F.A.Q.'s

When DIY (Do-It-Yourself) Is Toxic

 Do-It-Yourself Demo

Do-It-Yourself Demo

Here we are, its Earth Day, the one day we focus on how our decisions impact our climate. Did you know it goes deeper and can be applied to any decision we make? Its not just about coffee cups or the big developer planing a building next to our creeks and watersheds. 

Last week, as I was watching Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos on Netflix , I realized how incredibly uneducated the public is about our built-environment’s poisonous components. In episode 7 “the Clean Room,” which originally aired April 20th 2014, he mentions that Ancient Romans had inadvertently poisoned their own water lines by using lead pipes in their aqueduct systems and that they realized it and mandated a change to their fresh water systems. In our very own time, lead was brought back and in full force by manufacturing companies pushing their own agenda, much like how “Big Tobacco” has pushed theirs by publishing partial data and quieting the hazardous effects caused by their “natural product” and ignoring the symptoms of their workers because they were of a lower class.

 McCutcheon Construction Lead Abatement Protections

McCutcheon Construction Lead Abatement Protections

The thing is “natural” isn’t always best. Mercury is natural, it brought many Victorian women a clear porcelain complexion… just before causing untimely deaths of many and the poisoning of global fish (aka food) populations today. Lead is a naturally occurring element too, but while health officials simply ask parents if they live in a home built before the 1970’s with pealing paint, most people are simply living with it. Dr. Tyson’s show goes on to show how Clair Cameron Patterson created the first “clean room” just to eliminate the interference of lead present within the laboratory he was working in. As he was performing his experiments examining lead’s decaying values in from a meteorite to accurately calculate the Earth’s age his data was thrown off significantly even after he swabbed and cleaned the laboratory in detail. It causes me to wonder, if this is the effect of lead in a “stable” environment, how much more are the effects of lead in a remodel when walls are being torn open and fine dust particles are flying everywhere?

The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has realized the dangers of dust and is continually making efforts to implement restrictions for our safety. Many of these measures started in California when I was a kid in the 70’s and 80’s. If you’ve been searching for stained glass windows or their repair recently, you may have noticed that you can no-longer get “real” lead for the joints only simulated materials are available. Lead based paints are no longer sold, and that “un-leaded” option at the gas pump, if you haven’t noticed, is the only option unless you have diesel engine. So they’re doing a good job of keeping toxic metals out of our current economy, but there is still the remodeling issue.

 Synergy Enterprises Lead Abatement Cre 

Synergy Enterprises Lead Abatement Cre 

Most of the homes I’ve been involved in remodeling were built before 1978, and all of them needed to be gutted to the studs, thus removing the drywall and its lead based paint. Today there are abatement (hazmat) regulations for remodeling professionals to contain the lead, keep it from becoming air-born, and preventing it from being absorbed into the soils and natural resources. Too often homeowners mention that they want to save some costs by demolishing their space first. While this seems like a “good idea” it scares me to think of the toxicity they will be exposing themselves to at the expense of their health, their children’s health, and the increase in Dr’s visits paying in small increments co-pay after co-pay not to mention the unknown underlying their symptoms. The EPA has considered Do-It-Yourselfers by setting forth some guidelines, but there are still health risks. 

 Synergy Enterprises Lead Abatement Warning

Synergy Enterprises Lead Abatement Warning

So where do you turn? Unfortunately the State of California, who is a self-certifying state, only lists the individuals who are certified, without their firm name, for the East Bay, San Francisco and Peninsula areas. I typically introduce homeowners to contractors who are NARI (National Association of the Remodeling Industry) professionals  . NARI has offered Lead Removal Certification training programs for the cleanest demolition possible. Why? NARI has high industry standards and health and safety are at the top of the list. Lead exposure in any amount is not good for the human body, so why take the risk  ? Even if you’re not doing it yourself, be sure to ask your general contractor if they have a certified team to remove the lead from your home.

As with most decisions in remodeling it’s up to you to weigh it out. Is keeping your short-term remodeling budget low more important than your long-term health? Just because “it’s always been done this way” is the accepted attitude in society doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t ask questions and make adjustments. As a designer and advisor to homeowners, I can only recommend the best practices, you are the only one who can make the best decisions.

