How to add DIY to your Remodel Design
[in 7 Lucky Steps]

by Alan Ness, Architect
Ten Directions Design, Seattle, WA


If you want to remodel or expand your house, start with the design process.  This process can help you identify what is lacking in your house, and how to correct those problems and improve your home.  Only then are you ready to hire a contractor and get it built.

Working with a professional designer or architect is a great way to go through this process and come out with proper blueprints.  But there are some DIY steps that can save you money. Let’s review both of these approaches.

A professional has a degree in architecture or interior design. Normally it is only the architect who can help you with moving walls, creating additions, and making other structural changes to your house. The DIY work will involve some different skills and patience.


STEP ONEProgramming. 

DIY Option: Create a program, or description of your needs and goals.  Start with a description of what doesn’t work in your house, as well as some of your dreams.  Write down two groups: “must haves” and “wishes.” Or write a numbered priority list of what you want.  Bring out the tape measure, and estimate how many square feet you want to renovate or add.  

STEP TWO: Budgeting. 

DIY Option: Here is the first part of budgeting. Do some research to find out the costs of similar projects. Ask friends and relatives. Also ask about design professionals they can recommend.  You are not going to find the good ones on Craig’s List!  Factor in cost bump-ups if referenced projects are more than a few years old. In a few steps we will have more information and ask a contractor – but not yet!

STEP THREE: Schematic Design. 

schematic design.jpg

Begin the Schematic Design Phase by hiring a designer or DIY Option:  

  • Measure your existing house
  • Draw it up on a computer using residential software.
  • Create schematic designs.  These are floor plans that look at space planning: designing what goes where.  No interior design decisions on countertops yet!

Remember these principles:

  1. Function
  2. Circulation
  3. Site Conditions
  4. Massing: Exterior and Interior
  5. Light

Good references are the Sarah Susanka books, and Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander.

sTEP FOUR: Cost Estimate. 

DIY Option: Get a cost estimate from a contractor based on your schematic design. Contact a contractor and give him a copy of your floor plan with some overall dimensions. He can use this information, along with some thoughtful questions of you, to create an estimate of what your project might cost.  If the cost is too high, then you need to cut back on scope or quality.

STEP FIVE: Blueprints.

Draw the blueprints, which are part of the Construction Documents.  These need full dimensions, notes, and satisfy all zoning, building codes, structural requirements, and energy codes. Prepare according to your locality’s requirements.  Along with blueprints, prepare written specifications: finishes, fixtures, and appliances. The specificatiosn are a great opportunity to think about ‘greening’ your project with sustainable materials and energy-saving approaches. DIY Option may be difficult because of the multiple technical requirements. 

STEP SIX: Permit. 

DIY Option: Get your building permit.  Make multiple sets of drawings and submit per your local regulations. If you DIY, bring a lot of patience to the process of working with the rules and forms of your local Building Department.

STEP SEVEN: Bidding. 

D.I.Y. Option: While waiting for your permit, go ahead and contact (3) contractors for bids. Give each of them copies of your drawings (3 – so they can pass them along to their sub-contractors)) and your written specifications (1). And ask for a fixed bid. Three bids is the magic number that allows you to understand if low bids are legitimate or not. You should be able to compare ‘apples’ to ‘apples.’  Pick the best bid. Congratulations, you are ready to build (after picking up the approved permit).