Renovation Series Part 1: Where to Begin When Planning a Home Renovation

By: Kate HambletJune 5, 2018

If you are planning or even just starting to think about a home renovation, then this series is for you.  The renovation series will take you step-by-step through the process of preparing for your home renovation.  Remodeling a home can be stressful and overwhelming, but with some helpful guidance you will be ready to tackle your renovation project with confidence and ease.  


Step 1: Create an Existing Conditions Plan

Have you ever wanted to do a home renovation but had no clue where to begin?  Well, wonder no more.  Numero Uno is to dig up or prepare an existing conditions plan.  You must know what you are working with before you do anything else.  An existing conditions set of drawings illustrates the current state of a building.  This is definitely not the most exciting part of a renovation but is a necessary first step to ensure the rest of the project goes smoothly.  

I just completed the existing conditions drawings for our house and will share the process with you.  But first I want to go over some common questions people have about creating existing plans for their home.  

By the way, you might hear these types of plans referred to as as-builts or measured drawings since the terms are often used interchangeably.

Why do I need existing conditions drawings?

Existing conditions plans give you a starting off point for your renovation project.  It can be difficult to visualize what you want your remodel to look like by just standing in that space.  A floor plan of the existing conditions will show you the dimensions you currently have and the rooms near by that might be affected by a remodel.  The plans will show where current walls, windows, doors, plumbing fixtures, lighting, and built-in cabinetry are so you know if you are going to run into any of these objects before you renovate.

I have the set of plans that was used to build my house.  Can I use these for the renovation?

Having the set of drawings the house was constructed from (called construction documents) is a good place to start, but they may not be entirely accurate.  Homes do not always get built exactly how they are drawn on paper.  Sometimes doors and windows move or change size.  Sometimes walls are built in an entirely different place than the plan specifies.  

Also, if the house has been around for a long time, it's possible that it has already been remodeled and has not been documented on the set of plans you have.  It's best to look over the plans that you have and compare them to the layout of the house.  If they look like they don't align, then it's time to get an accurate set of drawings for your home.

What does an existing conditions drawing set include?

An existing conditions set of drawings can vary.  At the very least they will contain dimensioned floor plans of the entire house.  The floor plans will accurately show the location of every wall, window, door, plumbing fixture, lighting, and any built-in cabinetry and counters.  Basically anything that is a permanent part of the house.  A basic set will also contain a foundation plan.  This plan shows what the base of the house is made of (for example, a concrete foundation wall or a concrete block foundation wall) and gives dimensions of the overall footprint of the house.

Existing conditions sets can also contain building elevations and building sections.  Elevations are two-dimensional drawings of the exterior vertical surface (facade) of the home.  Each side of the house will be drawn as its own elevation.  Building sections depict a vertical slice through the house as if the house has been cut in two.  Elevations and sections are useful drawings to have for a renovation or addition because they give information on the overall building height, ceiling heights in the house, and heights of windows and doors.

An existing conditions set that includes floor plans, building elevations, and building sections should provide you with all the necessary information you need to begin the design of the renovation.

Who creates existing conditions drawings?

Anyone that has a measuring device and a way to accurately (this is essential) apply the information to paper can create existing conditions drawings.  But most commonly these drawings are prepared by an experienced architect or drafter.  There are companies out there that specialize in preparing as-built and existing conditions drawings for buildings.  By hiring a professional, you can expect to receive well-documented drawings that will ensure accuracy during your renovation.

What if I decide to do a renovation without a set of existing conditions?

Starting a renovation without having a concrete understanding of what you have to work with could be asking for trouble.  Having an existing plan allows you to see how big rooms are and how they relate to other spaces in your house.  You can also see where current light fixtures, plumbing fixtures, and doors and windows are which helps direct how the remodel will be designed.  

Once the plan of your existing house is on paper, you can sketch over that plan as many times as you want until you have decided on the perfect layout for your renovation.  Hashing out the plan this way is a lot cheaper than building a wall and tearing it down because the location isn't right.  If you don't have an existing plan and just dive right into a renovation, you could hit some very costly snags.  If you know what you are working with before you begin, you will have fewer surprises during the renovation.

How I created my existing conditions plans

1. First, I drew the basic layout of the house in an architectural drafting program called Revit so that I could have a way to jot down the dimensions I was about to take.  

2. Then I measured the entire house using a 25' measuring tape and a laser measure.  If you are in the market for a new laser measure, this Bosch Blue Tooth Enabled Laser Measure works like a charm.  I measured every wall, door, window, plumbing fixture, and counter including heights and marked it down on the sketch plan of the house.  Below is the dimensioned sketch of the first floor.

Dimensioned sketch

3. Next I entered all of the data I received while measuring into the Revit computer program.  This is a time consuming but necessary step in creating the existing conditions drawings.  Once the data is entered and I have clearly labeled room names, ceiling heights, flooring materials, and dimensions, the floor plan is done.  Below is the finished product of my first floor existing conditions plan.

Existing Floor Plan

4. After I drew the floor plan in Revit, I focused on the window heights, siding material, and the roof.  Once all the components of the house were drawn, I had the 3D image as seen below.  Since Revit is a 3D modeling software, once I create this 3D image, I am able to produce basic building elevations and building sections without much more work.

3d view house existing

The process of creating existing conditions drawings is pretty time consuming.  There is a lot of measuring, ladder climbing, and possibly going into very small and uncomfortable spaces (eek).  

Translating the measured data to a computer program that produces the finished drawing set is also time consuming.  But it teaches the person measuring and drawing up the plans invaluable information about how the house goes together, which in turn allows for a thoughtful and accurate renovation.  Having these drawings sets the foundation for a smooth renovation journey.

What's the next step for a renovation, you may ask?  Determining your goals for your renovation!  Learn how and why to determine your renovation purpose here.

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