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Question DetailsAsked on 5/31/2013

What is the first step in changing the layout of my home's living area? Do I need a designer or a contractor?

I need to rearrange the floor plan of my home? The first step would be to open up the wall between the kitchen and living space (we would need to remove a built in closet, reduce the size of the kitchen and increase the living space etc.).
If the budget allows I would then like to convert a room which is next to a full bathroom into a master with on suite. The room is a bit small so would need help on how to achieve this.
It doesn't sound like such a big job when I write it like this but I don't know what the first step should be. I think I should talk to a designer but don't know one. Please let me know your thoughts and recommendations. Thanks in advance.

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4 Answers


You need a designer, specifically a licensed architect.

A contractor at this early stage is good to have, especially if you know who you will use to do the work - but their focus will be on build-ability (Can it be done and how can it be done).

From what you described, you have a general idea of what you want, but need to develop a full plan, including budget. That is where an architect comes in.

They will look at the existing layout, listen to what you don't like about it and what you want to accomplish. Then they will look at your idea and present options based upon your existing layout (they will confirm no load bearing supports in the way, HVAC, plumbing, etc. It is possible that what you want to do won't accomplish what you want or need; a good architect can guide your decisions to make sure you get what you need in the end.

After you have a good set of plans that clearly explain what you want done, you can get pricing and set a budget and know if you can do the additional room, etc. If you have a builder already, showing them the plans as they develop will let him/her have input that can save you money and time, and they may have suggestions to improve the plans further.

Go to the AIA dot org website, at the bottom they have an architect finder that lets you browse by state / city.

Going with a contractor to do the designs, you may get exactly what you asked for, but not what you need. Also, having a 3rd party (designer) involved makes sure you are clearly communicating your desires, so there won't be a lot of change-orders or price increases, etc.

Good luck!


Answered 7 years ago by Kenny Johnson


Here is a brief procedure that you could follow - my wife and I have refined it over the years on several remodels at our house.

I will assume you have a budget.

01 - The first step is to write down (in any order), what you would like to have, as a list. 02 - Next, sketch out on paper (it need not be to scale) where you would like to place your "stuff" - in this case your bed, nightstands, etc - in the room(s) you envisage the master bedroom or suite should look like.We'll call it the "ideal plan"

03 - Next, start getting dimensions of the room(s) you plan on remodelling to give you a floor plan to work with. Don't forget all the adjoining rooms, closets, etc. Also the windows and the doors - I'll come to them later.

04 - Next, on tracing paper, sketch out the shape of your existing floor plan as closely as posible to the existing dimensions. Incude the openings of the doors and windows. Also mark the swing of the doors (again, I'll come to that later). Also sketch in all the adjoining rooms - they will show what walls can be moved or not moved

05 - Next place the tracing paper over your sketch of your "ideal plan" - obviously there will be a mismatch but you will get a basic idea of what won't fit and what will fit.Some items may be in teh way of teh door swing, or block views from the windows, etc.

06 - Next, resketch the "ideal plan" with dimensions (as close as possible) of all the items in your list in step 01. You may start eliminating some from the "must haves" and "nice to haves" based on teh mismatch you get from step 05.

07 - Place the tracing paper over your new resketch from 06. This will give you an idea of what can be accomplished with some rearranging to fit.

08 - You may need to repeat steps 06 and 07 a couple of times but I bet that by that time you will have a prety good idea of what is possible.

09 - look hard at the layout that shows through the tracing paper and by diligently moving walls and closets you may realize the best layout taht closely resembles your "ideal plan".

10 - From step 09 above, make at least a couple of plans as alternates because structurally, you may not be able to move some walls (load bearing walls especially - but there are ways aroud this - called shear walls and beams).

You don't need a designer, contrcator or an architect because they are going to do exactly what is in the steps above but charge you for what you could have done yourself for free.

Take your time since you have to finally live with the design(s) you come up with. Get pricing on all your items - fixtures, nightstands, vanities, etc that you have shown in your "ideal Plan" and alternates. Compare it to your budget - a rule of thumb is that the cost of these items is about 1/3 the total cost of the remodel. you may have to trim the items down or go for a lower quality or different finish than waht you wanted. Some sacrifices will need to be made.

Next, write a Scope of Work (SOW) - basically a document that spells out in whichever way you wish, your design - include all the items you want (each particular item including teh shade of paint) and it's placemnt since this SOW will be used to a single scale or yardstick to winnow out contractors. Add photographs of specific items you really want so no substitutions will be made - get the photographs online, or at displays in the big box stores, or from catalogs. If you have a tiling pattern or a floor pattern or include it - a picture is woth a thousand word and makes your intent clear. reemeber to as detailed as possible - even explain whwer you want the electrical outlets to be (NFPA 70 requires them to be no more than ft apart) but their placement can be juduiciously done to cover all eventualaties. Also include analog voice (telephone), data (internet), and cable (TV) outlets if you are doing an extensive remodel.

