With an Eye on Resale
By Rick Bacon, FAIA
Physical alterations to an existing building that will house an animal care business are inevitable. Some changes are optional and some may be required.
I am often asked if the interior design and alterations to a building being purchased for a boarding / daycare business can be planned in a way that makes it easier to resell the building. The financial institution you have approached seeking a business loan is applying similar criteria: Will this building we might have to repossess be hard to resell?
Classify Your Improvements
You can classify renovations and improvements into three categories: have–to, need–to and want–to. A “have–to” improvement may be building code related or a critical function like the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system.
A “need–to” improvement might be partitions between large dog and small dog areas in a daycare setting or new plumbing for a bathing and grooming area. These are necessary to provide a core service. A “want–to” improvement might be installing an epoxy floor finish system that improves appearance. It’s a nice feature but you can function without it.
When upgrades to an existing building are voluntary, choose those that add some value to the building or improve efficiency or income. You want to derive some benefit, especially if you are the building’s owner and will not be there long enough to depreciate the expense fully.
These renovations are necessary because the building has fallen out of compliance with current codes governing occupied structures. These codes include the local current building code, fire code, mechanical code, energy code and, possibly, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 150: Standard on Fire and Life Safety in Animal Housing Facilities will likely apply. You may need to hire a consultant to assist you with your due diligence effort to determine what renovations or improvements will be required by your local government.
The energy code determines what r–value (thermal resistance) is required and is based on the climate in your location. Three ways to increase insulation are to add insulation board, add batt insulation or add spray foam insulation. These are most often integrated with the roofing system and attic spaces but may include better insulated walls, also.
Adding board insulation to the roofing system can be costly, especially if the existing roof system does not need to be replaced. Instead, consider spray–on foam to provide the proper roof r–value. Foam may be a somewhat more costly insulation than adding batt insulation attached to the bottom of the roof structure or placed on top of a hard or dropped ceiling system. However, the spray-on foam applied to the underside of the roof deck provides insulation and acoustical benefit as well. Spray–on foam can also be applied to walls but these should not be left unfinished with the foam exposed because dogs could chew on it. Spray–on foam applied to the underside of the roof deck may be left unfinished, but it is often concealed with a lay–in ceiling system.
Wall Construction for Boarding Areas
Try to avoid masonry construction in boarding kennel interior fit-outs (tenant leasing a space) and fit-ups (could be lease or purchase). Consider insulated stud walls with a finish material to suit your budget. If another tenant or owner comes in, these wall types are easier to remove. Other wall construction to consider includes moisture resistant sheetrock (gypsum board), impact resistant sheetrock, or even cement board (the kind that goes behind tile walls) depending on your priorities for the dog housing. All these are more cost effective, but less durable, than epoxy painted concrete masonry unit (CMU) block or glazed block walls.
Freestanding kennel / suite systems are available. The installation is not permanent so they can be relocated. These systems do require some floor drains. A cost benefit analysis would be appropriate when deciding between building-in your dog housing or purchasing freestanding units.
Wall Finishes in Animal Areas
Think fiberglass reinforced panels (FRP) or ceramic / porcelain wall tile. All that is needed is cleanable surfaces with minimal joints (the fewer the better). Finish up to four feet in height from the finished floor elevation, which is where most of the cleaning will occur. In some areas or in a limited number of suites, the finish material may need to be higher for those dogs that tend to be destructive via jumping, chewing and scratching. Make sure the mounting adhesives are for wet–area installation. Also make sure that the top and bottom trim is properly installed and caulked. Monitoring and repair of this caulking should be part of your regular maintenance plan. Wall tile is fine, also, as long as the mortar joints are minimized and installed properly. Epoxy grout is recommended.
Separate the floor finishes into two category locations: public spaces, such as the lobby, and animal related spaces, such as the suites, grooming, food prep, etc. Public areas may be finished with a variety of floor finishes that suit your decorating theme and budget. Keep it durable and able to withstand the occasional spill or doggie accident.
Floor finishes in animal related areas must be durable and impervious. True resinous flooring systems may be considered too costly, especially if you don’t think you will be in the building a long time and/or have a tight budget. Grinding down and polishing the existing concrete floor is the finish I see most often. Remember that older concrete will have soaked-in residue from the original owner. Also, concrete does have cracks that will need to be cleaned. There are sealants made to repair these cracks, but it may not be worth the effort. Just commit to keeping them clean.
Another route that would allow a color stain to be added is to prepare the floor then pour on a thin topping coat of concrete (¼” to 1 1/2” thickness range). The color may be added to the topping coat. If you have or suspect you will have drainage issues, applying a topping coat is the way to add some slope to the floor.
If you plan to install tile and have cracks in the concrete slab, consider applying “bridging tape” to seal and level the cracks or the tile may crack, too. Do not paint your floors. The paint will not last.
Floor drain installation in an existing slab can be a costly proposition especially if you want a drain per suite. Further, if you want to slope the floor to the drains in each suite, huge areas of the slab would have to be removed. I’m not sold that this is worth the expense especially if the concern is reselling the property. Consider drains in the walkways only or no drains at all. It is important for you to think through what your cleaning and dog walking protocols and staffing levels will be when deciding how many and where to place floor drains. If you are using the freestanding kenneling / suite systems mentioned previously, strategically placed floor drains will need to be installed.
Any acoustical control that you can add will have multiple benefits for your furry and feathered guests, pet parents, and staff. Reducing animal stress and improving the work environment are chief among those benefits. Some techniques to use include suspended acoustical ceilings, reducing the number of suites grouped together, and acoustical wall construction separating different functions, such as the dog housing from the lobby. If you board cats, they will greatly appreciate some peace and quiet, too.
Your HVAC system is one of the most important assets of your boarding / daycare business. In animal care facility design, I fall in the function-over-form school of architecture and hold steadfast to my basic design premises for HVAC. The system must meet the energy code, handle air volume exchange, and address humidity adequately in animal housing areas. A zoned system to support the different needs of different function areas is preferred. Go in expecting to augment the existing HVAC system. Hopefully you will only need to add an additional unit or zone and not replace the whole system.
Prioritize, Coordinate and Sequence the Work
Prioritize your have–to, need–to, and want–to wish list. Even if you are making mostly cosmetic changes, the work will go more smoothly if it is coordinated and sequenced properly. Some design work with signed and sealed construction drawing, plus getting building permits may be required. If you are not experienced with renovations, find a general contractor or an architect to help you. Many of the interior alterations I have discussed can be done with little or no infrastructure construction and could be removed at minimal expense by a potential buyer. n
Richard S. Bacon, FAIA, is owner and principal architect at Bacon Group, Inc., an architecture firm that specializes in the design of animal care facilities. Rick is a registered architect with over 35 years’ experience in the design and construction industry. Based in Clearwater, FL, he may be contacted by phone at 800-961-1967 or via email at [email protected].