom, there must be at least one exit to the outside – such as an outside stairwell or egress window. There are minimum requirements for ventilation and natural light, which might mean adding windows or skylights.

There must be an inside stairwell at least 36-inches wide with enough room for a 36-inch landing at both the top and bottom. Keep in mind this will affect the floor space both upstairs and in the room below.

Finally, check existing mechanical elements in the attic. Plumbing and electrical systems can easily be moved or installed around other elements. But elements such as chimneys are immovable, and will need to be included in the design plan. Some local codes have stringent requirements for framing around a chimney. This might be the perfect opportunity to have your chimney inspected by a fire official and obtain local code requirements regarding it.


Once the attic has passed evaluation, hire an architect, engineer, or building contractor to contemplate the elements that will be affected by the project, and begin to develop blueprints. Use original house blueprints to learn more about the structure and location of mechanical rough-ins. If you don’t have blueprints, try obtaining them from the original builder, or the local building authority.

You will need a material list to accurately estimate costs for the project. Communicate your needs to the professional and your over-all preferences for layout and design, which will affect choice of materials and costs involved.

One aspect that can drastically affect project overhead is the addition of windows and/or skylights; available in countless styles from numerous manufacturers, with a large variation in pricing. Some contemporary designs available are nothing short of breathtaking; but these can add considerably to costs.

While many finished attic projects include a bathroom, some types of bathroom fixtures may not be suitable for the allotted area. Space limitations may not allow for a large garden tub, and adequate support for a hot tub or Jacuzzi may not be feasible for an attic.

Once you have a final set of plans that meet code requirements, design preferences, and an estimated cost within your budget, you are ready to begin your project.


There are two major factors that might prohibit a basement renovation project from becoming a reality; inadequate headroom and moisture problems.

The first step is to measure your basement for headroom. Local building code requirements for basement headroom are basically the same as for an attic; 7½-feet from finished floor to ceiling. Additionally, overhead obstructions such as ducts or pipes must have at least a 7-foot clearance from finished floor to finished ceiling. And overhead obstructions must be spaced at least 4-feet apart. Bathrooms and hallways must be at least 7-feet from finished floor to ceiling.

In most cases, it is not feasible to add headroom to a basement. However, new technology exists that may allow additional headroom if the house is going to be jacked up and a new basement floor poured. It is at this time that foundation footings might be extended deeper into the ground to accommodate a higher basement ceiling.

Working around code requirements is sometimes possible by moving overhead pipes and ducts; beams and other obstructions can sometimes be hidden within walls, closets, or inhabitable spaces. Also, some local codes allow lower headroom for special use rooms, such as recreation rooms.

If your basement passes code requirements for adequate headroom, you are ready to address the next critical factor – moisture. If any moisture problems exist, they must be corrected before undertaking a basement renovation project.

Even small amounts of moisture can wreak havoc; causing framing to rot, drywall to crumble, and the growth of mold or mildew to spawn. Moisture problems can usually be corrected. But the process takes a certain amount of expertise, and time. Once corrections have been made, you will have to wait to make certain that no new moisture problems will develop during seasonal changes.

Moisture intrudes into basements in two ways; condensation and seepage:

Condensation – high humidity from outside air, poor ventilation, appliances, and damp walls are all conditions that can cause condensation to form in the basement.

Seepage – moisture that enters in through cracks in the floor or foundation, or that leeches through masonry is referred to as seepage. This is commonly caused by poor drainage around the foundation, which allows rainwater or a rising underground water table to enter into the basement.

Whether or not you have experienced moisture in the basement since living in the house, look for signs of past problems. Check for peeling paint, white residue on masonry, buckled floor tile, rotted baseboards, stained walls, sweating pipes or windows, rusted appliance feet, any visible mold or mildew, as well as musty or moldy odors.

Condensation/Seepage Test

If signs of a moisture problem exist, locate the source. A test for condensation can be made by taping a square of plastic or aluminum foil to the floor; a second on the inside of an exterior foundation wall. Be sure all edges are securely taped down. After several days, check the squares. Moisture on the top surface of the square will indicate a condensation problem; moisture on the underside of the square will indicate a seepage problem.

