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Ask the Architect

It’s not that different from surgery

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Q. Due to the pandemic, my family has been home together, and our house needs work. We have outdated stucco walls and a small kitchen. We want to see if we can remove walls, but the plumbing from two upstairs bathrooms goes right down the main dividing wall. Taking out the wall means changing the bathrooms, we’ve been told. That’s more than we can afford, and we don’t want to move out. The bathrooms were renovated less than five years ago and are on an outside wall. We would like to add seven to 10 feet so we have a breakfast space, possibly with a high ceiling. What would you suggest we do?

A. What it really comes down to is getting the right people to find solutions for each of the problems. Doctors and dentists often tell me that many people get the wrong advice from those who are unqualified, so that by the time they break down and seek trained professionals, the problem has gotten much worse, but the solution finally gets solved correctly and often more quickly. Your project has that possibility. All of the conditions, just like medical testing, involve choosing one of two ways to investigate the conditions.

Unfortunately, people often expect all the answers to a construction project without the ultimate removal of materials, so the main way to plan is by gathering information on the probable location of main columns and beams as well as piping. Your problem has a solution, which may or may not include the extreme of altering the bathroom finishes. Often, when everything is finally exposed, a trained professional can see creative ways that installers may be afraid to try. In the presence of a plumber and carpenter, I have seen their concern of the unknown, where knowing what calculations to perform, it was possible to figure out the answers. It takes the cooperation of a team of skilled professionals — the architect, plumber and contractor — to plan, cut and assemble all the components to make this work.

I suggest that the planning take advantage of the existing structure’s nature: the way the ceiling joists connect, the direction they run, and the potential to move plumbing in the same direction or identify how to correctly intersect the pipes through the main beams. With correct calculations and the right materials, your project can be accomplished without your having to spend the extra money on the bathrooms. Necessary disturbance of surrounding materials may be minimal.

You have to make sure that each of the people you hire is communicating, and I highly suggest that you make a point to be in those meetings. Your involvement, your scrutiny that the people you hire are listening to one another and that you hired the right people, is no less important here than if you were advocating with medical staff for a family member’s procedure. The surgery might be much different between a building and a body, but the process isn’t all that different. Good luck!

© 2020 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to yourhousedr@aol.com, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.