Mike and Denise’s Virginia House Remodel – Part 1

Mike and Denise write John and Matthew looking for help with their home design problem:

“Hi John and Matthew,

Your book “Whats Wrong With This House” gave hope for the design problems that my wife and I are trying to solve with our 24′ x 36′ south facing hillside house in the mountains of Virginia. We are getting discouraged about making it fit our current needs. The house only has 1 real bedroom. The 2nd bedroom is a low ceiling loft space that was never intended to be a bedroom. We would like to remove the temporary walls that made it a bedroom and turn it back into a library-study open to the living room below. We could build a bedroom/bath/laundry addition on the west side of our house but question if we can also fix these never resolved problems:

1. No interior entry/transition space for the north door that is now the main entrance. It became the entrance so we wouldn’t have to walk around the house and climb the exterior deck stairs. A new porch makes the entry very welcoming, but the door opens directly into the kitchen next to the laundry.

2. Furniture arrangement along the main floor south half is compromised by the woodstove hearth and loft stairs. A bigger dining table would be nice but the hearth already constricts traffic flow. We also wish for a more inviting living room furniture arrangement.

Changes we are considering:

1. Remove main floor bathtub and existing laundry, leaving a powder room and area for kitchen pantry as well as entry/transition space.

2. West side addition for relocated main bath, laundry and 2nd bedroom.

3. Our new wood stove can safely be moved closer to the wall, reducing the hearth footprint.

We wonder if the problems can be sufficiently solved without major structural changes of moving stairs and relocating the woodstove chimney to the LR west wall. All bath walls could be removed except the load bearing wall between wood stove and bathtub plus the 3′ section between the tub and stairs (contains 2nd floor bath pipes).

We have the house plans in a 3D CAD system and several pictures are attached: Main floor with and without furniture, Upper floor, Living room 3D, Kitchen 3D, Main floor concept with addition).


Mike and Denise”

  • Kirkland

    Hi John & Matthew,

    The photograph of the wood burning stove shows the flue penetrating the ceiling, however, I don’t see its location on the upper floor plan. Are we to assume its been routed through the ceiling/floor structure to an exterior wall instead of the roof? Thank you,

  • Pradeep Babu

    wow, what a challenging project! Looking forward to see some magic done!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Srdan-Nagy/1384815509 Srdan Nagy

    Hi Mike and Denise
    Thank you for the response explaining all the questions I was interested in. Drawings and 3d model, you sent me via facebook was a great help… thank you.
    I made you two options, they are both based on some observations I made. So let me first explain this:
    _I tried to make options without adding the new addition, because I believe there is enough potential in the house to do all the stuff within existing footprint.
    _Major structural elements like beam running trough the center of the house has been taken into account and has not been moved.
    _Regarding the stairs to the basement, you noted in the response that basement is occupied by large office, so I assume that moving the stairs is still a plausible. In fact when you see what we gain by moving the stairs and not building an addition, therefore saving a ton of money…allowing you to reorganize the basement office…. it is an option to consider.

    One other major thing you need to consider is upstairs ceiling height issue. 6-7′ on that floor is extremely low! Redoing the whole house and not resolving that issue is risky, because you are investing large sum of money into renovation but the main problem of the house is still there. Low ceiling is something that will put people off in case that you need to sell the house, and your renovation will not increase the value of the house.
    So think about this option, let’s make a larger addition on the main floor, and place a master bedroom there, second bedroom in on the upper floor. Or think about options to increase ceiling height on the upper floor.


  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Srdan-Nagy/1384815509 Srdan Nagy

    Second option…
    it is more or less the same, I just added shower downstairs and increase bathroom upstairs…


  • Michael Tuso

    Hi Srdan,

    Thank you for the thoughtful response to our design issues.
    We like your idea of a pod that separates kitchen from living space and
    improves the entry.

