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Remodeling University: Dealing with Hazardous Materials

A couple of days ago I had a call from a gentleman, whose parents hired a Los Angeles contractor that removed acoustic ceiling material as part of the demolition work at their home. The problem was that no one bothered to test the material for asbestos beforehand and, after it was all removed, it turned out asbestos was present.

Why is this a problem? Asbestos, once air born (no longer encapsulated) remains suspended in the air, contaminates flooring, walls, furnishings, clothing, etc. It becomes extraordinarily expensive to abate such contamination and complete success is questionable.

And why is that a problem? Because studies have conclusively demonstrated that long term exposure to asbestos leads to many health issues, not the least of which is cancer!

And that gentleman’s parents? They are very elderly and are staying in their home, in spite of the asbestos. Guests and family though, cannot visit them due to fear for their health, as the house is massively contaminated. Both the state and federal governments are now investigating. And the contractor? Well, not surprisingly – no sign of them (and this was a license company, as best the owners could tell).

Of the possible hazardous materials at homes, asbestos and lead would be at the top of the list (there are others). Please read a previous post regarding new lead-paint regulations. Like asbestos, the adverse effects of lead exposure are well researched and documented. Lead is especially devastating to kids and to pregnant woman. Don’t put yourself in a situation where you, your family or the workers you hired are placed in harm’s way.

Here’s is what to do:
1. Age of home: Neither asbestos nor lead should be found in new construction. Asbestos wise, there might be a risk if the house (or ceiling material) is from 71′ or before. Lead paint wise, your ‘cut off year’ is 1978. If your home is newer, odds are good you should not worry about asbestos or lead.
2. Testing: do not let anyone scrape off your (71′ or older) acoustic ceiling until and unless it was tested for asbestos. Asbestos test is inexpensive. Not doing it is a fools’ bargain. With regards to lead paint, starting April 22, 2010 no one is allowed to disturbed more than 6 square feet of interior paint (or replace a single window) unless they either tested the paint for lead or assume lead is present and take the required precautions. Lead testing is more involved than asbestos (more sampling is required) but it might be cheaper than to spend money on precautions if lead is not there.
3. Contractor: make sure your contractor is an EPA certified firm to deal with lead paint. This is applicable to your general contractor, to your painter, to your window replacement company or to any person or company working on your home, as the replacement of even a single window, as mentioned above, falls under the EPA regulations. No exceptions.
4. Records: review the credentials of the testing company/lab. Ask for a copy of the results and keep all pertinent paperwork for your records. If any abatement work is done, keep those records as well. This paperwork may become handy when you are selling your home or when a CalOsha or an EPA inspector comes calling.
5. Educate yourself: Reading this blog is a very good start. There are many online resources and publications available (EPA and CalOsha have great publications available free of charge) that can help you get a sense of what the correct abatement or defensive procedures should be. Educate yourself so that you could intelligently review your contractor’s efforts and confirm that what is done at your home is in compliance with the ‘best practices’. Its your family’s health that’s at stake here.
6. Cut costs at your own peril: Abatement can be costly. There are endless stories about homeowners that opted to ‘save’ by not properly handling and disposing of hazardous substances. If you don’t get caught “all that’s at stake” are your family’s health (and that of the workers – a potential liability issue for you to consider). If you do get caught (neighbors complain, a worker complained, an inspector drove by, etc.) the costs could be enormous in fines and in remediation work that would be needed to undue the damage.

“Knowledge is power” if and when it is intelligently acted upon. You now started collecting the knowledge. Next you ‘simply’ need to take the needed action. Think of Hazardous Materials as just one more thing to consider when planning a remodeling project.

If your home falls within the ‘problematic’ age group, a little caution will go a long way.

Happy remodeling!

Remodeling University: Lighting Requirements

When remodeling your kitchen or bathroom (and in truth, when remodeling most all rooms in the home), your Los Angeles remodeling project will have to be in compliance with Title-24, which is the California code section that, among other issues deals with building energy efficiency. The 2008 standard (effective January 1, 2010) has particular requirements, that in some cases are different from the previous version of the standard. Your general contractor and/or your electrician should be mindful of these regulations, as should you.

