As consumers, we are always fearful that we will be taken for  a ride.  Remodeling is one of those places where, inevitably, the dollar amount charged is not what you expected and then there are the little things that carry a big price tag.  

After repeat requests about “how much does a remodel cost,” we created this educational series highlighting places where expenditures rise.  Sometimes these expenditures can be avoided, sometimes not; however, the more prepared you are when it is time to remodel your home, the more confident you will be in your relationship with your contractor and your design decisions.

Demolition

On average, newer homes are easier and less expensive to demo.  The plumbing and electric is generally up to code and building materials are in good condition.  So I will be addressing the cost of doing work in a pre-1978 home.

US EPA RRP Lead Laws

Right from the start, your contractor should be EPA Lead RRP certified.  When permits are pulled for your project, your local government will require it.  Homes that we’re built prior to 1978 have a higher chance of being painted with lead-based paint.  If your contractor is disrupting painted surfaces, they will need to partition off the area with plastic and vacuum the area with a HEPA rated vacuum.  This should lower the risk of contaminating the rest of the home with lead paint dust.

You can expect a fee of a few hundred dollars for the material and labor for this service.  The exact amount will be determined by the size of the area to be shielded in plastic.  Once the area has been taped-off, stay out.  If you do not like the way the plastic has been hung, talk to your contractor – do not remove the plastic on your own.  Not only could this make you responsible for any damage the contractor’s adhesive may cause your ceiling, walls or floor – but the contractor will probably charge you a second fee for having to reinstallation the plastic.

Glass Tile

Vitrolite: The bathrooms of older homes often have this beautiful glass tile in large format.  It can be just in the shower/bath area, or all around the room.  The biggest problem with this tile is that it is heavy and it is not tempered.  Carefully removing this kind of tile is time-consuming and therefore costly.  Many of our clients opt to save money by doing their own demo; however, removal of this kind of tile is not a DIY project.

(As a word of caution, if you currently have this kind of tile in your home and it is loose or falling off the walls, but you are not ready to renovate just yet; remove the few tiles in question carefully, or have a professional do it for you.  If you have another bathroom in the home, use it exclusively until you can have the room updated.)

Disruption of a “Seemingly Fine” Room

During demo is when problems with a room rise to the surface.  Walls are opened and mold is exposed, floors and soffits hide iron drain pipes where the top halves are rusted away.  If the room has never seen a renovation, or it has been several decades since the last remodel, be prepared for surprises.  It would be wise to budget for unseen expenditures, as your contractor will not know what these costs will be until they are uncovered.  Once you know what you can afford for your remodel, take 90% of it and give that number to your contractor or designer and save the remaining 10% as your cushion to pay for the unseen.

Can you save money on a demolition?  Yes!  But it will probably require you to take responsibility for the labor of removing and disposing of product and building materials.

Written by Imperial Kitchens and Baths, Inc. staff designer Stephanie Bullwinkel, CBD.

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Renovate Right

March 24, 2010

On April 22, 2010 the US EPA’s law on “Renovation, Repair and Painting” (RRP) will go into effect.  This new law will affect you, if:

  • You live in a home that was built prior to 1978.
  • Your children (age 6 or younger) attend a facility that was built prior to 1978.

Why 1978?  Lead-based paint was used in more than 38 million homes and buildings until it was banned for residential use in 1978.  Once ingested, lead, like other heavy elements, has a way of hanging around in our bodies – this can cause biological disturbances.  In large doses, it can lead to toxicity – affecting our brains and nervous systems.  Children, in their developing stages, are the most susceptible to lead toxicity.

Lead in paint that is adhered to an object does not propose a danger – it does not out-gas or radiate.  If you live in a home that contains lead paint, you do not necessarily need to have a costly abatement team remove all paint from your home.  Disrupting lead paint is where the EPA’s concern is.

Lead gets into our bodies via nose and mouth.  Paint chips and dust particles are the biggest culprits to ingesting lead paint.  If you are renovating an older building, paint disruption is due to occur.

The EPA is requiring by federal law that all contractors who work in buildings built before 1978 and disrupt more than 6 square feet of interior paint or 20 square feet of exterior paint to be Certified.  This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Renovators
  • Remodelers
  • Plumbers
  • Painters
  • Electricians
  • Window and Door Contractors
  • General Contractors
  • Landlords and Property Managers
  • Some Building Engineers

Your contractor should provide for you, before the renovation begins, a copy of the EPA’s Renovate Right pamphlet.  You will also need to sign documentation for your contractor’s files saying that you received the pamphlet.  This documentation also outlines options available if you would like to opt out of the RRP procedures.

