What is a new homeowner to do when they inherit existing conditions that are “illegal”? In some cases, Design Teams can help homeowners convince the Building Department to “grandfather” or accept weird situations. These are usually minor infractions and/or not connected with a remodel directly. One case of “grandfathering” Design Set Match assisted was in regard to rebuilding a carriage house on the back of a lot in Alameda. The agreement with the Building Department was that the building could...Read More
When we embarked on the home buying process I initially thought the 1st floor rental unit was legal but not up to today’s code standards and needed only minor repairs. During the disclosures process and surface level investigation, we discovered that the Planning Department didn’t agree...Read More
I recently made a mistake when I tried to “save money”. A few weeks ago, I traveled to Chicago for a small business education class with other kitchen and bath design companies to learn techniques to run Design Set Match more efficiently. Not being a frequent flier, I simply did what has worked well for me in the past. I went to one of the travel websites and then a couple of others to discover that they’ve been bought up by the same company and are essentially all the same site now. Ok, so I didn’t see as much variety as I have before, but the rates looked reasonable.
The trouble is what I didn’t see coming. I booked a cheap flight on a “young” airline. I’ve done this before without any trouble from other airlines. Sure, I usually sit towards the back in economy, but that's not a big deal, I almost always get a window seat. Then I went on to select my hotel room. It was a little more than the cheap hotels, but it was within walking distance to the Häfele showroom where the training classes were to take place. I even upgraded because I didn’t want to be in a “dorm style room”. I felt good, paid for the trip, and was all set.
Not so fast, I immediately got an email from the airline about their “bare fare” to discover that they charge extra for everything! Ok, so I need to pay for a meal, that's pretty typical, I prefer the airport restaurants… wait, now I need pay for my carry-on luggage too, it's a basic essential for a 4-night 5-day trip! So I fork it over… select a seat? Forget that, it is additional money for even the farthest back seat! If I was flying with my family I would have needed to do it though (to be able to sit together), so I opted for a “random” seat. There’s more… or I should say less. They don’t even provide the most basic human necessity of water on this 4.5 hour flight without charging for it! And just to grind in the nickel-and-dime insult they have billboard advertisements on the interior walls and they have a long-winded flight attendant trying to “sell” their MasterCard at the end of the flight to get a discount on the food they just charged an arm and a leg for! Ok, rant over.
What does this mean for remodeling? What can a homeowner like yourself take away from this? Learn from my mistake. Ask questions.
When a contractor, cabinet company or plumbing shop says they can do your kitchen for less what does “less” mean? What are they removing to make it a “bare fare” like my flight? Often with cabinets they haven’t paid attention to the details of functions that have been painstakingly poured over by you and your kitchen or bath designer.
Homeowners in the San Francisco Bay Area trust me as their kitchen and bath designer to review their orders before they spend $20,000+ on cabinetry or $150,000+ on their remodel. I often find that from the outside cabinets or other items “look the same”. What they’re actually being sold isn’t a solution to the problems that brought them into me in the first place. Lower cost cabinets usually function like their 1960’s cabinets do now. My clients will continue to lose pantry items in the back of the corner cabinet or deep pantry only to discover them years after they’ve expired. Or they’d be purchasing plumbing fixtures like a Toto wall-mounted toilet with the Geberit in-wall tank through an online retailer only to discover their plumber hasn’t installed one before and needs to spend hours on the phone with customer service because he thinks its “broken” and he can’t get a local manufacturer’s representative to talk him through the process which will prevent leaks in your walls. And worst of all is getting a general contractor who doesn’t meet expectations. They usually are unlicensed, have poor communication during construction, draw out construction longer than expected (even if there are no unforeseen circumstances) are careless with other rooms of your home and nickel-and-dime you because “they didn’t plan to install crown moulding” or the “wall-mounted toilet took more time to install than I had planned”.
Homeowner beware. Ask questions, get detailed written agreements spelling out what will actually be done, get a written construction schedule. It's worth the savings in valuable time and stress to pay a little more for the proper management and quality materials your trusted remodeling professionals will provide.