To reduce condensation, you must reduce humidity in the air. Insulate water pipes to prevent condensation dripping, and run a dehumidifier in the dampest part of the basement. Make sure clothes dryers and other appliances are properly vented to the outside. Central air conditioning will help reduce humidity during warm summer months. Improperly vented crawlspaces can also promote condensation, so check with your local building inspector for venting advice specific to your climate.

Locating the Source

Preventing or correcting a seepage problem can turn a simple do-it-yourself project into an extensive excavation and foundation repair ordeal. So before calling in a backhoe, try these and other simple tests for answers and cures first. While it can be difficult to pinpoint the exact source of seepage, a good place to start is the grade of your yard.

The first 6-feet around the foundation should slope away from the house structure at a ratio of 1-inch per foot, and at least ¼-inch per foot after that. Test the grade of your yard using a long board, a level, and a tape measure; make any necessary adjustments by building the ground up around the house foundation.

Additional Tips

Rain gutters and downspouts should be checked and cleaned if necessary. Gutters should slope slightly toward the downspout at a rate of 1/16-inch per foot, and downspouts should have extensions directing drainage at least 8-feet away from the foundation. In addition, there should be one downspout for every 50-feet of eave.

Interior treatments to a foundation can help minor seepage problems; consider waterproof masonry sealant or hydraulic cement. More serious problems will require more extensive treatment.

For surface drainage, landscape drains can be installed around the perimeter of the foundation. This can be accomplished by digging a trench and inserting perforated drain pipe in gravel near the surface.

While this may solve surface drainage problems, a sump pump or foundation footing drains may be necessary to deal with high water table problems. Installing a sump system requires breaking out concrete, installing drain pipes in gravel under the floor, and installing a sump pit and pump to purge excess water.

Foundation footing drains are the last resort. This involves excavating around the foundation, installing gravel and a drain system to drain water away from foundation footings, and sealing the exterior of the foundation wall.

When evaluating your basement, find out if your home already has one of these systems that may just need cleaning or repair.


Once you have evaluated your basement for adequate headroom requirements, and have checked for and corrected any moisture problems, it is time to proceed. And draw up plans for your project.

As with attic renovation projects it is a good idea to obtain original blueprints; either from the builder who completed the home, or the local building authority. Consult with an architect, engineer, or building contractor to ensure your plans meet local building codes . And that supporting walls will not be compromised with renovation plans. Keep in mind that if you plan to add plumbing features, the basement floor concrete will have to broken out for the drain pipes.

Work with the professional to develop a materials list and the estimated cost of your project. You may have to adjust plans to meet code requirements and budget restrictions. Once you have developed final plans that feature design preferences and meet any budget restrictions, it is time for work to begin.


One of the most frequently used rooms in the house is the bathroom. Of all rooms in a house, the bathroom is the one most likely to be scrutinized by visitors, who will then evaluate your entire home and décor based on what they find in the bathroom.

When renovating a home for a fresh feel and enhanced functionality, the bathroom is often the first to receive attention. A well thought out bathroom design can breathe new aesthetic appeal into the entire home. Since homeowners spend a considerable amount of time in the bathroom, it should be efficient and comfortable.


Before putting plans to paper, there several considerations to be made; first and foremost is determining your needs. There are three features normally associated with a bathroom; the toilet, the sink, and the bathtub or shower. When designing areas for these features, accessibility and safety should be primary considerations; décor and aesthetics, secondary.

There are several different types of bathrooms. The type you are planning will influence the layout of fixtures and open space allowances being considered.

Half baths are small bathrooms designed for convenience; they are usually not more than 20 square feet with only a toilet and sink, and little or no storage space. They are often tucked into space near an entrance or recreation area, with the doorway opening into a hallway rather than one of the main rooms or a public area. When designed for or used as a guest bathroom, they often include a shower, requiring slightly more floor space; and might be called a three-quarter bath.

Family baths normally have more floor space than a half or three-quarter bath. Space of 5x7-feet or larger is not uncommon, and family baths usually have ample storage for linens and toiletries. A family bath is often busy; normally used by three or more family members. It is usually located in close proximity to bedroom areas.

