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Category Archive: Hiring and selecting general construction contractors

Remodeling University: Got A Leak? Things To Do When You Have A Water Leak In Your Home


Two weeks ago, in our Getting Ready For Winter post, we have highlighted some essential steps you need to take before the onslaught of winter to minimize the likelihood of water leaking into your home. But leaks might (and do) happen, even with a brand new roof. Besides, not all water leaks would be rain or roof related: stucco or windows’ assemblies might be faulty and let rain water in, pipes might burst, toilets (or washing machines or dishwashers or ice maker lines) could leak – in short, there could be many reasons and sources for a water leak.

So, assuming you have a leak – what should you do?

1. Stop water from getting in: This, of course is common sense. If the leak is from the roof, have it covered and/or plugged temporarily so immediate leaking stops. Permanent repairs should not be attempted while its raining (please have licensed professionals address this. DO NOT climb your roof to plug a leak when its raining please). If the leak is from walls (from say, a bad lathing and stucco job), gutters, doors or windows have someone temporarily cover the area with plastic sheeting and address the issue when its no longer raining (again, please use licensed professionals to mount and fix plastic sheeting to the exterior when raining). If a water line broke, shut down the water and call for emergency plumbing repairs. And if a fixture (or an appliance) are the source of the leak – shut down the water to that fixture/appliance and call for repairs. Note that from a Homeowners’ Insurance standpoint it is your responsibility to take immediate and reasonable steps to mitigate the problem so as to minimize the loss.

2. Completely dry and vent the affected area: The issues here are long term damage to materials and mold. Wood materials are very sensitive to moisture. Large fluctuations in moisture levels will cause wood to swell. This in turn will irreversibly damage assemblies and finish products in your home; HDWD flooring would swell, warp and buckle, finish trim would separate and loose its shape, doors would swell and/or delaminate, cabinets would be ruined and so forth. Whenever any area gets wet from a leak take immediate steps to remove the water and dry the area. The other issue is mold. Mold spores float about everywhere. To become a problem though, mold requires a high-moisture surface to rapidly grow on. When surfaces are left moist on a regular basis, you will soon find mold (for example – the grout lines at the bottom of your shower walls). When you have a leak, water penetrates areas out of reach (such as inside wall cavities, under cabinets, etc.) The result? Mold growth within 24-48 hours. The longer moisture is allowed to remain, the bigger your mold problem becomes. At some point, not too much after the initial leak, mold will propagate to other areas of the home as well (aided by your home’s forced-air unit and duct system). It is therefore imperative that as soon as a leak occurs you not only notify your insurance company (regardless if you or they think it is a cover claim or not), but also take immediate steps to fully remediate the situation by drying and venting operations. Note that your homeowners’ policy might have strict caps on the amount associated with mold issues. As long as competent drying and venting operations are done within 24-48 hours of the loss, you should not have a mold problem. If, however, as is unfortunately so often the case, your insurance company ‘drags its feet’ in how they respond and moisture is allowed to fester, a mold will become a problem. You will certainly need competent representation in your dealings with the insurance company in this case. Either by a contractor well versed in insurance claims and/or by a competent Public Adjuster.

3. As relavant, file and pursue a claim with your insurance company: Not all water leaks are covered by your homeowners’ policy. Typically, accidental damage would be covered, while long term condition would not. Having said that, do not take your insurance company’s input with respect to denying a claim at face value. We’ve seen too many claim, initially rejected as ‘not covered’ by insurance companies, only later to be recognized and paid in full – once the homeowners got competent representation. But, as noted above, it is your burden and obligation to notify your insurance company of a loss as soon as practical. In preparing for the adjusting process and so that your interests are guarded, take a lot of pictures, keep a log of who you speak with and when and both submit and get everything ‘in writing’.

4. Get representation: It has been said that ‘he who acts as his own attorney has a fool for a client’. This has never been truer as when dealing with your insurance company on your own. The insurance company is not your friend. It is not on your side and it will not fairly and amicably represent your interests in the loss. As a matter of fact, the complete opposite is true. NEVER deal with an insurance company on a loss without representation. At the very least, engage the services of an insurance contractor. A contractor versed in insurance losses to represent you and deal with the insurance company on your behalf. Note that NONE of the insurance company’s recommended or referred contractors qualify. They are all indebted to the insurance company (the source of their jobs) and regard the insurance company their true clients, at least in the long-term sense. Depending on the loss’s size and complexity and depending on your insurance company’s level of reluctance/resistance to meet its obligations, you might also need to engage with a competent Public Adjuster.

