As we approached closing on the house we spent a lot of time batting around ideas for what we wanted to do with the existing space. This has been an exercise in dreaming big and then cropping our dreams to fit our time and budget. We’ve kicked around some really wacky ideas including custom building an aquarium back splash in the kitchen, combining two bedrooms into a massive master suite, and a host of other minor and major ideas. Part of this process has forced us to learn about how houses are constructed generally and how our house is constructed specifically. It’s all exciting when HDTV tells you how you can just open up that load baring wall to create an “open floor plan”, but in reality, such a venture requires an engineer, possibly an architect, and approval from the city planner’s office before you make cut one.
One of the neat things we’ve learned so far is the way the city is involved with respect to the scope of your project. First, if you own the house and aren’t renting it, you can sign an affidavit that allows you to do everything yourself. You’re still held to the same standards as a licensed contractor, and you’ll still have to get inspectors to stamp your work, but you can DIY till your little heart is content. It’s interesting because a lot of other major cities in the US won’t let a home owner tinker with their major mechanical. When you go down to city hall to pull permits, you have to pull a general building permit, and then a separate (essentially an add-on) permit for the three major mechanicals: HVAC, electric, and plumbing. The process is actually straight forward if you aren’t changing anything structural. You make an itemized list of everything you’re doing, cost out the job, and fill out a form. The electric permit is the easiest. You just pay a fee based on square footage. I should point out that I’m talking strictly about renovating residential construction by the owner. It’s a very different process for new buildings, commercial buildings, and whatever else you might be doing. Permits get a little trickier if you’re making structural changes. This could be as simple as punching a new window or putting up a fence, or as complicated as adding an addition. If you’re making changes of that degree, you have to have your plan approved by the appropriate office. Again, if you are an owner who is signing the affidavit, you can do all of this yourself. You have to submit drawings of you changes, but they don’t have to have an architect’s seal. I can only imagine the back-of-the-napkin-style scribbles people turn in. The folks at the department of building in City Hall are fantastically helpful and this layer of bureaucracy shouldn’t put you off any crazy renovation designs you might have.
Back to our project. The existing kitchen is more or less a rectangle with one bank of cabinets. Our house is a 1910 craftsmen-style home and still has that closed, small room design. While I do buy into the “open floor plan” trend that’s so popular today, it just isn’t feasible to go knocking down every room in a hundred year old house. But because we’re basically building a kitchen from scratch, we did let those plans spill over into the adjoining living room. Specifically, as it looks now, there’s two pass throughs in the kitchen. One of which goes right between the stove and the sink. I wasn’t too happy about that as people walking around me when I’m working in the kitchen is one of my pet peeves. Our fix was to close that walkway up. While we’re at it, we’ll open that wall up and build a breakfast bar for people to sit at and look in on the kitchen. I’m really excited about that idea as it’ll bring light into the living room which is pretty dark, and create a bigger feel in the kitchen, which is long and narrow. We were also lucky in that the wall that divides the two is a partition wall with joists spanning above and below parallel to the wall. A simple 2×8 header is all we’ll need to create the opening.
The other big structural change is in the addition. As I mentioned in a previous post, there’s a fair bit of termite eaten wood we need to replace. This gives us the opportunity to reframe the addition in our own designs. Right now, it’s a large hallway/mudroom with a laundry room and bathroom. Our idea is to push those two rooms back and out, so it’ll reduce the size of the hallway, but give us room to create a walk-in pantry. I’m very fond of pantries as a way to organize your kitchen apart from the kitchen itself, and this idea will help alleviate the fact that the kitchen itself won’t have a great deal of storage space, especially if we’re opening one wall. Building a bathroom from the ground up will give us the opportunity to do some cool things with plumbing, and we’ll add a shower that will hopefully increase the overall value of the house. Another positive thing is, while it’s a pain in the rear to move mechanicals if you’re just renovating one room, at the point we’re your gutting a significant portion of your house, it’s pretty easy to push around pipes and electrical.