One of the most common questions I get from clients is a request for tips on the best way to prepare a room for a future layout.

Lighting (hint: you need a LOT!)

I’m putting this first simply because it’s the subject area where folks most commonly shoot themselves in the foot.  It’s a safe bet to say that more than half of the layouts I visit are under lit.  They simply don’t have enough candlepower in the room to show off their work in the most favorable light.  Think in terms of how a jewelry store looks at the mall, not a dimly lit man cave.  Better to err on the side of too much lighting than too little as you can always remove bulbs if need be.  To give some perspective, my personal layout occupies an 18 foot by 18 foot room.  It’s lit with seventeen (17), four foot long, 4 bulb fluorescent fixtures.

Power Needs

Model railroad locomotives draw very, very little power compared to other appliances and fixtures commonly used in the home.  For your typical 400 square foot, half basement layout, simply plugging your dcc and accessory power supplies into a wall outlet will be more than adequate.  Since starting my business fifteen years ago, I’ve never had a customer come back and say they were having issues with tripped circuits.

Outlet locations

If your room has center columns, it’s handy to have an outlet in the center of the room on one of those columns and plug your layout power in there.  If not, just run the power cord to the nearest wall outlet and pick up what is called a “chord cover” at the hardware store so you don’t trip over it.

Ceiling Preparation

I know, not the most exciting thing to spend money on.  It’s well worth finishing the ceiling of your train room to prevent dirt and dust from settling on the layout.  I suggest using “clean” ceiling tiles designed for computer rooms as they don’t stain or shed.

Switched outlets

It’s likely you have switched outlets in your home now or did so in the past.  A switched outlet is one that powers on and off with a light switch.  It’s handy to have one in the train room to plug the layout power in to.  The advantage is that when you leave the room and turn off the lights the layout (and tools such as soldering irons plugged into said outlet) will automatically be powered off.

Wall color

If your layout will be flush against the wall, you won’t need to make special preparations for the backdrop.  Simply paint the walls a pale, robin’s egg blue before installing the layout.

Car storage

One of the more effective, and ergonomically comfortable, ways to store rolling stock is on wall mounted shelves (as opposed to under layout or closet storage).  Plan for adding shelves along open walls for locomotive and freight car storage.