The Basic Remodeling-Techniques Guide: Considering the Basics

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Considering the Basics

The remodeling you have in mind may change your kitchen cabinets or the tone of your whole house. You should base decisions about what to do and when on careful long-range planning and assessment of the resources at hand.

If you’re like most people, the word remodeling evokes images of plaster dust, exposed studs, dangling wires, and endless hours of detailed tasks. You’re probably seeking information about techniques and procedures for doing such work, Perhaps you feel confident that with proper information you could tackle a project on your own. Or perhaps you intend to hire professionals to do the actual work, but want to know how it’s done.

Whatever your situation you’ll have dozens of questions buzzing in your head: What is involved? Can I do it? Are my plans and ideas adequate? Where do I begin?

This guide is one good place to begin your planning. The text explains about basic structure, materials, and how the work is done. The illustrations demonstrate the techniques used by professional remodelers and experienced do-it-yourselfers.

You’ll see by thumbing through this guide that it emphasizes practical, step-by-step methods for completing remodeling projects. This is all necessary and useful in formation, but the most critical and challenging task is the planning that must precede these operations. In fact, the design you work from can easily determine the success or failure of your project. It affects not only the out come but the work as well. All too often do-it-yourself remodelers (and professionals too) encounter obstacles, setbacks, and surprises that could have been avoided with careful planning.

Planning is much more than a rough sketch on the back of an envelope. Many professionals say that proper planning represents more than a third of the work to be done in any remodeling. You may find that the hardest task ahead isn’t toe-nailing studs in place; it’s putting pen to paper and thinking through your project in advance.

But just because it’s difficult, don’t give planning the short shrift. As a homeowner you have a tremendous advantage in planning. You have continuous access to your home environment and know the kind of living that goes on there. You can test and revise ideas and change your plans accordingly. You can take your time. And you will have a lot of fun.

Planning, like any other process of remodeling, involves special techniques and procedures. This section describes some preliminary work you must do before you start any project.

Section 2 will help you to assess the construction of your home—its anatomy—so you can inspect and evaluate it thoroughly. What can be done with the existing house to meet your goals? What should be done first? What can be put off for three or four years? This section presents guidelines for the next stage of preparation: bringing your dreams and your plans together.

Sections 3, 4, and 5 provide specific how-to techniques for getting the work done. If you understand these techniques, you should be able to apply them to what ever situation you encounter.

Finally, the appendix covers other subjects you heed to know about such as working with various remodeling professionals, drawing up specifications and materials lists, getting written bids, and working out a contract.

Establishing Long-Range Goals

If you feel that step one of the planning process is deciding what to do with that awful kitchen or where to add the extra bedroom, you’ve gone too far. Back up. Your first task, which could take weeks or even months, is to examine your needs, desires, and motivations for wanting to remodel in the first place.

TIP: Gathering remodeling ideas from photographs, magazines, and library books will help you know your options.

Ask yourself this question: What should our home be like in five years? There is nothing magical about the number five, but it's a realistic time span for accomplishing several remodeling projects in an orderly fashion—projects you might not be able to do all at once because of limited resources. The idea here isn't to focus on one particular project, even if it solves the most irritating problem at hand. The idea is to see in larger perspective what you and your family really want for your home. Then you can form long-range goals and design projects that best meet those goals.

How does your household discover its wants and needs and set goals? The best way is to make lists. Start a notebook. You’ll come back to it time and again. Your initial lists don’t have to be well written, logical, or even practical. It is important to include everyone in your family, even future members,

Sit down together and list what you want for your home. Be sure to note your desires as well as your needs, since extravagant fantasies don’t cost anything at this stage. There’s plenty of time to be practical later. Simply write down what comes to mind. For example:

• We need more storage

• Replace the old kitchen cabinets

• A fireplace

• Somewhere for the kids to play without being under foot all the time

• A feeling of warmth and togetherness

• A larger dining area

• A quiet place to study

• A bright and sunny feeling

• Secret and private spaces

• More room for guests

• An orange wall to go with the blue quilt

Whenever possible, list the underlying reasons for each idea. Why do you want to make the change? Do you need more space, want a more modern look, or intend to make your house more energy-efficient? Rea sons are important because they can help bring agreement over differences later on, they can help you see other ways to accomplish the same goals, and they can help you set priorities.

