Remodeling 101

As onsite contractor, I (Lauren Vaage) am witness to every detail start to finish. Whether making modifications or repairs to homes and property, I see what designs, materials, and assembly techniques either work or fail under similar conditions consistently; important information when you care how much longer the new work will last.

Designs can work longer over time. We develop designs by thoroughly examining how your home and property is on any given day so that your present plan and structure can be modified to meet your needs on any given day.

Identifying why materials fail, additional measures can be prescribed to extend product life considerably while adding little to project cost, offsetting future expenditures.

Structurally, how well have the different parts held up over time? This includes the foundation, supporting framework, interior and exterior surfaces, as well as the operation of doors and windows that reveal settling and ground movement.

Utilities such as electrical, lighting, plumbing and waste, and HVAC are inspected for deterioration, complying with current building codes, and future load capacity.

Storage and work space in the kitchen and bathrooms are almost always insufficient while closets are almost always in need of organizational systems. Besides the floor area, your home has additional volume that can be better utilized.

Living space is premium. Within the home there is floor area that must remain clear. Pathways such as hallways and routes used to go from here to there; space for opening windows and doors; access to entertainment equipment and such can be reorganized to gain more living area. Reconfiguring the relationship between rooms creates a wonderful new atmosphere, and possibly eliminate the need to expand beyond the current footprint of the home.

Orientation, or the direction rooms face to gain the best lighting, views, privacy, and noise reduction, can all be solved during planning.

Windows are often original single-paned with poor ratings for insulation, sound dampening, and UV rays that can cause damage to the materials inside the home. Upgrading allows you to select a more favorable system for opening as well.

Natural lighting can be increased and can dramatically improve the mood of the home in dark areas lit by artificial lighting, also adding architectural interest.

Aesthetic qualities may seem superfluous when you are concerned about correcting the functions of the home, but they are not. Beauty is extremely functional in all of its rich forms; we are attracted to textures and colors as much as we are attracted to the endless variables of food and sound. All the artistic qualities can comfort, interest and inspire you in your private kingdom as you live and entertain, expressing yourself to others.

Assumptions are the single most common factor causing disagreements and dissatisfaction between a client and contractor.  There are some things you can do to decrease assumptions and set yourself up for a good relationship with your contractor in the following paragraphs.

Expectations: Be certain that all of your questions have been answered and verified in writing prior to proceeding.

References: I urge you take to take some time and verify for yourself that the previous work and performance of any contractor/designer who you will be employing is compatible with your expectations. Asking others about someone’s performance can be reassuring; however, comments regarding workmanship should not be assumed entirely accurate unless the reference is experienced in the subject matter.

Accommodate or Compromise: Nobody wants to be left out—there is always room at the table. Accommodating others’ wishes is rewarding, whereas compromising may indicate less interest in the subject. A designer must be relentless in working out all the possible combinations until everything fits and flows well together. I have scrapped many concepts I thought could work, and then there comes a design that you’ll see right away is perfect and that the additional time in design was worth it.

Client Participation is welcome. A project is designed, scheduled and managed to be efficient with lasting results. This takes place when the same tradesmen who have been working together know what is expected. When a client contributes physical effort they come away with a greater sense of ownership and a better appreciation of the complexities involved in construction.

Agreements are not created equal and must include certain terms as describe by the CSLB.

Licenses may be obtained by most anyone with just the required minimum of experience and understanding of the subject matter, such as licensed drivers.

*Below is a quarterly bulletin for California Licensed Contractors with revocations pages 11-19.

Building Codes: These are the minimum government standards (which are constantly changing) overseeing health, safety and efficiency in construction.

The Davis Building Department is very user friendly in answering your questions, and I have enjoyed working with them very much over the years.

Building Inspections are for official records when permits are required and do not oversee expectations between the homeowner and builder.

My inspections continue through to completion, allowing myself to rest assured that the benefits from the work will continue long after legal commitments expire.

Industry Standards: These are minimum guidelines for resolving questions concerning product quality and workmanship; however, they do not supersede the agreement between client and contractor. Like fingerprints, we all leave a different mark, so make certain that your selection of who you employ is compatible with your expectations.

Matching implies an exact copy, and like snowflakes, there are no duplications. When remodeling or making repairs there will be areas of existing designs, colors, materials, and textures that will need to be fashioned together seamlessly. Materials age with time, and the tools and methods that put them together often have been discontinued or replaced. An invisible seam is the mark of a craftsman.

Descriptions in an agreement should list manufacturer brand and model, grade of materials, and methods of assembly.

Deterioration is usually caused by various organisms which favor moist environments lacking in light and ventilation, areas predictably found between attached, untreated materials where evidence goes mostly unseen until damage becomes extensive. Also our climate and the ground we build upon is forever fluctuating, always on the move. Foundations crack and settle, wind pushes its way through and around, while temperature and moisture levels cause everything to expand and contract, in constant tension. Bathrooms are more often in need of remodeling due to deterioration caused by moisture without proper ventilation, and exacerbated by substandard materials and assembly techniques.