Here are some of the highlights:
1. A minimum of 50% of the wattage contributing to lighting your kitchen should be from high-efficacy lighting. These would typically be fluorescent lights or LED lights. With fluorescent light wattage being 13W, as compared with 75W for regular incandescent lift, you can see that meeting the standard with any use of regular incandescent lights in your kitchen is a challenge.
2. Under certain provisions, you can get up to a 50W exception if your home is smaller than 2500SF and 100W exception if it is larger that this.
3. In-cabinet lighting is except, i.e. the wattage of your in-cabinet lights are not added to the equation.
4. In-cabinet light is limited to a maximum of 20W per lineal foot of cabinet.
5. In the bathroom (and in garages, laundry room, closets larger than 70SF) all lights need to be high-efficacy, unless lights are controled by a manually-on occupancy sensor switch.
6. In other rooms (namely bedrooms) again high efficacy lighting is required, unless lighting is controlled by a dimmer.
7. Low voltage fixtures are considered low-efficacy lighting.

So what does all this means to you?
1. The builder’s grade recess fluorescent lights are quite terrible. The light is extremely dim and ‘sickly’. Many homeowners opt to swap these out after final inspection because the light is so unsatisfactory. We recommend that you invest in better quality fixtures. They cost quite a bit more, but the light is bright, can be day-light-balanced and you have an efficient fixture you can keep.
2. Some owners opt to leave a blank fixture box so that a chandelier or another low efficacy fixture could be installed after final inspection. Title-24 now considers such a ‘blank’ just like a low-efficacy light.
3. The builder’s grade occupancy sensors are a pain. If not in clear ‘line of sight’ to the tub, for example, and you are taking a bath, the lights are liable to switch off on you and won’t turn back on until you do quite a ‘dance’ to have the sensor ‘see’ you. We recommend at the very least making sure that the sensors have ‘line of sight’. Better yet, install a ceiling mounted sensor. They are slick, very sensitive and work great.
4. A new kitchen design must include a careful review of the lighting plan. It is a challenge to get enough attractive light in a kitchen and still be in compliance with Title-24, but is is possible.

If your team and you have done a good job, than your kitchen remodeling project probably is probably great looking. No matter how nice your kitchen is though, without ample, bright and well located lighting to highlight the room’s features – the kitchen will never look its best. Without proper task lighting, your use and joy of it would be undermined as well. So take the time to discuss lighting with your design and building team and allow enough for lighting in your budget to make sure your lights are spot on.

Happy remodeling!

Remodeling University: Water heaters – To Tankless Or Not To Tankless?

By now you are undoubtedly aware of tankless water heaters. While in use for decades in eastern Europe, Russia, Japan and elsewhere, the tankless water heaters are a fairly new addition to the US remodeling landscape.

Should you care? Do you need to get one? when is a good time to get it?

Well, we should all care about how much we are spending on the energy we consume. If we can spend less of it, all the better for our pocket book, for the environment and for our dependency on shady-regimes’ oil production.

1. Savings:
The more efficient your water heater, the less it will cost you to heat your water (all else being equal). The water heater’s efficiency though is not necessarily dependent on your unit being traditional (with a tank) or tankless. There are traditional water heaters more efficient (and hence, cheaper to operate) than some tankless water heaters.
The calculation is complicated further when initial costs are taken into account. Tankless water heaters cost quite a bit more than traditional units. Even with lesser operating costs, how many years of operation are needed before the unit is at the break-even point, ROI wise?
In addition, it is highly recommended to have a water softener if a tankless is used (unless water where you live is already ‘soft’). So if your home is not equipped with one, this is yet another expense you need to consider if you want to go the ‘tankless route’.
Overall, I don’t recommend purchasing a tankless water heater if one’s principal or sole objective is to save money.

2. Daily Use:
The picture is different when you factor in the the chief benefit of a tankless water heater – you never run out of hot water. Anyone coming from a large family will appreciate this benefit.
Regular water heaters have a given capacity, or an amount of hot water they ‘hold’. Even if this is a well sized heater, there are always the ‘out of the ordinary’ scenarios in which you can find yourself showering in cold water; you have guests, someone went to the gym and is showering for the second time, it’s a cold day and everyone took to take just a while longer in the shower and so on.
With a tankless unit, the hot water just keeps coming.

