Your home’s structure offers plenty of efficiencies that can save you money. Depending on the aim of your project, your engineer may implement some or all of them.
Taking the time to understand the structural efficiencies listed below will help you shape your budget as you decide which design features are worth your money.
Open concept floor plans continue to enjoy popularity and knocking down walls is a common temptation for remodelers. The benefits are obvious - natural light, multifunctional space, and the ability to recoup as much as 91% of the project’s costs.
One downside of load-bearing wall removal is the need for new structural elements to carry the weight of upper floors. Depending on the look you’re after, a single beam or a beam with columns can fulfill this function. Either way, a new support system adds costs to your project. And the expenses don’t end there.
If there are ducts, wires or pipes in the wall you want to get rid of, they will need a new path to the appliances they serve. The design and the work involved may add up to cost the same or more than your new structural supports.
If an open concept is not the primary aim of your remodel but an add-on, take the time to weigh these extra costs. Designing your remodel around existing walls is a money-saving compromise.
Shorten Spans With Intermediate Supports
You have two options. One is to shorten the size of the opening by keeping a portion of the existing wall intact. This lets you replace the most intrusive part of the wall with a relatively inexpensive beam. If a partial wall doesn’t suit your plans, you may opt for intermediate columns to support a longer beam.
If you don’t want any vertical supports replacing your load-bearing wall, you may need a stronger, steel beam to carry the weight of the structure above. Steel beams are more expensive and have longer lead times than dimensional or engineered lumber, so if you prefer a true open concept, expect to pay a premium and make sure you account for fabrication time in the schedule.
Reduce Exterior Wall Demolition
As you remodel your home, you may be drawn to the idea of replacing a wall with floor-to-ceiling windows. As with open concepts, large areas of glass improve daylight access to your home.
Before you decide to remove an exterior wall, or replace a portion of it with floor-to-ceiling glass, take the time to understand the structural implications of the alteration.
Your home’s exterior walls support the weight of the building’s structure, materials, and occupants. They also brace the house against lateral loads imposed by strong winds and earthquakes.
Removing an exterior wall weakens your home’s vertical and seismic load resistance. You must rectify this condition with new bracing systems, such as prefabricated shear walls or steel moment frames, to create the new load path. Despite producing the desired appearance, the cost of these solutions might lead you to rethink the upgrade.
Keep in mind that Title 24 limits glazing area to 20% of the room’s total Conditioned Floor Area (CFA), and West-facing glazing to only 5% of the CFA in Climate Zones 2, 4, and 6 through 16.
Allow For Space On Either Side of Openings
Shear walls give your structure the lateral support needed to resist horizontal seismic loads. In light frame residential buildings, shear walls typically comprise plywood panels nailed to the studs. This simple solution stops studs from racking during earthquakes.
When you introduce doors and windows to the wall assembly, the area of shear panels becomes reduced. Lateral reinforcement weakens, and the structure becomes vulnerable to seismic failure.
Openings designed with little room for adequate shear panel bracing may need to be reinforced with prefabricated shear walls or engineered steel moment frames. Their installation is cumbersome, as they must be imbedded into new concrete footings. The material and labor costs of steel moment frames are typically high.
A budget-friendlier alternative is to design your openings with 4 feet of space on either side. This allows for sufficient shear bracing with inexpensive plywood panels.
Avoid Discontinuous Shear Walls
All shear walls must connect to the foundation. When a shear wall on an upper floor doesn’t line up with the one below, an alternate load path to the foundation must be created. Typically, it will comprise a transfer beam supported by columns entrenched in the foundation.
When shear walls are offset like this, the structure of the house must be designed to withstand greater loads. This means larger, more expensive structural members.
To avoid the costs of adding the new load transfer system and upgrading the structural members, opt for a design that keeps shear walls on the same plane from the top floor to the foundation.
Avoid Vaulted Ceilings
If you are planning to remodel, chances are you’re exploring ways to increase and brighten your living space. Vaulted ceilings certainly offer advantages. They add a breathing space to an otherwise small home and let you install skylights without using expensive light tunnels.
Despite the obvious benefits, vaulting a ceiling presents a pricey challenge: the roof will have to be reframed completely. The rafters that comprise your roof structure weren’t built to suit a vaulted ceiling, and must be redesigned and restructured accordingly. This entails significant extra costs.
Increased energy consumption may be a less obvious inefficiency of vaulted ceilings. With this configuration, you will be heating and cooling what was formerly your attic in addition to your living space below, and paying a higher energy bill all year round.
Make Sure Your Drawings Are Clear and Detailed
Whether you are building a new house or remodeling, your architectural drawings should be clear and detailed. If remodeling, it’s best to have the existing and proposed drawings in CAD, and they should include floor plans, elevations, sections and details. This clarity and level-of-detail shape your engineer’s grasp of your design intent, and will help avoid costly issues during construction.
How We Can Help
Our team has completed more than 3,000 construction and remodeling projects over the past 13 years. We know where to find savings in your home’s structural design.
We also know that you won’t love your project if you compromise on everything just to save money. Design Everest can help you find those areas where you’re happy to strike a balance between economy and design intent.
If you are ready to start your project, call us at (877) 615-3628 for a FREE consultation and quote.
*Note: The content published above was made in collaboration with members of Design Everest.
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