Details such as joints, seams and edges are the most vulnerable areas to deterioration or separation due to lack of proper fastening and sealing. These are the places where typically little attention is paid, and as it has been said, “the devil is in the details.”

Some rules of thumb:

(1) Avoid abrasive cleaners. Would you wash your car with an abrasive cleaner? They are formulated to remove, and that they do—and not just the buildup of deposits that could be avoided if routine maintenance was followed, but also that shiny polish protecting what is under its surface. Use them once and the deposits will more easily cling to the scratches now in the surface from the cleaner.

(2) SHOES OFF! It’s what stays outside that counts. If you don’t remove your shoes, whatever on earth you’ve been stepping in gets inside your beautiful home. Your shoes with even the least of patterns on the sole hold a lot of grit that acts just like the abrasive cleaners, removing that beautiful finish from your flooring.

(3) Caulk with caution.  Caulking serves many useful purposes—and creates many problems as well, by eliminating drainage and airflow, thus accelerating deterioration.

Larger and more expensive homes are often assumed to be of better quality. You will find the same contractors and workers building both lower and higher end homes with predominately the same materials and methods of assembly.

Product life expectancy: I gauge this by when something begins to fail, not when it has completely failed. What can be bought that continues to work well, trouble free?

Built-in obsolescence is a phrase that is now commonly repeated, and I find it very disheartening to feel skeptical when making a purchase instead of with confidence.

Building Materials, like everything else, are graded and priced accordingly. All of the components to be used in your project, along with the details of assembly, need to be described in writing. Consider the details. For example, the concrete in your foundation and flatwork (driveways/walkways) is more than just gray in color: what amount of cement was added, how thick is it, how deep is it, what size steel and how much and how was it placed.  That’s just the beginning, and this level of detail applies to absolutely everything constructed through to completion. There are materials and methods of assembly that hold together longer than others.

Price vs. Cost: What you buy has a price; however, the real cost is the price you’ll be paying over time. So what’s it worth to you? An old adage, ‘You get what you pay for’, but, did you get more or less than you expected?

Apples vs. Oranges: Materials and workmanship come in assorted grades and quality, and without experience one may think they may all appear the same. When purchasing new tools, materials or a referral for a tradesman, I call those in the industry I know (not salesmen) that have already discovered what or who works and doesn’t; why pay for an education twice?

Free estimates can be reliable when the work is easily assessed or is similar to previous work. Remodeling projects are more complex so the initial visit typically provides the client with a range of costs.

Overhead: all of the costs required to run a business begin from before your first phone call is answered to long after the work is completed, and yes, these are included in the cost of your project. Sound business management practices are paramount to survival but difficult for the client to appreciate when typically it is only the materials and tradesmen that the client sees at work.

Reuse and Recycling: I understand this system as the inevitable natural process where nothing goes to waste and everything is useful throughout its lifecycle. When I integrate the distinctive individual character of older materials, my original designs are enhanced. Reimagine the materials in new ways.

Green: Green is in part using less toxic additives and more efficient measures. I strongly advocate progressively bettering designing and assembly techniques that honor our limited natural resources by lowering ongoing maintenance and replacement costs.

Local: I wholeheartedly support buying materials and services closer to home, from our friends and neighbors who also have an invested interest in our community. I sincerely appreciate the time they give to listen and inform me of different options, even if it means I might make a purchase elsewhere. In return, I support their business because I want them to continue being available to me. Of course, if I cannot find what I require locally, then I’ll look further.

Davis—my hometown, not too unlike the other nearby hamlets when doors were left unlocked, breeding welcoming and trusting attitudes, and it was a person’s reputation keeping them in business. Other places I’ve watched grow, split into several centers of congregation within their borders, losing that small-town atmosphere. Davis, however, still has its one downtown where it is inevitable that you will mingle with familiar faces and names. I recognize why this feeling of community survives and continues to bring us all together at its heart. This is why I still feel at home here in this much larger home town.

New Construction vs. Remodeling Costs

It is easier to provide an average price per square foot for new construction. Alternatively, there are a number of factors that can affect final remodeling costs. The following lists many of the conditions that may add to the cost of remodeling.

  1. Property is not vacant, clear for access, maneuvering and material storage
  2. Underground utilities, roots, buried footings/concrete, landscape and irrigation
  3. As-built plans are needed to map out the existing structure and foundation, and service routes and capacities, including permanent exterior structures and landscape
  4. Reestablishing property markers, if needed
  5. Demolition
  6. Hazardous materials testing and abatement, if needed
  7. Site is occupied, limiting hours of work
  8. Protection or moving personal belongings, interior and exterior
  9. Protection of floors, walls, ceilings, HVAC ducting
  10. Temporary lodging during large renovations (occupied homes take longer, costing more to complete)
  11. Dust barriers and air filters
  12. Undiscovered areas of deterioration repaired
  13. Previous unpermitted work brought up to code
  14. Bringing existing electrical, plumbing, insulation, engineering up to code
  15. Matching unavailable existing materials and hand-applied materials
  16. Designing plans to work seamlessly with existing design

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