Doing It Yourself
by Edouard A. Szajna

Part 5 - Checking the Building's Structure

"Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works". - Steve Jobs

In this installment of our DIY series, Ed identifies what to look for when inspecting the basic structure of the space.

It should be an obvious thing to most folks that the space you're looking to lease should be safe and structurally sound. Although this will usually be less of a concern with new or new-er buildings, you should always take the time to check anyway (remember: Trust but Verify). Unfortunately, it is all too common that sometimes the previous tenants of a space did something to compromise the structural integrity of the walls, roofing, flooring and or support systems.

As you do your walk-through, make sure to look into any ceiling spaces, crawl spaces, behind walls and in basements check to ensure the wood is not rotten, wet or show signs of termite damage. Yeah, we know it's not the cleanest part of the process, but it is one of the most important. If you can see them, verify that all of the steel support members are generally sound (no heavy rust or deteriorations), unaltered ( no cuts) and true (nice and straight).

If your remodeling plans are going to require you to move walls or alter any other items (i.e., adding staircases, adding or changing HVAC shafts, modifying the entrances and exits), you'll need to identify and make note of any load bearing structures. However, the final design is a job best left for the pros and is NOT a do it yourself job.

It's important to know that any modifications to the load bearing structures of a building (i.e., columns, beams, walls or flooring systems) can be a very costly line item on your budget and any change to the structural integrity of a space will require proper design by a licensed architect or professional engineer.

If you’re on a tight budget, we urge you to evaluate alternative layouts or even other locations in lieu of embarking on any structural modifications to the can be that costly.

Check the storefront (or the building's front entry), all doors, window systems and rear exits should always be in good shape and function properly. Make sure to open and close all doors and windows and ensure that the glazing ( a fancy name for the glass) is unbroken and has tight weather sealing.

Ensure that all doors, windows and other penetrations are weather sealed and operate properly (because gaps, even the small ones can lead to an inefficient energy design of the space and invite critters to come in and visit.

Check that all locks, handsets (door knobs) and latches are easy to operate and make sure that they work without sticking. As with the other systems and features of the building, make a note of it and identify who's job it will be to fix the issue (It's always best to make a list and negotiate the repairs with the Landlord when first making an offer).

Always ensure that your storefront is weather tight, with no broken window seals (that might cause a fogging up of insides of a window), check that the frames are clean and that the paint (if any) is not flaking.

As you walk through the space, make sure to note the overall cleanliness of the space, especially for signs of mold, mildew, water damage, rotting wood members, unusual odors and/or smoke damage.

Although most states require the landlord to disclose any fire damage to their prospective tenants, your new space should have a clean smell and feel to it. If your landlord is delivering a dirty, unsafe space, you can rest assured that there's probably other problems with the building and they will care very little about your leaking roof, lack of sufficient heat or flooded parking lot.

Mold is a serious concern because it can causes so many health problems; remember; you, your employees and your customers are going to be spending time in this environment. Make sure it is as healthy as possible.

Is your space part of a larger structure? Do you have neighbors adjacent, above or below? Is there a basement? These are also spaces that you should check, with permission, of course.

By asking these questions you will get a better understanding your space giving you the knowledge to make better business decisions concerning “doing it yourself”. Always remember that if you have any concerns about a building's structure, utilities or general conditions, always consult with your own professionals.

With your space measured and the utilities identified it's time to take your information back home and start working on your floor plan.


NEXT in Doing It Yourself

Part 6 -Laying out your space

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