Certified professionals have been through training in how to properly handle spaces where lead paint may be present.  Containment of lead paint chips and dust are a primary concern.  These procedures are time-consuming and require additional job materials.  You can expect your renovator to line item this procedure for your home project (this small cost may vary depending on the space, project and your geographical location).  The added time and cost to your contract is worth the sense of mind in knowing that your health and wellbeing is being protected.  The federal government is currently experiencing a backlog as US contractors rush to get their certification.  If your contractor cannot produce a RRP Certification, ask to see proof of their RRP training.

Property owners who opt to DIY are excluded from this new law.  However, it highly recommended that homeowners take steps to keep themselves safe with these best practices.

  • Tape off with plastic the area you are working in.
  • Limit leaving the work area to go to other areas of the home.
  • Do not eat in the work area.
  • Keep children and animal out of the area until it has been throughly cleaned.
  • If you have them, use power tools that are connected to a vacuum system.
  • Do not sand lead-based paint.  If you must sand an area, wear a face mask.  When done, mist the area with a spray bottle of water to bring the dust out of the air.
  • When cleaning up the area, mist down all drop cloths.  Fold drop clothes edges in first to keep dust and particles from escaping.
  • Clean the area with a HEPA vacuum.  Remove the vacuum bag from the vacuum outside of the building and tape shut.
  • Promptly remove clothing and wash before walking through your home or coming in contact with other family members.

If you are not planning a major renovation, but you have paint flaking in your home, a fresh coat of paint will keep more paint from coming off.  And of course… teach your children to NEVER EAT PAINT FLAKES OR CHEW ON PAINTED SURFACES  (this includes furniture and window sills).

If you have further questions about this new law, you can add your comment below or visit www.epa.gov/lead/index.html.

Written by Stephanie Bullwinkel, CBD for Imperial Kitchens and Baths, Inc.  Imperial Kitchens and Baths, Inc. is proud to have completed their RRP required training.  As of March 18, 2010, Imperial is in compliance with the US EPA’s RRP rule and IDPH.  Pending official notice from the EPA, the company will be a RRP Lead Certified Renovator in the Chicago area.

There are plenty of companies that offer tub liners.  The familiar catch phrases “1/2 the cost of new,” “no mess” and “a new bath in one day” ring out over the radio, television and in print ads.  But…

The true cost of a bath liner goes far beyond dollars.

Many of us have the good sense to know that to cover up a problem does not make the problem go away.  Yet, so many people look at bathtub liners as the inexpensive answer to a problematic tub/shower.  They may look nice, offer a quick remodel with minimal inconvenience and fit a meager budget, but the true cost of a bath liner goes far beyond dollars.

Bath liners are thin, preformed plastic pieces that are placed over the existing tub and shower walls… as is.  This creates two problems.  Any existing water damage is given the opportunity to thrive.  Uncontrolled mold growth takes off at lighting speed in the moist darkness, wrecking havoc on the health of the occupants.  Headaches, coughing fits, nausea are all common complaints of homeowners whose homes are infected with mold.  Any pipes leaking in walls continue to feed the mold and degrade the surrounding structure of the home.

The second issue comes from the liner directly.  Since the liners are preformed plastic, it will not fit your tub tightly.  A small gap may form between the tub drain assembly, your tub and the liner.  As you shower, each step you take causes a shifting to take place and water is inevitably sucked up between the tub and the liner.  This water will exchange itself with progressive showering, but the area will never dry.  This creates an unhealthy environment where mold and bacteria proliferate.

By the time you are aware that there is a problem, the price of cleaning up the area has grown exponentially.  What was once a $7,000 tub/shower project is now a complete gutting of the bathroom and possibly nearby rooms.  The dollars add up, your health is in compromised and, in all probablity, your homeowners insurance will not cover the damages.

How is it that these companies can knowingly provide you a product that can compromise your home?  Easy.  They take no responsiblity for existing conditions.  They promise nothing but a gimmick – “a new bath in one day” for less than what it would take to do the project right.  You will not get a refund for the service or product because they delivered exactly what was requested of them as per their contract.  If you have them remove the product, they will charge you for the added service.

Your best defence is to be educated and then vote with your dollars – you get what you pay for.  If there wasn’t a market for this charade of home improvement, these companies would not exist.

