Tag: Home Improvement

Chasing Away the Gloom of Solar Permits


Taking on the bureaucratic challenge of submitting and getting a permit with the local city or county governments in California has become a task that most people try to avoid. Solar Permits have the additional complexities of engineering, building, and electrical code combined with utility regulations and state legislature mixed in just for fun. There is a reason why many home owners turn to specialized companies who are making millions installing and leasing solar systems. However, it is possible for the average homeowner to navigate the twists and turns of the regulatory maze for a Do-It-Yourself solar system.


Just understanding the steps involved and the order in which everything happens takes a bit of research. It might vary slightly for your city or local jurisdiction, but there is a general process which works for most solar projects.  The drawing below was created with SmartDraw to illustrate the steps:


The permit requires several drawings which cannot be handled easily with basic office products. Specialized professional drawing programs are expensive and have a huge learning curve. It’s a good thing that SmartDraw has the ability to produce every drawing and diagram required for a Solar Permit. The fact that it is relatively inexpensive and easy to use is icing on the cake. Here are a couple of the drawings created by SmartDraw:

Site Map and PV Layout Diagram


1-Line Electrical Diagram



SmartDraw exports everything to a PDF file which can be printed and submitted via paper or electronic methods. Having your plan documented speeds the process and ensures that everything goes smoothly. Even the most seasoned bureaucrat appreciates it when all the “i”s are dotted and the “t”s are crossed. The truth is, it is important for the work to be done at a professional level for the safety and longevity of your home and neighborhood. It’s a good thing we have tools at our disposal which make it easier to meet all the requirements.

It’s a brighter day with SmartDraw on your side.


Home Improvement Ideas for the Summer

If your To-Do List for this year includes buying a fixer-upper, updating your house to sell, or making upgrades to your home for your enjoyment, then you’ve come to the right place.  In this week’s post, we’ll take a look at some of our previous posts focused on bath remodels and outdoor living spaces.

You may just be inspired to create that spa-like bathroom you’ve been dreaming of or maybe you’re ready to create that outdoor oasis that’s as beautiful, comfortable, and functional as the inside of your home.


“2015 bathrooms should be three things: contemporary, spa-like, and accessible,” according to the National Kitchen & Bathroom Association.

“Expect built-in soaking tubs to be replaced by open or frameless, large walk-in showers, with multiple shower heads,” say the experts at DreamMaker Bath and Kitchen Remodeling. The fluid look and fewer lines of a frameless shower doors will finish off the room.


3 ‘Must Have’s’ for Planning Your Bathroom Renovation

We enjoy working on projects together.  So, for our 1st anniversary as Mr. & Mrs., we decided to opt out of a vacation to renovate our guest bathroom.  Though we were excited about our first bathroom renovation, it also brought us some anxiety.   We knew we would need some help.  So we decided to hire a general contractor. Read full post>>




12 Remodeling Tips for Your Master Bath Retreat

After our guest bath remodel project, our garage became a storage facility of tiles, grout, dry wall, and paint. With supplies readily available, we were anxious to design our master bath retreat.  We’ll take a look at the actual SmartDraw diagrams used from the brainstorming, planning, to execution stages of the remodel project.  Read full post>>




How to Enhance Your Bathroom Lighting

Bathroom lighting slowly eases you from sleep to awake, allows you to complete your daily grooming rituals, and can comfort you as you unwind after a long day.  But bathroom lighting can be neglected, and a poorly lit bathroom can be a dim way to start your day. Read full post>>




“2015 will be the year of outdoor living spaces,” says Jim Saxon, President of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices The Preferred Realty. “Home buyers are looking for large outdoor gathering spaces that have high-end features, such as stone fire pits and outdoor kitchens.”


Cut Through Landscape Planning Red Tape with SmartDraw

The Homeowners Association rules looked as complicated as the U.S. Tax Code.  In short, the HOA requires the submission of landscape planning diagrams prior to any changes made.  The next road block was having to create a packet that would include the design and other external structure documentation.  Read full post>>



Landscape DesignLandscape Design Basics: 3 Steps for First Time Homeowners

We have spent the last two years resloping the entire backyard which was initially sloping towards the house causing water damage to our wood floors inside. At last, we are to a point where we are ready to have sod laid.  I have created a series of diagrams that we plan to use to build the backyard of our dreams.  Read full post>>



Julie Backyard 1California Drought Prompts Landscape Redesign

California is now in its fourth year of a drought state- one so extreme that Governor Jerry Brown has recently declared a statewide drought emergency which asks all Californians to reduce their water usage by 20 percent. This drought is not solely limited to California, but is happening throughout the nation and worldwide. You know the importance of reduction, but still may be asking the question of how can I cut back?  Read full post>>



How do you use SmartDraw?  Did you use SmartDraw to one of your home improvement projects?  I’d love to hear your story.  I’m always intrigued to find out how other members of the SmartDraw community are using it.  Send me an email at rjbitner@smartdraw.com or comment below.