5. Repairs: Regardless if the loss is covered by your policy or not, beyond the emergency measures noted above, permeant repairs will need to take place. While finish materials in most cases would need to be disposed of and replaced (no, the warping HDWD floor should not be sanded and refinished – your insurance company’s posture notwithstanding), latent and pervasive defects and deficiencies would need to be addressed as well, else a leak will repeat itself again. Your best bet in this case is a general contractor with know-how and expertise in all building assemblies and systems. A roofing contractor may not be your best bet in assessing or addressing water penetration issues from the stucco, much like a kitchen remodeling specialist might not be your best bet in assessing or addressing water issues in the subfloor area. Make sure to not only address and repair visible surfaces and materials. Have professionals resolve the causal issue(s) as well.

Paraphrasing numerous volumes about buildings and ‘why structures fail’ in a word, that word would have to be ‘water’. At some point most of us would experience a significant water loss in our home. Addressed swiftly and properly, short and long term damages caused by it could be minimized and repairs, properly done, could effectively restore the home to pre-loss condition or better. The above guidelines and recommendations are a good place to start with. Beyond that, things would greatly depend on your insurance company and on the team you choose to represent you and your interests to them.

Good luck!

Mega Builders has handled, with remarkable success, over a thousand claims, including water and fire damage, smoke and soot damage, earthquake damage and so forth. We are often hired as Experts by attorneys representing the homeowners as well. If you have any damage to your home, be it water damage, fire damage, etc.) please do not hesitate to give us a call. We will represent you, the homeowner solely – we never represent the insurance companies. You can reach Alon Toker (Mege’s President) directly at 818-535-5656 (or at atoker@megabuilders.com) with any questions or comments. We welcome you call.

Remodeling University: What You Should Call Mega Builders For

The tern ‘home remodeling’ is far too encompassing and general to be of real value. All too often we get a call or an email from a homeowner who approaches us because we are a Los Angeles remodeling contractor with questions about work elements that we do not do at all.

So here is a short run down of the areas in which we have developed a level of expertise, proficiency and know-how that enable us to not only give you the best possible product, but also helps us do it for the most competitive price:

1. Design/Build – almost without exception, we designed all of the hundreds of projects featured on our site. We are very proud of our core competency in design. From a kitchen remodeling to a custom home, our new floor plans and designs are always creative, magnificent, rewarding to live in and, as importantly – your budget centered. Our expertise include complete teardown and rebuild, additions (first and second floors) and whole-house remodeling projects. We have done hundreds of those through the years to our clients complete delight.
2. Kitchens – we have remodeled well over 1000 kitchens to date. Of particular note in this regard is the fact that we are the exclusive North American distributor for the Mal Corboy Cabinets. These amazing museum-caliber creations are on par with or exceed the quality, fit and finish of the best of the European brands, from Poggenpohl kitchens to Snaidero and so forth. Aside from Mal Corboy Cabinets we have extensive lines of custom cabinets for almost all budgets and styles.
3. Home Damage Restoration – since the 87′ Whittier quake we have handled thousands of insurance related losses. Dealing with an insurance loss (examples of which would be fire damage repair, water damage repair, etc.) is very different than dealing with a regular remodeling project. Securing a fair, complete and amicable settlement from the insurance company should not be taken for granted and rarely happens without massive, concerted and particular effort on behalf of your ‘team’. You need representation when dealing with an insurance company (never go at it on your own!) and we put together a team of the best professionals (public adjuster, etc.) out there. Repair work for home damage restoration too is very different than ‘run of the mill’ remodeling.
4. Solar – We carry a specialty license for solar. Although we could ‘do’ solar with our general contractor’s license, it was important for us to demonstrate to our clients that we have the particular core competencies involved with solar power panels, solar systems, building science and green technologies. The fact that our expertise and experience also include building and roofing makes us particularly equipped (unlike almost anyone out there) to deliver a quality product that will serve you without fail for many years. Our design awareness and know-how is helpful as well. We do our best to come up with solar system solutions that are not only well priced, reliable and efficient – but also architecturally pleasing.

