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: Saving Water

With winter behind us and spring in full bloom summer cannot be far behind.
Southern California summer means an increase in both energy use (for air conditioning) and water use (for maintaining a green lawn and yard).
In case the wet winter dimmed anyone’s memory, the cost of water skyrocketed last year with significant penalties for water use above the allotted quota.
It is therefore time to quickly review what can be done about avoiding water waste and about saving on water use.

Even minute leaks can add up to a LOT of water (and a correspondingly painful water bill).
How to discover water leaks:
1. Check for leaks: after making sure that no water is running, take a look at your water meter. There should be a little (red or blue, typically) dial, that is separate from the main dial. This dial is sensitive to any water use and would rotate even with a little leak. Make sure it is rock solid for a whole minute or so. If it is not, somewhere water is being used or is leaking.
2. Check for leaks: Review all sprinklers and sprinklers’ valves. When not in operation all parts should be dry. If parts seem wet or damp, there is probably a little leak. Replace all needed parts.
3. Check for leaks: Review all toilet flushing mechanisms. Once the tank is re-filled, no more water should ‘run’. It is not uncommon for toilets to ‘run’. That is, for water to continue to fill the tank, only to be discharged into the bowl. This can be in a continuous manner or in short bursts every 30 seconds or so.
4. Check for leaks: Check all faucets in the house to make sure none is dripping when not in use. Replace gaskets, cartridges or entire faucets as needed when leaking.
5. Check for leaks: If you have an automatic pool filler make sure it is operating properly without a constant water loss.

Now that you know no water is leaking you can focus on reducing your water use.
Aside from the obvious (shorter showers, for example) here is what else you can do:
1. Toilets: At worst, you should be using toilets with 1.6 gallons per flush. If you have much older toilets it might be a good time to upgrade. Note that even thriftier toilets are available. Do some research.
2. Washing machine: While I don’t recommend going out and getting a new washing machine just to save on water usage, I do recommend looking into energy and water efficient washing machines when you do need to replace the old one.
3. Yard: in many residences, most of the water usage is for watering the yard. Savings here could be very significant as most sprinklers systems are hugely inefficient. Very significant savings can be had with weather based or moisture based controllers. Many of these systems tie into your existing timer. A much more efficient watering schedule and use results.
4. Yard: If you are redoing your yard or parts of it, try to minimize lawn areas as these are the ‘water hogs’ you want to avoid.

For the most part, saving significantly on your water bill is not too complicated nor expensive to do. When remodeling, Los Angeles residents can easily increase their ROI by paying attention and allocating some resources to saving water. As noted above, these savings are not expensive to realize and would pay for themselves in no time at all.

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!