California Drought Prompts Landscape Redesign

https://pixabay.com/en/cacti-flora-flowers-pot-pot-plants-1846147/California is now in its fourth year of a drought state- one so extreme that Governor Jerry Brown has recently declared a statewide drought emergency which asks all Californians to reduce their water usage by 20 percent. This drought is not solely limited to California, but is happening throughout the nation and worldwide. You know the importance of reduction, but still may be asking the question of how can I cut back?

I recently had the chance to sit down with Julie Bonsack, a Senior Account Executive and vital member of the SmartDraw team for nearly a decade, to discuss her recently implemented plan to reduce water consumption in her own backyard.

Julie Backyard 1

Julie’s backyard remodel

Julie Backyard 2

Spacing is key for this underwater world design!

What prompted your recent landscape renovation?

I had an empty space that needed lots of water and was also decaying. It required some much needed attention. My Homeowners Association (HOA) had specific restrictions and allowances which I needed to abide by- namely, the majority of the landscape was to be drought tolerant.

How did you create your landscape design?

I used lots of layering. I knew that I would need many layers to organize my diagram, so in my first layer, I inserted a PDF of my lot of land. In my next layer, I drew lines over the PDF that represented the specific dimensions of my backyard. I continued with each layer until I had my entire diagram built.

Screenshot of Julie Diagram no underline red marks

SmartDraw Tip: You can insert as many layers as needed into your landscape diagram. Navigate to the Page tab, select Layers, then select New Layer. This adds an additional layer to your diagram.

Screenshot of SmartDraw Layers- Where to find

How long did your project take, from initial idea through to completion?

My renovation took 45 days in total. After a town hall meeting with my HOA in May, I learned about the requirements for my backyard. I immediately began to research. During a recent visit to Quail Gardens in Encinitas, CA, I took photos of a number of drought tolerant plants and environmentally friendly designs. Upon returning home to San Diego, I sorted through the photos and developed a loose idea of how I wanted my backyard to look.

As my expertise is not in landscape, I found a local nursery that assisted in bringing my thoughts to a reality. Once the design had been drawn up by the nursery, I incorporated this into my SmartDraw diagram and presented the final draft to my HOA. Immediately my design was approved, and construction began at the end of June. The project was completely finished by July.

How has this renovation helped your neighborhood in the current California drought?

  • It has dramatically reduced our water cost. Our neighborhood shares a single water meter, and the HOA pays the bill. There have been no complaints by the HOA since our recent renovation, and you know what they say- “no news is good news!”
  • My water usage has reduced dramatically. I use a drip system, which means that I do not have to use any sprinklers!
  • My property borders a common sidewalk and vista point that many of my neighbors use to walk their dogs, jog, etc. Any person passing by can see my renovation. I ultimately designed our backyard to look like an underwater world, so the result has been a more appealing scenery to view.

Were there any symbols within your diagram that you needed to create manually?

One symbol that I created manually was the planter “mounds” that are seen at the top of my drawing. As this is a top-down view of my backyard, I needed to find a way to illustrate that these mounds had different elevations, so I used the symbol called ‘Oval Planter Box’ three times, then grouped them all together. I gave each oval a different color (darker to lighter on top) and different shape (larger to smaller on top) to indicate a change in elevation.

What advice do you have to people who want to use SmartDraw to complete their renovation?

I highly recommend using the Layers feature within SmartDraw. This helped me to organize my diagram and to keep things separate. For example, I have an entire layer that is dedicated to the names of each plant or object within my landscape. This allowed me to space everything within my diagram to scale without worrying about the overlap of plants with text.

For anyone who wishes to conserve water on their own property, what advice would you have for them?

  • Research, research, research. I looked at many plants and designs to find exactly what fits my style and area.
  • I recommend taking photos of yards and meeting with a number of designers.
  • Also, remember that your plants will grow over time, which ultimately reduces the number of plants and other scenery that you need to purchase. Keep this in mind also when drawing up your design- spacing is key!

Do you have ideas on how to combat this extreme drought that California faces? Please comment below.

