How to measure your house

20 min read Mid-century homes aren’t just livable, cute and in style right now. They were actually built in a way that is easier to document, measure and understand. Which means measuring for any remodeling project is (almost) a breeze for a remote design team like Mid Mod Midwest or a homeowner like you!

Before you can come up with an amazing plan to update your mid-century home, you need to know where are you starting from. Today you are going to learn how to measure what you’ve got, so you can start the process of transforming your home to fit your life. 

Old school measuring techniques like graph paper and measuring tapes may be the perfect fit for you and your project! If you’re more tech savvy, you can use a tablet to document your house…or a home scanning app might be just the ticket for you. 

As you probably know by now, the masterplan method begins with three key elements pre design phase. You need to dream about what you want your life to be in your new home. You need to discover what’s up with the house you’ve got right now. And then you need to distill your personal mid-century style.

So, what’s the best way to measure your house? 

In Today’s Episode You’ll Hear:

  • Why mid-century homes are a dream for DIY documenters. 
  • How to measure your house as you plan your renovation.
  • Some tools of the trade and documentation tips. 

Listen Now On 

Apple | Google |  Spotify | Stitcher

Tools of the Trade

First you need something to measure with. An old-fashioned tape measure works just fine. But, especially for larger projects, I really love using a laser measure. They are pretty inexpensive and really speed up the process.  You’ll need a pen/pencil (or stylus if you go the table route) and somewhere to record your measurements – you pick! Table? Paper? App?

Choose your format

Whether you opt for the traditional pen-and-paper approach or embrace all the tech, the goal is the same: represent your space accurately. If you’re a fan of analog tools, go ahead and sketch your rough floor plans on graph paper. Remember, your sketches don’t need to be masterpieces!

More tech-savvy? With the power to erase, annotate, and layer information, tablets streamline the documentation process, empowering you to create accurate representations of your space. Or give a home scanning app a try. 

Some measurements (on a tablet, thank you!) from a recent design project!

What to Measure

Focus on capturing the essentials. Start with the foundational measurements: room dimensions, major lengths, major widths, and any projecting walls or closets. 

Pay special attention to wall lengths and ensure corners are right angles.

Document openings—windows and doorways—detailing their dimensions and sill heights. 

Take note of plumbing fixtures’ centerlines, crucial for preserving the functionality of your space. 

Don’t forget built-ins and fixtures, especially if you plan to keep them. 

Your project will drive the level of detail you need to collect. If you’re planning to preserve existing elements, meticulous measurements are essential. However, if you’re considering a full-scale transformation, a focus on major dimensions and structure may suffice. Your documentation strategy should align with your design goals.

More from another project … note the triple measurements at the key windows: width, height, sill height.

The benefit of a tablet is that you a can then take photos of complex 3D areas and annotate dimensions directly onto them!

Here are some helpful exterior notes and dimensions sent in by a client so that we could help them with a curb appeal update!

The output from a MagicPlan scan of a house … not too shabby!

Resources for DIY documentation of your MCM home

And you can always…

Read the Full Episode Transcript

Before you can come up with an amazing plan to update your mid-century home, you need to know where are you starting from. So let’s talk about how to document your house, how to measure what you’ve got, so you can start the process of tweaking it to better fit your life. We’ll talk about old school measuring techniques.

Yeah, graph paper and measuring tapes, and also a phone based home scanning app that you might like. As you probably know by now, the masterplan method begins with three key elements of predesigned. You need to dream about what you want your life to be in your new home, new to you. Discover what’s up with the house you’ve got right now and distill your personal mid-century style.

So today, if you don’t yet have a working floorplan of your house, you’ll know how to get one by the end of this episode. Hey there, welcome back to mid mod remodel. This is a show about updating MCM homes helping you match a mid-century home to your modern life. I’m your host, Della Hansmann, architect and mid-century ranch enthusiast, you’re listening to Episode 1309.

Now today I’m going to tell you the story of how mid Midwest became a remote design services firm in the first place. In part, because we’ve been able to show our clients how to measure a standard mid-century home. The unexpected can always cause trouble, but the default home of the mid-century era is fully measurable by anyone who can wield a tape measure.

We’ll get to that in a minute though, because before we do big news, one week from Saturday I am giving a live free masterclass on planning. I have updated the plan a mid-century remodel to fit your life and budget class. At it I’ll show you every step you need to plan a remodel that will enhance your home’s mid-century charm while you tune it to perfectly suit your life and your family.