Nesting Instinct

 Berkeley Brown Shingle Traditional Guest Bath

Berkeley Brown Shingle Traditional Guest Bath

It's not unusual for young couples to contact me for their remodel with only a few weeks to go before their baby is born. Expecting moms, and sometimes parents, get a little extra hormone boost that instinctively tells us to make room, tidy up, and prepare safety for the blessing that is about to be. It's a good thing! Unfortunately, it isn't always conducive to a smooth remodeling process. Typically homeowners who contact me want to have everything complete before baby is born, unfortunately this is almost always unrealistic. Sometimes they contact me and plan to live in their home during construction before and even after birth. This can be complicated for health reasons. 

Here are some questions to ask yourself and be aware of in conversations with your interior designer and general contractor.

  • When is your due date? Is it 3 or 30 weeks out?
  • Will you be living in your home during construction, moving out temporarily, or going on vacation?
  • How much work are you planning to do yourself?
  • What is your main reason for remodeling now? Are the surface materials just ugly, or are things broken and you're concerned for safety?

Now see last week's article and consider how long a typical remodel takes, possible setbacks, and safety concerns before jumping head first into a kitchen or bathroom remodel with your growing family.

  •  How much time is realistic to do a remodel of this size?
  • How much is budget a factor in your decision-making?
  • Are you planning to live in your home during construction?
  • What steps are you considering that may expose you and your unborn/new baby to lead and other toxins as your old rooms are taken apart and demolished?
    • I mention this because many of us want the satisfaction of taking a sledge hammer to the walls, etc, to start the process and possibly save costs, but doing so in homes built before the 1970's exposes you and everyone around the area to lead and potentially asbestos too. 
    •  Even if you're considering painting yourself to save a little money or just to feel more involved, be sure to select a zero VOC (volatile organic compounds) paint, not just one that is low VOC.
  •  Have you discussed what steps your contractor will take to protect you and the rest of your home during construction? 
  • Will they include plastic barriers/walls with zipper doors to contain much of the dust? Do you have realistic expectations as to fine dust that will escape and find its way throughout your home? 
  • How about noise? Are you prepared with sound-canceling earmuffs or planning to work outside of your home?
  • Do you have pets?  If so, what is your plan for them to be safe and well adjusted?

Does this mean that you shouldn't remodel as you're preparing for your new family member? I believe in having conscious decisions and full awareness to decide for yourself. Being prepared with realistic expectations will help when the time comes that you've dusted the coffee table for the 5th time in a day or someone's nap has been interrupted again. Remodeling is an adventure, I hope you enjoy yours.  

 Berkeley Brown Shingle Traditional Kitchen

Berkeley Brown Shingle Traditional Kitchen

Featured Project: Oakland Montclaire Contemporary Guest Bath

Design “risks” are easier to make in a guest bathroom as they are not used in its entirety on a regular basis. By “floating” the vanity cabinet we were able to open the space and light it from below which gives the illusion of expanding the room as the Crossville Porcelain tile continues beyond.

 Oakland Montclaire Contemporary Guest Bath

Oakland Montclaire Contemporary Guest Bath

Cabinetry designed with open storage for extra towels, baskets for toilet tissue and a space to sit down for skin care routines is reminiscent of being in a spa, an experience from which everyone leaves refreshed. Cabinet hardware like these 26 Series bar pulls by Sugatsune come in various lengths and can double as hand towels to prevent cluttered walls and dripping across the room.

 Oakland Montclaire Contemporary Guest Bath

Oakland Montclaire Contemporary Guest Bath

 Oakland Montclaire Contemporary Guest Bath

Oakland Montclaire Contemporary Guest Bath

 Often I am asked about designing master bathrooms with vessel sinks which we discuss in detail the pros and cons and how it may not be the best design for everyday use. However, this guest bathroom with the Kohler Bateau vessel sink coupled with the Kohler Stillness wall-mounted faucet on a mirror adds a touch of something special for guests to enjoy.

 Oakland Montclaire Contemporary Guest Bath

Oakland Montclaire Contemporary Guest Bath

"Now Everybody is in the Bathroom!"

In my 2 bedroom home this statement is a daily exclamation from my 4 year old daughter.

 My daughter encroaches on my privacy with her fingers and her toes, and sometimes our kitty joins in by waving her tail under too!

My daughter encroaches on my privacy with her fingers and her toes, and sometimes our kitty joins in by waving her tail under too!

As a mom of a small child this is not unexpected, you may have seen the images floating across Facebook and Pintrest of a child's hands poking under a bathroom door when their mom or dad is wanting just a little privacy in he bathroom for even two minutes. Unfortunately, I don't believe there is a real practical solution to this world-wide problem other than to wait-it-out and teach them patience until you're an empty nester.