Landscape Design Basics: 3 Steps for First Time Homeowners


After living in our first home for two years, my boyfriend and I have finally gotten our backyard prepped and ready for landscaping.  We have spent the last two years resloping the entire backyard which was initially sloping towards the house causing water damage to our wood floors inside. At last, we are to a point where we are ready to have sod laid. We are looking forward to looking out to our backyard and seeing green rather than dead boring brown dirt.  I have created a series of diagrams that we plan use to build the backyard of our dreams.

STEP #1: Create a Diagram of Your Current Landscape Design

Before Landscape Design

SmartDraw Tip: You’ll notice that the side of the house has dirt in a unique shape. In SmartDraw you can only “fill” a closed off object with a color. To fill the backyard and side of the house brown I used a combination of shapes. 

SideyardI created the shape of the side yard by using two rectangles.  A wider rectangle at the bottom and a thinner rectangle at the top right.  In order for the shapes to appear “seamless”, I made sure to not only “fill” them with the same color, but I also changed the line color to be the same color as the fill.  As you can see in the below picture there is a gold glow around the perimeter of the rectangle placed on the top right, showing that they are two separate shapes:

Border Glow

But as soon as I deselect the rectangle, they look seamless, as if they were a single object.  Refer to diagram below.

Seamless Border

STEP #2: Determine the Gas Line, Sprinklers, and Drip System Design

We have had quite some time to think about what our ideal backyard would be. Initially, we wanted it all . . . a pool, a spa, a fire pit, and the list goes on.  But of course, we needed to take in to account not only the financial implications, but our space restrictions.  Could we fit a pool, spa, and fire pit? Yes, but would we have room for anything else?  So, we downsized our initial plans and decided to go with the fire pit with a gazebo.

With a variety of fire pits to choose from: portable, built-in, wood burning, or gas, we decided to go with a built in gas fire pit with glass rocks. In turn, we would need to determine the location of our gas lines, sprinklers, and drip system before any of the landscaping can begin.  I used the current backyard landscape design diagram to display where the gas line, sprinklers and drip system will need to go.

Sprinkler & Gas Line Drawing

SmartDraw Tip: I used the Layers feature to create the sprinkler layout. The Layers feature allows me to create the design elements in a single layer.  They can be that is to be display or viewed when needed.   To create a layer navigate to the Page Ribbon’s Layers drop-down menu.  Select New Layer.


When you select this option a small dialog box will appear that allows you to name your layer and apply properties.  Click OK.

Add New Layer

Note: The term “Visible” means that regardless of which layer you are on you will be able to see any objects placed on that layer.  The term “Clickable” means that regardless of which layer you are on, you will be able to select and move any objects placed on that layer.  You can change the properties of the layers at any time. In fact, I continuously toggle them on and off depending on what I want to display or do with my diagram.  You can toggle the properties of the layer on and off by right clicking the tab associated with that layer that appears at the bottom of your work area.  You can see below my two layers for my landscape visual (Gas, Sprinklers and Drip & Landscape Design):

Layer Tab

STEP #3: Finalize Your Dream Backyard Landscape Design

After the gas line, sprinklers and drip system are all in place, it will be time to pour cement. Once the cement is poured we are going to have some stone work done. We are choosing to do this prior to laying the sod because there will be a lot of traffic coming in and out of the yard. Once the flag stone is set, we can start in on the rest of the yard.

After Landscape Design

SmartDraw Tip: In addition to the wide variety of color options, SmartDraw also provides you with the option to fill objects with “texture”. The textures range from grass and wood grain to fabric and stone.


SmartDraw Tip: You can also import your own custom images if you cannot find the correct texture or symbol already existing in SmartDraw.  I did this with the flag stone used in my final landscape design.  First, save the image to your computer. In the Insert Ribbon, select Picture.   You can then browse your machine for the image you want to insert.  Once the image has been inserted into the work area you can then resize it. 

Insert Picture

SmartDraw Tip: You can save an imported image into your Symbol Library. To do this, drag and drop the symbol into the library. The SmartDraw dialogue box appears.  Click OK. In the Edit Symbol dialog box (see below) enter the appropriate value in the Symbol Name field. Change settings as you see fit. Click OK.  That newly saved symbol will now live at the bottom of your Symbol Library.

Edit Symbol

Where We Are Today

That’s where our landscape design ends for now. I’m sure we will be continuously adding, rearranging and upgrading.  We have learned that owning a home is expensive, time consuming, yet very rewarding.

To learn more about landscape designs, read a few of our other blog posts Save Water with These 5 Landscape Planning Tips,  Cut Through Landscape Planning Red Tape with SmartDraw, and Can a Good Landscape Design Increase Home Value?

