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"First Step Essentials!"


While it’s fun to think about the cosmetic changes of finishing a basement or adding an addition, first step in preparing your home for future projects is to assess the longevity and efficiency of the existing systems. This is especially important when expanding the thermal boundary of your home, which is determined by what spaces you wish to heat and cool with proper air sealing and insulation. When expanding a living space, system upgrades will ensure that your home is energy efficient and comfortable throughout—while improving your bottom line over the long term. No rooms are remodeled at this time, except for subsequent items affected by the system upgrades.


Existing bungalow footprint and spatial use to remain unaltered.

Overall Design Solution

System Upgrades

Mechanical systems have become much more efficient in recent years, so if you have systems older than 10 years in your home, you may want to upgrade them to energy saving models to help you save money in the long run. Other considerations include:


To meet Chicago Building Code requirements, all habitable rooms must have heat from source sized to heat space at 65˚F minimum when exterior temperature is -10˚F

  • Hot Water or Steam

    • Assess the longevity, efficiency and capacity of boiler, radiators and piping through professional tune-up and service

    • Multi-zone boilers allow for each floor to be heated to different temperature

    • Consider a replacement system that combines the boiler and water heater into one efficient system, like an indirect water heater, which relies on a boiler to provide a one-two punch of energy use reduction and cost savings

  • Forced Air

    • Assess the longevity, efficiency and capacity of furnace, ductwork, supply dampers and return grates through professional tune-up and service

    • Insulate supply ducts—poor ductwork can result in loss of 15% of conditioned air

  • Install a programmable or smart thermostat to better manage your temperature


Assess the longevity, efficiency and capacity of water heater, piping and faucets through professional tune-up and service.

  • Replace existing galvanized drain pipes with new copper pipes

  • Replace existing galvanized and cast-iron waste and vent plumbing pipes with new PVC pipes

  • Insulate hot water supply pipes

  • If you are planning a bathroom addition, you may want to consider replacing your main water service line. Most older homes in Chicago have the old lead pipe line which is typically too small to service additional plumbing fixtures and may also cause harmful lead exposure. How do you know if you have a lead service line?


If you are planning on expanding your living space, you may want to consider replacing the existing electrical service with a new 200 amperage service. Most electrical service in older homes is 100 amperages or less, which is not sufficient for A/C and modern electronics, let alone to service additional finished spaces. Upgrading the electrical service also requires replacing the circuit breaker panel to provide more open breaker spots to meet Chicago Building Code requirements.

System Upgrades

Air Sealing & Insulation​

While a shiny and efficient mechanical system is great, you will need air sealing and insulation to manage the new thermal boundary of your home, which is determined by what spaces you wish to heat and cool with proper air sealing and insulation. This is the most cost-effective way to keep your expanded living space comfortable and energy efficient. Floors, walls and ceilings account for the most common areas of air infiltration at 30%.

Air Sealing & Insulation

Structural Reinforcement

  • It is important to consult a structural or architectural professional before finishing or building out attic spaces.

    • Existing attic spaces were not originally constructed with the floor structure required for living spaces the way first floor living spaces were built and were more likely used for easy access to a great place to dry laundry prior to modern laundry appliances.

  • Water is the number one enemy of building materials, so having a well-sealed roof is a priority.

    • Check the condition of the existing roof and gutter system. Planned or unexpected roof replacement may be a good time to plan a second floor or dormer addition.​

Project Considerations

  • “Everything lasting is built on a strong foundation"—take this approach on all aspects of your home and individual system components (and any future work)

  • Before starting any work: ​

    1. Make sure the ​basement looks dry as water can damage the foundation walls

    2. Check to see if the beams in the basement are well supported, connected, and don't look stressed (beams should not "smile" at you)

    3. Look to see if any floor framing, or building components look questionably modified by a prior owner or contractor—better yet, have a trusted contractor or architect inspect the condition

  • Add or replace smoke detectors and Carbon Monoxide detectors, at minimum one per floor and within 15' of all sleeping rooms. If you are doing electrical work, have the electricians hard-wire them as you do work in the home. ​

  • A building permit is required for new building construction, renovations, the installation of heating and cooling systems, and any plumbing or electrical work. If construction is necessary, you need to apply for building permits through the Department of Buildings. A building permit is needed to make sure that the project you are constructing meets the minimum criteria of the Chicago Building Code.

Project Considerations
Project Cost Estimate

          Project Cost Estimate​


Possible increase in plumbing service w/ new, larger water main


Pipe Replacement

Replace existing galvanized plumbing pipes w/ new copper and PVC pipes 



Includes full attic and sidewall insulation


Air Sealing

Air sealing to include all accessible penetrations, bypasses such as plumbing stacks, chimneys, hatches, interior partition, electrical, and other penetrations found within attic/roof cavity and basement



Possible increase in electrical service


New Water Heater


Boiler and Water Heater Tune-Up


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