3. Other considerations:
A (gas) tankless water heater requires electric power to work, i.e. you have no hot water in a power outage.
A tanked unit on the other hand takes a lot of space and is a hazard in an earthquake.
The tankless heaters are rather complex. With more parts and greater complexity there is more that can break or go wrong.
From an environmental point of view, a standard water heater works more, so as to keep a large volume of water hot all the time. It is also suffering from heat loss through it casing and its vent.
Heat loss is a none issue for a tankless water heater.
Recirculating water (so that you do not need to wait a long time for the hot water to arrive) is more of a challenge for a tankless heater, but new product on the market are addressing this problem.
Last, a tankless water heater typically requires a more robust gas supply (bigger gas line) than the traditional heater.

So when should you visit the question of which water heater to get:
1. When you undertake a kitchen remodeling project in your home (water heaters are sometimes enclosed in the kitchen or laundry cabinets).
2. When you do any sizable remodeling project.
3. When you are increasing the size of your home.
4. When hot water demands are changing significantly in your household.
5. When your existing water heater no longer works, no longer works well, is leaking or is ‘long in the tooth’.

We have installed nothing but tankless water heaters for some years now. A tankless is a wonderful product, bringing together green remodeling sensibilities with superior users’ benefits. Now, if it only cost less as well…

Happy remodeling!

Remodeling University: Earthquakes and your home

With major earthquakes in Haiti and Chile causing such destruction (and unfortunately loss of life), many of us in California can’t help but think of the pending ‘big-one’. When would we be hit with the long anticipated and uniformly predicted next major earthquake? What can we do to prepare ourselves and to better protect our family ahead of such an event? And, what about earthquake insurance?

As for the ‘when’ – I think it is safe to say that no one knows. All the experts can tell us is that: 1. A significant earthquake in our area is not a question of ‘will it happen’, rather it is only a questions of ‘when will it happen’. As far as historical data goes, it would seem that we are now ‘overdue’ for a major seismic event.

So, what can you do to better prepare yourself for the inevitable:
1. Your water heater should be strapped to code.
2. While this may not be code mandated where you live, consider a gas shut-off valve.
3. Secure items in your home: place heavy items on lower shelves, install latches at cabinets with breakables, strap tall furniture pieces to the walls.
4. If you suspect a structural deficiency in your home (for example: in a past remodeling project a shear wall was significantly undermined), have a professional review it.
5. Have emergency supplies on hand: you can get a pre assembled kit or put one together on your own. Look online for what this kit should contain.
6. Develop an emergency communication plan: if a major earthquake where to hit at a time when your family members are not together, it might be very difficult to get a hold of one another. An out-of-state relative could be a great central contract.
7. Consider earthquake insurance: since the 94′ Northridge earthquake, insurance premiums for earthquake coverage have skyrocketed and the deductibles are now very high. Still, this is a great insurance to have if you can afford it. In the case of a catastrophic loss it can mean the difference between still having a home or not.

While the ‘official’ (FEMA) recommendation for personal protection during an earthquake is to seek cover under a heavy table, some experts with disaster rescue experience disagree; Rescue teams report most casualties are found under items that crushed them. Their recommendation is to lie down next to a sofa or other such large item. If heavy timber comes crushing down, a ‘safe triangle’ would be found between the lower edge of large furniture (such as a sofa) and the floor. This is where you are safest. Your best bet? outdoors, away from the building, power lines and the road.

There is not much we can do about the ‘when’ or the ‘if’ of an earthquake. We can, however, tilt the odds in our favor by recognizing the inevitability of such an event and by taking defensive measures ahead of it. As in ‘right now‘. Start today by evaluating your home for risks and by putting together an emergency kit and supplies. Get your family involved and informed…and be safe.

Good luck!

Remodeling University: If You Have Water Damage

Possibly the most common of damages to homes in Los Angeles, water damage presents particular challenges to the homeowners and their team.

You should be mindful that not all water damage is a covered loss under your policy. Most policies would limit coverage to accidental loss. So if a pipe burst in the house caused a flood and damage the home and its content, the loss is likely accidental and should be covered. If, on the other hand, you have a balcony that was not built or sealed correctly and during the last rain storm water leaked to the room below, your homeowners’ policy might not afford you coverage. You may have a construction defect claim against your builder or a warranty claim against whomever sealed this balcony last, but for the purpose of our discussion here (water damage loss and repair under your homeowners’ policy), this might not be a covered loss.