There's a difference between "frugal" and "cheap". Don’t make a “cheap” mistake of your own.
A few months ago at a NARI (Nation Association of the Remodeling Industry) chapter meeting this came up in conversation. It was said in a lovingly snarky way by a regular guest and it made me think to myself, “why do I participate fully and joyfully in NARI?”
It’s not my religion, but it is part of my faith structure. I realized that just as I am involved at All Souls Parish in Berkeley in helping members get meals and rides, and in my leadership responsibilities in Bible Study Fellowship International (BSF) to have a deeper relationship with God and my church community; I fully believe that making connections at the monthly San Francisco Bay Area (SFBA) and North Bay meetings is valuable for me, for the contractors, architects, showrooms, and other remodeling industry professionals and homeowners.
Since starting Design Set Match five years ago, I desired to make connections that had meaning, connections that could take root. I’m skeptical by nature, but I knew some of what Paul and Nina Winans had poured into the organization and that there is often value that words can not describe so at the end of my first year as an entrepreneur I took a step of faith and became a NARI member. Now some might ask if I “got any business” from other members that first year, I don’t think I did, and that's ok.
I became a board member so that I could know and fully understand more about the organization for myself. And I’ve since become the board secretary, taking notes of each meeting, and I’ve joined Dave Freer of the Collier Warehouse on the Membership Committee after having an opportunity to watch and listen to see where I felt that best fit for personal and association growth.
So what do I get out of NARI? Nothing. Well not completely. I love that even if the topic was about concrete or something else that might bore me, the SFBA meetings are in showrooms so that every meeting is four-fold with great locations, educational topics, networking and industry politics (I’m glad others can represent me in this). I probably put more into NARI than I receive in “instant gratification”, but I believe that with small steps of faith, the services I can offer to homeowners in San Francisco, Berkeley, and Marin, will grow in quality. I attend meetings, invite new comers and reach out to members to build relationships with the company owner(s) and their staff. I find it is critical to know who I will actually be working with. I nurture those relationships each month and look for opportunities to improve my businesses quality of service by introducing homeowners to General Contractors I can trust and introducing contractors to showrooms and trade or sub-contractors that I believe they can trust too. Is it perfect? Nothing in remodeling is, but integrity and passion for remodeling is key for any professional I trust.
Investing in a strong building industry is the foundation for success in remodeling for homeowners and business owners a like.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In my 2 bedroom home this statement is a daily exclamation from my 4 year old daughter.
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!
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:
- 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.
- 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?
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...
- Contra Costa (Lafayette, Orinda, Walnut Creek etc):
- San Francisco:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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
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
- 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???".
- 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
- 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
- Make a list of reputable showrooms like my favorite, Jack London Kitchen and Bath Gallery
- 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.
The short answer is no, however the Contractors State Liscense Board (CSLB) says"Yes". Discrepancy? Not really.
What the CSLB is trying to do is help protect you, the consumer. Too often homeowners like yourself decide to use the first "nice guy" contractor they meet to remodel their kitchens and bathrooms. Unfortunately an overwhelming number, seniors and younger generations alike, are taken advantage of by unlicensed, expired or even shared license contractors who take excessive time in completing the remodel and usually increase the cost by nickel and diming "unforeseen" circumstances that they really should've been aware of and all too often these "nice guys" disappear never to be found or finish the work you've already paid them to do. The CSLB isn't recommending that you do this practice of getting bids just so you can find the lowest bidder. In fact it's the mere opposite. Doing the bidding process will illuminate for you who has listened and payed attention to your needs, home, budget and other details vs who it trying to be the lowest bidder. Typically the lowest bidder has not made a clear detailed description of the work they will be doing for you, how long it will take and fixed costs, sometimes they even have asingle page contract that generically says "remodel kitchen".
So why do I disagree with the CSLB regarding bids? Honestly it's because you can vett the good contractors out more easily. Start with a conversation. Ask your interior designer or architect for recommended professionals they have relationships with. Ask them why they think the contractors they are recomending might be right for you. During the Schematic Design Process, I often recommend a couple of contractors for the homeowners to meet. Occasionally I haven't worked with them before in a home, but I've built a relationship with them through the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) and I've had great feedback about them and their work from colleges and past clients. More often than not I have worked with them on some remarkably transforming spaces.
