If you are an architect, it’s a pretty safe bet that at some point in your career you’ve had to go on site and collect some existing dimensions for a project. My career is now almost 30 years in the making and not only have I done this possibly hundreds of time, I did it just last week. As I’ve “seasoned” in my career, it doesn’t make as much sense for me to be the one out in the field collecting this sort of information so I definitely don’t do it as often as I used to, but in my day … pretty sure I was a master as-built data collector (if such a thing actually existed).
Of course, things have changed since I started and my methods appear to be a bit out of date from some people, and that’s okay. I’m still pretty fast at collecting this sort of information and I know what information that is worth collecting and what information is worth ignoring, so I thought I would talk a little about that in today’s post.
Collecting dimensions on site allows for the accurate depiction of existing “as-built” conditions and it isn’t rocket science. I would imagine that the more often you have to enter in the data you’ve collected, the better you’ll become at knowing what you need to record. For the residential project that got me out in the field last week, and after preliminary meetings with the clients, we know that we could go down two possible paths. The first is a complete re-do of the house built approximately on the existing foundation (assuming that my structural engineer gives me the go-ahead to do so), and the second possibility is that half of the house is reconfigured while the other half is taken down to the foundation and completely redesigned. Either way, I know that we will not be keeping any cabinetry and almost all of the closets will be rebuilt.
Easy. This basically means wall and window placements take priority when it comes to collecting data.
When I measure a project, I bring a multitude of measuring devices:
- Laser Measure (Fluke 414D Laser Distance Measure – this one is really good)
- Another Laser Measure (Bosch Blaze 65′ – this one is great for the price)
- 200′ measuring tape (Stanley 200′ Open Reel Fiberglass)
- Camera with wide angle lens (this is the camera and this is the lens)
- Existing plan drawings (if we have them) but if we don’t, we take the survey provided by the owner (part of the package they receive when they bought the house) draw the perimeter footprint and add a 1′ x 1′ grid over the entire thing.
- blank paper for sketching unique conditions
You can decide for yourself if you want coffee and/or other liquid refreshments. It gets hot pretty early here and with all the rain we’ve had lately, it is extremely humid … this means an early start. (It also means mosquito spray if you are me … mosquitos publish a newsletter that lists my whereabouts at all times because I am apparently more delicious than anybody else).
Some of my younger associates and friends like to point out that you can use mobile applications, Morpholio Trace and an iPad, rather than using old school paper and ink, and to them I say, if I had an iPad Pro for use at the office I would definitely possibly consider going this route.
The image above is from a different project but gives you a good idea of what I mean when I talk about sketching up unique conditions. These “conditions” almost always refer to something in elevation.
Just like that time I went to the Dominican Republic to look at adding a third floor to an existing building (and perform surgery). Getting dimensions in the plan view is pretty direct but sometimes you not only want vertical dimensions, but it also helps to have a visual guide of elements relative to one another. I typically end up with pages and pages of these sorts of field measurements.
But let’s get back to the house I measured last week.
Normally I wouldn’t put images like this one the blog because it feels a little mean-spirited but since I have heard my client, on more than one occasion, tell me that she hates everything about this house, I thought I would share some of the more “interesting” images I captured during our visit.
In the image above, I am showing two examples of someone either not coordinating trades during construction or an elevation that was most likely site built and resolved “in the moment”. There was no “let’s move this outlet and switch because jogging this trim around them looks jenky” … this was a git ‘r done and move on to the next solution.
The existing garage was turned into some sort of bonus room (meaning there are a lot of things about this space that isn’t great but I’m only going to focus on this one particular item). The existing house has a pier and beam foundation but the garage is concrete slab on grade. As a result, the floor of the main house is about 18″ higher than the floor of the
garage bonus room. This means a small flight of stairs and because we aren’t animals, a handrail to help navigate these stairs (they are a little wobbly …). We all know that handrails don’t grow on trees so this particular person decided to get crafty and decided to take the brackets associated with the toilet paper hanger and cut a piece of rebar = handrail!
I will concede that this person gets high marks for ingenuity but as for the other areas where we are keeping score (at least I am) the marks are not as high.
In an effort of full disclosure, I am not a huge fan of wallpaper … but I don’t hate it enough to weigh in with a strong opinion if someone else (i.e. the client) really likes it. I will, however, draw the line at wallpapering the cover plates to electrical devices. This simply won’t do. Ever.
As for the other picture … ant bait. Do I need to say anything more?
Since we are working with a pier and beam foundation, and it is our goal to reuse the structure for this project, that means we had to crawl under the house and locate piers and beams. And by “we”, I mean “Landon”. Luckily he was a good sport about it and I would almost go so far as to say that he enthusiastically went down into the crawlspace to capture some measurements. Luckily for us, this house plan is really clean and he barely had to move in order to get what we needed. It was pretty moist down there but he came prepared with a pair of coveralls, a change of shoes, mask, and a headlamp.
I’ve done some pretty horrific site measures before and let me tell you, this doesn’t even crack my top 50. In fact, you’d have to wear an actual hazmat suit to get into my top 5.
Here is a look at the main room of this existing house. It’s pretty dated and the light quality is downright depressing. While it might seem like I am standing on a step ladder to capture this image, I wasn’t … the ceiling is pretty low along the edges and the entire room feels squatty.
I didn’t shoot a video but I kinda wish I had. If you look up at the ceiling, you can see the reflections of the glass hoods on the lightbulbs reflected back up and onto the ceiling. When the ceiling fan is on, those patterns jump around like crazy … I felt like I was at the world’s worst rave.
The owners took it upon themselves to pull the carpet up in a few places and while some people buy old houses and discover amazing wood floors underneath their disgusting carpet, that didn’t happen here. We found soggy particle board decking. PARTICLE BOARD!!!
One of the things that happen on these site visits is that I take about 1 billion photos. If it’s on site, I have a picture of it from at least three different vantage points. As a result, I have a sizeable collection of bathroom mirror as-built documentation selfies. I don’t even see myself in these photos when I am lining them up … pretty sure when I took this picture all I could think of was that this cultured stone countertop looks like a yellow bar of “Irish Springs” soap.
Not sure how many people are going to get that reference but you can click here to see a 1980’s classic commercial that will help paint the picture for you.
I should point out that despite the heat, I always wear pants instead of shorts for these as-built field surveys (Landon wore shorts) because 1) there are always mosquitos, and 2) there is always poison ivy, I don’t care for either so I make sure that my legs are well covered.
I thought I would leave you with a picture of the lot from the road … 5 acres of amazing trees. Looking at this photo, the rest of all that nonsense makes perfect sense. We can fix the house but it is currently beyond my abilities to make trees like these.