How to Enhance Your Bathroom Lighting

https://static.pexels.com/photos/65055/pexels-photo-65055.jpegBathroom lighting slowly eases you from sleep to awake, allows you to complete your daily grooming rituals, and can comfort you as you unwind after a long day.  But bathroom lighting can be neglected, and a poorly lit bathroom can be a dim way to start your day.  In this week’s post, I’ll share with you what we learned about lighting during our two most recent home renovation projects.   Keep in mind that this information can be applied to lighting in any room in your home.

If you’d like to learn about our renovation projects you can read, “3 ‘Must Have’s’ for Planning Your Bathroom Renovation” and “12 Remodeling Tips for Your Master Bath Retreat.”



Know the size of the space.

It’s important to provide the appropriate amount of light for the size of the room.  We actually found several formulas online as to how to determine the amount of lights in a room.  In addition, we relied on the experience of our contractors to help guide us in some of the final decision making when it came to the placement and amount of lighting for the space.

room lighting6

SmartDraw Tip: To automatically calculate the area of a room, first select the room.  Navigate to the Design Ribbon, select Dimensions.  In the Show Dimensions dialogue box, navigate to the Area Display section.  You have the following three options: The Area of the Shape, The Width and Height of the Shape, or None.  Click OK.  


Keep in mind where your natural light comes from.

Take note of where the windows are located and how much light is let in.  Pay attention to large plants or trees that may partially block the sun’s natural rays.  It’s also important to consider both daytime and nighttime lighting when choosing lights.

Just outside our guest bath we have two large palm trees.  Fortunately,  the morning sunlight has no problem brightening up the room.  On the other hand, our master bath receives afternoon light.  In comparison, our master bath has more lighting than the guest bath to compensate for the amount of light and the size of the room.

Customize lighting to your unique preferences.

Whether I’m stumbling to use the restroom in the middle of the night or getting up early for my morning workout, I’ve always dreaded turning on the lights in the bathroom after going from a room of complete darkness. In the dark, our eyes dilate to take in as much light as possible in order to see.  Depending on whether we’ve close our blackout shades in our master bedroom, the amount of time it takes for my eyes to adjust varies.

eyes_light conditions

SmartDraw Tip: There are a number of Template Categories available in SmartDraw.  They can easily be accessed from the Category Screen when you first open SmartDraw.  This particular diagram was built upon an existing sample diagram found in the Healthcare Category.  To save time, I simply entered the search criteria of “eye” in the Search field and pressed the Enter key.  Using the Previous and Next navigation arrows, I scrolled through the sample diagrams until I discovered the appropriate diagram.  

In order to customize the sample diagram, I selected the eye then navigated to the Design Ribbon.  In the Design Ribbon’s Group drop-down menu, I selected Ungroup Objects.  The keyboard shortcut is Shift+Ctrl+G.   With the object ungrouped I was able to manipulate the diagram to meet my needs.  


Our solution was to customize the lighting as well as the lighting controls in our master bathroom.  I may be a morning person but that doesn’t mean I don’t need time to adjust and get oriented.  With that in mind, we designed the light switches in ascending order from the doorway.  When I get up, I just reach for the first light switch located closest to the door.


SmartDraw Tip: You can easily apply effects, such as a shadow,  to any object within a diagram.  First, select the object you wish to modify.  In the Home Ribbon, select the Effects control.  Then, navigate to the type of effect you wish to apply to the object.  In this case, I selected Shadow which then displayed a sub-menu from which to select the appropriate option.  



Multiple light sources balances a room by minimizing shadows and glare, while adding dimension and depth.  We used light layering to maximize the appearance and functionality of the space.  Here are the floor plan diagrams that enabled us to easily explain to our contractors: where we’d like the lighting to be installed as well as how it should be wired to the light switch panel.

all lights

SmartDraw Tip:  You my notice that the light in the diagram is transparent.  To achieve this, select the object you wish to make transparent.  In the Home Ribbon, select the Fill control.  Navigate to the Transparency bar in the Fill drop-down menu.  Select the appropriate percentage.  Repeat the process until you achieve your desired level of transparency.

fill menu

Task Lighting

Task lighting adds brightness to areas of the room where daily tasks are performed.  It prevents eyestrain and enhances clarity to tasks such as shaving and applying make-up.  Effective task lighting should be free of glare and shadows.  Through the use of the vanity lighting and the combined night light and light provided by the ventilation fan we were able to achieve proper task lighting.

task lights1

SmartDraw Tip:  Arrows not only provide direction they also function as labels.  To prevent the arrows from snapping into place, lock the object(s) in the diagram or create them in a different layer.  I chose to lock objects.  First, select the object or objects you with to lock.  Then, right + click to display the menu.  In the menu, select Lock Object.  (Note: In order to unlock an object, simply right + click on the object. In the menu, select Lock Object.  The object you originally selected will no longer be locked).  