If you’ve ever wondered, is a shaker kitchen my only option? It’s all I’m seeing. Would it be better to just let some contractor tell me what the house needs and then write him a check? Do I have a choice between perfectly preserved that peach bathroom that I don’t love or completely HGTV-ing the house? Then this masterclass is for you.

And if you’ve got questions for an architect about your home that I haven’t answered yet, ask them to me on the call live. The q&a session at the end will last until every question is answered. I only teach this mid-century Master Plan framework live a few times a year. The last time I did this was a year ago. Will I see you there on Saturday?

I know that finding the right path to update a mid-century house can feel frustrating and scary. And I want you to know you’re not alone. So August 19. I’m going to show you exactly how to make your mid-century home update dreams come true at the free class, get your spot locked down by signing up with the link in the show notes. That’s mid mod-midwest.com/ 1309 Or go directly to midmod-midwest.com/masterclass. I will see you there!

Today I want to talk to you about how to properly document your house, how to make a floor plan for yourself maybe more how to make a model of your house that you can use to make design decisions and carry on and go forward with over time. So I’m sharing this here for ready to remodel. It’s also going to go out to the med monitor model podcast. This is also information I share with my master plan design clients, because mid mod Midwest is a design business born in the pandemic.

I’d only been specializing in mid-century remodels for a few years and 2020. And I was still working entirely as a solo designer. And so in March of 2020, when the powers that be told us all to just stay home guys will tell you when not to, I finished up the drawings for the project in progress, wondering how I was going to even explain them to my clients without a find across the coffee table chat. Because I didn’t use Zoom at that point.

And I reached out to my next up clients from the My waiting list and said, I assume you don’t want to go forward under these circumstances. I offered to give back their down payments if necessary, given the uncertain times. But they all told me no, we want to keep going. Maybe we’ll do more of the remodel ourselves. This seems like a great time to move forward on it. And I thought okay, I’m happy to still have work.

But I wasn’t sure how I could start the process if I couldn’t go into their homes and document them and make floor plans for myself to start from as it happened. Several of those next up clients were pretty can-do folks. They had done some remodeling before and had some experience with a measuring tape and making paper plans. So we agreed that we would try it that they could document their own homes, email me scans of their measurements, take a whole lot of digital photos and we will see how it worked. Long story short, it did.

The next time then I got a call from a podcast listener who asked if I could please help them think about changes to their home in California. I said sure if you can document it yourself, I can design a mid-century master plan for you. And thus, a remote design business was born.

Nowadays my team and I work with people all over the country on planning updates for mid-century homes. We’ve helped tour to homeowners in Florida and Minnesota in Washington DC and Washington ate plenty in California. And of course, still a lot here in the Midwest.

One note. This process works so well for us, for everyone excited, ready to remodel because we are speaking specifically about mid-century homes. They aren’t just livable, livable, cute and in style right now. They’re also built in a really consistent manner which makes them easier to document, easier to measure, easier to understand the structure of both for me and my team remotely.

And for you as homeowners! Because they exist at that intersection between the era of craft in construction the old craft trained craftsman, and the new standardized materials and methods of the machine age. Attics in mid-century homes tend to be simple triangles built with stick framing, not yet engineered trusses. Main floors are supported on outer foundation walls with central beam lines on wood posts. The structures are two by fours two by sixes, two by eights, two by 10s other dimensional lumber.

These things are so consistently true across the mid-century era, and across the country, that we can make very informed assumptions about the structures of these houses in a way that’s not possible for the more irregular construction of say, a Queen Anne house from the Victorian era or a 1980s tract home that was built from a template made by engineers and has pre-engineered trusses supporting it. So without digressing too much from the point I just want to point out that the beautiful simplicity of the construction of these houses that we work on that we love that we live in, is one more silver lining one more benefit. Silver Lining is a bad thing. One more added benefit that allows us to make more changes to make simple additions to knock through walls to figure out where load bearing elements are and work around them or change them as needed.

So if you live in a mid-century house, you have this extra freeway leeway, this extra freedom to make fun choices to explore to experiment with the layout of your home in a way that people in older homes and newer homes don’t. That’s why you might want to measure.

So let’s talk about the philosophy of measuring a house. When I am measuring a space, the way that I measure it actually depends on the tool I’m using to measure. And there are a couple of different ways I do this. You might choose to be writing down the measurements of the space making a rough sketch for yourself messy, quick and dirty plan about a small space like a bathroom, or maybe an entire floor plan. And then you’ll be transforming that rough, messy, sketchy drawing into a prettier, more tidy drawing or possibly into an AutoCAD plan or a 3d model.