It is always a good practice to assume that you are covered. Do not rely solely on your insurance company’s input regarding coverage. When in doubt, check with your agent and have a Public Adjuster review your policy for feedback. I have seen claims rejected by insurance companies (especially in this area of loss, i.e. claims originating from water leaks), only to be later accepted and covered after we got involved.

While often not conceived as such by most homeowners, water is remarkably destructive to homes. Aside from the obvious staining and the bad smell standing water can cause, water is negative and pervasive in its affect on structures. It penetrates all assemblies (thus affecting and undermining substrates hidden from view), it delaminates adhesives (thus damaging structural plywood and all other wood products), left standing it can become a health hazard and, if water or moisture are allowed to remain, it promotes the growth of mold.

The first objective is therefore to to completely remove all water and excessive moisture from the building. The longer the water is allowed to remain behind, the greater the scope of the loss and the more expensive the remediation work would be. Unfortunately, insurance companies so often try to get by with doing less rather doing all that is needed and, just as often, move at glacial pace when demands are made by knowledgeable homeowners and their team members for proper testing and repairs, that what is an uncomplicated loss to start with becomes a very complicated and expensive loss to remediate and repair in the last.

What should you do:
1. Never rely solely on the insurance company’s feedback regarding coverage.
2. Assemble an experienced and qualified team to represent you. Start with a top-tier contractor that also has a lot of experience dealing with insurance losses (not any that your insurance company suggests- these contractors have experience dealing with insurance related losses, but from the insurance company’s side.) Your team should also include a Public Adjuster and an Hygienist. Your contractor should be able to help you locate the best consultants there.
3. This is a different ‘exercise’ from a typical remodel. Look for the best contractor you can find. Not for the cheapest you can afford. You are not paying for the repairs.
4. Report the claim right away to both the insurance company and your agent.
5. Document everything. Log all phone calls, conversations, etc. noting date, time, who you spoke with and what was said/discussed/decided or promised. Take a lot of pictures.
6. Find your policy, read it and familiarize yourself with your coverage and your rights.
7. Hand over management of the claim to your PA or to your contractor as soon as possible.
8. Remember: you are under no obligation to get the insurance company 3 estimates and you are under no obligation (neither is your contractor) to accept the prices proposed by your insurance adjuster. These numbers rarely make sense.
9. It is the insurance company’s obligation to remediate, restore and repair all damages and bring your home to pre-loss condition! This is a huge statement, the ramifications of which can only be fully realized when you have a competent team representing you.
10. Never deal directly and without representation with your insurance company.

No one plans on water damage. Los Angeles homes are built to resist rather significant earthquakes. None is immune to water damage though. When water does accidentally causes damage to your home, follow the above to insure your loss is properly adjusted, adequately scoped and professionally and fully repaired.

Good luck!

Remodeling University: ‘Best Practices’ When Remodeling

So, you ‘pulled the trigger’. You decided to remodel. You chose a Los Angles general contractor for your work. You settled on a design. You secured the permits and the source of financing. Maybe you even packed and moved out for the duration of the work. Now what? What can you, as the homeowner, do to improve the odds of a successful project?