In the Home Ribbon, select Line.  In the Line drop-down menu, select Line.  Draw the line in the Work Area.  Navigate to the Home Ribbon’s Shape Style group and select Line.  In the Line drop-down menu you will have the option to select the type of arrowhead(s).  In addition, you may also choose to modify the thickness of the arrow.  Select the appropriate options.  


Ambient Lighting  

Ambient, or general, lighting provides an area with overall illumination. We incorporated ambient lighting by installing recessed lights.  They provide a comfortable level of brightness without glare.

One term you’ll hear when shopping for your recessed lighting is “trim.” Trim refers to the visible part of the light and should reflect your individual style.  First, we selected the size.  Trims range from 3″ to 6″ in diameter.  The size of the trim is personal preference; however, larger sized trims are able to produce broader amount of light.  Smaller trims are less conspicuous and are considered to be a more modern contemporary look.  We decided to install (1) 6″ and (2) 4″ lensed trims since they are designed to protect the bulb and the interior of the housing from moisture or taking direct hits of water.


Accent Lighting

Accent, or directional, lighting is used to highlight certain objects or features.  It’s not meant as a focal point but rather to work without being seen.  Our accent lighting was provided by the vanity lights installed directly above each mirrored medicine cabinet.


12 Remodeling Tips for Your Master Bath Retreat


Shortly after we completed our guest bath renovation project, our garage became a storage facility for 5 types of tiles, 2 colors of grout, door trim, baseboards, spare dry wall, and an assortment of gallon paint cans and paint brushes.   As those of you who’ve done DIY home improvement projects, it’s a best practice to err on the side of caution and order more than you’ll need.  For example, we ordered the recommended 10% extra of tile which was to cover the waste from cutting tiles and the occasional breakage.

With supplies readily available, we were anxious to design our master bath retreat.  What was originally a project to tackle in 2 years, soon became a project to start in 4 months.  In this week’s post, I’ll share with you the actual SmartDraw diagrams used from the brainstorming, planning, to execution stages of the remodel project.  To get started we used the same approach we did with our guest bathroom.  The steps we took can be found in a previous post, “3 ‘Must Have’s’ for Planning Your Bathroom Renovation.”



original master bath3

SmartDraw Tip: In order to have SmartDraw automatically calculate the area of an object, you must first select the object.  Navigate to the Design Ribbon’s Dimensions control.  In the Show Dimensions dialogue box, navigate to the Area Display section.  Click the radio button next to The Area of the Shape option.  Click OK.  The results will appear in the center of the object you originally selected.


We looked at the space and knew it was underutilized.  For inspiration, we turned to a number of resources: websites, home improvement television shows, and showrooms specializing in bathrooms and kitchens.  We gathered samples, researched the maintenance and care of different types of materials, read tons of reviews, and conducted price comparisons.  As a newly married couple, we were all about doubling the function of the space so we selected Option B.  We doubled the sinks, shower heads, towel racks, vanity lighting, mirrored cabinets, and storage.

original master bath5

SmartDraw Tip:  The Symbol Libraries automatically default to a library that is relevant to the template you have selected.  To create the above diagram, select Floor Plans – Residential in the Left Panel of the Category Screen.  Then, navigate to Bathrooms.  In the Template Preview, select from Room Outlines, Standard Room Outlines, or Custom Floor Plan.  Simply click and drag symbols from the Library into the Work Area.   


To off-set some of the cost, we negotiated with our contractors to allow us to take ownership of some of the tasks.  We were responsible for painting the room, painting the door, installation of the door, base boards, trim, towel bars, hook, and toilet paper roll holder.  Our offer to work side by side with our contractors proved to be invaluable.  The crew began to coach us, giving us pointers and advice on other DIY projects that we were tackling.  At one point, they not only helped my husband update our electrical wiring in our garage, they helped us install dry wall throughout the garage.  We “paid” them with pizza, beer, and some Filipino food on several occasions.


Once we reviewed the potential floor plan options with our lead contractor, we switched gears and relied heavily on the use of elevation diagrams.  This allowed us to re-image the space as well as communicate what we had envisioned to our contractors with accuracy.

Elevation diagrams

SmartDraw Tip: To locate the Bathroom Elevation Template navigate to the Floor Plans – Residential category, select Bathrooms.  Use the scroll bar to navigate to the Bathroom Elevations Template Preview area, select the Blank Bathroom Elevation Template or one of the samples diagrams provided.