Normal wear and tear on a bathroom is going to happen.  But don’t be fooled,  the signs of water damage are distinctly different than the signs of use:

  1. Tiles falling of the wall.
  2. Soft or mushy areas on the wall.
  3. Sour or musty smells, especially after a shower.
  4. Grout discoloration in select areas.
  5. Salt peter or calcium build up in the grout.
  6. Difficulty keeping the bathroom mold free.

If you find any of these issues, call a reliable contractor to come out to your home to assess the space.  The problem will not get better on its own and the sooner you have a repair, the less expensive it will be.

If you don’t have water damage and are just looking for a way to zip up an outdated bathroom without the expense of tearing the room apart, I would recommend looking into tub spraying.  Instead of covering up the area, tub spraying is essentially painting the tub with a fresh coat of enamel.  This treatment can also be done to the wall tiles.  The effect lasts for about 5-10 years, depending on the level of use the room sees.

Is there any bathroom that is a good candidate for a tub liner?  If the tub/shower area is terribly outdated in a bathroom that sees limited to no use – then yes, a tub liner is an option.  Otherwise, save your money, time and health.

Written for Imperial Kitchens and Baths Inc, by designer Stephanie Bullwinkel, CBD.

There are many benefits to remodeling your home; at the top of the list is pride of homeownership.  But for so many of us, we have to remodel our home in stages – we don’t have unlimited funds to changes everything at once.  If you do not have an urgent need to remodel a particular space over another (ie. leaking roof, structural damage, etc.), how do you decide what takes priority?  If you are looking for tax deductions, then you may want to consider these remodeling projects first.

Current Tax Breaks

Cash for Clunker Appliances

Starting this fall, as part of the economic stimulus plan under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the “Cash for Clunkers” extends to Appliances.  Basically, purchase a new energy efficient appliance and get a tax credit of $200.  Just like the “Cash for Clunker Automobiles” there is a set dollar amount set aside for this program and once the money is gone, the program is over.

Appliance companies should have available to you the list of products they carry that qualify.  You may have to surrender your existing appliance in order to receive the benefit.

Energy Efficiency Tax Break

Install a solar panel to provide your home energy and not only will you see a substantial tax credit and your electric usage drop, but you may even be able to sell energy back to the electric company. 

For those of us who are less adventurous – upgrade your boiler, heater, furnace, air conditioner, windows, roof, or insulation and you will not only see savings on your gas and electric bills.  

The credit covers 30% of the energy saving improvements, capping at $1,500 for 2009 and 2010.  The credit will no longer be available after 2010.  When you complete your tax return be sure to include Form 5695.  The IRS website gives more information.

Potential Future Tax Breaks

The Home Improvements Revitalize the Economy (HIRE) Act of 2009

Provides a tax deduction of up to $2,000 per family, or a tax credit of $500, for the purchase of certain materials and home furnishings.  If you use green products that meet LEED (or other recognized standards) the tax deduction would actually double.  Purchases excluded from the HIRE Act are major appliances, housewares and electronics.

The lead sponsors of the HIRE Act are Rep. Henry Johnson and Rep. Nathan Deal from Georgia.  (Be sure to contact them and your local representatives if you feel this benefit would have a positive effect on the American economy.)

Canada has had a similar program in place since January and has seen a positive effect in stimulating the home improvement industry with one in three Canadians planning to take advantage of the program. (Home Channel News, 9/21/09, pg 35)  For more information visit the HIRE Act of 2009.

Like the auto industry, the home improvement industry is huge.  This is a service industry rooted in American workers and the US economy.  In the past couple years over 270,000 Americans have lost their jobs in the building products and home furnishings sector, and a loss of over 290,000 jobs are expected for 2009.  Keeping Americans working is not only a short term tax relief for homeowners, but it is a way to help us all weather the long term effects of this stormy economic climate.

Whatever you do, when you remodel your home, keep documents of everything.  Think of each contract not as a receipt of purchase but a proof of investment.  Give a copy of what you did for the year to your accountant.  When you sell your home, have these documents on hand, you may be able to deduct these expenses from any capital gains.

* Consult your accountant to see what tax benefits you qualify for before you start a remodeling project.

Written by Imperial Kitchens and Baths Designer, Stephanie Bullwinkel, CBD.

Many of us are strapped for cash, but we just can’t live with our bathrooms they way they are.   So here are a few ways that you can update your bathroom now and buy yourself a little more time before you remodel.