The homeowners’ dos and don’ts when remodeling:
1. It’s YOUR project: while there may be strong personalities involved (your general contractor and/or your architect come to mind), this is still your home and your money and you are the most important person in this team. This is both a privilege and an obligation.
2. Meetings: Insist on weekly meetings with all key personnel. In these meetings progress should be reviewed and looking ahead, items you need to choose, order or decide upon need to be brought to your attention.
3. Everyone should be kept in the loop: whatever decisions, changes and selections are made, should be brought to everyone’s attention. To minimize costly hick-ups, everyone on the project needs to be on the ‘same page’ at all times.
4. Job book: A great way to keep everyone ‘on the same page’ is to have all key players keep an up to date job book. This 3-ring binder should contain all selections, changed details, designer drawings, fixtures, appliances, etc. The key here is for any team member to distribute any new item to all team members and for them to keep their book updated. The ‘music’ will sound wonderful only when every ‘player’ is ‘reading off of the same sheet music’.
5. Mindset and attitude: Remodeling projects are labor and detail intense. They also involve several key persons and a rather larger number of individuals. As such, there is a lot of room for personality clashes, misunderstandings or miscommunication. Plus, if you are living in the home while a major remodeling project is underway, there are all sorts of additional sources of stress. You need to remember that you are a central key member of the team. In fact, you are the team leader. If you ‘loose it’ on a regular basis, or if you routinely inject negativity and stress into the situation, the performance of other team members will likely be adversely affected. That is to your detriment as it is your house everyone is working on…and your money is paying for it. Keep you cool!
6. Payments: while you might be a member of equal standing in your remodeling team with regards to input and decisions and perhaps you develop a personal friendship with your contractor and others on the team, payments should be made based only on a predetermined Payment Schedule. All payments should be made for items completed – not for items about to start. Make no exceptions and you will be in great shape.
7. Documentation: before and during the work take a lot of pictures. Make sure all changes are in writing and that all Change Orders specify the changes agreed to, the amount of money involved and the impact the proposed change would have on the completion date. Get an Invoice and a Release for all payments. If subs or suppliers are involved, make sure they are paid as well before paying off your general contractor.
8. Hire help: Depending on the size of your project, you might want to hire additional team members to help you with the work load. An interior designer can be a God send when you need to make endless decisions regarding style, color, fixtures, etc. Also consider a Construction Manager. A CM could be of great help in overseeing your general contractor or the subs you hire.
9. Do your part: When decisions are expected of you – make them timely. When you need to order items – do so. When payment is due – cut the check. Delaying any of the above would adversely impact the work schedule and the working relationship you have with your team.
10. Insurance: Aside from making certain the contractors on site are covered with Liability and Workers’ Compensation insurance policies, you be covered as well. Speak with your agent about amending your Homeowner’s policy and about adding a special policy to cover risks particular to the construction process.
11. Celebrate: Recognize great work. Compliment others. By all means, bring family and friends along to see the progress and to explain to them what is being done (do so only when job site conditions are safe). Recognize for yourself the progress that is taking place. When things get a little tough, look back and review all the progress made on your home. Adopt an attitude of can-do and of a problem-solver. Enjoy the process as your remodeled home is taking shape.

If you have chosen your team well and are following the above advice, your project should be a smashing success.

Happy remodeling!

Remodeling University: When your work is insurance related

You were prudent and selective when you evaluated insurance policies for your home. You made sure the policy is issued by a reputable insurance company and that your policy limits are adequate. You have also been paying your home insurance premiums like clockwork for years. Now, that unfortunately you have some accidental damage to your home (fire damage, water damage, smoke damage, etc.) you fully expect your insurance company to take care of you. After all, you are covered, right? Dream on.

All insurance companies are for-profit enterprises. They realize their profits by minimizing their outlays for losses (i.e. paying out as little as possible). The more they pay on a loss – the less they make. It’s as simple as that. There is a built-in bias therefore, for your insurance company to under-value and under-pay your claim. So first, when you are about to deal with an insurance comapny on a loss, remeber the following:

1. The insurance company is NOT ON YOUR SIDE! They are not your friends nor is your best interest their principal agenda.
2. Your insurance company’s estimate of the value of the loss (or that of the contractors they send your way) is (more often than not) but a distant echo of what quality work to restore your home to pre loss condition would actually cost.
3. You are under no obligation to use their recommended contractors.
4. You are under no obligation to provide them with several estimates (all that accomplishes is further enabling them to save on your claim while in all likelihood short changing you of quality repairs).
5. Neither you nor your contractor of choice are under any obligation to work for their submitted estimates.

Dealing with your insurance company directly or with the help of a remodeling contractor that is not an expert in the field of insurance loss claims, restoration work and insurance related repairs, is akin to acting as your own attorney in an important trial. “You’ll have a full for a client”.

