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General Remodeling Tips

No one likes to cut a budget, especially when it’s his or her own. But when it comes to planning a remodeling project, homeowners must establish a realistic budget . . . and manage it.

Preparing for a remodeling project is a lot like preparing to buy a car. You may know the room and style you want, but the options you choose may drive the price higher than you can reasonably afford. But there are ways to stretch the remodeling budget and end up with a stylish room within budget.

Getting Started

  • The most important step is finding a professional remodeling contractor for your job. Check out Find a Professional Remodeler on www.RemodelToday.com for a contractor near you.
  • Hire a professional contractor who is familiar with the building codes in your area.
  • Updating work that does not meet code can be extremely expensive.
  • A well-written contract can prevent costly mistakes or additions to the scope of your project. It is a critical step in maintaining your budget.
  • Save money by planning ahead. Go through the design process first and choose everything you want to include in the new room(s), from appliances to light fixtures. This will define your budget and prevent hasty (and costly) decisions later in the project. Be sure to include all your product and material selections in the contract to avoid confusion and unnecessary change orders. Include the model, size, color, and other specifications. It is also wise to save 10-20 percent of your budget to allow for items added to the scope of work.
  • The number one way to decrease the cost of your remodeling project is product choices. Look around to determine whether you can achieve a similar look with a less expensive product.
  • In addition, pay attention to how labor intensive some design features may be, for example laying ceramic tile on kitchen countertops and the backsplash.
  • Compare products and their prices carefully before you make final decisions. And keep an open mind when you discuss product and design ideas with your contractor.
  • Make decisions based on value and quality, not just price.
  • Think about staging the work being done to minimize the initial financial impact. It is often easier to create a more manageable budget by starting small and adding to the project at a later date. This will break the work into several jobs instead of one large project. The down side of staging a remodel is that you may end up paying more in the long run.

General Remodeling Tips

  • Be creative. There are often multiple solutions to accomplish a design objective, some more expensive than others. Discuss various options with your contractor.
  • If all the room really needs is a facelift, make the most of changes with paint, as opposed to structural changes. Changing the color of a room can revitalize it. This is the easiest way to bring life to a room on a budget.
  • Heavy or textured wallpaper can work wonders as well. You can save money by wallpapering a slightly damaged wall rather than replacing it. If the wall has grass cloth wallpaper on it, consider whitewashing it for a totally new look. Several layers of whitewash (in various shades of white) produce a clean, sophisticated look in any room.
  • Faux finish painting or other textured decorative painting techniques also can hide minor damage or irregularities that flat paint won’t.
  • Attempt to keep windows in their existing places during a remodeling project. Moving windows is not a cost-saving endeavor.

Finding Space

  • Creating more space can be a big budget buster. Once you add square footage to a home, the price increases significantly. One alternative is to steal space from a neighboring room (called space reconfiguration). A great place to steal space for a bathroom expansion is from the linen closet. You can make up some of the lost storage by finding small spaces in between wall studs for small niches or built-in shelves.
  • You can also try stealing space with optical illusions. There are many ways to make a small room appear larger. To transform a small bath, install a bow window or a skylight. Vaulted ceilings can be a nice touch, too.
  • If you are going to expand outside the existing home, consider a small bump out of two to four feet. This may allow you to cantilever the floor joists and eliminate the need for excavation and foundation. If possible, be careful not to extend beyond the roofline, which would add a new roof to your job.
  • Whenever you are adding on new space to a home, have a heating contractor determine whether your existing heating system can accommodate and heat the extra space. If the heating system is damaged, you will be forced to replace the entire unit.