When discussing the details of the design, I noticed our contractors refer to measurements in inches, not feet.  At the tile showroom, the salesperson referred to 12″ by 24″ tiles opposed to 1′ by 2′ tiles.  So, I converted the elevations diagrams into inches for consistency.


SmartDraw Tip: To modify the scale of a diagram, navigate to the Page Ribbon.  In the Scale drop-down menu, select Custom.  The Set Rulers And Grids dialogue box appears.  In the Scale section, enter the appropriate values.  Click OK.  


Before “demo day” was scheduled, we were required to have all of the materials purchased and on-site.  Although we had done our research and placed orders on-time, there were unexpected delays that were beyond our control.  We took advantage of the delayed start date by using this time to move from our master bedroom into the guest room.   This is where we would live for the duration of the project.


One of the things I noticed early on in the project, was that our lead contractor used the diagrams as instructions for the crew.  He would tape up the diagrams that were relevant to that particular day’s tasks.  By including the exact measurements and placement of elements in the room, we were able to communicate our expectations effectively and efficiently.


SmartDraw Tip:  Although there is an extensive Symbol Library, there are occasions in which you may not find the exact symbol you need.  Know that you have the option of creating your own.  In this case, the Library did not have a symbol for an adjustable handheld shower head.  In the diagram above, I simply combined a black door handle and a light fixture turned vertically.  To create the actual symbol, I placed the two symbols in the appropriate position by using the rotation control.  Then I navigated to the Design Ribbon and selected Group Objects (Ctrl + G).


I stand at a whopping 4’11,” while my husband is 5’9″.  We could have easily tailored the master bath’s features to meet our height requirements.  However, we would risk the appeal to potential buyers or future tenants.  We made  the following design decisions to not only meet our current needs but for resale value as well:

  • The vanity mirrored cabinets included adjustable glass shelving and were installed at an average height.  To meet my needs, I simply adjusted the shelves according to my height.
  • The doors of the cabinets open in opposite directions so our site lines of one another are not obstructed when we’re getting ready.
  • The adjustable handheld shower head was installed with it’s lowest point at a comfortable height that I could reach but the highest point for an average height person.
  • The two shower benches have been designed to comfortably accommodate my height, while still being useful for an average height person.
  • The rain shower head and massage handheld shower head are two day spa elements that we were on our “must have’s” list.


Several design decisions were made in an effort to lessen the amount of maintenance:

  • We chose not to have a shower door.  Benefit: Less glass to clean.
  • We had 12″ x 24″ shower tiles installed, opposed to smaller tiles. Benefit: Less grout to clean.
  • The vanity has two undermount sinks.  Benefit: Counter tops can easily be wiped down. Debris can be swept into the sink.
  • Accent tiles were installed higher than the height of the shower head wall mount.  Benefit: Accents tiles in the shower area have little to no contact with water, which requires minimal cleaning.
  • The width of the shower, places the two niches beyond the direct spray of the two shower heads.  Benefit:  Niches have little contact with water, which requires an occasional wipe down.



You’ll note that the pony wall, or half wall, is completed by a glass wall that doesn’t reach the ceiling.  This design decision was to accommodate for the amount of steam generated by the shower.


SmartDraw Tip:  By design, SmartDraw is set to use what is referred to as Snaps to ensure diagrams have clean lines. When creating a diagram, you may want to either position or rotate an object in a particular way in that the system does not allow.  To bypass the default setting, select the object you wish to rotate.  Navigate to the Page Ribbon, deselect the check box next to Use Snaps.  When you rotate the object, you’ll notice that it rotates smoothly. Once you have rotated the object, it is a best practice to repeat the steps to return to the default settings.  


The two angled benches are intentional in design.  Not only are they appealing to the eye and add interest to the space, they also provide more surface area of the floor.  Thus, preventing the individual in the shower from stubbing their toe.


Buying items in bulk can be a great way to save money.   As proud warehouse shoppers, we designed the “His & Her” niches to accommodate two 40 oz sized bottles of shampoo and conditioner.   Our contractors were impressed by some of the details we incorporated into the master bath, this was definitely one of them.  The depth and width of the niches were also designed to store other items, keeping the benches and floor clear.


SmartDraw Tip: Labeling photographs or elements of a diagram can prove to be a challenge.  In order for text to standout, the background needs some contrast.  Transparency was used to create the label in the above photo.  In the Home Ribbon, select a shape from the Shape drop-down menu.  Drag it into the Work Area.  In the Ribbon’s Fill drop-down menu select the appropriate color, in this case, White.  Navigate to the Fill drop-down menu again, then select the appropriate value in the Transparency bar.  By changing the percent of transparency the label can still display the background while provide sufficient contrast for the text to be easily read.