    A basement floorplan is attached (see Slow Home web site).
    There are two masonry columns at 12′ spacing.
    On top of them is a steel beam carrying loads from the floors above as
    well as some roof load. The basement
    office wraps around the furnace closet. There is extensive return air ducting
    routed up through the main floor wall behind the wood stove. Supply ducts run
    in soffits along the basement office ceiling perimeter. Moving the furnace or
    disturbing the ducts would not be cost effective. So moving the basement stairs
    to be under the main stairs would conflict with the steel beam in basement
    ceiling as well as the furnace and return air ducting.

    The main roof of the house is standing seam metal. Raising
    the roof would be very expensive. The
    existing upper floor is OK for a single large bedroom because the lowest height
    areas are only for sleeping and storage. A revised upper floor plan is attached
    with an additional note about door swing line constraints.

    We think the existing house only accommodates one good
    bedroom. An addition could have laundry, new full bath and new master bedroom.
    We are not trying to design the addition in this effort other than note that
    the addition entry would be from the west wall of the existing living room. If
    we cant resolve the main floor north entry and circulation issues then an
    addition is not worth considering.

    Perhaps the biggest constraint on main floor changes is the
    7′-7″ long load bearing wall behind the hearth. As shown in the attached
    main floor shell plan, 4′-4″ of that wall cannot be removed because of the
    extensive furnace ducting integrated into the wall and basement office finished
    ceiling. The passageway east of the stairs in your plan partially conflicts
    with the need to keep that 4′-4″ wall section.

    The remaining 3′-3″ of the wall carries 2nd
    floor and roof loads but could possibly be reduced to an overhead beam. Doing
    so would require at least an additional post centered over the masonry column
    in the basement, as shown in the second picture of the main floor plan. 3D
    perspective views are attached of the main floor shell with existing and
    reduced hearth wall.

    Best Regards, Mike and Denise

  • Michael Tuso

    Hi Srdan, I uploaded the basement floor plan but it disappeared. Here it is.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Srdan-Nagy/1384815509 Srdan Nagy

    Hi Mike and Denise,
    Wow you gave us intricate details… :) it would be great if they ware available in the beginning…
    The thing is, plan that I made gives you idea of what can be done, but it can’t give you detailed construction drawings. For that one needs access to all the information regarding structural elements, heating and ventilation system elements… all the elements that will in the end influence the final design.
    This is only the basic conceptual plan that doesn’t take into account all those detail (big or small), so all your remarks on my design are valid, and correct.
    Regarding those, bedroom door on the upper floor need to be sliding due to the low ceiling. On the main floor we need to work around that wall…
    As for the addition, one needs to decide if it is worth the money? You have hillside lot, so construction will be more expensive, then if you decide to build basement underneath the new extension, it will add more cost. You are also adding new bathroom and possible a laundry room there, so you need to adjust the pluming… ….add heating and ventilation system to the extension…. ….update the furnace if it can’t handle additional square footage… the final cost of the addition… ??? $50k to $70k according to information I found on the net…. but including all the factors it is more realistic to be above $100k. But that is just my assumption…
    Is it worth it… not sure, that is why in my plans I avoided construction of addition.

    My biggest concern here (and I am being totally honest, hope you understand my intentions) is ceiling height upstairs. I know that you are used to it, and it is not an issue for you. My concern is that, for what information i have you can’t legally call those spaces a “room”, it is just “space” as they don’t have enough height (at least 50% of the must be at least 6′-8”), but it all depends on local code. So for me doing any renovation (like renovating the master bathroom) to that floor is not cost effective for me. According to the law where I live, I can’t even sell those spaces as room, nor can I market them as rooms (in a real estate listing)…

    My suggestion is this, leave upper floor as is, then redo only the main floor. In that way you fix only the necessary spaces, and you save a ton of money.

    few remarks regarding my second option.
    _I am still advocate of moving the basement stairs, but I adjusted them so they don’t conflict with the basement rooms.
    _The rest more or less remains in the same place, so the cost remains low.


