Archive for July, 2012
Could basement remodeling give “the sandwich generation” that extra layer of space that’s so needed? Basement renovation might indeed be the perfect solution as college grads move home to live until they find a job and longer lifespan and extremely costly assisted living options have Grandma and Grandpa moving in, too.
A recent AARP study reported a 30% increase in households of at least three generations of family members. Meanwhile, one third of Coldwell Banker real estate agents reported an uptick in buyers looking for homes to accommodate multiple generations, with 7 out of 10 agents expecting demand for this type of housing to continue. So if you have an unfinished lower level, calling a basement remodeling contractor can help you seize a golden opportunity to improve your family’s breathing room … while also increasing the resale appeal of your home.
When it’s “the more, the merrier,” it’s important to make the most of every inch of space. Here are two ideas for turning that unfinished basement into just what your own family needs.
A lower-level suite. Basement remodeling contractors are often asked to turn an under-utilized basement into a suite for teens or even an “apartment” for college grads who’ve returned home. With an outdoor entry, it’s a good solution for accommodating the late-night schedules the younger generation often keeps. Giving the kids their own space in a finished basement frees the homes upstairs bedrooms for use by elderly relatives.
A getaway zone. Even if you have enough bedrooms for everyone, it may be a challenge for multiple generations to enjoy time outside their bedrooms. Grandparents may not always like the noise as grandkids play video games or have their friends over. A great compromise a basement renovation that turns ordinary lower-level space into a getaway zone for the grown ups – or a rec zone for the youngsters. Grandparents and parents can enjoy talking or reading upstairs while the kids do homework or hang out with friends in the newly remodeled basement space.
One word of caution when it comes to your finished basement: Contractor experience matters in finding good solutions to challenges ranging from low ceilings and lack of natural lighting, to mitigating dampness and musty odors. Working with an experienced contractor means you get a basement remodel that not only looks great, but that lives great for every member of your family.
“Green building” is a popular term these days. But what does it really mean? When it comes to green home building or remodeling, it’s important to remember that you’ll see the best results by working with an experienced green builder who knows how to make a variety of eco-friendly, energy-efficient products and systems all work together.
Let’s take a look at some of those elements.
Insulation. Insulation provides a barrier between the home and cold and hot outdoor temperatures. A well-built green home includes a variety of insulation techniques. There is, for example, attic insulation that helps reduce the strain on heating and cooling units while keeping all levels of the home at a more even temperature. Another key point for insulation is the garage door. Reducing the heat exchange here can make a major difference to the comfort of the home – especially if there are rooms built over the garage. If you’re doing extensive remodeling or building a new home, another key green building technique is to include exterior wall insulation that creates an additional thermal barrier for your home.
Sealing. Unless properly installed, even the most expensive windows and doors won’t make much contribution to your green home. The same goes for ductwork. Green building techniques include sealing ductwork and framing to reduce energy loss by up to 15%. That lets windows do their job and it prevents you for paying for heated or cooled air to get pumped into wall or floor spaces rather than into your rooms. With windows, there’s an extra element to sealing a green home: using low-emission (Low Emissivity) windows – at least double pane – with Argon gas sealed between them. Again, this reduces the amount of heat exchange taking place to keep energy bills (and your carbon footprint) low.
Rightsizing. You absolutely want Energy Star appliances and an Energy Star heating and cooling system with an excellent SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating) score. But here’s one of the common problems with trying to take your home “green:” builders who are inexperienced with energy efficiency will often install a system that is actually too big for the house. They think that a bigger system won’t have to work as hard and will therefore do a better job. It won’t! A system that is too large for the house causes the equipment to cycle on and off too frequently. This quickly wears the unit down as it raises those energy bills homeowners thought they would save with a green home.
Safety. Experienced green builders seek to protect you and the environment by reducing – or avoiding – products that can put out harmful gasses. This can include VOCs (volatile organic compounds) in paints, adhesives, carpet, carpet padding, hardwood flooring and kitchen cabinets. They look for alternatives in each category that meet green building standards for safety.
