What should I look for in a remodeling contractor?
First and foremost, make sure they are a licensed home builder in the state of Alabama. The public can visit hblb.alabama.gov/content/Search/search.aspx and search for licensed builders, or they can call 1-800-304-0853 for license verification. Secondly, verify liability and workers' compensation insurance. In construction projects, the homeowner has a lot of exposure, and many times the nuances of policies do not adequately cover every unique situation. Liability insurance provides a third party insurer between yours and the contractor's. If there was a catastrophic mistake made or accidental damage to your property by the contractor, this insurance provides the financial stability for you to recover. Workers' compensation will protect the homeowner against the risk of serious financial repercussions if a worker is injured on your property. Hopefully, most people will tell you the truth when asked a specific question like, "Do you have liability and workers' compensation insurance?" The best way to verify is to get confirmation directly from the builder's insurance agent through email or U.S. Postal Service. Third, ask if they are a member of their local home builders or remodelers association. Most high performing business people believe in giving back to their industry and community; this demonstrates their support of the industry from which they make a living. People who hold leader¬ship roles are generally respected and have the leadership skills to work harmoniously with peers across the industry. Inquire about any industry certifications such as CAPS (Certified Aging-In-Place Specialists), CGP (Certified Green Professional), ASID (American Society of Interior Designers), and CGR (Certified Graduate Re¬modeler). These are evidence of someone of whom you can expect a higher level of performance than from builders that have not invested this money, time, and energy to learn. Fourth, look for or ask for pictures of their work and references that you can contact. I prefer to give references from re¬cent jobs we have completed and for work that was completed five years or more ago. This provides support that the company has earned its reputation over a period of time, and the clients are still happy with the work. If further comfort level is required, ask to see some of their work. Most clients are delighted for their contractor to show prospective clients their work at a mutually convenient time.
Fifth, ask for a sample of the builder's proposal. Vague and undefined proposals leave significant room for interpretation. Proposals should verbally articulate exactly what work is being done, how certain parts of the job will be done, and what materials are being used; where materials have not been selected a specific dollar amount of allowance should be disclosed. Proposals should also be clear in defining what is not included in the proposal and pricing. For example, the proposal might state that all surface-mounted light fixtures are to be supplied by client.
Sixth, trust your instincts. Inviting a builder, their employees, and trade contractors into your home to complete any project (particularly a major remodel that will take weeks) is a huge commitment on the part of all parties. Positive answers to all of the issues discussed above should provide a level of comfort.
Now, finally, you have to determine the chemistry. Do you trust the builder? Have they communicated effectively with you? Have they demonstrated an ability and willingness to listen to your ideas and what you want? How did you feel about trade contractors that were part of a walk through to discuss the scope of work and provide pricing? Are you confident that this builder can deliver what you want and are you comfortable working with them in a relationship where you need to trust them and their people? This comfort and trust is essential in obtaining the best possible results.
I need to remodel my kitchen, but I'm worried that once it's all torn up the contractor will come to me with jacking up the price. How can I make sure this doesn't happen?
Most of our kitchen projects are design-build projects. Our ASID-accredited in-house designer and sales representatives work with the client to define and design every aspect of the project. We like to make as many selections as possible before the contract is signed so there are no surprises. If certain selections are not made, we provide allowances. The key is to make sure the builder/designer understands the level of finishes you expect. Most of our clients are looking to go beyond builder grade fixtures of $1 per square foot for tile, for example. Make sure up front that allowances are at reasonable levels for all items that have not been specifically identified.
Builders should inform you up front and include in their proposal any items that will have to be brought up to code. The most common items are the required upgrade in smoke detectors. Some items will not be discovered until demolition has started or is complete and unseen items are uncovered. Some of these items are unavoidable, but good builders will have their key trade contractors visit the job site early on to help uncover as many of these items as possible.
The final written proposal should detail every aspect of the job: what is going to be done, how it is going to be done, what materials are to be used and what is not include if anything. The greater the detail, the fewer questions should be unanswered and the less the chance of unknown cost that may be incurred once the job starts.