  • Michael Tuso

    Hi Srdan,

    Thank you for the revised main floor plan that doesn’t
    change the hearth wall.

    You are correct about the upper floor ceiling heights and
    definition of a room. The Virginia State Building Code states that a space
    defined as a habitable room must be at least 70 sq ft and half of that area
    must have ceiling height of at least 7 ft. The upstairs master bedroom-bath is
    OK because it has 120 sq ft with greater than 7 ft ceiling height. The total
    floor area qualifies as habitable space because no portion is lower than 5 ft.
    The west part of the upstairs loft would not qualify as habitable space because
    the peak ceiling height is only 7 ft.

    I tried moving the basement winder stairs and realized that
    a new stair would have to meet the latest state building code. The existing
    basement stair is slightly narrow and steep to meet the latest code. We can
    keep the existing stair as long as we don’t move it. If we move it, then we
    have to meet the latest code that requires 36″ clear width, min 9″
    tread, max 8-1/4″ riser. Attached is a basement floor plan that shows the
    basement stairs relocated to be partially under the main stairs. The stairs
    would work OK, however they partially block circulation through the workshop

    I studied your main floor plan and incorporated some of the
    ideas about improving the north entry. Moving the entry door 2 ft west provides
    enough room to put a partition between the kitchen and entry space. The entry
    space could have a bench, shelves and coat hooks. Changing the separate cooktop
    and wall oven to a single unit makes enough space to move the refrigerator out
    of the entry passage and into the kitchen layout.

    Your plan also shows something we had not thought about -
    the smaller hearth could allow seating in front of the woodstove while still
    allowing circulation to the living area.

    A floor plan and 3D view with these ideas is attached. If we
    really made these changes we would build an addition with bath, laundry and
    second bedroom, so the plan shows a doorway to a west addition. The original
    bathtub area could become a pantry and the full bath reduced to a powder room
    with a more private door.

    The main floor probably does not have enough area to fix the
    north entry and also create a large private second bedroom, so an addition may
    be the best approach. Our plumbing and wiring is all in the basement and is
    easily extended to an addition, Heat/AC would be separate – one of the new
    mini-split units.

    We also look forward to seeing John and Matthew’s ideas
    about our design issues.

    Best Regards, Mike and Denise

  • BradW

    Hi SN,

    A couple of thoughts,

    I completely agree with you regarding the roof. I wonder if a shed roof could work here to eliminate the existing awkward roof line and extend the upper living space all the way to the back of the house to expand the upper living space into two excellent bedrooms/master with larger loft+view. To solve the ceiling height over the stairs, we could reverse the slope of the shed. Do the roof in metal.
    Coming back to earth, I like your current plan and wonder if part of the porch could be enclosed to gain additional entry and closet space. My first thought for an addition to this place was an utility/closet/entry/breezeway space connected to a garage.
    I think it is somewhat odd that in Virginia keeping furnace would be so important especially in view of the woodstove and the room air conditioners. It seems to me this HVAC mishmash needs a rethink before serious money is spent here.

    Hi J+M,

    Thanks for adding the link to earlier parts of the design projects.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Srdan-Nagy/1384815509 Srdan Nagy

    Hi BradW,
    I see we are on the same page regarding this project. To me it is all about the balance between what is possible and what can be done.
    Yes the roof is a big issue, but I am leaning towards two options: fix it so you get normal upper floor or leave it alone.
    In the first option one needs to check what is more cost effective: jack up the roof, do the whole reconstruction of two floors or demolish the whole house (except for the basement) and start from scratch.
    In second one you just fix few necessary things, do as little as possible because when selling the house potential buyer will buy the house for its land, as upper floor is something that represents a big issue, and will probably demolish the house and start from scratch. We had similar project a year ago, if you can remember “Kingston Design Project” for Marilyn’s bungalow in Kingston, Canada where the owner realized that the lot is worth more then the house so any expensive renovation will not be cost effective as it doesn’t increase the value.

    I agree with you regarding the heating…