Anyone can lay claims for expertise and experience. But the ‘proof is in the pudding’ as the saying goes. The many projects featured on this site speak volumes to that end. Furthermore, our multiple licenses and certifications (not to mentions media coverage, awards, etc.) should be further proof. Last, but not least, our top rating with the BBB (a rating of A+) is second to none and ahead of almost all companies in this industry. It is reflective of our client-centered approach and unwavering dedication to our clients’ satisfaction and to delivering on (and exceed) all of our promises.

Happy remodeling!

Remodeling University: Do You Really Need a General Contractor?

With all the discussion (see previous posts) about the best way to hire a general contractor, Los Angeles residents might ask themselves a legitimate questions: “do I really need a general contractor on my project?”

Well, in my opinion, the answer depends on your particular circumstances.

Generally speaking, the more complex your project is and the larger it is, the more a competent general contractor is needed. Many homeowners might not be aware of it, but being an owner-builder is a viable option for many remodeling projects. That category (owner-builder) is also recognized by the city for the purpose of securing permits.

As an owner-builder, you act as the GC (general contractor). So let’s say that you live in Los Angeles and Kitchen remodeling is what you are considering. You might decide to do the demolition yourself, have an electrician take care of the electrical work, a handy man patch the walls, you’ll do the painting, the Home Depot would supply and install the cabinets and a friend of yours would install the tile counters. Is that a legitimate approach? It sure is…providing;

Here are some of the challenges you should be aware of:
1. Like for anything else, for this too there is a learning curve. Even if you are a very fast learner, chances are that you’ll have a few missteps the ‘first time out’.
2. Design knowhow: the more complex the project, the more critical the design would be. Unless there is a design professional on your team, yours would be a hit-n-miss experience.
3. Code and construction knowhow: Someone on your team needs to be knowledgeable in the various codes pertaining to your project and in the best sequencing for your particular work.
4. Competent supervision: while a layperson can review finish work and judge it satisfactory (or not), the same does not hold true for ‘rough’ work. As a layperson, can you tell if the plumbing is run correctly, the wires properly sized, the drywall legally nailed, etc?
5. Availability: will you be able to be on site to see that things are done as agreed to or as needed? Was the gravel base placed before the driveway was poured? Was the second coat of paint applied? Were the old pipes abandoned and new ones ran in the wall? Unless you are – A. On site to supervise and note all these things, short cuts are certain to take place and B. Even if you are at home to supervise, do you know enough about construction’s ‘best practices’ to be able to effectively supervise?

None of it is ‘rocket science’. Truly. But there is enough complexity in today’s homes that you need to consider your options; if you have a basic project that does not involve multiple trades, is not too complex and the overall scope and budget are small, I think you can take it on yourself, should you be so inclined. Just take the time needed to educate yourself (endless resources are available online) and stay on top of everyone. If, on the other hand, the home remodeling you are considering is complex, involves structural work, requires design and/or is broad in scope and budget, I strongly recommend that you team with a competent, professional and experienced general contractor. Without a doubt, that would be in your best bet.

Happy remodeling!

Remodeling University: Choosing A General Contractor

As noted before, the subject of how to choose the best contractor for your project is of critical importance. It is probably the most important decision you’ll have to make with regards to any substantial remodeling adventure. It is also a subject that is impossible to cover adequately in a single blog post. So here is the second installment;

Beyond the brouhaha of a sales pitch and independent of the appeal of low, or too-good-to-be-true quotes, an alert homeowner can find clues and telltale indications relating to the remodeling companies being considered. The challenge of course, is to ignore the pull of the ‘great’ low quote or the charisma of the persuasive salesperson long enough to be able to objectively evaluate these criteria.