The other philosophy is to do it all as you go. You might choose to document your home directly into your laptop, making a model that you build as you go or making an AutoCAD document that’s perfectly accurate and finished each part as you do it. I have done this on my own home. This is not ever how I work on a client’s project. It’s just too fussy and too slow as a process of first you document and then you make a model then you make as built plans.

So it’s something you can do if you want to if you’re already comfortable with the computer, if you’re more comfortable with the computer than you are with a pencil and pen, go right ahead. But I probably am going to be talking more today about the let’s make a rough sketch first, and then go forward from there. Now there’s a couple of ways to do that rough sketch. Let’s start with the old school way.

The tools for the old school way of documenting a house and a field measurement session is tape measure, pencil, paper, straight edge and a clipboard. There is nothing wrong with this. Especially if you are old school and you think you’re going to be hand sketching your options for the house if you think it’d be brainstorming in Sketch format on paper than this is a great way to go about it. And in that case, think about starting your document on graph paper.

I like quarter inch graph paper and then you can make it a quarter inch equals one foot, you can fit a mid-sized ranch onto a single piece of eight and a half by 11 paper that way, and if you need more space, you can tape it on around the edges. A word of warning though, graph paper is a little bit of an exception. But you want to be consistent with yourself either draw your rough plan, exactly to measurements.

So for example, if a wall in a room is 11 feet, you might measure out the exact 11 feet 11 quarter inch squares on the graph paper. But also write down 11 feet. If you aren’t drawing on graph paper, don’t worry about measuring it to be exactly 11 feet in proportion to everything else just write down 11 feet zero inches. And then when you’re done when you’re making your pretty plan or your model, you’ll have that data and you won’t have to wonder “did I draw it that long, because that’s how long it actually is or did I draw it that long because I was moving on to measure something else and I forgot always write down the numbers of the dimensions?”

I like to draw a floor of added pencil, and then put the numbers in pen, I can scratch out the number and change it if I need to. But a measurement a number is something I’ve measured. I know that’s a known quantity. Sometimes the layout that I’m sketching in as I measure changes isn’t like, oh, there’s a chimney here. Oh, this actually, the proportion is slightly different, especially if you’re being sloppy, and you’re not using grid paper, a pencil plan with pen measurements are just the best way to go.

Now, one other tip is, wherever you stand in the room, you’re facing each of the four walls in the room to measure hold your clipboard the same way, maybe stand in the same orientation face south or face north the whole time you’re measuring so that all the numbers on your plan will face the same way up when you’re looking at it at the end process. That’s also true for the slightly less old school method, in my opinion, slightly better method of making your floor plan on a tablet.

And that sound effect was me throwing my other pencils on the ground. By the way, don’t do that. If you are going to feel measure with a tablet, it’s nice to have a front slung bag or tablet case that you can hang off of your person in some way. So they don’t have to send set your tablet down on two random surfaces all the time or drop it while you’re measuring.

Now I love documenting a field measure with a tablet because you can treat it just like the old pen and paper method. But you can erase, you can annotate, you can make extra layers. If you’re documenting your whole house, you might have a layer for the basement and a layer for the first floor. Or you might have a layer for the plans and a separate layer for all the measurements, the numbers or you might have a layer for the measurements, the numbers and a separate layer for notes so they can overlap each other and be turned on and off.

You might choose to show structure in some parts or furniture and then be able to turn that off either the pen and paper method or the tablet method. Remember, it does not need to be beautiful, it does not need to be a work of art, it just needs to contain accurate information. The other reason I like documenting with a tablet is that it makes it easy to switch back and forth between making your floor plan and then taking a photo with the tablet and annotating right on that photo.

So in some cases in a small room like a bathroom, or in a complicated area, like the steps from the basement up to the main floor, you can take a photo and then you can say this step is seven inches high and 10 inches deep. But the next step is three and three quarters and then 11 inches deep. Why? God knows. By the way, I mentioned the quarters stairs are one of the only places where I would break down your measurements below a quarter of an inch to a quarter of an inch. In general for our purposes, for schematic documenting of a house, we’re dealing with inches and maybe half inches.

The third method, slightly less old school to document your house is a scanning app. There are several out there we recommend to our clients and app called Magic plan. You literally download it and then you walk around your house pointing your phone at different surfaces. And it makes a more or less accurate model of each room. And if the whole home, you’ve got a plan version and a 3d model version.

