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My “Cheap” Mistake

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.

A previous homeowner "saved" money by adding multiple pipes to raise this shower head

A previous homeowner "saved" money by adding multiple pipes to raise this shower head

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

1960's Blind Lazy Susan

1960's Blind Lazy Susan

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. 

Häfele Lemans Blind Corner Solution

Häfele Lemans Blind Corner Solution

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.

"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. 

 

Commando Shower and other Water Saving Techniques

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)

Water Collection While Waiting For Hot Water

Water Collection While Waiting For Hot Water

  • 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)

E. Coli Bacteria in Black Water

E. Coli Bacteria in Black Water

  • 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? 

Toto Drake II, 1 Gallon per Flush (GPF)

Toto Drake II, 1 Gallon per Flush (GPF)

  • 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.