Larger family bathrooms often provide features to accommodate use by multiple family members simultaneously; features such as double sinks and possibly a separate shower and bathtub. Smaller family bathrooms commonly have a shower/tub combo, while utilizing available space with recessed shelving, space-saving fixtures, and storage cabinets for maximum efficiency.

Special safety considerations should be made for family bathrooms; especially if small children will be using it unsupervised. Features such as anti-scald guards, safety plugs, grab bars, smaller/lower toilets, and built-in step stools for vanities. In addition, since a family bath receives regular heavy use, it is a good idea to incorporate durable low- maintenance fixtures and ceramic tile floors.

Master bath s are considered to be both a sanctuary and extravagance by homeowners. It is not uncommon to “shoot for the works” when designing a master bath; allowing for larger open access spaces and “lounging” space or special use areas – such as a special dressing area.

The master bath is frequently decked out with lush décor, showy gilding on fixtures, and custom features. Master baths might have multiple vanities, a Jacuzzi or whirlpool tub; or luxuries such as a sauna, day spa area, or even a steam room.

In addition to standards that help insure safety and accessibility, successfully remodeling the design of a bathroom with so many activities in a small space comes only after much careful planning. The National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA), with more than 50 chapters throughout the United States and Canada, has published a list of bathroom design standards that assist in planning bathrooms; safe and accessible to all users.

Steps to Successful Bathroom Design

Below are four steps to a successful bathroom design:

  • Sketch a Plan - while your individual bathroom design plan may not conform to all the recommended design standards, you will still have to comply with local building code requirements. Sketch a floor plan and wall dimensions to scale; experiment with different layouts to come up with one you most prefer. Remember; drastic changes like relocating fixtures may involve moving plumbing lines and drains, adding considerable cost to the project.

  • Check Local Building codes - once you have developed your sketch plan, check with your local building inspector regarding building codes that pertain to your project. Pay special attention to the minimum clearances required around fixtures. If you are short on space, compact fixtures and built-in units may yield the necessary space without compromising on features you want to include. If not, you may need to consider implementing an adjacent closet or extra floor area into the design.

  • Create Scale Drawings and a Materials list – this is where every minute detail of your design goes down on paper. This includes all dimensions for the room as well as fixtures; including placement of plumbing service, wiring, and HOT WIRE connections. This is a good time to determine what work you can do yourself, and what you will have to contract out. You may even want an architect or building contractor to help draw up plans.

  • Have the Plans Approved – present your final plans to the local building inspector for review and approval. Your plans and materials list will be checked against code guidelines, and recommendations for any required changes will be made. Once final approval is given, you will need to secure any required building permits; sometimes issued individually as certain “phases” of the project are completed. It is not unusual for one inspection to take place after the framing and rough-in plumbing and wiring are in place, and another after the project has been completed.

Bathroom design is greatly affected by the variations available for countertops, vanities, sinks, bathtubs, showers and toilets. With the nearly endless variety of colors, materials, designs, and prices, you should give careful attention to choice selection.


Budget and space will dictate how elaborate bathroom countertops can be in your design. Countertops are available in numerous materials, and can be customized in just about any way imaginable. From a prefab vanity with counter, sink, and fixtures included, to a custom counter with multiple sinks; with custom design edges and backsplash made from exotic materials such as sandstone, granite or marble. The choices are limited only by your imagination, and pocketbook.

Bathroom countertops are available in laminate, (such as Formica or melamine) Corian®, ceramic or stone tile, concrete, quartz, granite, marble, sandstone, or stainless steel.

Basic considerations when planning a bathroom countertop include:

  • Will you be handling the countertop installation yourself? Even a basic laminate countertop installation is a task requiring a high level of skill and precision for desired results. Many DIY homeowners opt to hire out this task.

  • Ceramic or stone tile countertops are not as demanding as making and installing a laminate; however, errors in judgment can be more costly.

  • Ceramic and tile are a viable DIY project for homeowners, as long as skill level is moderate and underlayment and final waterproofing recommendations are followed.

  • Installation can range from modest to high when cost of materials and contractor hourly rates are factored in. A pre-fabricated, laminate countertop with standard shapes and edges can run approximately $10 to $11 per square foot for materials alone; expect about $40 to $50 per hour for installation.