1. Contract: educate yourself about what a complete and proper Home Improvement Contract should contain (in California, use the CSLB website). Ask the contractor for all his contract papers and compare to what’s required. You will often finds remarkable short falls in what the contractor’s contract looks like to what it needs to be. Note that these state mandated contract elements are there to protect you, the consumer.
2. Payment Schedule: Never, ever work with anyone that requires substantial sums ‘with commencement’ of anything (unless you are ordering a custom item, like cabinets). A good Payment Schedule is hinged upon Completion of stages of work, not commencement of them.
3. Success leaves clues: if the contractor is indeed professional, experienced and competent and has been doing this for a time – what does he have to show for it? Did he receive any awards? Any positive media recognition? Talk is cheap – the proof is what you need to look for.
4. Scope of Work: how detailed and complete is the Scope of Work? Worry of its not. Did you hear the sentence “don’t worry about it” once too often? Worry about it.
5. Portfolio of work: well, first many construction companies in Los Angeles (and I’m certain, elsewhere) don’t have a portfolio of their work, but may be doing great work. If you did not look through a portfolio ask and go look at projects (recommended at any event). The point here is about those who do show you a nice portfolio. Are these pictures of projects these contractors actually did or are these pictures off the internet, manufacturer’s brochures and so forth? A keen observer should be able to tell.
6. Deposit amount: are you being asked for an unreasonably high amount up front? That’s a big red-flag. In California, the deposit cannot exceed $1000 or 10%, whichever IS LESS!

These are just some quick examples of indications you might be heading into troubled waters. Remember that in remodeling the amounts involved are relatively large and the ‘entry threshold of membership’ is very low (it doesn’t take much to present oneself as a contractor or even to procure a license to be one). Together, these two factors are a recite for trouble.

A proactively cautious homeowner that is diligent and careful about any hiring decision will likely end up fairing better with regards to the project than those owners that are not.

Happy remodeling!

Remodeling University: Choosing A General Contractor

Choosing the right general contractor for your project is the single most important decision you will make with regards to your remodeling work. The scope of this subject far exceeds that of a single blog post, so I expect to revisit this issue several times in future posts.

For starters, why is this such an important decision?
– Unlike an ‘off the shelf’ item’ your project is yet to be ‘manufactured’. Yet, the ‘factory’ qualities are unknown.
– Once a general contractor is hired, you are no longer dealing with a regular business transaction. You are now a ‘hostages’ along for the ride.
– The contractor’s knowhow, expertise, notions regarding quality and ethics, financial strength and so forth – all critical to the success of your work – are all unknowns for the most part.
– The contractor’s demeanor under pressure and when problems arise (and they will) will greatly affect your experience of the project and ultimate outcome
– Cost overruns and time overruns, so pathetically common in remodeling, could adversely affect your family and you and are mostly contractor related
– The ‘value proposition’ or ‘what you are getting for your money’ is entirely hinged on the contractor you hire
– Of course, there are the nightmarish scenarios associated with unsavory, aggressive and/or underhanded contractors (that our industry is full of, regrettably), which often result in job-abandonment, walk-aways (with padded pockets and little work completed), liens being filed by unpaid vendors or subs and the like.

So it is clear why this is a critical decision. Why than, do so many homeowners fail to make the right, or at least the best choice?

Well, the blame here is shared, I believe, by both the contractors and the owners:
– Regrettably, some of the more shady and aggressive contractors out there are also some of the most accomplished companies as far as sales are concerned.
– Much like con artists that could be charming, charismatic and endearing, so are some of the salespeople working for such companies. It is almost too easy to be misled
– Mediocre contractors (and worse) compete on price alone. They would often be among the lower bidders
– Greed is a powerful motivator. Affordability is almost as strong. When homeowners want a more involved project than they can afford, they sometimes lose some common sense and better judgment when faced with a ‘great’ (read: too good to be true) bid.
– With so many contractors out there and with the ‘urban myth’ of the ‘get 3 estimates’ guiding homeowners’ hiring practices, odds are the homeowners choice for a contractor would be the wrong one.

For starters, I strongly recommend downloading and reading our free report: “The 5 Most Common Mistakes People Make Before Remodeling that YOU must avoid”. You will find this report on our Home page (www.megabuilders.com) at the top right corner.

Beyond that, read through our articles and elsewhere about best practices for hiring a contractor. You will find more about this right here, in future posts, so please feel free to come back.