1. Fresh Paint. Giving the walls and ceiling a fresh coat of paint is fast, cheap and virtually mess free. A gloss finish works well in bathrooms, but beware if you have any defects in your walls the gloss will accentuate the negative. Matte finishes have a tendency to mildew and show humidity streaks; however, several paint manufacturers have been working to solve this concern. Eggshell is a nice middle ground. It will give you a soft sheen that will not readily absorb moisture and will not draw so much attention to flaws in your walls.

2. Update and replace lighting fixtures. If your bathroom lighting is not flattering your face, it is doing you no favors. Applying makeup, shaving, etc. in poor light will not give you the look you are going for. When shopping for a new fixture remember that is the quality and amount of light that is most important, style is second… how many people are going to see your face today vs. how many people are going to see your bathroom?

3. Replace outlets if the present outlets are not GFCI. This is one of the most important safety issues in a house. Electricity and water should never mix. A ground fault circuit interrupter, commonly known as GFCI, will protect you if your hairdryer, curling iron, etc. fall into a sink full of water. A GFCI outlet is one that has two little buttons in the center of the face. GFCI outlets should be around anywhere you have water.

4. New towels, rugs, accessories. Are your towels miss-matched? Is your bathmat tired? Do the accessories around the room have a pitted or peeling finish? Accessories are generally easy to change with only the need of a screwdriver or Allen wrench. Colors and patterns of towels and bath mats can be the same or mix-and-matched as sets. Fresh towels not only look good but feel good too. To keep you towels at their best, do not wash or dry with fabric softener… the waxy buildup on the material will make them less absorbent.

5. Reglaze the tub. Some tubs cannot be reglazed, but if your tub is looking shabby it is an option worth investigating. Sometimes reglazing can add ten more years to the life of your bathtub.

6. Clean up old caulk and grout. Nothing contributes to the gross-out factor in bathrooms like moldy caulk and grout. More than just aesthetics, mold is unhealthy. Of course in humid areas, like bathrooms, it is a constant battle. Cut out old caulk, clean out the area, LET DRY, then recaulk. Clean grout with vinegar on a regular basis, using a soft small brush in troublesome areas (be careful not to scrub out the grout). Bleach applied with a cotton applicator once or twice a year can be beneficial as well, as long as your grout is color safe (test a small inconspicuous if you are concerned). If all else fails, you can regrout. If you don’t want to try your hand at this project, there are services that do this. Once your grout is clean, seal it with a grout sealer regularly to keep it looking good with minimal effort.

7. Reface the vanity cabinets. A general rule of thumb is that the larger the cabinet is, the more expensive it is going to be to replace. It you have a bathroom with a large vanity area, you may want to consider refacing the vanity cabinet, the cost can be half as much as replacing. Refacing involves replacing the cabinet doors and drawer fronts and then covering the cabinet box in a material that matches the new doors. While the interior of the cabinet looks the same, the exterior will give the whole room an updated look.

8. New solid-surface countertops. The countertop marketplace is flooded with new materials; it can be hard to decipher which material will work best. Laminate and cultured marble is the most inexpensive option, but are not the most durable. Solid-surface materials like Corian and Meganite are renewable, can have the sink bowl fused into the top, are easy to clean and offer a 10-year warrantee. You will pay a little more for these products up front, but the long-term investment will pay for itself over and over again.

9. New faucets. You can buy an inexpensive faucet as long as you realize that you are getting what you are paying for and may have to replace it again in the next few years. If you are looking for a long-term investment you will be looking for ceramic disc-valves, this will guarantee that you are never fiddling with a drippy faucet. You will also want a PVD finish; this insures that your faucet finish will not change color, peel or pit over time. Again, you will pay more for these faucets up front, but over time they end up paying for themselves.

10. Hang framed artwork. You can get “canned” art from almost any hobby or furniture store. But a trip to your community art galley can open your eyes to some local staving artists and you may pay about the same amount for an original as you will for a mass produced print. If you are having artwork framed tell the framer that the piece is going in a bathroom and the amount of light the room gets so they will use the correct materials for protecting your art. A frame boosts the importance of any image, if it is done right, even a child’s handprint can claim Picasso appeal.

Written by Imperial Kitchens and Baths, Inc. designer, Stephanie Bullwinkel, CBD.

You need a bath – you just want to soak your aching _______, relax your ______ and unwind from the day.  If you are sore, getting in and out of a bath tub can be daunting.  But if you are in any way disabled, it can be impossible.

