Start your Renovation: Steps to Measure Your Existing Building

Are you thinking of starting a renovation or an addition to your home or business? The first question we ask is; do you have existing drawings? A lot of homeowners and business owners do not. Measuring your building is one of the first steps we must take to create a digital model before we start to design. By providing your architect or designer with measurements you can save yourself money. Believe it or not, there is a little technique to ensure this is done accurately.

1: Start with the Exterior

Measure the exterior of your building first. The exterior measurements are the overall box that you can then work to when piecing together the inside. Think of it like a puzzle; start with the border and work in from there. By starting with the exterior this will help you sketch out the plan.

Quick Tip: Use a large tape measure on the exterior or a laser measure. The bigger the measurements the better.

2. Measure the Interior Walls

Move inside and measure the biggest dimensions first, even if your measurement spans more than one room. Much like the exterior, using larger measurements gives you something to compare to when gathering the smaller dimensions. This reduces accumulative errors in the plan. If a measurement was read or written down wrong, it will usually stick out like a sore thumb if the math does not work with the larger dimensions.

Quick Tip: Use graph paper to sketch the plan and allow each square to represent a certain amount of feet. As an example, one square equals 3 feet.

3. Look for Alignments when Measuring Each Room

Rooms that are square or rectangular in shape just require 2 measurements plus any doors. No need to measure each wall. As you measure think of the measurements you already have and look for alignments between rooms. Sometimes one dimension can count for more than one room.

Image of Window Measuring Technique

4. Measuring windows and doors.

Measuring windows is best done outside and referenced to one point. By measuring the distance from one point you can eliminate accumulating errors present when measuring between each window. Measuring windows from inside the building can work as well, the process is just slower. If you are measuring from inside try and make the measurement as long as possible.

Always measure windows and doors to the operable part and do not include any exterior or interior trim in your dimensions. Don’t forget to measure the width and height of each opening. The best way to record this information on your plan is to use a small window schedule. A window schedule is a chart that labels each window type on the plan with a number and references the number to a table which describes the size.


5. Measure the Heights

Don’t forget to measure from your finished floor to your ceiling and from your finished floor to the top of your windows and doors on each level. In most cases, the window and door head heights and the ceiling heights are consistent throughout the building. If these dimensions vary it usually occurs on different levels and at a garage.

Quick Tip: Measuring to the nearest 1″ or 1/2 inch works just fine. Don’t waste your time measuring to the nearest 1/4″ or 1/8″ because most buildings are out of square more than these tolerances.

6. Take a lot of pictures Inside and Out

Missing dimensions happens a lot, even for the professionals. Pictures allow us to determine missed measurements by counting brick or other known elements. Pictures also give us the overall shape and look to understand the finishes and construction techniques.

After providing your designer with the measurements all that’s left is a quick site visit to find the load bearing elements and determine how it was built.

Measuring a building can be quite the undertaking and time consuming, but there is a quick alternative. Today’s technology allows us to go on site with laser scanning equipment and scan the structure inside and out. These scans offer an extraordinary amount of accuracy and virtually eliminates back and forth site visits due to missed measurements. The downside is the initial cost can be rather expensive. The cost associated with laser scanning does not usually make sense for small projects but is worth every penny for a large renovation.

Don’t Forget the Survey

If you are adding on to your building be sure to get a survey of your property. Surveyors are usually in high demand and can be weeks out on their schedule. Walking into your initial meeting with your designer with measurements, pictures, and a survey will make the process of design go much faster and smoother.

Renovation projects are some of the most complex and difficult to work with. Hiring a design professional is always a good idea. CWarch has a lot of experience with renovations ranging from small home additions to converting historic warehouses to banquet halls. Give us a call to help with your next renovation.

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