Main things I look for and recommend you look for too:
- How do I feel in there presence
- How do the things they say about their business model and process align with my core values?
- What is my basic gut feeling? It's okay to say it's not a good fit based on this alone.
- What will they be like to work with as a designer and as a homeowner?
- Do they speak contractor over my head terminology or can they explain things in a way that I can easily understand?
- One of my pet-peeves is when experts in their field are my advisors, such as accountants and insurance professionals, and speak over my head in a lingo that is only specific to their career knowledge base.
- Pricing style:
- Do they give a bid right after their first conversation with you based on random allowances?
- How realistic could that really be?
- Or do they offer a small contract to assess your home and provide a detailed construction contract with a fixed price?
- In my experience this is the best path for a successful remodel.
- Do they give a bid right after their first conversation with you based on random allowances?
- Does their construction contract provide a detailed list spelling out every fixture, faucet, work being done to re-wire and where etc?
- Do they provide a construction schedule with their agreement outlining everything from where materials are ordered to when construction is expected to be completed?
- Do they respond to emails and phone calls etc in a timely manner (generally 2 business days if they're not computer savy)?
- Finished product:
- Have you seen their recent work online or another portfolio?
- Will they invite you to not only meet a past client but also see their project if you ask?
- Did they pay attention to details or do you notice odd things that seem unfinished?
While there is nothing "wrong" with getting bids, we've seen how that can have a major negative impact in projects like the new San Francisco Bay Bridge from Oakland to San Francisco and the gigantic cost overruns! The most important thing to remember is that this is your home, who do you want to invite into your most private spaces?
Recently one of my friends posted an image on her Facebook page of an art piece from a collection entitled "Marriage" from while visiting the Museum for Kunst (National Gallery of Denmark) in Copenhagen by artists Elmgreen and Dragset
What caught my eye is that it plays with the typically less decorative parts of the plumbing system, the drain lines. As a kitchen and bath designer I strive to hide, conceal or blend in this "unsightly" portion of a kitchen or a bathroom, where as this artist is celebrating it! Through a little google image research, I discovered that while this first piece I was introduced to was simply decorative, The Hayward Gallery at Southbank Center in the UK actually has a commissioned working bathroom from the same concept for their men's restroom!
Here in the United States, we try to avoid "unmentionables" especially when they concern our bodily waste. However, in asian countries, the toilet has been celebrated for years. Maybe that's why Toto is the leading manufacturer for high quality, low water consuming toilets? There is a Toilet-Shaped House in South Korea that was built to mark the 2007 inaugural meeting of the World Toilet Association, there has also been a slide and toilet exhibit in Japan for people to "experience being flushed" with spiral shaped brown hats on their heads at the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Tokyo.
While this may not be the right fit for most of us, we should consider the full functionality of our homes.
- Who cleans your home?
- Is it you?
- How long are you on your hands and knees wiping the crud from the base of your toilet?
- What is your style?
- Are you hoping for a traditional pedestal sink or a modern wall-mount bathroom vanity?
- If so, how much of the drain/waste line (aka P-Trap named because of its shape like the letter) might be seen?
- What is in the cabinet below your kitchen or bathroom sink?
- Do those items need to be stored there?
- Are you adding functional drawers or pull-outs for stuff?
- Will you have a garbage disposer and chilled/hot water that will need some of that space to function?
There are a variety of realistic solutions for every household.
- Maybe a wall-mounted toilet or a one-piece toilet with a "skirt" that covers the pathway of the toilet waste could be a better solution for a quick bathroom wipe-down?
- Possibly a decorative "Bottle-Trap" is the answer where waste lines may be visible in your remodel.
- Space efficiency and maximization is key in most Bay Area kitchen and baths. Working out details with your plumber early is essential to have as much storage inside a sink base cabinet as well as fitting critical design elements like disposers and other features like instant hot water systems or the Grohe Blue sparkling water kitchen faucet combo.
