Without really thinking about it, most of the trades perform layout all the time. It’s kind of a natural course of action we’re all used to—it’s why we carry and use measuring tapes, pencils, markers, straightedges, levels, string lines, chalk lines, lasers, and so forth. It’s also why we follow a set of design prints, and look up specifications for products. We essentially lay out everything we’re going to do before we do it, and if we discover a problem, that layout then helps us find a solution as to how to proceed.
Why layout is important
Fit-and-finish layouts are often an overlooked component of a remodel project, especially when it comes to kitchens and, in this case, a bathroom. Performing layout throughout a remodel project can save mistakes by identifying how everything fits together through essentially drawing (or templating) before actual products are installed. No remodel turns out perfect, but getting into the habit of performing fit-and-finish layout long before installation can significantly reduce fitting issues by identifying how everything is going to work together. If something doesn’t appear to be going according to design, going back to the fit-and-finish layout gives everyone time to get involved—and helps find a solution before having to redo any work, keeping the project on time and on budget.
Who performs fit-and-finish layout?
Laying out the finish products during and after the framing stage becomes that much more important when remodeling a kitchen or a bathroom. Why? Because there are so many fit and finish products coming together in very close proximity, which means the chance of one thing being off and affecting something else (or everything else) is very high. The more complicated the project, the more necessary this step. So, who does it? The lead carpenter? The project manager? The answer is yes—to both. The answer is whoever has access to all the specifications and prints, and whoever is involved in building the project from start to finish. Ultimately, it’s the responsibility of the project manager to ensure everything fits, but on many residential projects, the project manager is also the carpenter. The important thing is that someone is designated to perform it.
Now that we know layout is important and who needs to be responsible, here’s how to perform one.
How to perform fit-and-finish layout
1. Identify and gather all the specifications
The first step in performing fit-and-finish layout on the framing is to start before framing is completed and gather all the specifications of the products that are going to be installed. This includes the countertop thickness, backsplash type and size, cabinet layout and sizes, door swings, faucet heights, location of electrical receptacles, tile and backer board thickness, and so forth. Typically, I have all the specs saved on my laptop so I can easily pull up the PDFs and have them ready to go. I also usually have the latest construction paper print with me as well. With these two documents—the specs and the most recent print—and bags on (usually this means a level, chalk line, square, and something to write with), I’m ready for the next step: making story poles.
2. Make story poles
A story pole is a piece (or section) of wood that you customize for the project at hand. By adding measurements, markings, and project notes, a story pole acts as a versatile tool which helps keep your projects in focus while avoiding needless errors.
Start by making two story poles before or during framing: one with a vertical layout, and one with a horizontal layout. Start drawing your layout on the poles from the floor up. In my experience, the layout design is off the cabinets, as the cabinets are the focal point and sit on the floor. Remember: if the finished height of the counter is 36” (the most common height), that means it’s 36” from the finished tile surface—not the subfloor you see in the photos.
Make sure to find out the thickness of your flooring and draw it in! I like to start drawings on a vertical two-by-four story pole, marking and labeling everything with a pencil from the floor up. I’ll do the same thing for the horizontal layout, drawing in the thickness of drywall and even the thickness of cabinet divider bulkheads. From these story poles, I’ll transfer all the lines to the floors and wall plates before the studs are framed, especially if I need to consider center lines for things like medicine cabinets, plumbing vents, or, in this case, a laundry passthrough. That way, when I’m framing a bathroom like this one, everything will line up and fit properly.
3. Finalize the layout before you bring in subcontractors
Once the studs are framed, I like to do a more comprehensive, permanent layout drawing before the subs come in to do their work. I’ll use permanent marker, transferring all lines on the floor, studs, and plates if needed. I’ll even draw in lights, medicine cabinets, faucet height, crown moulding, towel rings—anything that looks like it might be in close proximity and have an impact on something else. At this stage in this bathroom project, I discovered that the designed lights weren’t going to work, so I got the architect and owner together. The three of us came up with a solution in plenty of time to reorder the lighting without affecting the project schedule.
Doing this kind of layout might seem like it’s complicated and a lot of work, but when you plan for it as a natural course of events in the process of a remodel, it’s well worth it. The thing to remember when building your schedule is that the more complicated the fit and finish, the more time needed to perform careful layout. None of us are perfect and we all make mistakes, including me. That’s why a layout is so important—it’s an opportunity to solve any potential surprise problems before they arise.