With a Passive House able to cut 90% of a home’s traditional energy costs, no wonder more homeowners are interested in learning what’s involved in building or remodeling a home that meets Passive House standards. But along with that interest, there are a few misconceptions about Passive Houses that should be addressed.
First, a little background. The concept of a Passive House had its roots in the 1970s energy crisis when people started building super-insulated homes. Those homes had problems with ventilation, however, so further experimentation ensued and, with its Passivhaus standards, Germany was the first country to define the rigorous performance levels required for a home that not only sips energy but that offers excellent indoor air quality as well. This brings us to the first myth:
The windows of a passive house are not sealed shut. They open to let in fresh air just like regular windows. The difference is that the Passive House ventilation system exchanges the indoor air in such a way so that it remains fresh even if the windows remain closed. And if they’re opened, they don’t disrupt the home’s careful control of moisture, temperature and air flow.
A Passive House does not have to look like a concrete bunker. It doesn’t even have to look contemporary! In fact, Passive Homes are now being built in all kinds of architectural styles, including traditional American foursquare designs.
Creating a Passive House does not double the cost of remodeling or building a new home. You could expect the cost to be less than 10% more than what it would cost build or remodel a conventional home of the same size and design. The good news is that the extra cost should continue to come down as the growing popularity of these homes leads to greater availability of the products needed to build them.
In today’s bathroom renovations, you may often find something missing from the design: a built-in tub. Why are bathroom remodeling contractors leaving out this traditional feature? Well, there are several reasons.
First, homeowners just don’t like those big Jacuzzis the way they used to. The motors and jets are downright noisy. The more stressful the world becomes, the more homeowners want to use bathroom remodeling to create a quiet, blissful getaway. So, when you take away the Jacuzzi, you also take away the need for the motor and the big “equipment” box around the tub. That means you can plan your bathroom remodel around a free-standing tub.
In fact, so-called soaking tubs are becoming very popular in bathroom remodeling. They come in different sizes, but they’re typically a bit shorter than the traditional built-in bathtub, and much deeper. It’s very relaxing to recline back and soak away aches and worries while listening to soothing music rather than the whir of a whirlpool!
Second, you free up floor space. When you swap out a built-in tub for a free-standing pedestal tub, you free up floor space and visually lighten the look of the bathroom. Remodeling today is often about creating more breathing room. Replacing a blocky, bulky tub with a beautifully sculpted tub that “floats” in the space creates this sense of openness.
Third, you free up wall space. Why is wall space important? Well, storage is important in a bathroom – especially when you want to keep the environment feeling calm, streamlined and uncluttered. Plus, bathroom remodeling contractors are starting to have more and more homeowners ask about having a fireplace in the bathroom. If you remove that big, built-in tub unit, you create plenty of wall space to do this. Imagine having one of the new linear gas-fueled fireplace features installed on the wall near your deep new soaking tub. These new units don’t even need a chimney.
Many kitchen remodeling contractors are seeing a back-to-basics trend with kitchen renovations. But today, basics don’t mean bare bones. Homeowners still want a beautiful kitchen with luxurious extras, but they want kitchen remodeling to focus on functionality and personal style rather than on a “statement” kitchen remodel that features high-end everything and ornate flourishes everywhere.
Here are a few examples:
Streamlined cabinets and shelving. Cabinets make or break the look of your kitchen renovation. Even if you’re committed to repurposing as many elements as possible, chances are you’ll still want to make new cabinets part of your kitchen remodel because it can be surprisingly costly to repair, refinish and repaint existing cabinets. Open shelves are an increasingly popular option that can also save considerable money. The shelving itself can be anything from sturdy wood to elegant glass. In terms of style, even homeowners who prefer traditional style to a more contemporary feel are leaning toward sleeker cabinets without a lot of embellishments.
Something simpler. Granite countertops continue to be the standard for upscale kitchen remodeling, but more homeowners are telling kitchen contractors that polished granite countertops are too “showy” and too predictable. Quartz (Zodiaq, Silestone, Caesarstone) offers the look of stone, but without the maintenance of granite. The cost, however, is about the same as granite. Beautiful countertops also can be created from eco-friendly recycled glass and cement. As to hardware, kitchen remodelers often specify prefer cabinets without pulls. Where pulls do show, they’re simple and chrome is often chosen instead of the more expensive brushed nickel finish.
