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.


"I Wanted to Save Money and..."

How familiar is this to all of us? I often do this for something simple like trying to find gluten-free ingredients in Whole Foods so I can make a special cake for a friend. Not a big deal, there’s only about five minutes lost searching for the ingredients before I get the gumption to talk to an associate and theres on extra money involved. 

My mechanic at Piedmont Autocare told me about one of his customers whose car had a major oil leak. Instead of fixing it or buying a new car she'd simply refill it over and over again to delay "spending money". Ok, so probably a few thousand dollars were spent for the multiple quarts purchased over a period of time, not to mention the effect on the environment, but it wasn't like spending hundreds of thousands of dollars. What do you think, did she actually save?

Before Kitchen, Alameda Victorian (note this kitchen had been this way for 10+ years due to over enthusiasm without a plan)

Before Kitchen, Alameda Victorian (note this kitchen had been this way for 10+ years due to over enthusiasm without a plan)

Lately I've been contacted by several homeowners through Houzz and Yelp who have also tried to save money, their contractor has already started demolition and may have even started reconstruction yet have nothing to install and their timeline completion date is two weeks away! One said "I should have contacted you earlier, but I kind of wanted to save money and tried to select everything by myself, but I failed... Sad face." I'm not writing this to put them in a bad light, rather I know many homeowners like yourself who are spending $50,000 - $150,000 yet succumb to this same pitfall and I hope that you can learn from another's experience. 

So how do you decide if you need an interior design professional to work with? First, ask yourself a few questions and be honest with your answer.

What are you willing to invest in your kitchen or bath remodel?

  • What is my financial state and where am I funding my remodel from?
    • It’s all saved up and set aside and there is room to be flexible
    • I'm getting a second mortgage or home loan and my max spending has been approved
    • I'm using credit cards to get the miles and I can make regular payments so it's not an issue
  • What is my schedule and availability to work alone or with a kitchen and bath designer?
    • I'm a stay at home parent with a flexible schedule and my spouse is almost always at work
    • I'm single and I work long hours and I only have Saturdays open
    • My spouse and I both work long hours, but we can occasionally take a few hours off during the week
    • My family is constantly on the go, between work, kids sports and other activities, and my volunteer work, I have no idea when I'll be able to make my remodel happen

Have you remodeled in the past?

  • How did it go?
    • Was the end result something you are proud of?
    • Did I do it by myself, let my contractor dictate or work with a designer before hand?
    • Is there anything I would've done differently if only I...?
    • Did it look professional or like I did it myself?

Now weigh out the true cost implications to your life

  • What is your time worth / how much do you get paid an hour?
    • If you were to miss work for full 8 hour days at a time what would that cost you?
  • What kind of connections and resources do you have to go to great showrooms the first time?
    • Will you be visiting 3 or more of the same type of showroom for tile, lighting, cabinets etc?
  • If you were to work with someone who does this every day, how do you think your time spent might vary compared to being on your own?
    • Hint: I typically work with homeowners in 3 hour increments and around 4 different showroom visits
    • Or we have a discussion and use the Houzz ideabooks so that I can act as their personal shopper and bring back possible solutions to discuss at a more ideal time
After Kitchen, Alameda Victorian

After Kitchen, Alameda Victorian

When should you start selecting materials? Right away (as in weeks or months before your contractor has started to demolish your existing space) with these steps

  1. It may be in your subconscious at first. Start with a Houzz ideabook as I've described a few weeks ago in my article "Houzz???".
  2. Go through a schematic design to layout your space. Maybe it's not changing locations all that much, that's ok, do something to help you visualize anything that isn't your out-dated, falling apart, dirty looking, cluttered kitchen or bath that you have now
  3. Make a detailed list of all the parts and pieces you think you need, then add the many more parts and pieces you didn't know you need
  4. Make a list of reputable showrooms like my favorite, Jack London Kitchen and Bath Gallery
  5. Contact the showrooms, make an appointment with a sales associate and go shopping!

Remodeling your home for the first or last time should be enjoyable and rewarding. What you invest and value is relevant to what you receive. 


Glass Block

Berkeley has a hippie mentality reputation even more than San Franciscans, but boy, those wonderful crunchy granola folks can have some great ideas for reuse!

I was visiting a friend, who is also my bookkeeper, and she had found an awesome reuse solution for glass blocks! Yes, that stuff that was used in the 80's, instead of windows and walls, which provide privacy and solar heat in homes and offices all over the Bay Area. It's so simple, I'm surprised that I haven't come across it on Pintrest yet. She had one 10" block halved to make a leak free planter for her succulents. Perfect for a desk in need of a little freshly made oxygen.

Savvy Thermostats

Piggybacking on last week's thoughts, I realize that I forgot to mention thermostats.

ecobee interfaces with your mobile technology

ecobee interfaces with your mobile technology

How do smoke detectors and thermostats relate? By their manufacturer. The same home owners living in San Francisco, no they're not paranoid, needed an alternate solution to the Google owned Nest thermostat. Something with a simple, well designed, user friendly interface that they could not only program but also monitor, pause and resume while on vacation. Who doesn't want to come home to a warm home after a ski week without paying a PG&E bill to match? 

Ecobee has come out with two great solutions, the Smart and Smart Si thermostats and they have a new App "Home IQ" in beta so that you can see your personal savings and energy usage. Their controls a digital interface, small profile and can interact with your iStuff, phone, computer etc. it can learn your patterns and desired home temperatures without reporting back to big G so that they can determine the best time to send you which advertising.

Welcome Home!

Sleep Safety

No matter where you live, whether its San Francisco, Alameda, or Berkeley, one code requirement remains the same. Smoke detectors are required inside and outside of each bedroom. Its not that the building inspectors really want to checkout your whole house, it is a safety precaution. Even if you are "just remodeling a kitchen or small bathroom" it is something that all building departments are responsible for. Its a good thing, big brother is actually looking out for your best interest for a change. Does this mean that you need to re-wire your entire house to put in a fancy hardwired system that alerts the fire department? In most cases, no. Requirements of that kind are usually reserved for new construction or when a certain percentage of your home is being worked on.

So what are your options? You could run to the hardware store and purchase the lowest costing model off the shelf, or you could go to the Mac Store and drool over the Apple computers and iStuff to buy a Nest model with its sleek design. The drawback to the Nest is that it is now a Google owned company and they have been able to turn its sensing features into more personal anylitics for their marketing strategies. I have done some research recently because my Apple employed clients are anti-Google-tracking, especially when it comes to your coming and going in your home just because you wake in the night to use the toilet. 

First Alert Photoelectric Smoke and CO Combo Alarm with Voice PC900V

First Alert Photoelectric Smoke and CO Combo Alarm with Voice PC900V

You may be aware of the concerns about carbon monoxide during sleeping hours too. This is because its presence will actually cause drowsiness  and if you are already asleep you are not very likely to notice any difference in your ability to take in the required oxygen to continue to breath. So how can you keep your newly remodeled home less cluttered without sacrificing your safety? First Alert has a wonderful, clean and simple combination detector that is photo sensitive to detecting smoke and has an active voice. Its the  PC900V, it will tell you which alarm is going off with words, it will also tell you when its battery is getting low so that you don't end up taking it down in the middle of the night and never returning it to its post. Its affordable too, you can buy it directly from their website or in most local hardware stores like Ace.

Now you can sleep safely in style without the concerns of the big G knowing even more about your hourly habits.     Nighty night!