In the Kitchen

  • If at all possible, reuse existing appliances, and build your new cabinets around them. This could save you anywhere from $1,500-5,000 easily. However, be aware that appliances, like anything electrical, are sensitive to change and may develop problems if they are moved. Should you decide to avoid potential appliance “burn-out” and purchase new appliances, choose energy conscious models for a reduction in your utility bills.
  • Maintain present location of major fixtures, appliances and utilities relative to the plumbing, gas and electrical outlets. This could even apply to the location of the telephone. Moving plumbing, wiring and jacks can be extremely expensive.
  • The faucet can be a costly item. The least expensive selection is chrome. Even a high-end chrome faucet is considerably less than a mid-range brass or porcelain version. A standard two-handle faucet generally costs less than single handle. Faucets and handles are sold separately, so you may want to choose a chrome faucet with brass or porcelain handles for a different look. Faucet Caution: The price variances in faucets reflect the various internal and external features. Always choose a faucet with replaceable internal parts. You won’t want to have to replace the entire faucet if it breaks-it’s simply not cost-effective.
  • Choose neutral colors in fixtures, appliances and laminates. They are less expensive initially and wont look dated when the color trends change. White and almond sinks are much cheaper than color varieties. And neutral laminate colors for countertops are less than custom colors or textures.
  • Good floor covering is important. It ties one room to another and provides visual consistency. Familiarize yourself with the prices of the various flooring materials to make the best decision for your home. To get you started, vinyl or laminate flooring is less expensive than wood, tile or slate.
  • Use the existing floor covering if it is still in good condition. If the kitchen has old vinyl flooring, there may be a hardwood floor underneath that could be sanded and refinished, avoiding the need for a new floor entirely.
  • If you currently have a vinyl floor covering and wish to update with a newer version, you can install synthetic floor leveler material over the existing vinyl floor and lay the new vinyl flooring on top, rather than tearing the old flooring off to install the new.
  • Consider your cabinet options carefully. Those choices will drive the overall price. You can add some options at a later date to defray some of the initial cost. Some that are easy to add include tilt front doors, spice racks and slide out wire baskets. However, if you decide to wait, make certain that the option you want will be available and can be added after installation. Note of Caution: Waiting will cost you more in the long run. Adding new cabinets often requires installing a new floor. Refacing existing cabinets not only eliminates the need for new flooring, countertops and appliances altogether, it is a major savings in any kitchen remodel.
  • Go with a simple design in the kitchen employing single height wall cabinets, blind corner cabinets rather than those with Lazy Susans, and other standard options. Watch your upgrades.
  • Use standard cabinetry instead of custom cabinets, or use a combination of the two if they are compatible.
  • Choose cabinets that can be operated without the addition of hardware (those that are finger-pulled).
  • Install cabinets without soffits to decrease the labor cost. Also consider cabinets without trim moldings or with simple trim.
  • If you are going to put in new wood trim (in your crown molding, trims, and door casings) to match the new cabinets, order pre-finished trim instead of having the painting or staining done on-site. This will decrease labor cost. Ordering finger-jointed vs. clear vertical grain also will save you money.
  • Consider stenciling on the backsplash instead of using tile.
  • Laminate countertops are the least expensive choice among solid surfacing, tile and granite. You can dress it up with wood or tile trim for a more innovative look.
  • Connect fluorescent light fixtures to the existing ceiling fixture box instead of installing new recessed lighting, which may require a new ceiling because of the recessed features.

In the Bathroom

  • Consider reglazing a tub instead of replacing it, especially if it is still in relatively good condition. This can save you more than half the cost of a tub replacement-and minimize the dust at the same time!
  • Cultured marble sheets are a good choice for tub surrounds, instead of ceramic tile. You will save considerably on labor costs and the marble sheets are much easier to clean.
  • Fiberglass surrounds are also less costly than tile.
  • Examine how you are utilizing space. You may be able to steal some space from a neighboring room or closet. If your overall space is limited, purchase a jetted tub and shower combination or install a pedestal lavatory instead of a vanity cabinet with a sink. Understand that, while pedestal lavatories do eliminate the need for vanities and save space, some models may cost more than a separate vanity cabinet and sink. Look at all your options before making a decision.
  • Cultured marble lavatories can be a great budget choice since it is an integrated sink bowl and countertop sold in one easily installed unit.
  • Define what is truly needed in the bathroom. Sometimes an extra bath is planned when installing a double sink in an existing bath would meet the need.
  • If you are going to add a large jetted tub to your project, consider adding a water heater dedicated to that tub. A large jetted tub can hold up to an average of 75 gallons or more, which can easily overextend your existing water heater and cause problems in the future.