It is also unsurprising as a family living in a small space where everyone is getting up around the same time. Sure, we've learned to work around each other. I take my shower first, my husband gets his coffee and the little one dilly-dallies, looks at books, plays with our kitty or attempts to play Candy Land on her own. But there is inevitably a point in our morning where we just can't not be in each other's space. Daddy is in the shower, the kiddo has finally agreed or has been coherced into having her teeth and hair brushed while I finish doing my routine, and of course as she doesn't want to be left out, Kitty joins us as an additional bathroom rug just as daddy is stepping out from the shower. That's three humans and one kitty in a standing space no bigger than 2.5 x 3 feet! 

 Berkeley Brown Shingle Family Bathroom

Berkeley Brown Shingle Family Bathroom

My morning experience isn't uncommon in the Bay Area. Many homes in Alameda, Berkeley, Oakland, Marin and San Francisco have the same problem, too little bathroom! Surprisingly some larger homes have this as well! Occasionally they may have a powder room to reduce the wait time to use a toilet, but more often than not, single family homes were designed with single bathroom facilities. Unlike older kitchens without space designed for a refrigerator that I've mentioned in a previous article, I have trouble seeing the logic of the architects and builders after the 1906 earthquake. Bathrooms were a common requirement, the day of the outdoor privy and use of a bed pan for a servant to empty out were gone. I'm speculating, but maybe people simply thought they were still a convienience or a nice-to-have rather than a necessity? 

This poses two important questions:

  1. If I only have one bathroom, how do I remodel and maintain my personal hygiene during that time? There are generally 2 solutions for the common problem 
    • Move out during the construction time by renting a second home or apartment, going on vacation or staying with family. While this is ideal to keep you from breathing construction dust it is typically unrealistic to many new and retired homeowners financially speaking.
    • Live in your home during construction. While living in your home during is the most cost effective, it can increase construction costs when your general contractor needs to uninstall and reinstall a toilet every day so that you're not making nightly trips to a porta-potty. Or you don't have a gym membership or a friend who is generous enough to let you use their shower each day and so your contractor needs to do a little more work to set-up and take-down a temporary shower which takes time away from their duties in completing the remodel a few days or weeks more quickly. Its also easier to be frustraited with daily life in a construction zone, there is dust everywhere even in places where you're not remodeling, if you work from home the noise levels can be so much that you buy a huge pair of noise canceling ear muffs that don't even double as a music headset and most people naturally tend to feel like they need to micro manage the work crews which simply adds to everyone's stress levels.
  2. How can I add a second bathroom to my home without changing the overall footprint to keep my costs reasonable and not need to go through a long process to get my neighbor's approval?
    • In the last few months this has come up and the best solutions have been to absorb another space. Maybe it's a closet, a small office or dressing room or even a second kitchen that was added 30-40 years ago to accommodate student renters near CAL in Berkeley or SF State. Usually the space that needs to be absorbed requires a small sacrifice to get rid of unused items, you may increase your budget slightly to rework a closet in another area for better storage or you simply start to think differently about how you use your home and plan to make changes to your daily routine. Often this question comes up when someone is thinking of selling their home in a year or two. If this is the case its often not worth the stress or expense on your life, leave it to the next buyer. It is better to maintain and upgrade your current bathroom to be appealing than it is to do something with the assumption that someone else will "appreciate" your hardwork.

How many people use your bathroom? What challenges do you have to work around each other? And what would an investment to add another bathroom be worth to your life not just the resale value of your home?

Do I really need a permit? But I'm only doing...

 Benjamin Franklin first attempted to safeguard homes with minimum standards for fireplace clearance requirements in 1735.

Benjamin Franklin first attempted to safeguard homes with minimum standards for fireplace clearance requirements in 1735.

What most people don't realize is that permits are there to protect you, the homeowner and the money you're investing into your home. It's a little like the safety nets and guide wires that trapeeze artists have, everyone hopes that there will be no need for them as they freely fly through the air and at the same time everyone is sitting a little more comfortably knowing that if they missed the catch it wouldn't end in a tragedy. 

Similarly, permits require that your remodel has been planned to acceptable safety (fire prevention, harmful sewer gasses and flooding for example) and efficiency standards (water and energy savings to prevent rolling blackouts and reduce wasteful clean water consumption for our drought ridden state) called codes and that your installers and contractors adhere to those regulations by having city and county expert officials visit and inspect at critical times. 

