The Building "Doctor"

I am not a doctor – I think that much is clear.  I don’t even play one on TV.

I do have a bag in my car that I call my “doctor bag”.  Primarily because of it’s size and the fact that it contains tools for when I make house calls on buildings.  I suppose I could just call it a tool bag, but it doesn’t have the same zing.

I developed the kit over the years because I am called on to survey existing buildings quite often. In the Senior Living sector, we often add on to existing buildings and sometimes re-purpose them, which requires us to see what we’re working with.  Other times, there is a code infraction, and we need to see how to fix it.  I keep this bag in my car at all times.  It is pretty compact so it doesn’t take up too much room.  It is highly portable, which is important.  And it contains what I have found to be some essential items.

This is my bag.  The hard hat is there for scale, but it rides in the car with me all the time too.

So that is the size of it.  I could maybe get one pair of shoes in there, but it indeed holds almost anything I might need when assessing a building.


1.  So in the old days, we could show up on active job sites and no one cared if we architects had any protection or not.  Well not today.  So along with my hard hat, I need a high visibility vest unless I want to be yelled at by the Super.

#1 – Yellow is my color, no?

2.  Protect your eyes.  Whether an active job site or not, I want to keep the junk out of my eyes.  I have been in my share of attic where I can see the fiberglass floating around and above enough ceilings, where pieces of the tiles fall all over my head.

#2 – These bad boys fit over my regular glasses, so my eyes are safe PLUS I can see!

3.  Protect your lungs.  For the same reason I want glasses, I sometimes need a mask.  We keep them around the office because building buildings can be dusty or worse.

4.  Protect your ears.  Building buildings is often noisy. too.

#3 – Disposable breathing mask and #4 – ear protection.

5.  Protect your hands.  I have to climb into attics far more than I ever dreamed.  Have you ever spent a lot of time handling old fire protection treated lumber?  I have.

#5A – Heavy gloves protect from splinters and undesirable materials.
#5B – Vinyl gloves add no weight or bulk to my kit, so I threw a pair in, just in case.

Okay, so all I have done so far is protect myself from the building.  What’s up with that?  What do I use to actually evaluate a building?

6.  Light.  I sometimes carry other sources of light, but this one has a hook and a magnet so it can sometimes be set up so I can go hands free to make notes or sketches.  There is a band of tape over the battery case because I have actually dropped it and lost the batteries in blown in fiberglass insulation in a roof.  Trust me.  You do not want that to happen.

#6 – This thing was so cheap, but oh, so worth it.

7.  So…this next one is self-explanatory.

#7 – Take extra batteries for all devices.

8.  I just got this head lamp to augment number 6.

#8 – Additional light is always good.

9.  Measure twice, climb into the attic only once.

#9 – Old reliable, analogue measuring device.

10.  I said measure twice…  Sometimes, in an attic, you literally can’t get to where you want to measure.  So a laser measuring device can save many scraped shins.  Full disclosure, I don’t keep this in the car, I wouldn’t want it to get stolen or expose it to the hot and cold.

#10 – Such a time saver.

11.  That’s not a knife…  Yes it is.  A small Swiss Army pocket knife can be the ultimate multi-tasker. It can scrape off paint or gunk off of something you need to read.  It can see how soft a timber beam is.  It can even open a beverage at the end of the day…

#11 – Just don’t try to take it on an airplane…

12.  Electrical tape.See #6.  I wish I had this tape when I dropped and broke the back of my flashlight.

#12 – Can also be used to mark things and not damage them.

13.  Seriously, a selfie stick?  Yes.  I just got this one.  See ‘Door Labels And Where to Find Them’ for why.  Sometimes you need a picture of something you can’t see from where your eyes are.  I can reach the top of a 6′-8″ door, and maybe a 7′-0″ door.  But not an 8′-0″ door,  Not without a ladder.  And a ladder doesn’t fit in my bag.

#13 – I hope to test this out soon.  I can imagine there will be other reasons besides door labels that I would find this useful.

14.  My phone (not pictured).  I didn’t take a picture of it because that is what I use to take pictures.

15.  360 degree camera.  These are great to get all the walls, floors and ceilings of the space in one shot.  You can view the photos in a proprietary viewer, and it really does save time.

#15 – This doesn’t stay in the bag all the time either.  It, like the lase, is shared company wide.

16.  Notebook and many colors of pens.

#16 – And be sure to wear pants and shirts with lots of pockets…

So that is my doctor bag.  Maybe this will give you an idea of what to have on hand on your next survey.