Remodeling: The rough-in stage


DICK AND NANCY Councill, in the midst of a two-story addition and renovation to their house in Baltimore County, have been lucky with the weather; it didn't turn nasty until their project was already under roof. And even though this is the first time they've done anything like this, they seem to be taking it all in stride.

"I think overall it's going well," Dick Councill said of the project. He admitted that some aspects had been a little "exciting" -- like finding out the original brick walls wouldn't support the second story of the addition -- "but you've got to be flexible," he said. "It turned out well."

With the roof on, and framing complete inside, it was time to move on to rough-ins.

One thing that can be a surprise, especially to first-time renovators, is how the pace of the work seems to vary. Demolition and framing move quickly; you can see major progress every day. One day there's a pile of rubble in the driveway; the next there are walls rising on the foundation. A couple of days after that, you're starting to see "rooms" you can walk through.

"The framing went up very quickly," Councill said. "It was dramatic."

Then the exterior sheathing goes on, and the spaces get volume and space -- they even sound different.

The rough-in stage -- when the plumber, electrician, and heating, ventilation and air-conditioning contractors install the pipes, wiring and ductwork -- is the first point where things seem to slow down. Most of the pipes, ducts and wires are concealed in the walls and ceilings. Working around and through the framing is painstaking work.

"I was amazed to see the number of wires it took to run the switches," Councill said.

However, this phase is also a good time to do some fine-tuning.

With the walls in place, you can think more efficiently about how you will use each space and where you want to place furniture. This might affect where an air supply or return vent is placed, or where you want the exterior hose bib that was previously overlooked.

Ron Nodine always walks through the project with the owner and the electrician to confirm placement of fixtures and switches.

Nancy Councill has picked out most of her electrical fixtures now, and she can see how they will work with the actual walls in place. There were some slight adjustments. For instance, in the breakfast room, the fan over the table was moved a little so that it would be centered, and the recessed lights were eliminated and replaced with hanging fixtures over the counter.

In the stairwell, Dave Gurley, the electrician, pointed out that recessed lights in the ceiling would be 18 feet above the floor, so that was changed to a wall sconce that could be reached easily to change a bulb.

Dick added an outlet in a cabinet in the bedroom for a stereo -- something he didn't think of until he started running speaker wire.

This is the time to think about such things as phone lines, alarm systems and speaker wires, and where they need to be. Making adjustments at this stage will cost little or nothing. Changing things after the project is finished and you are moving into the space can be very costly.

During the rough-in stage there are several important inspections that take place. What gets inspected, and when, will vary somewhat in different locations. Three inspectors will visit Ron's job site.

The building inspector inspects the footing, before the concrete is poured, to check for proper size and depth. (The minimum depth of a footing in our region is 30 inches below grade. This is below the freeze line.) The foundation walls are inspected for structural integrity and waterproofing.

When the framing and rough-ins are complete, the mechanical inspector will check the plumbing and heating systems, and the electrical inspector will check the wiring. Both must happen before any walls are enclosed.

Ron's crew got an unexpected treat from the electrical inspector who came to look at the wiring. It seems that Kay Hughes, the inspector, likes to sing opera. She gave the guys a sample of Italian opera and then translated the words into English. They approved of her work and she approved theirs.

Next, the building inspector will do a framing inspection, mostly dealing with structural issues, and an insulation or "close-in" inspection to ensure that the minimum R values are met.

Waiting for inspectors is another thing that can slow a job down. Until the work in place is approved, nothing else can be done.

But the inspections are important: They ensure that everything is done according to local building codes -- even the most experienced framer or electrician can overlook something -- and lessen chances that you will have problems later. After all, most building codes have been developed from problems and mistakes made over the years.

Unfortunately, the next stage of construction -- drywall -- may seem even slower than rough-in. Hanging it doesn't take that long and it makes a difference you can see, but finishing it is another matter. It looks exactly the same today as it did yesterday -- even though you know there were people working on it.

The reason is that finishing Sheetrock requires three to four coats of joint compound over the seams. Each coat must dry completely before the next coat is applied. Depending on humidity and temperature, a coat may take two days to dry.

Before the drywall is complete, Ron's crew will break through the walls into the existing house to connect the new space to the old. The Councills will lose their small temporary kitchen in the former pantry and move to an even smaller, more temporary kitchen in the basement. Even though it's tiny, it's better than no kitchen at all.

Renovation checklist

Items done in the Councill project as of Jan. 15:

- Stake out/excavate

- Pour footing

-Demolish roof

- Install drain tile

- Foundation walls

- Pour slabs

- Framing

- Install windows

- Exterior doors

- Shingle roof

- Siding

- Gutters and downspouts

- Rough HVAC *

- Rough plumbing

- Rough electrical

- Insulate

- Drywall

Interior doors

Interior trim

Paint interior


Ceramic tile

Install bath hardware

Finish HVAC

Finish electrical

Finish plumbing

Install hardwood floors



Final inspections


* Heating, ventilation, air-conditioning systems

Ron Nodine is owner of American Renovator Inc., a Baltimore design-build remodeling firm, and current president of the Remodelors Council of the Home Builders Association of Maryland. Karol Menzie is a feature writer for The Sun.

If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, e-mail Ron at or Karol at Or write c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.

Pub Date: 1/17/99

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