It works pretty well for empty homes and a real short transition. And medium well, for homes that are works in progress. Regardless of how you measure, you are going to also want to take so many photos to back up your work with evidence now you’re measuring the house you live in, that’s great, you can always go back and check your own references.

But particularly if you’re if you’re finishings up to share with someone or you want to move from one phase into another, it’s better not to be constantly, you’re sitting at your kitchen table sketching options, then you’re thinking, Oh, I didn’t accurately measure the bathroom enough. And then you’ll check it again. It’s better to just document everything once and then be able to work on paper, particularly if you’re a Midwest client, and you’re sending us information. We want all the information at one time.

All right, so let’s talk about what you would measure in a space because it will matter some things are more important to measure than others depending on the goal of the project. What’s most important is where the walls are the overall room dimensions major length, major width, and then if there are any projecting walls a closet that sticks in or another room that intersects with it.

All those intermediate lengths get all the wall length and check that the corners are right angles if the corners are not right angles. If the corners throughout the entire house are right angles, ignore this entire lecture and just get help from a professional to document your house. But if you have one or two angles on the house that aren’t the right angle, make a note of that.

The next most important thing to know is where the openings in the room are so another placement and the dimensions of the window and door openings. Watch out for odd sized doors. Typically, a door is going to be coming in a standard of two inch options so they’ll be referenced by their width in inches. by professionals not by inches and feet. You’ll have a 24 inch door a 30 inch door a 32 inch door a 36 inch door um If you have an odd numbered door, if it’s 31, definitely make a note of that.

And then be very aware that you’d like to preserve that door as it is because replacing it will be a pain in your behind how you measure the door, you might also want to note that door heights, a standard door to mid-century house is eight inches tall. Probably every door in your house has the same height. If there’s one that’s different, make a note of that, if they’re all not at it, just make a note of that.

For the windows, you need to know how wide they are, how tall they are, and the sill height. That’s how high from the floor to the bottom of the window they are. And just like the doors you’re looking to measure to the inner jamb and the sill that’s the inner most major edge that’s perpendicular to the direction of the wall in a door, it might be easier just to measure the door itself rather than the slightly bigger door opening.

Windows are typically set up such that their top edge is the same as the top height of all the doors. But if it’s not, you can note that but if you have the window width, height and cell height, you should be able to extrapolate that as you go forward. If the windows are all the same size in the room, you might just notice, you might just note them to their nearest dimension and say their sizes typical.

The next most important piece of information you want to collect is where the built-ins are. Maybe, if you’re keeping them, it can help to know the basic dimensions of the built-in cabinets in the kitchen or bathroom. Even if you’re planning to change them. Just as you’re moving pieces around you might think about do I have as many counter storage elements in the new layout as I did in the old or more ideally. But that matters less if you’re planning to fully demo the space and start over.

Similarly, knowing where the fixtures are, does matter. Usually you want to know at least the basics of the plumbing. What you really want to know is the center line of the plumbing fixtures, we’re not interested in how wide the existing toilet is. That isn’t the key measurement. What we want to know is how far is it from the nearest wall or vanity or other plumbing tool. And the code requirement there is that you need to have at least a 30 inch which 30 inch width niche words around a toilet. But what that is actually in practical terms is 15 inches on center, from the center of the toilet to the nearest thing on either side, preferably 18 inches.

When it’s a vanity, we do care about the dimensions of the vanity, both length and width height should be standard. But we probably also want to know the centerline of any plumbing fixtures. If there’s one sink or two how far spaced apart they are, you might want to write that down.

Finally, we get into these semi extraneous details, electrical outlets, light fixtures, vents, and more. Once you’ve noted all the major objects in the room, you might think about wanting to think about some user details. This matters less if you’re moving everything around. But if you’re planning to just replace most of your fixtures in kind, you do want to know where the fixtures are. You might not care where the vent ducts are. And the outlets are if you’re keeping everything exactly where it goes and just updating finishes.

So this is an important thing to think about how much do you plan to change? How much information do you need to gather? When we are asking our clients to document for us, we don’t ask them to measure the dimensions of where the outlets are, we do ask for photographs of every service in the room. So we can look and get an estimate of where outlets and ducts exist, but we don’t ask them to measure.