Alter everyone has had a chance to offer ideas, pool them together. You will have dozens of suggestions and 10, 20, or 50 reasons for them. Alter some refining and perhaps coming back to the list several times, you will have a tool to be used in the next step, which is to establish a list of concrete goals. These goals may change over the coming weeks and months, but for now read through your first list of ideas carefully. Try to identify the underlying reasons that overlap and build on each other.

These reasons and their suggestions will help generate some specific goals for your home. For example:

- A kitchen where the family can come together

- Walk-in closets for clothes

- A place for formal and elegant entertaining

- An attractive facade and entry

- An upstairs master suite

- A sunny nook for morning coffee

- A basement rec-room for the children

The final step is to rank this list by priorities. What should be done first, second, third, and so on? Again, this list may change overtime, but if enough effort has gone into the preparation to this point, your goals should be clear by now.

Many factors contribute to the process of ranking your goals. Urgent needs may cause you to place one goal higher than others. Or you may meet some goals with very little effort and therefore give them high priority. Some goals must be met before others; for in stance, new siding should be applied before a deck is added. Some goals may meet the needs of more family members than others. Some may involve more chaos and debris than you’re willing to put up with right now. And so on.

Note that no goals are eliminated or compromised—they are merely ranked according to your priorities. This is important. Most likely your budget and time constraints would make a total remodeling or renovation of the house out of the question. Unfortunately, many homeowners still tackle the project all at once and simply squeeze it into the budget by making compromises. They usually end up dissatisfied. It is much easier to see remodeling as an orderly series of steps toward a final goal. You can undertake each step, or project, as time and resources permit. The only compromises are in rear ranging priorities, not in reducing the quality of each project.

Adding to the Value of Your Home

It’s likely that underlying all your other reasons for remodeling are financial considerations—improving the value of your home. This may not be a primary motivation, but it shouldn’t be overlooked either. Your home represents a tremendous financial investment that should never be neglected.

You need to take care of normal maintenance, of course, but you must also make improvements that keep your home up to date. Items that are considered normal maintenance don’t add a great deal to the value of your home. New buyers and appraisers expect a house to be well maintained and may see the new roof or carpeting you’ve just installed as part of routine care.

Extras such as swimming pools and saunas may not return their full cost either. It’s important to keep future buyers in mind when you’re planning your re modeling. If you think you may sell your home in the future, think twice about plans that are too unusual or exotic. These changes may actually devalue rather than improve your home’s financial worth.

A good remodeling can provide an excellent re turn on your investment. Real estate appraisers say that certain types of remodelings provide better re turns than others. Improvements that bring additional space and utility to a home increase its value most. For example, the addition of a second bathroom or a third bedroom to a two-bedroom house offers a good return on investment. Energy-saving projects such as insulation or solar panels may also prove very attractive to buyers. Of course, since you can’t please every one, you must consider what you value first.


What work should be done and who should do it? Now we will discuss preliminary considerations include setting goals and assessing your resources.

Skilled remodeling professionals are an important resource, one you will want to consider carefully. Early in your planning begin thinking about who will do the actual remodeling work. Is it possible for you to do the work yourself, or would it be best to hire professionals to do it for you? This decision depends on three factors: your personal abilities, the complexity of your plans, and the extent of your budget. You have four basic options:

• You hire a designer and a general contractor to handle your entire remodeling. This means professionals will do all the work for you. Of course you don’t just leave town until the job is finished. You are the owner and principal decision maker. You’ll need to be available to answer questions and solve problems as they arise. While this option may be the easiest for you, it's also the most expensive.