Having “His & Her” electrical outlets installed were a must for the design of the master bath.  My husband and I have our individual electrical tooth brushes as well as other items that routinely require charging.  We placed the outlets to the right and left of the two cabinets for several reasons: (1) they are not openly visible, (2) they do not interfere with the overall appearance of the vanity especially the accent tiles, and (3) they can be easily accessed when needed.

In addition to the vanity’s two electrical outlets, we also included one to the lower right hand side of the toilet.  We could use it for our free standing towel warmer or if we, or any future owners of the home, wish to upgrade the toilet to a bidet.

As a precautionary measure, we had bullnose trim that was made of the same materials as our floor tile installed behind the vanity.  This design choice would help protect the walls from potential water damage from the vanity or shower area.


SmartDraw Tip:  You’ll note that the light fixtures, cabinets, and faucets are in perfect alignment.  The His & Her electrical outlets align perfectly with the bottom of the cabinets.  You can easily achieve this by first selecting the objects, with the last object you select as the “target.”  Navigate to the Design Ribbon’s Align control and select the appropriate option.


We absolutely love our new master bath retreat.  Increasing our shower area to more than 3x’s the original size was one of the best design decisions we made.   In addition to the time spent in the structural design of the master bath, we also invested time in lighting design.  Read more in How to Enhance Your Bathroom Lighting.  The information can be applied to any room in your home.

We hope these remodeling tips will help you get started in designing the master bath retreat of your dreams.


3 "Must Haves" for Planning Your Bathroom Renovation

Purchased Image iStock_000007455255Medium

Together my husband and I have not only installed interior and exterior doors in our home, we’ve replaced, spackled, sanded, caulked, and painted everything from baseboards to trim to interior walls.   We enjoy working on projects together.  So, for our 1st anniversary as Mr. & Mrs., we decided to opt out of a vacation to renovate our guest bathroom.  Though we were excited about our first bathroom renovation, it also brought us some anxiety.   And although we’re no strangers to DIY home improvement projects, we knew we would need some help.  So we decided to hire a general contractor.


Having managed projects involving the selection and management of vendors before, I knew that I wanted the screening process to run as smooth as possible.   I wanted these appointments to be thorough but require the least amount of time.  Before scheduling the appointments, we decided what our requirements would be for the guest bath.  So, I figured why not have the information ready?  By providing the handout, we had more time to focus on specific questions and concerns as well as an opportunity to gauge their level of customer service.   The handout was issued at the start of each appointment.

Must Have #1: General Contractor Handout

1_Contractor Appointment

General Contractor Handout included:

  • Dimensions of the current floor plan
  • Overview of bathroom renovation ideas and expectations
  • Area to take notes and  enter their own measurements

SmartDraw Tip: The symbol libraries in SmartDraw contain more than 5,000  professionally designed symbols, images and clip art. With that many symbols, you can create this diagram in minutes.  Just watch this video.


What I didn’t expect is that with each appointment came more and more ideas of what to do with our guest bathroom renovation.  Ideas are great to have. But too many ideas can be a bit overwhelming.  From the endless photos of bathroom renovations we found online to the ideas that came from each appointment, we wanted a way to keep it simple.    After we narrowed it down to our top 3 favorites, we thought it would be best to see what the flow and function of the 3 designs would be in the actual space.  So, I jumped onto SmartDraw and created this to scale brainstorm of bathroom renovation ideas.

Must Have #2: Bathroom Design Brainstorm

1_Guest Bath Options

Bathroom Design Brainstorm included:

  • Original floor plan
  • Each floor plan design
  • Duration required for each design

SmartDraw Tip: Use the Ctrl key + D key to duplicate an object.  In other words, if you’re a keyboard shortcut user, this command replaces the need to use Ctrl+C to copy and Ctrl+V  to paste.  To create the Bathroom Design Brainstorm simply duplicate the original floor plan as needed.  Then use the Design Ribbon to align and space the floor plans evening.  Click here to learn how to align, rotate, and group.

It was clear to both of us which design we wanted to go with once we viewed it in SmartDraw.   Fortunately, each general contractor also provided estimates on how long each one of their ideas would take.  The Bathroom Design Brainstorm diagram not only allowed us to choose a design, we also chose our contractor based on their estimated time of delivery and availability.  It was that easy.


One of the reasons we chose to work with our general contractor is that we had the freedom to buy all of the materials opposed to being limited to a set inventory of materials.  To aide in the effort, we were assigned an interior designer. She came with ideas that were based on our design requirements and brought us to their preferred suppliers who were not available to the general public.  She was there through every step of the purchasing process which was a huge relief. Although we had the freedom to take our time in designing our new guest bathroom, we knew that our general contractor wouldn’t break ground until all materials were on-site.  With that said, it was important that we purchased and ordered what we needed as soon as possible.