  • A rule-of-thumb for pre-fab countertops is that the cost of installation is usually equal to the price of the countertop itself. If walls are square and plumb, they can be installed easily; in a matter of hours. High end materials such as concrete, stone, or stainless steel can run up to $125 per square foot for a standard shape, standard edge countertop; this does not include installation. If the sky is the limit with budget considerations, nothing comes close to the stunning beauty of natural stone integrated into a lavish bathroom design.

  • Will you be using a prefab vanity; units that include the base, countertop, sink, and fixtures? Vanities can range from around $350 for basic designs to $1500 and up for more elaborate double sink models. One good point about selecting a prefab vanity for your bathroom design is that it can be installed relatively easily, and is a good project for the DIY homeowner.


Probably the most difficult part of selecting a bathtub or shower for a new bathroom is deciding which one will best suits your preference and budget. Bathtubs and showers come in countless sizes, shapes, styles, and prices.


Bathtubs are available in both traditional and untraditional types. Below are some current choices available:

  • Basic traditional bathtubs – standard rectangular tubs built into a box design; widely available for around $600.

  • Traditional clawfoot bathtubs – porcelain on iron or steel construction, with a contour shape; supported by decorative “claw foot” legs. Price is around $1600 for a basic design; up to $5600 for more elaborate styles.

  • Special shaped drop-in tubs – available in oval, rectangular, corner, and other shapes. In various sizes, usually constructed from acrylic; ranging in price from $760 to $2300.

  • Free-standing ceramic or acrylic tubs – some in some unusual but nevertheless attractive designs. Some supported by dark decorative hardwood stands. Prices range from $3800 to $11,000 and up.

  • New design “walk in” tubs – featuring watertight doors that close and become part of the tub itself. Ideal for the elderly or physically challenged; price range starts at around $3000.

  • Whirlpool and air massage bathtubs – available in a variety of shapes and sizes; prices range from $1500 to $8,100 and up.

  • Rustic-looking cedar plank bathtubs – simulating wooden barrel construction; prices range from $3300 to $4000.

  • Stainless steel tubs – various styles, types, and sizes are available, although limited. Prices start at around $15,000.

  • Copper bathtubs – an exotic choice with a very contemporary yet rustic look.Several styles and sizes are available; priced from $11,500 to 42,000 on up.

  • Stone tubs; granite, marble, limestone, and onyx – available in different styles, shapes, and sizes. Prices range from $12,000 to $24,000 on up.


Showers can be either the stand alone kind (free standing), or part of a tub/shower combination. Stand alone showers can be obtained as a pre-formed unit, designed to install into a prepared space. Or elaborate custom showers are available made from a variety of materials, including tile and natural stone.

Tub/shower combinations can be as diverse as a clawfoot tub with the addition of a shower curtain and shower fixture. To a pre-formed tub/shower unit utilizing either a shower curtain or glass shower door insert. Consider the following:

  • Clawfoot tub conversion kits that include a shower head, shower curtain, and attaching shower curtain frame range from about $125 to over $2100.

  • Conversion kits that include a water-proof panel system (plumbing fixtures are not included) are available for $300 to $400; pre-formed units (corner, cubicle, and tub/shower units) range from $120 to $2500 and up.

  • Custom-built showers or tub/shower combinations are limited only by imagination and pocketbook. They range from a modest standard bath tub installed into a ceramic-tiled cubicle, or simple ceramic-tiled shower stall with shower curtain and rod. To lavish “garden pond” settings; created stone masonry.

Complete with planters for living plants and tiered shelving for scented candles; the ultimate in “mood setting” features.


An essential aspect of any bathroom remodeling project, toilets come in assorted shapes, styles, and colors. Regardless of style – from vintage pull-chain to a mod euro design – a toilet is still basically a toilet; each has similar space requirements. Varieties include:

  • Standard / traditional toilets – usually a basic white porcelain bowl with flush tank and chrome or plastic flush handle. Prices start at under $200 to just over $400.

  • Eco-friendly, European style dual-flush toilets – that hook up to standard American-style plumbing; requiring no modifications. Prices can range from $400 to $800.

  • Designer toilets – such as a one-piece design in black porcelain. Prices range from $400 to over $5,000 for stainless steel combo units; novelty-type designer toilets with an elaborate wooden high-backed “throne” can be acquired for around $9800.

