Remodeling University: Permits and your remodeling project

Let’s talk a little bit about the roll of the city in your project. When are permits required? When are plans a necessity? What kind of inspections would be needed? And more.

So here are some highlights to consider:
1. Permits are typically die for any project inspections would be required for. If you are painting your home or redoing your driveway there is nothing a city inspector will look at. Correspondingly, a permit is not required. Projects that have any structural, electrical, plumbing or mechanical elements to them will typically need to be inspected (unless minimal finish work, such as replacing an old faucet with a new one, is what’s done).
2. If you are in doubt about the inspection issue, call your local department of Building & Safety ahead of the work.
3. As far as the city is concerned, plans are needed anytime your remodeling project involves structural work and/or changes to the building envelop, layout or use.
4. If you project is a kitchen remodeling or a room addition in Los Angeles (for example), multiple inspections would be required during the work. In general inspections would be needed as follows – before footings or slabs are poured, before walls, floors and roofs are covered, after insulation is set, after drywall and exterior lathing are nailed and at work completion. Note that this is NOT a complete list and you should consult with your local B & S department.

In addition to the cost of architectural design and drafting and structural engineering, some plans will also involve a survey, grading plan, soil study, energy calculations and more. Each of the involved consultants is an additional ‘soft’ cost that you need to be aware of and budget for.

In some instances, you will also need to clear additional planning hurdles. There might be a Home Owners’ Association whose approval you’ll need to secure (even before the city’s) or some planning commission (such as the Coastal Commission in Los Angels and others). These type of approvals will often include requests for artist renderings of the project and attending public hearings to present the project.

Last, let’s not forget the ‘official’ costs involved. These vary based on location, but would include a plan check fee, permit fees (for building, electrical, plumbing and mechanical permits) and, in California, a special tax for all addition over 500SF to support our wonderful public schools system (take shelter, this one is a whopper).

In addition to consulting with your local B & S, you should have a conversation about these issues with your architect, designer and/or your general contractor. Los Angeles can be a daunting place to get plans approved, but it is routinely done. All you might need is some professional help.

Happy remodeling!

Remodeling University: Kitchen Remodeling

It would seem fitting to write about kitchen remodeling in our ‘University’ blog the day before our exclusive webinar event featuring Mal Corboy, the world renowned kitchen designer/cabinet maker. To register for this event please go here.

Kitchen remodeling in Los Angeles (and most anywhere else, for that matter) can be as simple as a face-lift involving painting, new faucets and appliances and maybe a new floor. Or, as is more often the case, it could be an involved project encompassing every aspect of the kitchen – from structural consideration when walls, doors or windows are changed, through design and style. When a complete kitchen project is undertaken, code issues come into play. This, because codes changed over the years since the old kitchen was done (even if that kitchen is not that old).

A complete review of the subject ‘kitchen remodeling’ is certainly beyond what a single post could accomplish. Indeed, I hope to return to this subject in future posts to more fully address it as well.

Today, I want to address few key code and design issues. These should be considered by anyone thinking about remodeling their kitchen:
1. Electrical: today’s kitchens require many more circuits than kitchens of old. Essentially, while before, the entire kitchen had one or two circuits serving all appliances, lighting and outlets, today’s codes require separate circuits for most appliance and GFI protected outlets anywhere in the kitchen. The need for additional circuits might trigger a need to expand or upgrade the electrical panel as well.
2. Lighting: modern kitchens are distinguished by a lot of light, both natural and artificial. There are hanging/decorative lights, there are task lights, there are recess lights, there are under/in/over cabinet lights, etc. Title-24 (a California code section) places certain limits on energy use, and by extension on the type of lighting one can use. Essentially (though there may be more to it than that), 50% of the power used for lighting should come from ‘high efficacy’ lighting fixtures. That means florescent and LED lighting (note that the requirement is for 50% of the power, not the number of fixtures). As the typical ‘builders’ grade’ florescent recess cans suck (they produce very dim light) and LED lighting is presently best for spot lighting only (its not quite ready for prime time yet…but soon), this is a challenge. Discuss this with your kitchen remodeling contractor, your lighting designer or the inspector to make sure you are in compliance and are still getting a beautifully lit kitchen.
3. Design: If you are changing your layout so that your kitchen remodel produces a more open floor plan, a less dated look, an accommodation for the new appliances you’ve been dreaming about and so forth, consider the following. Note that executing these design criteria well, in a visually compelling fashion and so that the kitchen is a delight to use and entertain in, is why you need a competent kitchen designer to help with the planning. This facility (the ability and knowhow needed to design well) is greatly lacking with most kitchen remodeling contractors; consider – the work triangle(s), traffic and work isles, counter areas adjacent work centers, optimal clearances, optimal placement of the various appliances, storage and cabinets’ features, style and color and more.