So what do you do to protect your position and to ensure your home is restored to its pre-loss condition with no short-cuts and without any potential issues remaining hidden?
These are your to-dos:
1. Never deal with an insurance company without expert assistance (I know this is repetitive. This is because repetition is the mother of skill – a skill I hope to help you quire).
2. Your best bet in a tenured Public Adjuster working for you. Be mindful and selective though. Like contractors and any other professionals, PAs come in many shades of competence and commitment to your best interest. Public Adjusters are paid a percentage of the entire settlement amount. These fees could be substantial.
3. A quick settlement should not be your primary goal. An amicable one, that addresses all loss issues is what you should insist on.
4. Have a ‘top shelf’ advocate contractor deal with the insurance company on your behalf. That means a contractor that is not only excellent at the construction end of things but also one that has great experience and facility dealing with insurance companies, claims, etc.
5. for large losses (you loss might be huge and you might not even know it. Don’t rely on your insurance company for input here) you need a team – a competent Public Adjuster, a top-shelf contractor with insurance related expertise, a reputable remediation company, a sharp hygienist and more. Your PA, hygienist and/or contractor should be able to put together a dream team for you.
6. Last, it is almost never too late to bring a representative on board. Even after a lot was already done to both remediate and repair and even after you accepted and deposited settlement amounts from your insurance company.

The insurance companies have the ‘home’ advantage and they always play to win. Adopt the defensive actions recommended above to level the playing field. With the right team at your side this should be a fair game where things get done as they should.

Good luck!

Remodeling University: New Lead-Paint Regulations

On April 22, 2010 a new EPA rule will become effective. You need to know about this rule and what it entails if you have a remodeling project in your future.

In essence, starting on April 22, 2010, remodelers, renovators, painters, drywall contractors or anyone working on your home doing remediation work or any kind or remodeling work (inside or out) – will need to be certified by the EPA and use lead-safe work practices during renovations, repair and painting operations, providing your home was built prior to 1978.

Why should you care?
1. If your home was built prior to 1978 odds are good lead paint is present (the older it is- the better the odds).
2. There are serious health risks associated with lead exposure. Kids and pregnant women are at the highest risk.
3. Lead poisoning symptoms are easily misinterpreted by physicians, increasing the likelihood of permanent damage.
4. Renovation activities that disturb lead-based paint create dust. Lead-contaminated dust is poisonous!

So what’s in this rule? Here are some of the highlights:
1. Companies performing the work must be certified.
2. A Certified Renovator must be on-site with the crew.
3. Entire crew must be trained in special practices designed to minimize and mitigate dust exposure.
4. Crew will need to be equipped with special tools to perform the work according to the prescribed practice.
5. Your contractor must provide you with an informative EPA brochure and you will be asked to approve that you got it.
6. Specific procedures are prescribed and must be observed so that your home, your family, your neighbors and the workers are not exposed to lead-contaminated dust. This is the ‘meat’ of the matter.

Note: the EPA rule applies to all interior work where more than 6 square feet of paint area is involved and/or exterior work involving more than 20 square feet. Local ordinances might be even more restrictive than that!

While the EPA curiously estimates the cost of these measure at an average of $35 per job, I anticipate real-world costs to be much higher, especially in California. One of the reasons for that is the fact that in most of the country it is possible to follow the EPA rule as prescribed and dispose of the suspected lead-contained paint debris in the home’s trash. But, in California this waste might be considered hazardous waste and so regular disposal in the home’s trash or even as construction debris might not be permitted. Disposing of hazardous waste this way it strictly prohibited in California and carries very heavy fines. On the other hand, disposing of hazardous waste properly is a very expensive proposition.

There are currently no clear guidelines on this issue and at the present the EPA rule, as I understand it, is in disagreement with both California’s AND OSHA’s regulations in this regard. Stay tuned.

Happy remodeling and keep your family healthy and safe!

Remodeling University: Considering Green

With all the other issues you need to be considering and evaluating with regards to your remodeling project, do you really need to be bothered with thinking about green remodeling?

It used to be the anything green was considered almost exclusively by those who are policy driven. Costs and best construction practices were really secondary to the faithful. Green has come a long way since.

Stated simply, green is a better was to build. Independent of where you find yourself in the climate debate and regardless of your affiliations, be it the Sierra Club or OPEC, if you want your general contractor to use best practices when remodeling your home, you want green.

There are different ‘menu options’ with regards to green, depending on your project. A new custom home, or a tear down and rebuild project will have a more expansive menu of green options available to the homeowners. In these instances, house orientation, lot drainage and landscaping options could be reviewed as well.

For most remodeling projects, though, the green menu options would mostly address energy and water conservation (forget the environment, did you see those bills lately?), indoor air quality (care for this only if you breath inside your home) and sustainability issues.

