The Value of Planning


  • My inspection this morning was a Christmas present. A couple was in the process of deciding if they should sell their existing home or remodel it. So the one partner purchased an inspection from me and presented my inspection service as a Christmas present (no, I didn't have to work during the holidays).

    As per usual I started my inspection with a conversation with my clients, I told them about my routine and asked them to tell me about their plans and concerns.

    My clients had a number of concerns and ideas and I also found a few related issues:

    • My clients wanted to convert part of the basement into a separate living unit.
    • They wanted to convert part of the 2nd floor or create a 3rd floor and create a master suite.
    • They were aware that their furnace was old.
    • My general findings were that this was a fine old home that that many of the systems and features were in relatively good condition.
    • I found that the gas furnace used an old, unlined masonry chimney (an unsafe conditions).
    • They were aware that their fireplace had some problems.
    • I found some electrical wiring issues.
    • I also found that some of the heating ducts were old, poorly configured and were wrapped with asbestos.
    • My overall conclusion was that the condition of the home and my clients' plans were doable and that the cost of the entire project was likely to be much less than a new construction.
  • That's an old song but the idea is well worth thinking about. Here are a few examples:

    1. The Electrical issues (these are always #1) - Everything else can wait but sub-standard wiring is unsafe and I like to keep my clients safe! So I want to have the defects in this system corrected/repaired and as long at that is being done I want the licensed electrical contractor to plan for future needs. For example: if the basement bathroom is going to be in the room with the existing electrical panel then the panel will have to be moved to a different part of the home. And if the area that contains the existing chimney is going to be finished in order complete the unit in the basement then this would be an ideal time to run some electrical conduits or wires to the area of the new master suite. (Conduit is cheap, undoing finished walls costs $$$.)
    2. Lining the existing masonry chimney will cost several thousand dollars. For about the same cost, it should be possible to install a new high efficiency furnace that vents to the side of the house and also install a similarly vented water heater.
    3. The reason that the fireplace never did work well had to do with the fact that it was designed to use coal. It is too small for wood. It might be possible to insert a small gas fireplace into the existing fireplace at a cost well bellow that of re-building the existing unit into a wood burning one. The gas unit can use a thin metal flue and does not require the existing chimney.
    4. Now that the old chimney and its two flues are no longer used for the fireplace, furnace and water heater, It would be possible to get rid of part or all of the old masonry structure. This could free up some potentially valuable space on all levels of the home.

    5. Similar space might be made available if the old asbestos covered ducts are replaced with new ducts. And if some of the duct system can't be modified at a reasonable cost, it might make sense to heat part or all of the home with dual-purpose water heater and radiant heat...

    Well, you get the idea, its all interrelated.

  • My next recommendation was that my clients sit down with pencil and paper and write down their needs, likes and dislikes. These lists or a similar ones must be a part the planing process. The information therein will help the client (you), your designer or architect and your contractor(s) to understand what you want to accomplish. It will also tell the electrician who is coming in next week know that you are planning to locate a bathroom in the area that currently contains the electrical panel!

  • You can and you will. What you are doing now is a big road map and its that road map that will help keep the current and future projects focused and organized.

    You may never get rid of that masonry chimney but if it costs about the same to install a new high efficiency furnace then to line the existing chimney and you will need a new furnace in a few years anyway then why not make that change now? You will end up with a safe system, save some energy and open up some future options.

  • The next step will involve a designer or architect (see: Glossary). It might be a bit too early for you to contract for a finished plan but it would be a good idea to have some schematic plans developed to help see what is possible and what all of that might cost.