Happy remodeling!

Remodeling University: Manage Your Mindset First for a successful Los Angles Remodeling

Hi,
Home remodeling projects, large and small, place unusual demands on homeowners.

In the best of cases (if you chose your general contractor well), you will need to deal with noise, interruptions to water and power services, strangers in your home on a daily basis, significant disruption to the family’s routine and so forth.
You’ll also be the point person for a team of players that might not always see eye to eye with each other and/or with you.
All of this – in addition to whatever you have going on in your life already. A challenge indeed!

Before you can manage others and be positive and proactive under the stress introduced by a remodeling project, your best bet is to manage your state of mind.
I have worked with homeowners that were a great asset to their own project. They were in control of their emotions, they made a point to compliment the workers and other team members, they appreciated others’ efforts and showed it, they addressed problems proactively and ran their projects in a business like fashion, avoiding making problems (which will always come up in remodeling) personal or larger than what they actually were. This type of attitude inspires and motivates everyone that is involved in a project. The atmosphere is positive and the results are somehow always better.

As importantly, with this attitude, the homeowner’s own experience is cast in a positive light and the project is much less of a burden as a result.

My advice: before embarking on a project, take a deep mental breath. Vow to be a positive and a supportive center of influence. Tell yourself (and internalize the notion) that you are about to embark on an adventure. One that is going to be challenging but fun and rewarding. Prep your family in advance and solicit their participation in the adventure. They should all share in shouldering the responsibilities. They should all be kept informed about what is going on. They should all take ownership of the process and have a vested interest in the outcome (a great way to accomplish that is by soliciting everyones’ input regarding certain design decisions, for example).

With the right attitude and spirit…and with the right team at your side, you will remember your project ‘days’ fondly for a long time. You will remember the project as a challenging, rewarding and successful experience. More importantly, you will enjoy the results that much more for years to come and, unlike the vast majority of folks that remodeled their homes, you will have great and positive tales to share.

Happy remodeling!

Remodeling University: EPA Lead Paint Rules – An Update

Well, April 22, 2010 (the date the new EPA rule concerning lead-paint came into effect) is behind us…and there are already updates.

If you are a homeowner planning a remodeling project and your home was built prior to 1978- this concerns you. For a detailed post about the EPA rule please read this. If you are a contractor involved with renovation, repair and remodeling, I strongly recommend that you read the same. The fines for non compliance with this new rule are brutal – $37,500/violation/day!

Today’s post is about the changes just announced to this rule.

The most important of the changes is the elimination of the opt-out option. Till now, the homeowners on whose pre-1978 home work was to commence, could opt-out of the requirements of the lead-paint regulation (basically, so they could avoid the additional expenses involved). Pursuant to a law-suite filed against the EPA by some environmental groups, the EPA agreed to have this provision eliminated. And it was now announced that the rule has been re written to exclude the opt-out provision.

Other changes involve post-work testing and reporting issues.

The changes will go into effect 60 days after their posting in the Federal Register.

What should you do?
1. Educate yourself.
2. Hire an EPA certified company. They should be able to display a logo like the one shown above.
3. Make sure sub contractors and employees have been trained and/or are also certified.
4. See that proper procedures are observed during demolition and renovation operations.
5. Get clearance from post-remodel testing.

Aside from the costs involved (FAR, far exceeding the unrealistic $35 per project estimated by the government), this is all for the good. The elimination or reduction of lead exposure may go a long way enhancing the health of the public and of the workers and could do wonders to the health of the children that would have otherwise been exposed. A worth while cause indeed.

Happy remodeling!

Remodeling University: Getting Ready for a Large Remodeling Project

You selected your general contractor, you have your new home plan, the permits for your major remodeling project were ‘pulled’ and a start date has been secured for the work. Congratulations! Are you now ready for the project to begin? Read on.

When all the ‘big stuff’ is out of the way (selecting an architect or a design/build firm, getting the design you want and can afford, securing financing for the project and getting the plans approved by the city, by the HOA and others) – when all of this is done, there are still things you must do for your project to be a success. Embarking on a major remodeling project can be likened embarking on an adventure trip to an off-the-beaten-path destination. Much like you’d prepare differently for an African safari that for a Disney World vacation, so you should prepare differently for a major remodeling project as compare to some minor work in your home.