New flooring choices. I’ve been a kitchen remodeling contractor for a while, and it’s interesting to see more homeowners asking about wood flooring for the kitchen rather than tile which has been popular for so many years. I think wood is popular for two reasons: it helps unify the kitchen remodel with the surrounding spaces in an open floor plan and it adds a warm element to a kitchen design to balance very sleek cabinets, lighting and counters.
One of the things that residential architects do well is to design homes that are right for the specific families that will live in those homes. Increasingly, however, those families aren’t so traditional any more. Did you know that families of Mom, Dad and two kids for whom most homes were – and continue to be — built now only account for about 20% of US households? Clearly, a “one house fits all” approach just doesn’t work. If you’re part of the other 80% —single adults, couples without kids, blended families and multi-generation households, an architect can help you redesign, build, or remodel these traditional homes for much more livability.
For example, in households with blended families, architectural design might emphasize spaces with flexibility. Flexibility might mean that the architect can design the home so that bedrooms that don’t get used every day to serve other purposes as well. Or, the gathering areas of the home can be designed so that they offer cozy seating for a few or open up to welcome the whole big family all at once.
For multigenerational households, the architect might place an emphasis on designing a good balance of public and private space for all family members. Working with a design/build remodeling approach, for instance, the architect and construction team might work together to find the best solutions for equipping the existing home not just with larger gathering spaces but also with features such as separate entrances, kitchenettes, and bedroom suites.
The bottom line is that whether you’re building a new home or remodeling one, having an architect work directly with the construction team means you’ll get a home that’s not just “built for you,” but architecturally designed to optimize livability for the make up of your household.
While it’s important to discuss needs and requirements for your new home, custom home builders agree that a great home starts with a conversation about what you love – in your existing home, in homes of friends, in homes you’ve seen pictured in magazines.
That’s because building a great custom home is really about emotion. The more your custom home builder knows about how you want to feel in your home, the more he or she can do to find the materials, layout, design, products and finishes to create that custom feeling in your new home.
Builders love it when homeowners begin to talk about the life they envision in a new custom home. Builders hear, for example, that a homeowner wants a home that makes it easier to enjoy time together with family and friends. Right then and there it’s clear that the new home will probably include open, relaxed living spaces and kitchens that invite everyone to join in cooking and socializing. When clients talk about their favorite pastimes or passions, builders can think about ways to create custom spaces for doing these things — like including room for a beautifully organized craft center or a backyard patio perfect for treating the Cub Scouts to an evening of S’mores.
Remember, a lot of new home builders can give you good energy savings, smart technology, and good design and finishes. But what makes custom homes different is that they’re not just built to satisfy needs, they’re built to satisfy the heart as well.
Over the long term, sustainable building pays you back by saving water, energy and – ultimately – the planet. But what about those upfront costs? Don’t you have to pay a lot more? The fact is, sustainable building doesn’t have to cost more. That surprises many people because they perceive they will pay a premium to build or remodel a home that is sustainable. Builders who are not experienced with the principles of sustainability may indeed charge a premium, but that has more to do with their learning curve rather than the actual cost of sustainable building itself.
There are good studies out there that show that factoring in sustainability doesn’t raise the price much, if at all. One well-regarded study based on real-world properties shows that you can complete a LEED-certified green, sustainable building project for an average of just 2% more in upfront costs.
A study by Davis Langdon Adamson, a construction cost-planning and management company, also found that the upfront costs of sustainable building tend to match or only slightly exceed that of comparable non-green building costs. Taking into account many construction factors including climate, location, market conditions and local standards, the study found that for many of the green projects, pursuing LEED certification actually had little or no budgetary impact.
Now, remember, LEED certification is toward the top of the standards for sustainability. So if that can be achieved for just little or no more costs than traditional construction, it’s easy to see that incorporating even slightly lower levels of sustainability can come with costs that are entirely comparable to building a home where sustainability has not been part of the planning.