How will your artistic sense influence your decisions, selections and soon to be beautiful home?
Maybe you haven't heard if it, Houzz (pronounced how-zz) is the digital equivalent of a home remodeling and decorating magazine.
It use to be, that when I was going to meet homeowners who were considering remodeling their kitchen or bathroom for the first time, I would ask them to buy magazines and tear out only the pages they liked and recycle the rest. It was a very constructive communication tool but also wasteful of both the earth's resources and their money.
To use Houzz, you simply set up a free user account and then create an "ideabook". You can add the app to your web browser so that when you are on any website you can add those images to your idea book without being on the Houzz page, or you can search and browse with-in the Houzz site for images and add them from there. You can also download and use Houzz as an app on your Mobil devices! Be anywhere and daydream (not while driving please).
While this service has added a great many benefits it can still be overwhelming. Start by making an ideabook for just one room at a time, if you are doing a kitchen and two baths for example you will set up three "ideabooks". Many of the photos you will see are going to be of rooms that are bigger than your own. This is naturally to be expected as photographing smaller spaces can be very difficult. It's okay, use them anyway. You should be focusing on the big picture. Find rooms that give the feeling you want your kitchen or bathroom to have. You might find a really cool item like a light fixture or a faucet, but those details will come later and it's the reason you will work with an interior designer.
As a designer I use these starter "ideabooks" to gain a better understanding of your personal style. During a complimentary consultation we will review photos of your existing home and talk about what is and is not working. We'll also review your ideabook and talk about why you like what you saved. Maybe it's the "light and airy" feeling, maybe it's "clutter free", maybe it is "zen" or "timeless". Which ever the reason, you saved each image, and the reasons are unique to you. As we contrast them with your existing circumstances, these give me insight into what might be right for your remodel. I often use these images as color inspiration for me as I create the initial schematic designs.
I also create ideabooks and use them throughout the design process to continue the conversation. Sometimes I will start creating it during schematic design. If I have a particularly challenging element to solve, maybe it's grab bars that look like towel bars, sometimes it's a unique way to open a shower door or simply a light fixture that would be an element of interest and I have included it in the drawings. I will save it in the "ideabooks" to keep me from needing to do double the research. I typically use it as a live document. Once we have had our first appointment in a showroom, I will add the selections you have chosen and the ones we have narrowed it down to so we can compare them side by side. Often homeowners don't have time to go to every showroom, and I will start to research various light fixtures and add them so you can delete the ones of no interest and give me feedback at any time of day, usually when your kids are asleep and you have some time to reflect comfortably or even during your lunch break.
The main rule of thumb to start your's is: Be open minded and look at the big picture not the details and don't overthink it. No more than an hour is needed for you daydream and save ideas to give a good sense of what might be right for you.
This is a tough question. Probably one of the most difficult that I come across and that I can only guide by asking more questions.
- What is wrong with your home now?
- Is your family growing, is a new baby expected or an aging parent moving in
- Are there five people using your only bathroom?
- Is your home falling apart at the seams?
- Is tile falling off the shower walls?
- Are the appliances the same age as your home steam is starting to warp the cabinets above your oven?
- Are your energy bills over $400 a month?
- Are you embarrassed when everyone squeezes into your kitchen and you are constantly shuffling around?
- Do things fall on your head from above of the refrigerator when you open it because the cabinets above are unusable?
If you said yes to any of these, or perhaps you have another problem, then maybe remodeling is right for your home, but is it right for you and your family? This, unfortunately, is something that can really only be evaluated by you even when you get professional assistance from an interior designer, contractor and or realtor.
- What is the value of your home now? Even just a guess.
- How does that compare to what you purchased it for?
- Would you make, break even or lose money on selling now?
- What is your neighborhood like?
- Do you like it, do you have kids and are in a "good" school district?
- If you moved would your kids need to change schools?
- How much more would another home cost?
- Would it already be remodeled or would you need to do upgrades before you moved in and essentially carry two mortgages until you did?