Here are some of the issues you need to consider:
1. Can you stay in the home: go over the planned work and work-sequence with your builder. Can your family stay in the house during the work? Could your family relocate to a section of the house not worked on (or worked on during a different phase of the project)? These decisions need to be arrived at in concert with the builder.
2. Can you stay in the home: beyond the physical aspect of the question you should consider the other aspects as well. Do you have small children that might wonder off into unsafe work zones? Is your family’s temperament is such that members of the family can take the significant discomfort associated with the house being in an upheaval for weeks on end? The noise? The disruptions to power and water service during work hours? The pervasive dust?
3. Would the home’s content (furniture, furnishings, etc.) need to be removed/stored?
4. If you must get out of the house, will you be out for one long stretch of time? For the entire duration of the work? Or maybe you could leave intermittently for shorter spells, as the work progresses?
5. If both your family and the home’s content need to be out of the home, do you know how much this would cost? Did you budget for it?

As you work your way through these issues remember that ultimately there would be a trade-off between the family’s comfort and the family’s sanity (and costs). Try to find your equilibrium.
Here are some tips:
1. Here too, your selection of a competent and reliable general contractor is imperative. With a top-tier home builder the completion date should be a known and a given. Something you can and should rely upon. When this is the case, you can find less costly accommodations. When you know exactly how many weeks you are renting a place for you can avoid committing for longer periods ‘just in case’ – saving on rent.
2. Instead of packing the whole content and having a moving company pick it up, store and than reset it when work is done, which would be very costly, consider this alternative; First, see if there is a room in the house that could be used for storage. A room that is not majorly affected by the planned project might qualify. Have all the family pack the ‘little’ items over time, to lighten the work load. Than ask your builder to provide a couple of guys for a day or two for the heavy items. We provide this service gratis to all our clients. Your contractor should be able to do the same. Whatever won’t fit in the ‘storage room’ might fit in a storage bin. Get one and use it. Remember to coordinate that with your builder so that this bin is not in the way and does not take the room planned for the roll-off needed for the construction debris.
3. This is a great time to get rid of junk. Get a roll-off (your contractor might be able to get one for a better price) and fill it with all the items you no longer need. Think “what would I want to bring back into my new home when work is done?” – everything else should be donated or disposed of. Almost without exception, I see homeowners paying to store items for the work’s duration only to throw them away at completion because they no longer seem appropriate for the newly done home.
4. Make sure your storage bin is water tight. A leak would destroy the contents.
5. Some homeowners plan long trips to coincide with their remodeling work. This way they are out of the way, and no alternative lodgings are needed to be arranged. Consider this only if you have a top-tier, completely trust worthy builder and if you feel comfortable empowering your builder (or someone else, such as your architect or your designer) to make decisions for you.
6. Prepare yourself mentally: You are about to embark on a significant new endeavor. One that would require many decisions, would tax your patience and one that can potentially get out of control in terms of costs, time and legal issues (did I mention it is important to select a builder that is competent, experienced, trust worthy and reliable yet – as opposed to those who’s main attraction is that they are seemingly cheap?). So, prepare yourself mentally; take a deep ‘mental breath’ and develop a positive mindset. Predispose yourself to consider the coming months as an adventure and a learning experience and promise yourself to take everything in stride. Try to be a positive member of the project’s team and remember that as the homeowner and the purse holder you are actually the boss.

You are now ready to break ground. Happy remodeling!

Remodeling University: Designing a Large Scale Remodeling Project

With the 2008 implosion of the real estate market, the deep recession in the construction industry that followed and the almost total lack of financing options for remodeling and construction projects, at this point last year we were projecting a significant shrinking of our average project size for the foreseeable future. While many segments of the construction and remodeling industries are still straggling, we are surprised and thankful to note that at least in our market – Los Angeles, remodeling (large-scle projects) is back!

I am therefore finding myself writing about a subject I thought I will not be writing about any time soon: what a homeowner needs to know and do in the design phase of a large scale remodeling project. How can you get the best home plans for your hoped-for project?