So let’s talk briefly about how to document what you’ve measured. Oh, by the way, measuring tape measure, super essential no matter what you use, but I highly recommend you get yourself a laser measuring device, the kind that you put planted, but and up against a wall point, the red.at the opposite wall and it will tell you inches and feet exactly how far away that wall is. Not only will it make your life more convenient when you do this. It’s handy throughout a remodeling process. And it just makes it look really cool. They’re not that expensive, and they’re totally worth it. I swear by mine, it’s amazing.

Okay, so when you are measuring how do you write down what you’ve measured. As I mentioned the font plumbing, you’re going to take a lot of measurements actually from center. So you’ll either use a point source system for dimensions or a measurement string system four dimensions. And what that means is, if you’re taking your measurements with a laser measure, you’ll put your laser up against the surface you’re measuring or if it’s in the middle of the room like a toilet, you’ll put it visually pretty close to the center line and pointed at the nearest adjacent wall.

When you’re writing in plan, you’ll put a little right angle arrow and point it at the next object you’re measuring to and then say measuring a wall with two outlets on it. For example, I might write by the first outlet, two foot zero inches from adjacent wall with a little arrow and the next outlet I would list as being six foot zero inches from the adjacent wall. But if you’re taping your measurements with a tape measure, you will do them differently, then it becomes irritating to constantly reach back to the original wall.

In that case, it’s easier to say that the first time outlet is two feet from the wall. And then from center to center, the next outlet is four feet away. Hopefully that makes sense. Remember, you can make a plan as messy as you want to on paper, as long as you yourself can read it, or the person who’s going to be making the final plan can read it. And then you can also just take a lot of extra photos in the room or take photos and annotate on them if necessary.

One more thing, what if you already have floor plans do you even need to measure? And the answer again, of course, is maybe if you have realtor generated plans. That kind of space planning diagram that lists the dining room is 10 feet by 12 feet, and then the next adjacent space is 12 feet by 10 feet and you’re confused which direction they need to switch.

You can use that as the base drawing for your messy as built sketch, but you want to go in and add all those other measurement details into it that closet the projects into the room, and how big the windows actually are. If you are fortunate enough to have the architects’ original plans believe for you. But you still might have some homework to do, because there’s a reason that we call the plans taken by the modern architect or contractor.

The plans I’ve been talking about this whole time the as built plans, their plans of what was really constructed. And that isn’t always the same thing as what the blueprints show. In some cases, things have been modified over the years as other people lived in the house. And sometimes things were just not built the way the architect originally drew them.

So if you’re lucky enough to have blueprints, I would at least do this. Take them in hand with you as you walk through the house seriously. And just make sure that all the windows and doors that are shown exist, and that nothing in the plan has mirrored a fireplace on the opposite wall and populate your measure along all the major dimensions and make sure that the House didn’t get to fit bigger or smaller for some reason of economy of scale at the time of construction.

So what’s your takeaway here, you’ve got several options for how to document pen and paper, the tech replacement for pen and paper which is tablet, tablet, and stylus. Or you can go directly into your computer and how you choose which one to do really kind of depends on what matters most to you think so think about what you plan to do as you go into the draft phase of your remodel or the next person who’s helping you with your design plans that might be US does.

If you want to only work on pen and paper. If you will never think about anything using a computer, then there’s no reason for you to use a tablet or to use a computer and your documentation. When you’re thinking about how much you document how detailed you get plan really depends on how much you plan to change.

So I would recommend that even if you’re documenting your whole home but not working on all of it, you’re gonna leave the bedroom like entirely alone, at least put that in proportionally diagrammatically with major room dimensions in place. Ironically, if you plan to fully get your house, you need to know less about what’s happening inside of it, just those major dimensions and structure points again. But if you hope to save your plumbing bill by keeping the toilet exactly where it is while you shift one fixture just slightly.

If you want to keep the wiring in place and just replace some things in kind, then you likely want to document in great detail and know everything you can about your home. Okay, so that is our little cheerful pep talk on how to properly document your house. This is obviously a very visual subject that I’m just talking to you about. But I’ll have a couple of diagrams and examples of the various types of measurement that I am talking about in the show notes page of the podcast. So check it out there.

So now that you know how to measure the dimensions of your house, I really should talk to you about what discovering your house means in total, because there’s more learning going on in your house than just knowing the size and shape of each room.

If you want to think bigger, better, brighter about your house and get all my best advice on how to tailor this building that you live in into the home that will hold your family for another generation or just suit you the best right now. Then do not miss the free planning masterclass on Saturday, August 19. Go right over to mid mod dash midwest.com/masterclass to lock down your seat and I’ll send you a couple of email reminders so you can be sure to show up next Saturday. See you there.