- Have you talked with a realtor?
- What did they have to say about your home now?
- Do they think you would need to remodel it to sell at the "zestimated" value?
- Do you like anything about your current home?
- Would moving simply make all of your problems disappear?
- Have you had conversations with a remodeling professional like a kitchen and bath designer or a general contractor?
- What is the ballpark range of remodeling costs for your area?
- Would it be more or less than the cost of moving including realtors/movers/staging fees etc?
Weigh out the pros and cons. Remodeling isn't for everybody. Maybe living in your home during construction would aggravate your child's asthma. Maybe the cost of living in a rental during construction is beyond your investment capabilities. What are you willing to invest in time as well as money?
I recently met with someone who wanted to discuss remodeling their kitchen. They don't have a dishwasher and they enjoy hand-washing their dishes. They're not too happy with their new neighbors so they've started thinking of selling their flat in the next year. So should they remodel for the sake of having a dishwasher for resale even though it would involve new windows, electrical upgrades, and some major rework to their current space to maximize efficiency? They live in Berkeley and are in a great school district and family oriented neighborhood. Honestly, because the dishwasher is not an issue for them, and because the kitchen would most likely be remodeled by a new homeowner I recommended a different approach. What if we could "remodel" their kitchen for less than %1000? What if they did some minor handy-man work to improve the general cluttered feel of the space and we did a Schematic Design to provide the realtor with a hand-out to show the hidden potential so that they could make the space work for their personalities? Sometimes moving instead of remodeling is the right option.
Some regions are known for their weather, hot and humid in Georgia, cold and snowy in Minnesota, and rainy and grey in Seattle. California is no different, we are simply "weather-less" to the minds of people from the more extreme regions. Especially in the San Francisco Bay Area, with our summer fog blowing in through the Marin headlands, past the golden gate up into the Berkeley hills and all our other microclimates, it is easy to forget the dry heat of the valleys, that though fruitful with crops can also seem like a dessert. In times of severe drought, California's governors have time and again called for conservation. Have you seen the EBMUD's (east bay municiple utilities district) billboards showing use of brooms instead of hosing the sidewalk? Have you heard the Water Sense radio ads for how boaters can save water so they can keep their boats in without getting stuck in the muck? Maybe you've even heard a Josh Donaldson of the Oakland A's recommending taking a "power shower"?
So if conserving water is their problem, isn't it ours too? Hetchhetchy water tastes great, until we run out and need to use wells filled with minerals that discolor and leave hard to clean spots on our cars and shower doors and that has a disgusting taste like Hanford water. So what can we do?
Effective cheap techniques (more men than women seem to prefer these)
- Commando Shower: Turning the shower on, waiting for it to get up to temperature, getting wet, turning off the water, lathering up while getting goose bumps, turning the water back on and fiddling around trying to get the temperature right again, rinsing off and being done in 5 minutes or less. Over twenty years ago a shower head was designed just for this purpose with a little "off" button on the shower head!
- Bucket Brigade: Having a bucket, or several, in your bathroom hoping not to trip over them, filling them with cold water as you wait for the hot water to reach you from the water heater that is located at the other end of the house, picking the heavy bucket out of the tub or shower being careful not to spill gallons all over your floor or drop the thing on your toe and then enjoying a nice warm shower... Repeat per person in the house because the water cools off in the pipes in the 15-20 minutes it takes for you to dry off, get dressed and other essential getting ready time.
- Let it Mellow: Applying only "if it's yellow", let urine and toilet paper sit and hang out in the toilet bowl for a few trips to the toilet, not enough to clog the system hopefully, then flush assuming your friends are friendly with this, otherwise expect them to flush or think your toilet may not be functioning and try to fix it for you, and scrubbing the toilet bowl more often due to bacteria that tries to make a new home for itself.
- Sink Capture: Hand washing dishes in a bucket and reusing the dirty water in their toilet and over time having a toilet that clogs regularly and flushing mechanisms not working. Some pour this water into their gardens, more appropriately, but find that pests become attracted to the washed out food particles.
