How to Design a Warehouse Home

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Converting vintage warehouse spaces into modern “loft” homes, condos and apartments is one of the most challenging remodeling jobs imaginable. The age, condition and structure of the vintage warehouse, along with local ordinances and governing authorities can make the job complex. While much of the creativity involved in designing a warehouse into a home can be achieved on your own, there is no substite for consulting with a qualified and experienced architect and contractor.

Things You'll Need

  • Building plans and schematics, if available
  • Local building codes
  • Construction permits
  • Variances, if required
  • Architect
  • Contractor

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Hire an architect to produce a scale drawing of the potential living space, empty and “as is,” at a scale of ½ inch per foot. Ask her to provide “white prints” (blue lines on white paper), because these are easier to photocopy and “doodle” on. Have her note existing electrical, water and gas lines and any ventilation openings.

Research local building codes relating to zoning around the warehouse. Some communities prohibit conversion of “manufacturing” space into “residential” space without changes in zoning or the granting of variances.

Investigate other requirements mandated by law regarding plumbing, electrical work and ventilation, for example.

Work out a trial floor plan. Make photocopies of the scale drawing, and design your home based on room functions and flow. Think about the location of windows and how certain rooms may work in each windowed area. Decide whether you want a fully open floor plan with no walls, a semi-open plan with a few walls or partitions for privacy or a closed plan with traditional walls dividing the space into separate rooms.

Include utilities, and be sure they are up to local code. All modern homes must have electric, natural gas, water, wastewater, sewerage, heating and cooling, fire suppression and ventilation systems. Bringing these modern services into the space will probably mean opening new holes in walls, floors and ceilings; consider bringing these services in at a central place, and all at once. Use “green” energy systems whenever possible; you can often qualify for tax credits when including green improvements.

Consider access to each floor, parking and garage pickup. Most warehouses feature freight elevators, but not all are rated for residential uses. Some can't pass safety inspections and may need to be replaced. Talk with your architect about alternatives, including inexpensive hydraulic “tracked” elevator systems. Make sure you can contract for weekly garbage pickup: Not all cities provide free weekly pickup in commercial or manufacturing zones.

Make decisions about pure aesthetics last. Consider whether you want to attempt to refinish existing wood floors, install new laminates or even polish concrete floors. Determine whether you want to leave brick exposed or install drywall. Some warehouse brickwork may need repair or tuck-pointing, and others may be drafty and cold if left exposed. Make decisions about ceilings as well: Tall, open ceilings with exposed beams and rafters are dramatic but can be energy inefficient.

Get realistic budget estimates in advance of starting. Warehouse conversions can be far more expensive than any other type of remodeling project. Fortunately, a well done warehouse conversion can increase the value of the property dramatically and pay for itself in equity in the long view.

Tips & Warnings

  • Find out if your warehouse qualifies for historical preservation grants, special tax increment funding (TIF) or urban redevelopment grants. Talk with an attorney regarding forming a limited liability partnership (LLC) to take on this project and whether incorporation may assist you.
  • Never purchase an old warehouse anticipating remodeling it into new spaces before doing all the required homework. You may find you simply cannot afford to complete the project and then may be saddled with a "white elephant." It could drain your bank account in required maintenance costs, even in an unimproved state.

References

  • "Warehouse Conversion"; Liaoning Science and Technology; 2006
  • "International Book of Lofts"; Suzanne Slesin; 1986
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