Often homeowners think this is too much of a hassle to deal with and that they shouldn't be bothered because "nothing is changing". How much more of a hassle is it if you are "caught" remodeling without a permit? What would the additional fines do to your budget? How might delays due to being "red flagged" affect your moving back in? Did you know you can lose money, possibly your entire remodeling investment, in reselling your home because you must disclose any remodeling work not done with the proper permitting?

While some jurisdictions may require a little more patience on the homeowner's part than others, you should have permits on every remodel you do. Some cities make it easy and have a FAQ's just for this. 

Visit these local agencies to see if You need a permit or your work is exempt exempt from permits...

 Alameda Permit Center

Alameda Permit Center

So yes, if you're remodeling your bathroom and you're not moving plumbing locations, you need a permit, however if your simply replacing your toilet for a quick repair you usually don't. And yes, If you're remodeling your kitchen to give it a face-lift but you're keeping the kitchen cabinets you need a permit, but if you're just changing the flooring in your kitchen and freshening up the paint you usually don't.

When we try to work around the law it will only return four-fold to haunt your home. Remodel safely and get your contractor to pull permits for your kitchen or bathroom remodel, it may save lives as well as money.

Source: http://alamedaca.gov/permits

When construction and life interact

Planning and preparing to remodel your kitchen and/or bath is a lot of hard work. Even if you hire an interior designer and a construction team there is emotional work, it can often be draining. People I work with often have some vision for their new space, colors, how they might use it and why, more often than not there is much more to be considered. 

  Oakland Hills Contemporary Master Bath

Oakland Hills Contemporary Master Bath

Last week I met with a couple who's home is in Kensington. It's been their family home for more than 20 years where they raised their family and now have grandchildren come to play. While I was measuring their master bathroom we also discussed how their space might be different, and how might it improve their lives. Would changing from one sink to two make a difference? If we installed medicine cabinets with electrical outlets inside to charge their toothbrushes and other items would they actually use it? We stood together and seriously looked at what is working now... which usually isn't much, so next we looked at what wasn't working and why in an almost Sherlock Holmes methodology. Standing in the space and having some sense of roll play or pretending to use what might be. "Purging" was an option she suggested, but not one that I typically recommend as a starting point. Change is hard and changing the habits we have formed for many years is even harder. 

  Lafayette Cottage

Lafayette Cottage

Sometimes we get to the last week before construction is scheduled to start and kitchen cabinets are still full and "no one" has time to pack it away in an organized manner. Often people tell me they will purge when they "move out" of the space, but really how many of us actually do that for everything that needs to go? The last time I moved it was in haste. Our upstairs neighbor had left their bath water running and it over flowed and rained into our apartment. Ideally we would have come back the next day and purged the expired pantry items, household cleaners and junk mail, but instead we purged the major items that were damaged and briskly packed everything including paper trash that really should've been shredded. Whew. When homeowners who are preparing to remodel leave this to the last week it is the same. Maybe there isn't a literal flood to deal with, but the hasty, unorganized packing is stressful and comes back to haunt them when it's time to move into their new kitchen or bath. What a let down to go through all that unwanted stuff in the middle of your new space.

Last year I met a professional organizer, Lis McKinley, from Let's Make Room. She specializes in working with homeowners preparing to remodel. Along with her crew she empties, organizes and assists in cleaning out the stuff that should really be tossed into the trashed and replaced with a better expiration date before unpacking. Earlier this year I introduced her to a couple I was working with in San Francisco to remodel their condo's kitchen and bathroom. While not everyone can or needs to move out, they felt this was the best option for them. Wow, I was impressed! Not only was she providing the needed packing, sorting and general cleaning out but she also helped them to sell unwanted items in good condition, provided and coordinated movers and found them temporary housing! I wish I had known her a couple of years ago!

In the end, whether you decide to do these chores yourself or hire someone who does it all the time, its best to remember that your personal time is valuable. For some it’s time away from your career, and others time with family. Make this time remodeling for yourself about yourself. 

  Alameda Victorian

Alameda Victorian

Design to Build On

One experience that makes me unique in the remodeling and design community is my time designing homes as an employee of Winans Construction Inc, a Design Build company out of Oakland, CA. Past National NARI (National Association of the Remodeling Industry) President and SFBA NARI (San Francisco Bay Area) chapter presidents, Paul Winans & his very organized wife Nina have since retired remodeling homes, but their legacy lives on as they continue to come along side professional contractors via  and Remodelers Advantage, training them how to serve their clients with the highest integrity. 