Mythological techniques (no unicorns or dragons to help these out)
- Hand-washing dishes in the sink: many homeowners all over the Bay Area are still hand-washing their dishes, some simply don't have a dishwasher, others find it therapeutic but most believe they are being Eco conscious. What they don't realize is that even if they are washing in a bucket and collecting dishes in a sudsy place, while they rinse they actually use more water on average than they would using a dishwasher! Dishwashers today have been designed to use very little water, not only can they reach the scalding germ killing temperatures that are impossible by hand, but they precisely spray the water where it is needed and use small effecient and powerful streams of spray that push the grime off. They also have integrated little garbage disposers in them so that the particles get grinded up and sent out so that they're not spread all over onto other clean dishes.
- Reusing all water is good: Water from the kitchen sink, and even washing machines especially for parents washing soiled diapers and changes of clothes is actually considered "black". Black water is a fabulous place for organisms to grow, hibernate and spread potential disease in food partials and grease. Grey water, called so because of its general coloring and lack of clarity, can be reclaimed immediately without needing to go to a major processing plant. This water may be from washing hands with environmental friendly soaps or using the washing maching with a regular cycle of clothes and can be used to flush toilets and water plants safely. There are elaborate systems plumbers can hook up to capture this potential waste and direct it to gardens and filtering collection tanks. There are also simple systems to connect bathroom sinks to toilets to avoide flushing potable drinking water directly down the drain.
Realistic techniques (approved by Berkeley and San Francisco hippies)
- Basic: Water Sense and PG & E have a great websites with simple cost effective techniques that are safe and relationship friendly.
What if you're already Planning to remodel?
- Select water saving fixtures and faucets start with dual flush toilets and low flow toilets, Toto has one that is 1GPF (gallon per flush)!
- How about the shower head? Yes, you can still feel luxurious as water rushes down covering your whole body, has enough pressure to rinse out your hair and saves water! No need for those commando showers boys! That being said, for those who like to turn the water off mid-shower, I recommend getting a thermostatic shower valve. This measures how warm the water is and maintains that temperature during your shower without losing pressure when someone in another part of your home runs the dishwasher or flushes a toilet.
- Shorten your wait time for hot water. Ask your plumber if an on-demand or tankless hot water heater just outside your bathroom, or even under the sink makes sense for your home and situation. Another cost effective option might be to use a recirculating pump which pushes the cold water from the hot water line into the cold water line until hot water is a few seconds from your sink or shower without changing the temperature of the water in your cold water line, it's a neat trick!
I'm curious, how might your thinking have changed about saving water? Please add your comments.
I'm sure you've heard the old saying, "everything including the kitchen sink" as a metaphor for packing too much. But in this instance, Grohe has packed almost everything you can imagine into the kitchen sink faucet and its a good thing!
In the world of kitchen remodeling, clutter is the enemy. Everyone wants a magic wand for making it impossible for them to put it all back when they move back in. But at the kitchen sink, we tend to add more during the remodel. First there is a faucet, followed by an air gap (required by code to prevent dirty sink water from back-flowing into the fresh water lines), and the aminity items that improve our way of functioning, air-touch disposer switch, soap dispenser and filtered water/instant-hot water dispenser. And on top of all that, we want our sparkling water small appliance like the "Sodastream" sitting on the counter too.
The Grohe Blue series now has a Chilled & Sparkling option. Not only can you have filtered water at the same tap, but you can make your own italian sodas too! When I asked the representative a few weeks ago I found out that they are beta-testing an instant-hot water feature in Europe (I'm holding out for this version). Its nice that this is on display and functioning at the Jack London Kitchen and Bath Gallery showroom where I have my office, I can have chilled and sparkling water anytime I like!
What is the #1 thing homeowners are looking for in their remodeling process?
Unfortunately, this is the complete opposite experience that even the best showrooms have to offer. In a continuing education course this week I was reminded of the clutter experienced by someone who walks in for the first time. Its so easy to to be overwhelmed! Homeowners who work with me have often experienced this before discovering me. They have tried to select or shop for their materials (plumbing fixtures, cabinets, tile, lighting fixtures etc) on their own. They have walked into some fabulous and not so fabulous places only to turn around and leave equally because there are too many choices and they are afraid of making the wrong one. For example, did you know there are 1000 different granite possibilities for your countertops? And thats not counting all of the other countertop possibilities like marbles and man-made options. I often refer to this as the Disneyland Effect.