ADA bathrooms are typically designed for wheelchair accessibility.  Being able to get in and out of a tub is not a requirement and often during a bathroom remodel for people with special needs, the tub is replaced with a larger shower void of thresholds and shower doors.  Large showers litter nursing homes, which makes life easier on both clients and caregivers in the daily task of hygiene.  But the physiological benefits of a long soak are lost.

It is a shame that many Americans who need hydrotherapy the most, can’t use it because of their physical limitations.  A few tub manufacturers have developed a soaking tub with a seat and door system that allows accessability to people who cannot get into a conventional tub.

We perform about 1-2 remodels a year for people who have special needs and we recently learned that one of our trusted US manufacturers is now offering walk-in “Experience” tubs.

One Piece Acrylic Experience Tub

One Piece Acrylic Experience Tub made by VitaBath

Whirlpool, bubblers, chromatherapy, aromatherapy and the like is now available for people who need it the most, with limited to no assisance needed from a caregiver.  We are very excited about this advent in technology.

http://www.iwalkintub.com/

Written by Imperial Kitchens and Baths, Inc. designer, Stephanie Bullwinkel, CBD.

Indoor Air Pollution

July 9, 2009

“Indoor air is on average seven to ten times more polluted than outdoor air.”   ~United States EPA

We try to contain indoor air as much as possible.  We pay to heat it and cool it, why would we want it leaking outside.  Newer homes, of course, are tighter than older homes.

But by limiting fresh air to enter our homes, we are in fact creating a pollution problem. 

Indoor air pollution comes from a variety of places: radon from the ground leaching into our basements, formaldehyde out-gassing from furniture and carpet, particulates from the breaking down of biological matter, and gasses from household cleaners and chemicals—not to mention odors and moisture that encourages mold and mildew growth. When we limit the passage of air between the indoors and outdoors we are harboring these contaminants.

Vents in the kitchen and bath are excellent at expelling odors and moisture to the outdoors.  When running, they are also removing indoor pollutants.  This exchange of air is very healthy for your home and for you.

When air in your home exits through a vent, replacement air needs to be available to make up what is lost.  This make-up air can come from an open window, leaky doors, down-drafting of a chimney or a recovery system specifically put in place to exchange household air. If your home is well sealed, you may find the operation of your vent fan disappointing.  If replacement air is not available, a vent fan will starve for air.  Not only will it not perform well, but it may prematurely age the motor.

A vent  will also under perform if it is not clean.  We recommend vacuuming your bathroom vent fan when cleaning.  In the kitchen, clean or replace your grease filters often.  These filters are in place to keep grease from building up in the ducts in your walls.

Panasonic WhisperGreen Vent Fan

Panasonic WhisperGreen Vent Fan

Determining what size vent you need for your application can be a complex calculation that takes into account not only the size of the room but also the length of the ductwork for your vent.  Vents are sized by “cfm” (cubic feet per minute).  For example, this simply means if you purchase a 100 cfm bathroom vent fan, this fan will replace 100 cubic feet of air per minute.

There is a caveat however, and this lies in your walls or your ceiling.  The material, length and twists and turns that your vent ductwork takes as it sends the expelled air to the outside will have an effect on the efficiency of your vent motor.  If the complete venting system is not accounted for correctly, you could find your 100 cfm vent fan only pulling 40 to 60 cfm – and if you don’t have adequate makeup air to replace what is being expelled that number gets even lower.

The manufacturer’s website and paperwork that comes with your vent fan should help you with your calculations to insure a proper installation.  There are other independant websites that offer the formulas as well.  If in doubt, hire a professional to assess the size of the room and what it will take to properly get the air to the outside.

The other important factor when buying a vent fan is “sones.”  Sones rate how loud a fan is, the lower the sone – the quieter.  However, lower sones also usually equate to a higher price tag.  It may be worth the extra money however if you will be running the fan often or if you have sensitive hearing.

Fresh air in your home not only smells better, but is healthier for you too.  We all have experienced dank air from time to time, but if you are experiencing chronic issues with dank, musty or smelly air for which you cannot pinpoint a source, it may be a sign of a larger problem and an appointment should be made with a remodeling specialist.

Selections from this article will appear in Imperial Kitchens and Baths next newsletter mailing.

Written By Imperial Kitchens and Baths Designer, Stephanie Bullwinkel (CBD).