Be sure you look at the terrific energy saving options before you remodel: From windows to water heaters!

Questions to Ask References

To protect yourself, always check the contractor’s references. This is an essential stage of qualifying the right person for your project. Here are just a few questions to ask previous customers:

  1. Could they communicate well with the remodeler?
  2. Were they pleased with the quality of work? (This is a tough question, however, since everyone defines “quality” differently. It is much better to ask to see the completed project to determine the level of quality for yourself.)
  3. Were they satisfied with the remodeler’s business practices?
  4. Did the crew show up on time?
  5. Were they comfortable with the trades people the remodeler subcontracted to?
  6. Was the job completed on schedule?
  7. Did the remodeler fulfill his or her contract?
  8. Did the contractor stay in touch throughout the project?
  9. Were the final details finished in a timely manner?
  10. Would you use the remodeler again without hesitation?

Should You Hire An Architect?

By Penny Doherty

Most people wouldn’t take a six-week Australian vacation during a major home renovation. But then again, most people aren’t as confident about the roles of architects and contractors as Leo Butzel and Robbie Reaber, a retired Seattle couple who have updated their 1950s waterfront home four times since 1989.

Ms. Reaber and Mr. Butzel had already redone their blue-tiled bathroom with modern green slate surfaces and remodeled their kitchen and dining area by the time they tackled the master bedroom in 1995. But while they’d worked directly with contractors on the bathroom and kitchen projects, they knew that their ambitious plans to reverse the master bedroom and bathroom — flipping the adjoining rooms around to different sides of the house, and moving walls, electrical outlets, and plumbing — would require hiring an architect.

“The contractor wanted the architect’s drawings because it was a major job,” says Ms. Reaber. Because reversing the two rooms would require changes to the house’s plumbing structure, as well as new walls and electrical outlets, Ms. Reaber says the architect and contractor communicated closely during different phases of the project. After hearing the couple’s idea about switching the rooms, the architect generated drawings and remained in contact with contractors.

“The majority of the architect’s work was done, maybe two-thirds done, before the contractors began,” she says. “We had total faith in the contractor and architect.” She and Mr. Butzel were able to relax abroad while plaster flew back home.

Architect or Contractor?

This year, Americans will spend $175 billion on face-lifting — in some cases, fork-lifting — their homes, according to the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) in Des Plaines, Ill. The figure represents a 20% growth in remodeling spending since 1999. Yet, despite that growth, consumer’s confidence about how to work with architects and contractors hasn’t necessarily increased. Ms. Reaber’s and Mr. Butzel’s confidence are the exception rather than the rule.

“People no longer feel they have to live in a home as it is when they bought it,” says Gwen Biasi, NARI’s director of marketing communications. “Homes have become many people’s hobby.” But whether that hobby calls for knocking down walls and reconfiguring floor plans, or simply updating lighting fixtures, flooring, and countertops, hiring outside help to do the work can confuse homeowners.

Architects are necessary whenever a home remodeling calls for changing a home’s “footprint” (making an addition, or altering room sizes and shapes) or making major changes to plumbing, electrical, or heating systems. Architects will explore a homeowner’s lifestyle and use of the house, assess the house’s structure, and draw up construction plans that address both the owner’s desires and the structure’s requirements. Depending on their city’s codes, homeowners may also need to submit plans with an architect’s seal before beginning work.

On the work side, contractors actually execute architects’ design plans, rolling up their sleeves and doing the installation and building. Many remodelers can hire contractors directly without using an architect. This is especially true when the project involves replacing appliances, surfaces, cabinetry, or other built-in furnishings or making additions within a single room (a loft for children, an extra closet) but not breaking down existing walls.