Imagine. You've just walked through the gates of the "Happiest Place on Earth" and instantly you have emotionally shrunk down to the size of a child. You're excited and intimidated, you feel like you should know where to go, and at the same time feel lost on where to start. You take a few steps in wonderment, looking around in every direction with an almost bobble-head bounce and with every step you continue to emotionally shrink and don't feel as happy as you had hoped. You find and check a map to collaborate with your group and decide where to go first. Once you've made it through the Main Street gauntlet the Wonderful World of Walt's dreams is opened up to a seemingly limitless expanse. But now you have your guide and a starting point and because and thats what you do. You keep yourself from going on all the other attractions before getting to that first destination. After you have had your first fun attraction experience you are at easy, you feel empowered you can explore the many nooks of delight without fear. It is now the happy place that was promised. At the end of the day you leave a little exhausted from all of your hard work, relieved that you were able to conquer the beginning frustrations and satisfied as you walk hand-in-hand smiling and wearing your mouse ears proudly.
The same is true of the showroom experience, only there are sales persons as guides. Of course, we have all been trained by our parents not to "trust" sales people. Yes, while some of them can have the "used car salesman" approach, most are simply overly trained in all of the product details, and they often try to teach homeowners which adds to the overwhelming feeling. This is where the team approach provides a more positive experience. The homeowners I work with are also needing a guide and a starting point. Someone who will help to narrow down the choices quickly and simply. Someone who is not "trying to sell" the most expensive items to bump up their commission and who can work with the product educated showroom associate side by side. Someone who has the full picture in mind even when the homeowner can't fully picture everything in their own mind yet. In the end, they may be a little tired, after all making decisions is hard work. They go home and have a good night's sleep. They are confident in their choices and comfortably at ease in knowing that the next showroom they walk-into to finish their bathroom or kitchen materials selections will be a smooth experience too.
About a month ago I had discovered that the San Francisco Design Center was in a land development pickle. Now I am pleased to see that district supervisor Malia Cohen has stood her ground!
She also agrees that the design district buildings deserve landmark designation but not at the cost of its current tenants.
While I love Pintrest, this issue has nothing to do with them except that they were the big name tech company in the running for this space. These couple of blocks of street was named after Henry Adams for a reason, and that history for the design center is key for all in the remodeling industry and homeowners too.
This follow-up story by SF Gate is clearly stating everything. Check it out. Oh and if you are in her voting district, I hear she is up for re-election, please consider supporting her in the polls for doing there right thing for her community and yours!
Remodeling projects excite me!
I love working with home owners to create functional and beautiful kitchens and bathrooms. The thrill of listening to their ideas and needs and working on creative ways to make as much of it come true as possible by assisting with materials selections and smoothing out the overwhelming decision making processes that take place prior to construction.
Yesterday was another wonderful part of this adventure. I had the opportunity to be with the general contractor, David Karp of City Structures during a site walk-through of the trade contractors. Even more exciting was that I was able to invite some of my favorite companies to work with! Collaboration is essential for a remodel to run smoothly. Not only was I able to meet these professionals, but we worked together to find solutions to some of the more complexities that need to be resolved before we apply for building permits.
What is a "Trade" and who did I invite? A Trades person/contractor (or sub contractor) is very specifically focused on the work that they do, a plumber, electrician or tile installer for example. Its fun to be on a team that isn't about being responsible for just their part, but has the ultimate goal of a fabulous bathroom in mind. I was glad to have the opportunity to invite some of my trusted trade partners, Lunt Marymor, Roberts Electric, Sarah Young Tiling and Sontag Construction, many of whom are NARI (National Association of the Remodeling Industry) members.
Even more exciting is that this bathroom will be brought to life in the near future. Go Team!
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.
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!