On the morning of our first shopping day, I was so excited to see what we would find.   I jumped onto SmartDraw to create a quick checklist, just like I would if I we were going grocery shopping.  I was confident that our designer knew what we were going to need to purchase but I didn’t want to leave anything to chance.  My husband and I also wanted to make sure that we stayed within budget and that we would get the items delivered in a reasonable amount of time.  From the design showrooms to the endless lighting and fixtures displays there was so much to take in.

Must Have #3: Items to Add/Remodel Checklist

1_Materials Shopping List

Items to Add/Remodel Checklist included:

  • List of items to add or remodel
  • Floor plan including dimensions
  • Tracking information such as vendor, price, and delivery date

SmartDraw Tip: Use Ctrl+C to copy the design from the Bathroom Design Brainstorm. Then use Ctrl+V to paste it into the Items to Add/Remodel Checklist.  You can add a Table or Form to any template in SmartDraw.  Learn more about Tables or Forms.

During our visit to the stone and tile showroom, the checklist proved to be a necessity .  Once we selected our floor, bath, and accent tiles, the next step was to place the order.  We just looked at the floor plan on our checklist and calculated the amount we needed. It was that simple.

In the end it took 3 days to shop, 2 weeks for the remodel, and 1 additional week for the mirrors to arrive and be installed.  We love our new guest bathroom and can’t wait to have our first house guests.

When you’re ready to get started on your next home or bathroom renovation, you’ve got to try these 3 renovation “must-haves.”  They’ll make your renovation process a whole lot easier.


Before getting started take a look at 12 Remodeling Tips for Your Master Bath Retreat to see what’s entailed when you gut out a bathroom only to re-imagine the entire space.  Not only did we use floor plans, we found elevation diagrams to play an integral role in the design and execution of the project.

In addition, before you head out to the home improvement warehouses or lighting showrooms you may want to read How to Enhance Your Bathroom Lighting. This information is not room specific and can easily be applied to any room in your home.



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Save Water with These 5 Landscape Planning Tips

https://pixabay.com/en/drops-of-water-water-nature-liquid-578897/The hot, dry summer season is rapidly approaching. In many parts of the world, including here in California, drought conditions are wreaking havoc on water supplies. Many jurisdictions are asking residents to voluntarily cut back on water usage. Mandatory rationing is possible.

But wherever you live, landscape planning that uses native and drought-tolerant plants can conserve water, save money, and look attractive, as well.

How to Create a Water-Saving Landscape Plan

  1. Start with a base map. This is a plot of the design area. It will include static elements such as property lines, buildings, driveways, and other features that will not change. It’s also a good idea to mark public utility lines on the base map.
  2. Survey the characteristics of the property. Observe natural features of the property, such as areas of sun and shade. You should also note the site’s natural drainage pattern. Landscape planning that follows natural contours, such as placing water-loving plants in naturally low-lying areas or areas of moisture-retaining clayey soil, will give you better long-term results. You should also note other needs, such as privacy screening or planting to block an objectionable view.
  3. Determine the functions of yard areas. Will your rear yard be used for outdoor entertaining or a kickball field? Is the side yard going to be an herb garden or used for extra parking? Design around how you intend to use the various components of the property.
  4. Create planting zones by water needs. Taking all of the above factors into account, create zones in your landscape that are defined by water requirements. Try and keep plants needing more water to lower, shadier areas, for example.
  5. Select appropriate plants. This will be determined by the climate zone you live in and the characteristics specific to your property. Use plants that are native to your area or are suitable to your climate zone. If you’re in a dry zone, but want to use some plants that need extra irrigation, plant them in as small a zone as possible and limit them to areas where they can be seen and enjoyed.

Mind map of the data that follows, with a background photo of a water-saving landscape

Xeriscape: The Economical, Functional and Beautiful Solution

Your front yard doesn’t have to look like a gravel pit to drastically reduce water usage. A concept known as xeriscape (translated from Greek, it means “dry scene”) has gained in popularity in recent years. The main reason, of course, is to save water. But there are other benefits, too. Xeriscapes require much less time and effort to maintain, further saving money for the homeowner.

Xeriscaping can also be functional. For example, you may want to include some trees, plants and herbs that provide food for your family.

With a little planning and creativity, a xeriscape can also be extremely beautiful.

Landscape plan created with SmartDraw


Click here to see our video, “Creating Landscapes with SmartDraw.”