Next, contact SEVERAL contractors and let them know you have a SOW for them to examine and come up with a bid. This step is to winnow down the lsit of contractors - some will try to sell you a list of addons, some will be a no-show when they know that you have done your homework (the SOW), some will show interest but may be unresponsive or delay in getting details to you. Dump all of them - that's the reason to get several contractors. With the list of the few remaining, start talking with them about how feasible your plan is. I stress the word "feasible" - the contrcators that are willing to work with you are the ones that you need to concentrate on rather than thsoe taht give you a lot of hype about "structurally deficient" etc your plan is are those that will hit you with change orders later - dump them.

Be prepared to make changes and sacrifices to keep within your budget. But also be prepared to go over budget (about 15%) for unforseen items that will crop up once work starts. Please remember to add the cost of Permits - a telephone call to your local county office planning dept will get you an approximate cost based on your description of waht you are attempting.

One you have a shortlist of contractors, get them to bid on the SOW (revised) based on your conversations with them - this will give you a yardstick to best judge the contractors as they are bidding on the same scope of work. Please remember to add the cost of Permitting and inspections as an item to the revised SOW. Ask all the contrcators to give you a line item bid. Thsi will help you to compare apples to apples.

Don't go with the low bidder - they either haven't done their homework or are planning to make up any shortfalls by charging you with items they left out of their bids.

Choose a contractor from those that have bids close together - shows that they have done their homework and have a good idea of waht your SOW expects.

If you need a SOW as an example, can email you some of ours.

One myth - you don't need a Designer, Contractor, or a RA (Registered Architect) to draw and stamp your plans - it is not a requirement for Permits. You don't even require drawings for Permitting. I know because I'm an engineer and your County Planning Dept will confirm that it is not a requirement. The only case where you will need an engineer (structural) is when you have to go the shear wall route and when you live in a Seismic Zone 3 or higher and are moving structural walls - a rule of thumb, if you are not moving any of the prepheral walls (teh outer walls of the house) then you don't need a structural engineer.

I have left out a lot but you get the gist of the process.

Source: Common sense + being an engineer + having done a lot of remodels at my house

Answered 7 years ago by Guest_98682372


Here's a true story to use as an example:

This month I met a couple who had a drafter draw up a set of plans for them so they could get a permit for an addition to their home. They showed the plan to several contractors for price quotes. One contractor, asking talking with the couple refused to give a price because he told them there were too many unanswered questions. The other two gave quotes, but also made recommendations to improve the plans - to which the couple thought were good ideas.

The drafter who did the work originally was unavailable to make the changes, so they contacted me to make the changes. They brought their plans in and explained the changes; they were excited and eager to start.

Our architect walked in, glanced and the drawings and asked "How do you get from your car to your house after you add that addition?" The couple was confused, they pointed to the door to the kitchen. The architect then pointed out they would have to go around the addition, up a stair - all outside in the weather. She then pointed to an alcove and said "Have you considered putting an entrance here with a new stair, then you would be able to. . ."

So basically the plans they had spent time and money on to do what they thought they wanted was wasted because they didn't know what they were doing. They would have had the addition built, and within a few years been unhappy with their building. In the end, our architect was able to show the couple how to get what they wanted (they had been told their first idea couldn't be built) and gave them ideas to get additional use from their home and addition - all in less than 2 hours.

Get a professional. You wouldn't go into court without a lawyer, don't go into construction without an architect.

Good luck!


Answered 7 years ago by Kenny Johnson


A bit late to this thread, but for those tracking it-

For any work involving structural modifications, most jurisdictions required signed and stamped plans from an architect or civil engineer (or both and sometimes electrical or mechanical engineer, depending on type of changes or construction) before they will consider issuing a building permit.

Remember, for significant construction work, a contractor may be able to do the work, but is not generally trained at all in design or engineering, so you need the correct design professional to evalaute the situation and come up with a design BEFORE the contractor starts work.

Failure to do this results in a lot of rework when the inspector comes by and refuses to sign off on work, problems with planning and zoning code violations (including in extreme cases demolition of brand new buildings), unsuitable or unworkable construction solutions, and an AWFUL lot of repeat unsuccessful attempts to solve problems like foundation waterproofing issues.

Good planning and design not only greatly improves the likelihood of overall project satisfaction, it also results in a uniformm bidding platform so all your bidding contractors are bidding the same scope of work instead of their own concept of what it might look like, so when you compalnre bids you are comparing apples to apples, and you eliminate most of the reasons for change orders and rework down the road.

Answered 7 years ago by LCD

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