Last week we discussed what is involved in removing structural walls. But there are more aspects of construction that you need to deal with in a more major remodel.

Believe it or not, the technical aspects of the remodel impact the final look, flow, function and design of your project.

These aspects fall into three categories: structural, electrical and mechanical/plumbing. Once you have carefully attended to these, you can move on to the more “fun” areas of finishes, furnishings and equipment.

Technical Aspects of a remodel

Carefully planning where to place plumbing pipes, mechanical ducts and light fixtures can make a big difference in the ultimate look and feel of a space.

Kevin Bunnell

Besides removing structural walls, other remodeling issues you will need your structural engineer to address involve removing or adding stairways, and adding or enlarging window and door openings. They will also be involved in any reconfiguring of your roof, such as porches and dormers.

Larger, commercial projects have the help of other kinds of engineers, such as electrical and mechanical engineers. Residences are generally simple and standard enough not to require such expensive services.

However, these areas need to be carefully considered during the design process and thoroughly addressed before construction begins.

In the standard sequence of construction, plumbing comes up near the beginning, and inches can make a difference. While the lines to plumb a sink provide some flexibility at the time of installation, the waste lines for a toilet and tub do not. It is critical that you have selected these fixtures before the plumber arrives in order for him to know exactly where to place these fixed drains.

Mechanical issues refer to the heating and cooling of a space. Locating the furnace is relatively easy; determining the size and location of all the ductwork — not so much.

Your best bet is to let your architect work with the builder to determine and document where you want drops in your ceiling; otherwise, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, and that is where you will find your ductwork installed. I can guarantee that this will not be the most aesthetic placement, and pre-planning can avoid the cost of a change order. As we often say, you can pay up front for good and thorough design, or you can pay along the way to try to salvage as much of your good (but undocumented) design intentions as possible.

In the past, municipalities have not required mechanical drawings for residential projects, but they are now beginning to require more documentation.

Many want the furnace and the ductwork correctly sized, so they are requiring more explicit mechanical drawings before they will issue the permit. Your architect can provide these, or work in conjunction with your contractor and his mechanical subcontractor if you have selected them in time to be part of the design team.

Locating heat registers and return air grilles on the drawings and interior elevations will help your final project to avoid unpleasant surprises. Remember, you can’t blame the installers if you don’t tell them where to put things. And don’t forget the thermostat; if you don’t specifically locate it, it will always show up in the middle of a wall where you need to hang a painting!

Cities do require electrical drawings that locate all the outlets and specify certain kinds of outlets (ground-fault circuit interrupters around wet areas and arc-fault circuit interrupters in bedrooms). You will also need to locate phone jacks, cable TV connections and any other data devices you many want hardwired.

You should be actively involved in placing all electrical devices, as this should be the result of clearly thinking through all of your needs for using or charging electrical equipment.

Cities do not require a drawing showing new lighting fixtures and switches, but as this is a critical part of the new look of your remodel, we strongly recommend that you include such a drawing in your design process.

Again, the money spent will result in a much better final product, as well as saving you the cost of changing the layout or fixtures after they have been installed incorrectly.

We believe that these more technical parts of your project should not be left by default to your contractor and his subcontractors. They would certainly appreciate your direction so they can get in, do the job right, and move on quickly to other projects. When you hear an acquaintance moaning about a contractor that took twice as long as he promised and cost twice as much, you might wonder about the quality and completeness of the information supplied to him.

Contractors are not mind readers, and leaving all these decisions up to them will no doubt result in dissatisfaction due either to a result that does not meet your (unexpressed) expectations or additional time and money spent to redo work not clearly defined in the first place.

I think we have said this a few hundred times before, but you can’t beat planning ahead!

Architects Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the founders of Renovation Design Group,, a local architectural firm specializing in home remodels.

Renovation Solutions: Navigating technical aspects of a remodel