The Floor Plan

We have to admit that we have a few advantages in this process as an Architect and a “Maker”.  But space planning is an intimidating part of any renovation and even as a designer, I went through about twenty different options for how to arrange rooms.  This is a pretty small house from a modern lifestyle perspective (1100 sf)- the original didn’t have a bathroom, laundry room or what we think of as a kitchen.  So it took a lot of finesse to fit everything we wanted without creating awkward circumstances of having to walk through a bedroom to get to another bedroom, which is a pretty typical condition in a lot of New Orleans homes – creole cottages as well as shotguns.

So here is the original house layout, pretty much open rooms without set uses.


And here is our design, adding a stair to make the attic accessible as the master suite (ceiling height is 11′-0″ at the center and around 6′-0″ at the top and bottom wall).

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We kept the existing walls as much as possible, both to keep costs down and to preserve the historic creole cottage layout.  When you take out walls, more often than not you have to do structural modifications to the framing.  Even if the wall is not a load bearing wall (i.e. the ceiling joists sit right on top of the wall), it is still might serve a function by preventing the house from racking.   The back two rooms on the ground floor are labeled as bedrooms and could function that way since they are private from a circulation stand point.  We plan to use the one on the right as a guest bedroom and the one on the left as an office and TV room since it is the most direct way to the back yard.  9′-0″ in width is small for a bedroom, but it can fit a full sized bed with two nightstands and that is all you  really need.  Another thing I should mention – the bathroom walls are all totally new and stack directly from ground floor to second floor.  This solves a lot of issues by keeping the plumbing off the existing walls and using shared piping between the bathrooms for efficiency.

Let us know your thoughts and happy to answer any questions!


5 thoughts on “The Floor Plan

  1. Hey! You are officially my favorite (and only) blog. Congratulations on your impending nuptials and more importantly a lifetime of wedding bliss. Now from an engineers perspective: Are you doing any work to reinforce the ceiling joist for increased loads associated with adding living space in the attic? I didn’t see a mechanical closet. Is it in the attic space?

  2. We are going to install a plywood subfloor on top of all the ceiling joists (currently fragments of 3/4″ wood) and I was hoping that would be enough for the added load. What are your thoughts on that? The ceiling joists are nominal 6″ deep and around 16″ o.c. so pretty hefty. The entire bathroom / stair area is going to be totally reframed as a stacked volume with load bearing walls, so the framing should be adequate in that area.

    Spoiler Alert for future HVAC post (so exciting…)

    There will be two A/C units (one for upstairs and one for downstairs) laid on their sides in the attic space beyond the bedroom walls. I have a diagram for how I see the ductwork being routed that I will share later – the return will come down within the closet labeled A/C adjacent to the bathroom on the ground floor. It’s not as big as typical A/C closets because it is essentially only a vertical chase for the duct rather than the actual unit. Fingers crossed that this will work. More details later…

  3. If the plywood is glued and screwed pretty well it could stiffen the joists somewhat. If it isn’t then it will only add more dead load to the floor. You will likely still end up with a floor that has a little bit of spring. The syp span tables recommends 2X10’s @ 16″ O.C. for a 15′-6″ span (I’m assuming your joist run front to back). You could also add blocking between the joists at mid span to reduce the unbraced length. This would stiffen the floor up as well.
    Cutting ceiling joists to add a stair can created problems. Due to the pitch of roof rafters, they have both a vertical and horizontal force component (unless there is a substantial ridge beam). The vertical is taken through the exterior load bearing walls. The horizontal component called thrust is taken in the form of tension through the ceiling joists. If you cut the ceiling joists you need to make sure there is adequate framing around the opening to transfer this load. Its not only a bearing load. If you are framing a ceiling in the attic then the new ceiling members would help as well. Otherwise you may end up with a sagging ridge and the tops of the exterior walls pushed out. You may have noticed this in old homes.
    A couple other things to consider along these lines. If you are replacing the roof, I would not recommend removing the decking in the attic at the same time you are having shingles delivered. They are heavy. With really long ceiling joist it is unlikely that they are continuous. If the ends aren’t lapped and nailed then the attic decking is likely holding the system together.
    Didn’t see the AC closet. I was looking for something larger. Sounds like you have put some thought into it.

  4. So happy you are interested and willing to share your expertise – this is exactly what I wanted with the blog. I actually had John come out and look at the foundation (more on that later) but haven’t really gotten into framing yet. The framer will be on site Monday morning, so I’m really happy you’re providing this feedback in time for that meeting.

    We will definitely add blocking at midspan to the entire area under the upstairs bedroom. Should be do solid blocking or X bracing?

    There is a ridge beam spanning the length of the house that appears to be in good shape. I was thinking that the bathroom volume would help stiffen that area since it will be tied back to the existing walls via the stair construction, though this isn’t really a structural connection and doesn’t address the wall at the foot of the stairs. Would you recommend something more substantial as a continuous member in the same direction as the existing (removed) ceiling joists, possibly at the location where the stairs bear at the upper floor?

    We are not replacing the roof – we think that it was replaced after Katrina and will only need moderate repairs. The roof decking is barge board along with the rest of the house, which adds complexity to the structural analysis. We are not framing a ceiling, just attaching gypsum board direct to the underside of the joists after we insulate.

    The good news is this house has stood for over 150 years – we just need to make sure we keep the integrity.

  5. The blocking would be solid blocking. I was thinking about that this weekend. For 2×6″ members it may not add a significant improvement. Blocking works really well with slender sections.

    I doubt the ridge beam is structural. It would be 3 or 4 ply member, or something very substantial. Otherwise it just referred to as a ridge board. I haven’t ever seen an old house with a structural ridge beam. They are not very common. If it is really a structural ridge beam then you can disregard all of this and cut the ceiling to resemble swiss cheese.

    The stairwell opening can be accurately modeled as a cardboard box. Without a top on the box the opening is very easily flexed. You either need a top on the box or a reinforced lip on the opening. Reinforcing the opening will require members designed for lateral bending running perpendicular to the ceiling joist with the load transferred to drag struts on both sides of the opening. The drag struts need to transfer their force into the floor diaphragm. The walls on the sides could potentially work as shear walls in lieu of the drag struts, but those aren’t typically that substantial anyhow. Usually it is a 2 ply member. It is the members designed for flexure.

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