We need to remodel our bathroom, but what I want and what my husband wants are totally different. Can someone help us make these design decisions?
That depends on what you disagree on and your willingness to compromise and/or make final decisions based on investment return, accessibility, or functionality if they are some of the items affecting the difference of opinion. If the difference is purely stylistic, the challenge will be greater, but we make every effort to work through the process with you.
Technology allows us to draw the space so that it can be seen in 3D, providing a real-life perspective. This often helps both parties better see exactly what the end product will look like and easily make changes, additions, and deletions before the work begins.
It's time to finish out our basement to be the "man cave," but I don't know where to start. How am I ever going to get this done?
Start with design-build remodeling contractors who have a proven track record. I will assume that you will do your homework in researching the contractor. Once you meet to discuss your project, the key ingredients in my mind are: A)Are they listening to your ideas and what you want? B)Have they shared any ideas that you like? C)Can they provide you with a design that includes schematics, elevations, and a 3D walk through? D)Are they able to articulate a clear understanding of what your expectations are? For example, investments in basements have one of the lowest returns in the resale value of your home in an appraisal. Having said this, finished basements also often add some of the most used and enjoyed areas of the home. These spaces can serve from everything man caves, to in-law suites, and everything in between. How this space will be used will determine the ultimate design.
I recently bought an older home and will eventually need to remodel everything. Where should I start?
This answer requires an in depth discussion between the client and a Design/Build firm that can guide you through answering numerous questions, creating a realistic budget, providing a design for the new space and completing the work. 1. Let's start with defining what condition the basic systems are in and what changes are needed. This will include HVAC, Electrical and Plumbing systems. The range of cost for these items can vary widely and may have a significant impact on overall budget.
2. Can the existing footprint accommodate your future space requirements or will we need to add additional space? Again adding space will provide more options but also adds to cost. Very low square foot additions don't allow for any economy of scale and tend to provide less in new appraised value than the actual cost. Most older homes don't provide the open floor plan that is more desirable today. We like to evaluate the options to remove walls and change spaces based on the way clients live and use their space.
3. Will your budget allow for all of the work to be done at one time or will it need to be done in phases? There is usually some savings with being able to do all of the work at one time.
4. Is this your forever home, or do you plan to move in five years or less? Major investments in your home that have included higher quality materials and workmanship seldom yield a 100% return in the short term. These investments are generally made to improve the overall quality of life, functionality and will determine how much you really love and enjoy the space and the return on investment is realized over a longer period of time. Profit on short term fix ups frequently include the most superficial upgrades and often include builder grade materials and mediocre workmanship.
5. Today's world seems to seek instant gratification. Having once lived in a home that was built in 1865 and added on to at the turn of the century, I can suggest from experience that living in a space for a year before making major changes is probably a good idea for most people. This time allows you to really think thru how you will use the space, where you need more room, and how things can be arranged to provide more functionality for your particular lifestyle.
I want to turn my deck into usable space all year round. What are my options?
It would be highly unusual for a deck to have adequate footings and structural support for conditioned space. There are companies that will install sunroom kits on existing decks. However, our experience has shown in these types of projects overall quality of conditioned space is significantly different from the rest of the house. The correct approach almost always requires re¬moving the existing structure and starting over with the design and construction of a new room. Questions to answer are: 1. How will the space be used? 2. How large does the space need to be? 3. Do I want/ need an extension of existing space or do I want/need a separate room? 4. What will the additional HVAC requirements for this space be?
Many of our clients find a screen porch and/or other out¬door living spaces to be a preferred alternative to extending their living space to the out¬side. The mild Alabama weather coupled with numerous new products allows us to create outdoor living spaces that are very functional and enjoyable almost year round. Only the most severe heat and cold limit the use of these spaces.
We need to remodel our bathroom, but what I want and what my husband wants are totally different. Can someone help us make these design decisions?