Homeowners who work with an architect ultimately have to hire contractors (directly, or through the architect) to do the work, while those who go straight to contractors often learn that contractors want the advice of an architect before proceeding with changes. It’s possible to hire a general contractor to oversee a multistep project that subcontractors can address — pulling out all of a room’s cabinetry and appliances, rewiring the room, then installing new cabinets and appliances, for instance.

But some homeowners skip the general contracting and go direct to subcontractors — a process that might save some money, but could extend a project’s time frame, according to Mark Brick, president of B & E General Contractors Inc., Glendale, Wis. “If you don’t know the proper procedures, it’s often useful to hire a general contractor,” says Mr. Brick. “He’s your quarterback.”

Of course Mr. Brick would think so: He operates a so-called design-build firm, which employs both architects and designers under one roof and handles projects that cost $75,000 and higher. Design-build firms account for 20% of NARI’s 6,000 members, and their numbers have grown slightly in recent years. These companies attempt to blend the best of architecture and general-contracting businesses under one roof.

Mr. Brick says that going to an architect for designs and drawings but hiring general contractors separately can lead to higher costs, since an architect’s design fees may not include the cost of general contractors’ work. An architect alone, he says, can’t control the cost of contractors — meaning a client could get a dream design that is ultimately too expensive to execute. Going directly to a general contractor might be faster, he says, but could still lead back to an architect if subcontractors run into trouble.

“Our advantage is we can work within a client’s budget,” he says. “Because we do the full realm of the work, we can make suggestions that make a project workable.” Architectural consulting and drawings account for only 2% of his firm’s typical project costs, he said, with contracting and materials representing the rest.

Key Question: Why Are You Remodeling?

Some of the confusion about whom to hire, says NARI’s Ms. Biasi, may stem from the different reasons homeowners remodel. Ms. Biasi attributes the remodeling boom to the country’s aging housing stock, much of which was built during construction booms in the 1950s and 1970s. Homeowners often remodel old homes out of structural necessity — a maneuver that often requires an architect’s help. Many also choose to make additions rather than buy a new home. Ms. Biasi says that in 1999, the most recent year data are available, 5.1 million out of 44.4 million remodeling projects involved additions to a home’s original footprint.

Of course, many remodels simply address aesthetic changes to a home — replacing appliances, flooring and cabinetry or counter materials — that can be handled by contractors alone. Kitchens and bathrooms are the most frequently updated rooms, she says, because they’re the most used rooms in a house and the most likely to look worn or outdated. The color and material of appliances also changes from year to year. Right now, built-in wine racks or wine cellars attached to kitchens are in vogue, as are solid-surface (versus Formica) countertops. “The rage for the last three or four years has been stainless-steel appliances. People have made their kitchens look commercial,” Ms. Biasi says. “But in 10 years they’ll want to change that.”

Prior to their bedroom remodeling, Ms. Reaber and Mr. Butzel enjoyed researching their own home designs and hiring contractors through word-of-mouth — a process aided by Ms. Reaber’s prior job as an accountant at an architecture firm. At one point, the couple even fired a kitchen designer and replaced her ideas with computer-aided-design software renderings.

For some projects, architects and contractors say, acting as your own general contractor can be a manageable process. Elaine Chen, a 34-year-old advertising executive in New York, took this approach. Ms. Chen, who budgeted $25,000 to renovate the 900-square-foot Manhattan condo she bought last year, took blueprints from her 1970s space and made her own decisions about what she calls a top-to-bottom remodel of its kitchen and dining area.

“I want to replace the linoleum floors, all the appliances — including my brown 1970s refrigerator — and add a dishwasher. I also want to put in all new cabinets, and create a breakfast bar that cuts through the wall dividing the kitchen from the living room,” she says. “Since I’m the kind of person who really enjoys researching home design…I don’t think I need an architect,” says Ms. Chen, who hasn’t completed the project. “Architects can also help you source materials, but since my budget will only allow for mass-market cabinets from Home Depot or Ikea or the like, there’s not much they could do there to help.”