Successfully designing a large scale remodeling project:
1. Budget: It all starts with defining and setting your budget. Many would recommend to first get designs and than see how much they would cost. Why spend time, energy and money on designs you won’t be able to afford? Funds is where the ‘rubber meets the road’ in as far as your planned project is concerned. Start by articulating for yourself, as best you can, what is your actual budget. Depending on your circumstance and on your project, the budget may be based on cash-on-hand, equity, future value of the remodeled home or some combination of these elements.
2. Wish list: before you meet with a professional to actually develop the design you should commit to paper your objectives for the project. Writing things down tends to focus the mind and is great for clarity. This ‘exercise’ should be done by all decision makers involved with the project (e.g. both husband and wife). Think this through and once you have your wish list try to prioritize it so that the ‘must haves’ are at the top of the list.
3. Hire a design professional: Of the various options available to you here, you should really consider only two – an architect or a Design-Build firm. You can review earlier posts for a discussion and comparison of these two options. We recommend a competent Design-Build company because odds are far better in your favor here that the design would be in lockstep with the budget (something that is rarely the case with an independent architect’s plans).
4. Communicate your wish list and budget: If you have done your due-diligence and your wish list and budget are both well thought out, you need to communicate those to your design professional in a way that assures his/hers adherence to these guidelines. Both architects and Design-Build companies sometime have ‘selective-hearing’ issues, that is they don’t internalize all of what the homeowners are telling them. Rather they pick on certain elements and tend to ignore others. Make sure to put both your prioritized wish-list and target budget in writing as part of the design agreement so that there are no mistakes.

If you have selected your design professional well, you should soon have a compelling design(s) to look at. How should you evaluate the proposed designs:
1. Have your designer ‘walk’ you through the floor plan. As you don’t spend your days looking at plans and this is not your profession, you should not be embarrassed to take your time evaluating submitted plans and to need help in doing so.
2. Ask for renderings. Most designers today would be using computers for their work. It should be easy (and should not cost extra) to produce any number of renderings of the proposed space. These are very helpful for anyone not used to 2-dimensional plans. The 3-dimensional renderings are a great tool for the homeowners trying to get a ‘feel’ for the new home.
3. Take your time: Don’t commit for a design after just having reviewed it. I strongly recommend to take some time to look at it again and again. Let it sink in. familiarize yourself with all aspects of the proposed plan. You will notice that in the beginning you are seeing the ‘big picture’. As time goes by and the more you look at a plan, your attention would be drawn to more minute details.
4. Evaluate: compare the plan with your wish list. Are all important elements there? If they are present, are they featured in a way that would match or complement your life style and your circumstances? Would the proposed plan fit your needs in the future (for example, as the kids are growing or when the in-laws would be moving in)? Are the closets of sufficient size? Were hallways minimized or eliminated altogether? Is there enough natural light? Was attention paid to energy efficiency and conservation in the orientation and planning? The list of questions here could be very long. Think the proposed design through and don’t hesitate to write down your reservations and all items you’d like to see addressed.
5. Implement changes and re-evaluate: Have your designer incorporate your feedback into the proposed plan and than re evaluate (see above).
6. Consider interior and exterior aesthetics: Having a plan that addresses your wish-list fully and that meets your budget is a great start. Now, is it also beautiful and fitting your chosen style? Look at interior and exterior elevations and review the roof lines. Everything must also look good to you. You will be spending a lot of money, effort and time to get this project done. Than hopefully, you’ll spend much longer enjoying the fruits of your labor. Make sure that you’d like what you end up with.

Like everything else in remodeling, the more involved you are the better the results would be. Get yourself involved fully in the design phase of your project. You do not need to be a design professional to know what is a good design for you. It might take more efforts to get it right, but the end result would be well worth it.

Happy remodeling!

Remodeling University: The Pros & Cons of Pocket Doors

The Pros & Cons of Pocket Doors… and what to do when you have to have them:

Note: I originally wrote this article for networx.com – a general interest remodeling blog, at netwrox.com’s invitation and request. The subject therefore, is a little different from what we typically cover in our Remodeling University blog. It is, nonetheless, a subject many remodeling homeowners would need to deal with, so the information is of use and merit to our readers as well;

There are homeowners that ask for pocket doors simply because they like them. Many homeowners, though, find themselves in a position where they have to decide about including pocket doors in their homes during the design process of a remodeling project, weather they would like to or not.