That depends on what you disagree on and your willingness to compromise and/or make final decisions based on investment return, accessibility, or functionality if they are some of the items affecting the difference of opinion. If the difference is purely stylistic, the challenge will be greater, but we make every effort to work through the process with you. Technology allows us to draw the space so that it can be seen in 3D, providing a real-life perspective. This often helps both parties better see exactly what the end product will look like and more easily make changes, additions, or deletions before the work begins.
My kitchen just isn't functional. I want to remodel, but don't know how to make the space work. What should I do?
This is what Design/ Build Remodeling Firms do every day. We start with a list of questions which will help us understand what you don't like about the existing space, what you do like about the existing space and what you would like to have. We will delve further into understanding your lifestyle, any family dynamics that will determine design requirements, and the amount of investment you are able or willing to make. We will discuss options you may not have considered. Once we are able to verbally agree on one or two possible concepts that sound like they would work, a Design Agreement is entered into.
Design Agreements should define the scope of work at a big picture level the area that is being designed and what will be included in the design deliverables. Schematics, Elevations, 3D model, etc., the cost of the design, any product selections that are included and/or cost for assistance with additional Product Selections. The design documents provided will also be used for obtaining Building Permits and actually building or remodeling the new space. Once the design is agreed upon and product selections finalized, pricing can be pulled together in the form of a proposal. When the proposal is accepted a Construction Contract is entered into for the work to begin.
I want to remodel my home with sustainable materials, but I don't want to sacrifice quality. What are some of the best eco-friendly materials?
There are several new sustainable products that you could use if you wanted to have more environmentally-friendly options during your next home renovation project:
1.) Low VOC-or-no-odor-coatings paint. Sherwin Williams' Harmony Line provides you with no odors or low VOC's (Volatile Organic Compounds) paint in all the same colors that you typically use from Sherwin Williams.
2.) Recycled Tiles. There are several large tile manufacturing companies that have tiles with over 50% or more recycled content (either post-consumer or pre-consumer). These tiles have the same durability, styles and patterns as tiles with non-recycled materials.
3.) Windows. Installing a better performance window with Low-E glazing will help reduce the heat in the warmer months and help your utility bills throughout the year.
We'd like to enjoy the beautiful views of our backyard more. What are some options to turn our deck into an area we can enjoy for all four seasons?
Sitting outside in the summer heat can be too harsh for most people. Building an awning, covered porch, or pergola to shade at least some part of your outdoor deck and installing ceiling fans can provide a more relaxing and enjoyable environment.
Also, installing an outdoor fireplace for the cooler months will ensure that you could comfortably sit outside during most of the year.
Four kids sharing one bathroom is not working for our family any more. Is there a way to add another bathroom without disrupting our regular routine?
As kids get older, we often get calls to renovate basements into a bed/bath arrangement. This is typically the best way to add another bathroom to your home without disrupting everyone's schedule. When adding bedrooms in the basement , code requires that the space have a window with at least 5.7 SF opening for egress in case of fire.
If the basement does not provide for this code compliant egress, window wells can be added. This question is best answered on a case by case basis and would vary depending on the existing floorplan.
Our house feels so boxy. Are there ways make an older home more open?
By removing a few walls, the main living areas (kitchen and den) can have a nicer flow and appear more visually open and less cramped. You could even replace the main dividing wall (if not load bearing) with an island or a peninsula to connect the two spaces together.
Other ways to open up an older home would be to provide a seamless transition from one room to the next by installing the same flooring throughout each room such as hard¬woods. Lightening up these areas with a lighter paint color on the walls (try Sherwin Williams "Colonade Gray" instead of darker/bolder tones) will also make the spaces appear larger.
What are some upcoming new trends in kitchen/bath design?
Using a color palette with contrasting elements is a huge trend that has flooded the design market. For example, using white tile or countertops with black plumbing fixtures is a trend that many people are asking for. Also, in the kitchen, using lighter upper cabinets and a darker base cabinet for contrast is something that we are seeing a lot.
How do I make selections on items that are more timeless in nature than the latest trend, but still produces a wow factor.