  Berkeley LaCasita Home Office

Berkeley LaCasita Home Office

Why is this unusual? Most Architects and Designers have very little hands-on experience with the designs they create. Now while I wasn't hammering nails or pouring concrete, I was present and available for answering questions about oddities that might come up such as framing being in the way that prevents the recessed light fixture or the shower valve and controls to be installed correctly. I was there to look for fine details and relationships, in tile placement and alignment for example. Keeping the completed project in mind so that in the end there were fewer items on the "final punch list" and no major do-over installation work to allow the homeowners to move back in on time.

Now as an independent kitchen and bath designer through Design Set Match I'm not a general contractor, but I do continue to offer the detailed focus that is necessary for a successful remodel. I like to work with general contractors who truly follow a team approach, who keep a detailed schedule of the project and who plan everything out as much as possible before starting construction. 

The team approach starts with Schematic Design. The Schematic Design phase gives me an opportunity to get to know you and your home better and I often connect homeowners with a couple of general contractors who truly care and value the new design you've work so hard come up with. I will have measured and drawn your existing rooms and created a couple of remodeled alternate options in my computer. During that time, I encourage my clients to connect with contractors, and as I’ve mentioned before in my article “Do I Really Need Three Bids?” have initial conversations and possibly get a ballpark cost (not a bid). Use this time to interview and narrow down your choices for whom you might want to work with.  If you have already selected your contractor that's great! I'd like to invite them to our appointment to review the schematic designs. 

 El Cerrito Traditional Hall Bath

El Cerrito Traditional Hall Bath

In the Design Process and Construction Preparation phases, our next steps will include selecting the materials you will actually use in your kitchen or bathroom.  While the contractor generally isn't involved much here, I will be providing them with a detailed list of materials, quotes and data/specification sheets so we can discuss possible concerns early. I like to go to your home to walk through the project with the contractor and their trade contractors. Occasionally there is a concern for the electrical load on the existing wiring and coordinating with PG&E, or reusing fresh water plumbing supply lines and the plumber may recommend bringing a new supply line from the main at the street. Having these conversations now sets up expectations and reduces stressful and costly unforeseen circumstances after construction has started. This also provides your contractor with accurate information so they can provide you with a fixed price contract, as I've recommended before in "Decisions and Consequences". All to often homeowners are suckered by the "lowest bid" only to realize that the “allowances” the contractor provided were far from realistic and end up costing thousands more than what they had expected.

During construction the contractor is "in charge" of managing their team, but I schedule site visits to see and help understand specific aspects. Much as I did while working on the Winans Construction team, I act as a guide who focuses on the end of the project while answering homeowner and contractor questions regarding framing, electrical, plumbing and tile layout. Unfortunately this can break down when contractors are not organized with their schedules, are poor communicators and don't return phone calls or emails in a timely manner. I try to eliminate this as much as possible by reaching out to them often and working with them earlier in the process rather than later so that we have built a relationship on trust and mutual respect especially if we haven't worked together before. 

My goal is not to push any contractor under a bus, nor is it to be pushed. It is to create a beautiful new space for you to live in happily for years. Pointing fingers and passing blame is not my objective. Let's work together to design and build your home in away that is satisfying to everyone on the team especially you.

 


What sink size works best?

This question was recently asked on Houzz.com.

Choosing the best sink for you is what is most important. Ask yourself some questions. Do you like to hand-wash your dishes? Are you Left or right handed? Do you have a separate prep sink for washing vegetables? Do you need a separate sink for veggies? What is the largest pot or pan that you need to fit into the sink? Will it only fit into a single bowl? Would a lower center divide work for both fitting your pots & pans as well as having the separate space?  What is the size of your sink cabinet ? Will a larger 50/50 (equally divided) work better than a smaller 50/50 version? If you don't have a large enough sink base for a equally divided sink, maybe one that is 40/60 (small bowl on left or right) may work better for your needs. 

  Kohler: Anthem Cast-Iron K-5840-5-U

Kohler: Anthem Cast-Iron K-5840-5-U

One thing I can say definitively is that you should purchase the sink-bottom-grid for the bowl that will hold your dishes. It will keep them off the bottom which generally means that your large pots fit a little better, they won't block water from draining and your sink, as well as your dishes, will last longer without the extra scraping on the bottom. 

For more sink options described in this article, visit my Houzz ideabook.