Pocket doors present particular challenges and solve particular problems. You should be mindful and informed about the pros and cons of choosing or agreeing to have a pocket door included in your project. If a decision was made to include a pocket door, your contractor and you should also be aware of the potential and common pitfalls associated with pocket doors and how to avoid them.

Why should you consider pocket doors:
1. Space: In tight quarters, like a small Jack and Jill bathroom, multiple swinging doors can ‘eat’ into the space available. The door might also be swinging into each other. Pocket doors solve that condition.
2. Space: swinging doors ‘occupy’ a wall space (when swung open) equal to the door’s opening. In small rooms, where wall space might be at a premium, pocket doors solve that dilemma.
3. Space: when two separate rooms are designed so that, when needed or desired, the rooms could be joined, a door system is often used. For example: the formal dining room has a wide opening towards an adjacent space. This can enable larger dinner parties to fit in, while it still allows for more intimate settings, when the door system is kept closed. There is a difference in the ‘flavor’ of a French door system (for example) and the ‘flavor’ of a pocket-door system that slides out of sight into the walls.
4. Aesthetics: as noted above, some folks simply prefer the look and feel of pocket doors and opt to use them for that reason.

Why should you avoid choosing pocket doors:
1. Sound: pocket doors do not ‘sit’ as tightly, as by design they merely slide into position rather than fit into it. As a result, pocket doors are not nearly as effective as standard doors in preventing sound from propagating from one room to the next.
2. Smells, light: for the same reason noted above, pocket doors are poor performers with respect to sealing off a room’s smell (think kitchens or bathrooms). Similarly, more light escapes from one space to the other, though this is rarely a big deal.
3. Wall’s sturdiness: for every pocket door, a wall opening, double its size is needed. While that opening is later covered up with the wall finish material (e.g. drywall), because there are no studs in that space (so as to allow for the pocket door to ‘disappear’ into it) – that wall section is flimsy and tends to wobble and sound hollow when tapped (which it is).
4. Function: pocket doors are notorious for function issues. They fall off tracks, they are difficult to roll, they are problematic to lock, they screech when rolled, etc.
5. Difficult to operate: pocket doors are not very friendly to anyone with difficulty grabbing or to anyone with diminished dexterity in their hands (e.g. arthritis sufferers). More dexterity is needed to grab and pull a pocket door out of its pocket than to grab a well designed and user-friendly (regular) door hardware.

So, if you have no choice but to choose a pocket door for your project (or, if you simply prefer it), here is what you and your contractor can do to be successful with it:
1. If possible use pocket doors in 2”x6” walls, rather than in 2”x4” walls.
2. Always spec and order heavy duty hardware. Note that pocket doors typically come with cheap hardware. Go for heavy duty ball-bearing nylon rollers.
3. Order (true) solid doors. Although these are heavier and thus more challenging to the hardware, the hardware would tend to pull out of the hollow core or composite doors with time.
4. Take special care to avoid any wall fasteners’ penetrations into the pocket space. These are often inadvertently and unknowingly project into the door’s travel path, creating a need to open the wall to fix the problem. It also means re painting the door. In cases where the projection into the door’s path within the pocket is not actually locking the door in place, such interference would forever undermine the door’s travel and will leave an inescapable scratch on the door’s face. Be especially careful if the wall is being tilled (with lathing used).
5. Print out the door’s installation instructions (online, at the manufacturer’s site and/or at many other online locations) and post them for your installer. While it is certainly possible that your contractor is an accomplished pocket-door installer, odds are against it.
6. Pay attention to your door’s hardware selection. I’m referring here to the door’s pull, not hangers/rollers.

The bottom line?
When and if you can – avoid pocket doors.
If you find yourself having to have a pocket door installed, educate yourself and your contractor and follow the advice above.
With care, attention (and a little competence wouldn’t hurt either) you’ll do just fine.

Happy remodeling!