When remodeling in Los Angeles, as a result of the California Building Code, you are already assured a higher (and some say, substantial) degree of green elements, as compared to the rest of the country. This is because the CBC is more restrictive not only in its structural requirements (we do get earthquakes on a fairly regular basis here) but also in its energy conservation measures (called out in the section of the code known as Title-24).

That said, you can go further, and enjoy greater energy savings, less water use and better indoor air quality.

There is much to discuss here and this subject is broader in scope than a single post. I hope and plan to return to this subject in future posts, but here are some principals:
1. Start by spending on items with best return on investment. This usually means reduce your energy consumption as much as possible (see below).
2. If your water bill is growing faster than the federal government, you should consider investing in water saving elements (for both indoors and outdoors).
3. Investigate and take advantage of currently available incentive programs from federal and local governments and from the utilities.

So, how to save energy? Here are just a few ideas you can utilize right away:
1. Replace all light bulbs in your home with CFLs or LED lights.
2. Improve the air-tightness of your doors and windows.
3. When changing appliances, consider to the unit’s energy performance.
4. Change pool timer to work at off peak hours.
5. Improve the insulation of your home.
6. Consider solar panels for generating electricity.

These are just a few highlights. Your best bet is to consult with green professionals who could provide far broader recommendations that are tailored to your home and to your lifestyle.

Happy remodeling!

Remodeling University: What to look for in a contract?

As you are going through the process of selecting a contractor, You should be mindful of the aspects of the actual contract you would be entering into. There are really two distinct issues here:

1. Which type of contract would serve you best?
2. What should the contract include?

Type of contract:
Assuming that you are hiring a general contractor for your remodeling project, there are several potential ways you can go about doing so. If you are interested in a particular arrangement, you should check with the contractor you would like if they can accommodate such an arrangement.

Time & Materials: Under such a contract, there is no set price for the work. You agree to pay the contractor based on actual incurred costs of labor-time and materials furnished. This arrangement might prove beneficial (as in cost-saving), if you have a very high degree of confidence in the contractor. Remember that working this way, the contractor has no built-in incentive to complete the work timely or inexpensively. I recommend taking this approach only for small (almost handyman sized) projects and/or for portions of work where conditions are impossible to ascertain before work’s commencement.
Cost Plus: This is a similar arrangement to T & M, though it may be more practical for larger jobs and for CM (Construction Management Contracts). Here your General Contractor or your Construction Manager act as your agent. The GC (general contractor) will collect bids from various subs, help in the selection process, will supervise the work making sure that it is in compliance with plans, specifications, codes and agreed to terms and will also help in managing disbursements. The GC or CM are not ultimately responsible for the work of the performing contractors however, which leaves the owners with a greater exposure and liability. The flip side, of course, are the cost savings that could be realized. Note that the caliber, experience, knowledge and most importantly trust worthiness of the GC or CM are the critical elements here. Cost plus could be a great success if your GC has these traits. It can also be a costly failure if any of these qualities are lacking.
Turn-Key: In this scenario, your general contractor is assuming full monetary and performance liabilities for the work. The contractor is responsible to you for all aspect of the work. His contractual obligation to you is to deliver the project, as specified in the plans and specifications, at the very least to code and industry standards – on time and for a fixed, pre agreed to price. Here you have the greatest degree of comfort and minimal amount of liability…at a higher cost. Here too the key is the caliber of the general contractor. It should be clear that not all contractors are equal, even if all are bidding on the same plans/specs. Again, whom you hire will have the greatest impact on how your projects will turn out, how long it would take, what the real, actual costs of it will turn out to be (as opposed to what it was quoted/contracted for) and how many grey hairs you got during the adventure.

What should the contract include?
1. Full and detailed specifications.
2. The plans.
3. Start date and completion dates.
4. Exact total cost.
5. Payment schedule (hint: NEVER allow for disbursements in advance of work – only at certain stage’s completion).
6. All required Notices – this varies from state to state. In Los Angeles, remodeling projects’ contracts are require to have a Notice of Recession (3-Days Right to Cancel), Notice to Owner, and quite a bit more. Make sure to visit the regulating agency’s website for complete information (in California it would be the Contractors State License Board).

Happy remodeling!