She already has located contractors through friends. Among them: the doorman who outbid rivals for a job sanding her floors. Ms. Chen says she wasn’t sure if he’s licensed as a contractor, but her condo association includes him on an approved list of repair and remodeling vendors. So given the board approval and his bid, she felt confident.

Architects Speak Up

Ms. Chen’s approach irks architects like Bryan Welty, of Welty & Associates, Dallas, who believes architects can help with more than just major home remodels. Mr. Welty is so concerned by the perceptions that architects produce only artsy and expensive designs for big-ticket remodels that he’s launched a Web business called virtualarchitect.com to market architects’ services for a broad array of remodeling projects.

“The perception is that rich people bring in an architect for any job and that most other people don’t need one,” he says. “A well-trained homeowner who knows what he or she wants can get by” without an architect, he acknowledges. “If you’re building a couple of closets in a bedroom, maybe you don’t need one.”

However, he says, consulting an architect isn’t always expensive. For instance, his firm worked with a family that wanted to build a wall replacing an entry between a kitchen and dining room. They got a $200 estimate from a contractor willing to build a plain wall between the rooms. Then they approached Mr. Welty, whose firm designed a dividing wall with built-in benches on either side, a plan that made creative use of space and cost $400 — a price that included the $200 contractor fee. The family used the architect’s plan.

David Grellier, a British architect based in Bremerton, Wash., who spent several years working in contract and design roles while applying for his American architecture credentials, frequently gets calls from people who just want to hire him for consultation or for design alone — for which he charges $2,500. Typically, he works on home remodels that cost $25,000 and more. “You hit problems when a builder thinks he or she knows more than they really do,” he said. “A good builder knows when they’ve gotten in over their head.”

That was the case with Mr. Butzel and Ms. Reaber’s builders, who wanted advice on their 1995 bedroom remodeling. These days, Ms. Reaber says, she and her husband are “done” with making changes to their 1950s home. She likes to show guests the effects of the remodeling they’ve completed over the years, including the way the master bathroom and its whirlpool tub offer a view of the water and access to a deck that was once steps from the bed.

“We bought it for the view,” Ms. Reaber says. “We’ve really changed everything.”

— Ms. Doherty is a free-lance writer in Seattle

From: Real Estate Journal: Home Improvement website

Why Use a Nari Remodeler?

NARI of Greater San Antonio is a not-for-profit trade association committed exclusively to the service of the professional remodeling industry. Representing professional remodeling contractors, product manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, trade and consumer publications, utilities and lending institutions, NARI stands as the spokesgroup of the industry and an ally to the nation’s homeowners.

The professional remodeling contractor who is a member of NARI has immediate access to the latest information through the Internet, trade publications, educational programs, bi-annual conventions, and expositions that feature new products, materials and techniques.

The NARI remodeling contractor is pledged to uphold the Association’s Code of Ethics and is dedicated to the professionalism and integrity of the remodeling industry.

When you decide to remodel, look for the NARI logo and contact your local NARI contractor. It’s the mark of a professional.

Got hail? Be Aware of Unlicensed Roofing Contractors

by Rudy Nino

Make sure the contractor is licensed. How? Call the City of San Antonio at 210-207-1111 and then follow with prompt 5 or 0. Ask the city clerk to verify your contractor’s license and write it down.

Next, make sure that they are a ‘member in good-standing’ with NARI by logging onto: http://www.remodelsanantonio.org/mig.

So why choose a NARI pro roofer and member?

The local chapter screening processes are to ensures that members qualify and meet all local and state laws.

Be aware of fliers that show up at your door, free online ads, and the person that knocks at your door. Also, not all yellow pages ads mean that those contractors are license. And, never hire one that tells you to pull the permit.

Most licensed contractors are competent, honest, hardworking and financially responsible.

Know your home improvement rights and be a responsible and informed consumer and hire a reputable contractor. Avoid being victimized by unscrupulous or unlicensed so-called contractors.

Shop around before hiring a contractor.Be sure to visit your local home center and get informed about what roofing products should go on your roof.

National Association of the Remodeling Industry