• You hire a general contractor but do some of the work yourself. Perhaps the contractor will build the shell and close in your new addition; you will finish the interior. Or you may concentrate your efforts in areas that require relatively unskilled labor, such as demolition and site preparation. This is a good option if you have some skills and interest in do-it-yourself work, but neither the time nor the experience to take on much responsibility

• You act as your own general contractor and hire and coordinate the necessary subcontractors. In this way you save the general contractor’s fee, which may be 15 to 20 percent of the job. Acting as your own general con tractor requires a lot of organization, time, patience, knowledge of which people to hire, and the ability to deal with them. You may need to provide workers’ compensation insurance for the people you employ. Check on this with your insurance agent or the State Compensation Insurance Fund in your area.

• You do it all yourself or with nonprofessional help. You are the designer, the skilled and unskilled laborer, the one who does it all from start to finish. You may find pleasure and satisfaction in the work itself. Or your decision may be based primarily on economics. If you can afford to invest your time, doing all the work yourself can be the least expensive option. And don’t overlook the possibility of trading skills with friends or neighbors who have more remodeling experience than you do or who are willing to lend a pair of hands and a strong back to your project. Does your friend need an occasional baby sitter so she can spend more time in her carpentry work shop? The American tradition of barn raising is still active in many parts of the country. If you do all of the planning and preparation, the actual work can go quickly and smoothly with volunteer labor. And it’s fun besides.

Which option is best for you depends on a number of factors. If you’re at all uncertain, it’s a good idea to talk to several contractors and designers before you decide. Then you will have a better picture of the skills they offer. Next you should assess your own abilities. Have you thought seriously about how much of the work you can do yourself?

This is no time for false bravado. You need a frank, objective appraisal of your abilities and skills. Otherwise you’re only asking for trouble later on. Be realistic. You may be better off hiring professionals to do the job for you. And there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, some codes require electrical and plumbing work, for example, to be done by a licensed professional.

But don’t sell yourself short because you lack extensive experience. If you have some skills already, this guide can supply the how-to instructions you need to complete your project. Perhaps you should handle some small projects first to gain experience and find out ii you really enjoy this type of work. You should consider other factors as well when making your decision.

• Is the job too technical? For example, does your re modeling include complicated plumbing and heating installations? Will the work be visible, and does it require skilled craftsmanship? Even though you may know how to do a job, can you do it well? Some skills take years to perfect. If the project requires sophisticated engineering, the services of an architect at the beginning can save you time, trouble, and frustration later.

• Does the job require special equipment? You can buy used tools at garage sales or flea markets. Or you can rent special tools for a weekend or more. But hiring a professional with the right tools may be less expensive than buying new tools that you will never use again.

• Is time a factor? Is there a tight deadline to meet or the threat of bad weather? Can you live with the mess and fatigue that always seem to accompany do-it-yourself projects? Do you have the time to spare? Remodeling projects have been known to drag on for years, when the homeowner can work only on weekends.

• Is it worth it economically for you to do the work your self? Get out your calculator to figure this. Instead of taking three weeks of vacation and working at home, consider staying at your job and hiring a professional to handle the remodeling. Depending on the size of your project and your salary, you may earn enough in those three weeks to pay for much of it.

Of course no dollar figure can be placed on the satisfaction of tackling a difficult job and completing it successfully. The best way to raise your level of expertise is by hands-on experience. If you start by doing all or most of a small job yourself, just to learn how to do it, you can then move on to a harder task. And if you tackle more than you can handle, you can always call for help. If you get rough estimates from contractors, you may be able to use them to figure how much you can save, or you might wait until you have firm bids. Separate the cost of materials from the labor. Estimate how many hours the job will require for a professional and then multiply in a handicap factor if you do it yourself. For example, if the professional takes ten hours to do the job, multiply this by 11/2, 2, or even 3 times for you to do the job. Then figure the hourly rate you’ll be paying yourself for doing the work. Is it worth it?

• Is the project too strenuous or risky? Are you physically able to handle the work? Your health is invaluable— don’t jeopardize it needlessly.

There are no easy answers here. You’re the only one who can assess your particular situation.


Friday, June 4, 2010 22:39 PST