Know What You’ve Got — Modeling The Existing House

The first step in designing a remodel is getting an accurate drawing, or model in this case, of what you have. This will allow you to do some design tradeoffs and, if you have a nice modeling program, give you a glimpse of what it will look like. The other benefit from doing this up-front work is that you end up learning a lot about how the structure is built and this helps give you a good idea about how to go about doing the actual work. Since I am using the SketchUp Pro modeling tool, some of what I’m going to write about will be particular to that tool. However I’ll try my best to put things in more general terms so that the narrative will be useful to as many readers as possible.

There are a number of different ways that can help you translate your structure and land into a modeling program, but the approach you decide on depends on what your goals are. For instance, it is possible to take digital pictures of your house and read them into the modeling program, do some rudimentary modeling shapes, and you now have a house. However, you don’t necessarily have the insides. Plus, if you’re going after a nicely dimensioned layout, then you’ll have to take some time to be accurate. All of the books that I’ve listed in my reference pages under design and modeling have various methods, and I encourage you to give them a look. For my purposes, I figured that just doing actual measurements would work, and it did. I had to do a lot of them, and it took several weeks of my spare time to put the model together. It looked pretty nice when it was done, but, as I kept reading about how to use the program, I found a couple of authors who did things in a much more streamlined way. So read the books first if you want to save some time. The other thing I discovered is that the building department will sometimes have the original plans for your home. Hey, somebody had to get a building permit at one point! So it is WELL worth your time, and the administrative fees, to obtain a set of your plans. Had I known this, or even had thought about it, I would have saved a lot of time.  In addition, you will likely have to show a detailed foundation plan if you’re changing any structure, and the easiest way to do it is to copy the original plans (sure beats excavating and measuring). That being said, nothing substitutes for poking around your house and figuring out what’s what. 2D drawings really don’t give you the sense of how the thing is built that a thorough walk-around and poke-about does. You’ll also discover a few other things that need “fixin’!

Here are a few things I learned about computer modeling when I did this project:

  1. There is a “goldilocks” level of detail. Too little, and you don’t get a sense of what the project is about. Too much, and the model becomes bloated and difficult to work with. Start simple and add detail as you go. If you need extra detail, like showing framing and such, then consider having a separate model for just those details.
  2. Be accurate. Learn how the modeling program “snaps” to various points and edges. I learned that the hard way and I can’t tell you the amount of time I wasted correcting sloppy modeling.
  3. Learn how to organize your model. Michael Brightman’s book (see “Design and Modeling” under References) has an excellent method, and had I used that the first time, I would have saved at least a week of my time.
  4. Customize your modeling program for workflow, meaning setting up toolbars and keyboard shortcuts. Again, Michael Brightman has some excellent ideas that will help you model faster.
  5. Be patient. Regardless of how intuitive a given program is to learn, it will take you some time to develop the necessary skills. You will make some mistakes, and in some cases, it will be easier to start over. Don’t be discouraged. Take the time to study and go on line to go through the numerous tutorials and You Tube video “how to’s”.
  6. If it’s time for you to get a technical refresh on your computer, consider getting a system optimized for graphics. The SketchUp online community organized a special deal with a custom computer maker (JNCS) that provided an optimum system. Yes, it cost some money ($4K when you include a really nice graphics monitor, wireless keyboard, and mouse for computer graphics), but it sure speeded up the modeling and I didn’t have to put up with the crashes caused by an inadequate system choking on the model.
  7. Have fun! The time spent 3D modeling can be reward in itself. It is especially cool if you can see a finished product and move it around, look inside, and see how it mimics reality.

Here is a render of my finished “as built” model:Rev 1.0 Render #1


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