  • Bidet toilets – that offer hot and cold water “washing up” features range in price from just under $400 to well over $1200.

  • Totally-unique natural stone toilets – including honey, ruby, and green onyx; black granite, limestone, and marble. Some come with ornately carved marble or other stone water casings, with silver or gold-leaf seats and/or flush handles can cost well over $50000. The sky is the limit!

Add on accessories like heated toilet seats or a washlet/bidet seat can range from just under $400 to over $700.


Sinks or lavatories, too, come in assorted sizes, shapes, and colors; in materials such as porcelain, fiberglass, acrylic, concrete, stainless steel, copper, and natural stone - including marble, granite, limestone, sandstone, and onyx. Even treated exotic wood basin-type and clear or frosted glass sinks are available.

Pre-made vanities come complete, with a sink, countertop, and required fixtures. The various sink options include:

  • Prefab vanities – ranging from a simple one-sink design; priced around $350 to more elaborate multi-sink designs for $1500 on up.

  • Pedestal sinks – usually one piece fixtures on a stem or foot that rises from the floor up to a graceful bowl with fixtures. Commonly constructed from porcelain, but other options include glass features, stainless steel or other metals, and natural stone. Prices start from under $400 to $2000 and up.

  • Wall-mount and console sinks – made from a variety of materials; including copper, natural stone, porcelain, and stainless steel. They come in many design options, with accessories such as cabinetry, towel cubicles, and mirrors. Prices range from under $600 to over $6000.

  • Vessel sinks – in a nearly endless variety of styles, types, shapes, and colors from which to select; including lavish ceramic with colorful flowers and elegant decorations. For the most part, a vessel sink is simply a basin or bowl that rests under a faucet. Some may come attached with a drain; others are completely portable and may be picked up, moved, and emptied. Prices range from under $200 to well over $1000.

  • Self-rimming sinks – made to sit into an opening on a countertop using a sealant; requiring no clamping or other type attachment device. These too, are available in a variety of shapes and colors; with wide price margins depending upon quality, material, and style.

  • Undermount sinks – installed into a substrate countertop, with the final counter surface installed right up to the rim of the sink. Available in endless shapes, styles, colors, and materials – including stainless steel, copper, nickel, and glass; prices range in the $100s to $1000s.

With the seemingly endless selection of bathroom sinks and lavatories from which to select, the possibilities for your bathroom design are nearly infinite.


One of the most lived in and visible rooms of the house; kitchen transformations are not only one of the most popular home repair/remodeling projects of all. As the heart of the home, kitchen design is of prime importance for most homeowners; for functionality purposes as well as cosmetic appeal.

When considering a kitchen remodeling project, the various elements of the kitchen such as fixtures and appliances, countertops, cabinets, lighting, and flooring all enter into the plan to accomplish the desired outcome.

Placement of plumbing, electrical, and HVAC service must be considered. As well as basic design standards, such as placement of the work triangle. This represents the three most important features associated with the kitchen; food storage, (the refrigerator) food prep, (oven and cook top) and cleanup (sink and dishwasher).

The object is to design a layout that combines simplicity and ease of movement with the least number of steps for the cook. And at the same time allows additional persons to work in the kitchen; without one getting in the other’s way. The way traffic flows into and out of the room, and size and placement of the various elements are all part of the mix when establishing needs, purpose, and scope of the project.


As with any other home renovation project, one must first determine the specific needs they want met. Decide what you want to accomplish, and why you want a kitchen remodel before making actual plans.

Is it purely cosmetic and/or to update appliances? To reconfigure layout design, improve workspace lighting, or increase floor space? Add another feature – such as a food pantry, work island, or breakfast nook? Open up the room to be less isolated from the rest of the house? Or alter doorways to redirect traffic in order to work and move about more efficiently into surrounding rooms.

When making project plans, the following are all important things to consider:

  • Kitchen use; what its main function will be. Cooking, entertaining / family meetings / gatherings, doing schoolwork, eating, or other activities.

  • What things you like about the kitchen as it is now; what aspects are inconvenient. Specific elements you would like to enhance or rectify.

  • Whether or not kitchen size is adequate. W