Try to make selections that are more neutral such as lighter cabinetry or walls which tend to provide more options for spaces (or furniture) in the future. Heavier, more complicated or busy patterns on countertops, walls or even tile can "date" a space. Keeping it simple with regard to selections allows for more variety later on down the road.
I have several rooms in my home that get limited natural light and are dark all the time. What options are available to brighten this space.
If you have limited natural light in your space, you will need to focus on lightening the room with paint. You could use whiter tones such as Sherwin Williams Snowbound or a neutral, but light taupe, Collonade Gray. You could also focus on lighter (in color) furnishings and going with sheers or translucent shades instead of heavier drapes. Adding 6" can lights in the ceiling is also a great way to create more lighting within the ceiling itself.
We love our home, but we live in a little house on a little lot. What are some things we can do to get to most out of the space we have?
I would suggest starting with a list of needs and wants. Define what you and your family, if applicable, really need that the house does not currently provide. This list should include, or at least consider the possibility of, an outdoor living space. I would then have a second list of wants. These are items that would be desirable and add to the comfort of your lifestyle but are optional based on budget, return on investment, and limitations based on zoning or neighborhood restrictions. I would then recommend doing an inventory of lifestyle, personal habits and preferences. Maximizing every square inch in a small space requires a lot of effort on the inhabitants. Some things to take a look at might include:
Organization Does everything have a place and is it put back there when not in use? Are you utilizing any of the many organizational tools that are available on the market today. This might include cabinet dividers and hardware, closet systems designed to maximize the utility of small spaces and smaller furniture designed to accommodate smaller spaces.
Living a minimalistic lifestyle or hoarder lifestyle. I know people that live each of these life styles. Obviously being a hoarder in cramped spaces can become problematic. It is also hard to just get rid of our stuff on a regular basis just because we have not used it recently. Most of us however have more than our share of stuff that we will never use again. Donate it to someone that can benefit from it. Start with the closets on this one and decide if you will ever really can or will wear it again.
There are people that will help you address each of these issues if you could use help with this. Once this has been completed an experienced design/build contractor can help you create a vision for modification and organizational improvements in your home that will help to meet your needs and wants list. This would be done by defining a scope of work and designing the existing space and/or additional space accordingly. A design/build firm can also explore with you outdoor living spaces that can tremendously to your actual utilization of space that is not now being used. Alabama's climate allows for these spaces to be used at least 9 to 10 months of the year.
Another resource we would recommend is the "Not So Big House" by Sarah Susanka. As a licensed Architect, Sarah has done an outstanding job of designing small spaces that truly utilize every square foot of space. Spaces are designed around lifestyle and the daily requirements of you and your family.
My husband wants to finish out our attic for a media room. I'm worried it will just be too hot with our Alabama weather to be a usable space. Is this a viable option in Alabama?
We have all heard the saying 'everything is possible' and without specific information on your attic I would say this is viable. Now let's talk about a few of the obvious questions and possible issues.
What accessibility does the current attic space have? Is it pull-down stairs only or is there a code compliant set of stairs that currently exist for access? If stairs do not currently exist, putting them in will probably take up space in your existing living space that you may not want to sacrifice. If it is unfinished space on the second floor with easy access it usually becomes much simpler. What we often see is unfinished space with ceiling joists instead of floor joist. If this is the case, adequate bearing support will need to be located and floor joists added.
Most of these spaces required additional framing and will include at least one knee wall with a sloped ceiling. Sometimes when planning this type of space, people have wanted to include a window or attic dormer. Troughs are installed for air flow on the sloped ceiling. While more expensive than fiberglass, spray foam insulation is probably the most effective way to go with insulating the space, as it provides both insulation a remedy to air leakage. Depending on the size of the space, HVAC requirements may allow you to 'piggy back' on the existing system, or a mini-split system might need to be added. Like most projects the cost can vary greatly starting with existing conditions.
When finished properly, this space should flow as if it were part of the original house design and function as if it were part of the original construction. These spaces can often add great value for creating a more comfortable lifestyle.