Bottom line: sustainable building does not have to cost more. As long as you’re working with an experienced sustainable builder, you’ll be able to incorporate “sustainability thinking” and green features into your project efficiently and cost-effectively.
Fact is, not all home additions are created equal. Whether you’re doing a room addition or a multi-story addition, the way it’s documented, designed and built at the start will affect your enjoyment of the addition and your home’s resale value as well. That’s why it’s so important to work with a reputable home addition contractor who will get things right for you, right from the start. Let’s take a look at what getting home additions right means.
- Get permits and build to code. Even if you’re just adding on one room, addition contractors must be scrupulous about pulling the proper codes for everything from construction to electrical and plumbing. If the zoning in a neighborhood does not permit certain things – like adding a full second kitchen to the property or keeping a multi-story addition to a certain height, you want your contractor to abide by the zoning and build to code. If you don’t do this, you can run into problems with resale. Plus, you could even find yourself having to tear down your brand new addition if neighbors complain or county inspectors find your home addition contractor failed to pull the right permits or keep to code.
- Pay attention to the integrity of both design and construction. Home addition contractors often advise clients that the way they want an addition to function may be so unique to their family or tastes that it may become an issue if they ever want to sell the home. It’s best for resale and, usually, for day-to-living in the home, if a room addition is smoothly integrated with the look and flow of the home’s other spaces. Also, you want to work with a room addition contractor who pays attention to construction details. A few years from now, you don’t want to be looking at a cracked foundation or cracks in the interior walls that signal unstable construction. You want the home addition to be well-planned and well-constructed so you’re not dealing with constant repairs – or a home inspection that finds deal-breaker problems with the addition.
- Integrate the room addition for curb appeal. It’s very important that your addition look like the rest of your house. It will definitely affect resale if you overpower a one-level home by adding an out-of-scale multi-story addition to one side. Homes also sit on the market because someone has simply “stuck” a small, plain one-room addition onto an existing home without making any effort to integrate the rooflines, design elements, or to exterior materials that don’t match or even relate to the existing home’s exterior.
Many people tend to think that a building contractor is only needed on major remodeling projects. Here’s a quick story about how a contractor can make a difference to just about any project.
A couple knew they needed to replace the windows and doors in their home. Instead of calling a general contractor, they got estimates directly from window replacement companies. In thinking about the windows, they decided to add new garage doors as well and got estimates from three garage door companies. Did they really want to do all this work to the house without fixing their cracked and uneven cement driveway and front walk? No, but even with the scope of the project growing, they “went direct” to a concrete contractor instead of calling a building contractor like us.
Without a general contractor organizing the specifications and making sure they’d get apples to apples bids, the couple received a dozen proposals that differed wildly. When the couple asked for more details so they could compare, they saw how different the proposals were and they weren’t sure how to decide which way they wanted to go: what “R-value” did they want on the windows? Wood or vinyl or composite? Did they want the walkway capped with flagstone? Did they want a drive that was 4” deep or 6” deep? What color doors and windows did they want – a question that got them worrying about how colors and styles from the garage door contractor would work with the colors and styles of the windows and doors.
And then there were the logistics. The couple began to worry about how long each piece of the project would take and what should come first. They didn’t want a heavy truck loaded with windows plowing into a newly poured drive … and they didn’t know who they’d call if something went wrong or if – in the middle of doing the actual work – they were told that there was a problem and that more money would be required to fix it. That was when they decided to call in a general contractor.
Happy ending: The couple got all the right piece parts for their home. All the materials, designs, and color worked together and were right for their style of house. Each of the individual jobs was done in the right order, and the building contractor was there to oversee all the different crews. The entire project completed on time and on budget with no surprises. If the couple has any questions or if any problems arise, they simply call the contractor who provided them with a warranty on the work and materials.
Because of their experience and relationships with trades people, good contractors can usually give you a great job with no effort on your part for about the same price you could negotiate on your own – with all the hassles and risks that come with that. Remember, even projects that seem small – or start out that way and grow bigger, benefit from the experience of a general contractor.