Our kitchens are the heart of our homes. They are where families meet, they are where cooks create, they are where we entertain and where so many of our life’s memories are created. The remodeling of the kitchen is also a project with great return on investment, when done right.

Whatever your budget may be, there could be a nicer, more inviting and inspiring kitchen in your future. Educate yourself further. Assemble a competent team with proven expertise in the kind of kitchen you are dreaming about and have fun!

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, 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 time to educate yourself (endless resources available online these days) 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 feel that teaming with a competent, professional and experienced general contractor would be in your best interest.

Happy remodeling!

Introducing Mal Corboy – an exclusive webinar event!

As many of you know by now, Mega Builders was selected by Mal Corboy Cabinets and Design of New Zealand to be their North America distributor.

On February 10, 2010 at 10AM (PST) We will be hosting a webinar with the man himself – Mal Corboy.
Please visit this link:
to register for this event. This webinar is free to of all our guests.

Mal will be sharing design tips and talk about some of his latest projects. He will also review features of reference-quality cabinets. It should be a fun and useful half hour. We would love for you to join us.

See you there!

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 one self 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 ( 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: Is this a good time to remodel?

You are exited about the prospects of a remodeled home. The kitchen remodeling you have been putting off for the past two years can not be delayed, the dated bathroom you have been dreading walking into is on its last legs, the addition to the family is imminent and the additional bedroom is not built yet. Inevitably you will soon find yourself asking the questions: “is this a good time to remodel?”

Many experts now say the answer is a resounding ‘yes’!

Why remodel now?
-The economy is in a recovery
-Remodeling costs are at record lows and already trending up
-Intrest rates (if financing) are at historically record lows.
-Home values hit bottom 6-9 months ago and are on a rebound
-Some projects qualify for soon to expire tax credit and other incentives
-You can still afford to choose the best contractors in your area

As importantly though, when a remodeling project is properly designed and executed, the rewards enjoyed by your family for years to come are priceless.
We can never recapture a day gone by, nor an experience lost. Put your family into that new kitchen, or bathroom or addition. Enjoy the enhanced quality of life and standard of living sooner rather than later. There may never have been a better time to ‘pull the trigger’ on a remodeling project.

Happy remodeling!

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

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


In line with our commitment to provide value and professional input to our current and future clients and to homeowners everywhere, we are starting a new series of blog posts: Remodeling University.

My hope is to be able to present here fresh, pertinent ideas and tips to homeowners about remodeling. From time to time there would be articles posted here that might be a bit on the technical side of construction, building science, insurance loss and remediation, solar panels, green ideas, and so forth. On other occasions, I might post here design related articles and images. For the most part, I plan on sharing tips and ideas in, what I hope are, easy to read and entertaining posts.

Today’s tip: Thinking about a remodeling project? Start with the budget. Before you are considering various design options, before developing specifications and before meeting with any contractors, articulate to yourself how much you can/want to spend on the project. Most homeowners start from a different point of departure. They reason that, as they do not know construction costs, they should meet with several contractors and get an idea what their project would cost them. This is not the best approach for several reasons; the owners are no longer in control of the process, without clear budgetary guideline contractors’ input would be all over the place and of far less value and time, energy and mental focus are wasted and are dissipated with discussions about various projects that can not be build. Most importantly, without a clearly defined ‘target’ to aim towards the likelihood of hitting a ‘bull’s eye’ (i.e. putting together the most suitable project for you) is a hit-n-miss at best.

So, what should you do? Find out what is a reasonable amount for you to spend, based on affordability, what it’s worth to you and what is reasonable for the area. Than articulate a list with your objectives – real needs should be at the top and desired feature should come next, prioritized in a descending order. Reverse engineer the project from there. In other words, now that you have a rough number YOU can work with and a list of what you need/like, meet with competent contractors and have them figure out for you how much of your list they can fit into your budget.

When discussions are framed with a budget guideline, the conversation tends to be focused, practical and productive. What a better way to start a remodeling adventure?

Happy remodeling.

Los Angeles Remodeling Cost Estimate: Did you Try our Interactive Estimate-Generating Form?

While our site is in late beta and our interactive form (you can find it on the Home page. Scroll down a bit) is in early beta, it is already shaping up to be a great tool for homeowners thinking about a remodeling project.
We wrote proprietary software and logic to enable users to get a guesstimated range of costs for a project (especially for Los Angeles remodeling), based on the particulars of their planned project such as age of home, square footage, level of finish, etc.
You are welcome to ‘take it for a spin’.
Please let me know how you like it.
As best I can tell, there is nothing like it online.