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Old 24th October 2020
Gear Head

Hi all,

I wanted to provide an update after a meeting with my GC and a structural engineer in the attic and share what I've learned so far, what some of our challenges are in this space and how we would move forward with the project if it becomes our only option.

I should say, technically on the property, I have 3 options for locations for the studio as I see it. The attic, an addition off the side of the house that takes over part of a long driveway or an outbuilding the backyard. The only option the family has approved, is the attic. The addition off the side would integrate the studio directly into the main house and does not pass the aesthetic committee's standards because it would create a 'Frankenstein' house. And the backyard is small enough that a studio out there would take up about 1/3 of the total available square footage and displace a garden (which has expanded since COVID). So...the attic is still the best, and likely only real-world option at the moment.

Here's a few takeaways from the meeting:
  • Existing rooflines will not support exterior stairs leading up to the attic without tearing up half the house and would be massively expensive
  • The ceiling of the existing dormer above the walk-up stairs would have to be raised in order to clear code on doorway height at the top of the stairs
  • The floor joists have a current depth of 6" and would have need to be heavily sisters with 8" joists so the floor will come up a few inches
  • We cannot install a 'rigid' flooring system like a floating slab because it's never a good idea to introduce something structural that is rigid to a wooden construction. It will eventually rip the house apart as it tries to settle under the new load
  • The attic would have to be sprinkled as well as the stairways leading down into the house, though the building inspector has indicated that he may be ok with just the attic stairs being sprinkled.
  • Now that direct egress has been eliminated (the exterior stairs), it means the existing walk-up stairs would be our main egress path. And of course, those stairs are not up to code as they are not quite wide enough. Though again, it will be up to the inspector's discretion if he let's them be grandfathered in.
  • The structural engineer is not worried about weight, even of the additional soundproofing materials and techniques. Though we will have to go into the basement to add footings and posts.
  • The structural engineer did say that we should expect the house to 're-settle' after the project and that there could be maintenance work to the rest of the house to keep up with new cracking, etc. Something to be aware of.
  • Because we'd be adding a new shed dormer that's the length of one side of the roof, and now we'd have to raise the ceiling of the existing domer, the project would now have to include re-roofing the entire residence. The roof right now is 30 years old but in good shape and we were hoping to do the full re-roof at a later date. But now we will have to include in this project.
  • Because of some of these new points above, this project will for sure be extremely expensive. And all of that is before I find a designer and the costs of integrating their studio design into the new, raw space. If there is any point that forces us to heavily consider one of the other locations, it will ultimately be cost.

So in my eyes, the dream studio has already been compromised in some pretty real ways. Mainly without egress directly from the outside, clients and friends would need to essentially walk through the entire main house to get up to the studio. As I mentioned, right now our business is weighted more towards mixing, sound design, scoring, etc. so this is not a complete deal breaker. But I had hoped to at least retain the same level of traditional recording as I am currently able to do out of the room I am renting. And of course, the entire project now hinges on whether or not the building inspector will allow us to grandfather in the existing walk-up stairs. Expanding them is a complete no-go because it would require too much work (I believe) to the story below.

But, let's stay positive and think how we can move forward.

What I'd love some feedback on is the flooring system and the insulation in the ceilings. These two interconnected structures are both stealing usable square footage from me. I have to insulate the ceilings and walls to R39 so the finished ceilings will be pushing down. At the same time, the floor already will come up just to support the loads and that is BEFORE floating any sort of floor.

What should I do here? The GC is pushing to spray closed cell foam because it would be the most compact (though most expensive) option. But I don't know if closed cell foam has the soundproofing qualities we would shoot for. Is there some combination of a layer of closed cell and then maybe a layer of wool or something else? But then again, it seems like anything other then closed-cell will push the ceilings down even more.

What should I be looking at here? I have been researching mass-loaded vinyl, resilient channels, etc. What sort of insulation and sound absorption techniques can I get away with that won't push the floor up too much and will give us a compromised-but-pretty-good isolation for the floors below?

Also, I've started reaching out to designers. Had some interesting conversations. But I think I'd really like to find someone who has done amazing things in residential constructions and so knows how to work around common issues. The designers I have reached out to lean towards the commercial side and I'm thinking I need someone who specializes in home studios.

Just started reading Rod Gervais' 'Build it Like the Pros'. I expect I will devour it and as has been suggested, I will likely reach out to him.

Have a great weekend all!