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.

An addition should not feel like someone took part of another home and just stuck it on.  But too often, that is exactly what happens.  Inside and outside the home – roof lines, walls, floors, ceilings – everything should line up and make sense.  But contractors who rush often ignore subtile details.

We all are familiar with the saying “God is in the details.”  Regardless of whether you are religious or not, I think we all can agree that it is the details that make the difference.

We recently completed work on a Berwyn Bungalow where the client is a stained glass artisan.  The details of this project were not to be overlooked.

Larry Rych designed the space to open up to the dining room and also incorporate the back porch.  The new space had to made sense with the rest of the home.  The cabinetry, tile and counter have an understated elegance with simple craftsman style.  Crown molding around the ceiling elevates the stature of the room.  Our client then added his personal touch, and the focal point of the room, with his own custom stained glass.

While traditionally, a home of this vintage would not have the kitchen open to the rest of the home (nor would it have a kitchen of such magnitude), the new kitchen feels appropriate because many design elements of the period were recreated and the new construction was seamlessly integrated with the old.

When you are shopping for a remodeling contractor, ask to see their portfolio; if you can visit a site, all the better.  At first glance, you should see any glaring issues, then look closer.  These details will make the difference, not in just how you feel about your home when the project is complete but also its resale value if you ever decide to move.

What is a Green Remodel?

December 11, 2009

Green – it’s the hot new color that has nothing to do with decor and everything to do with product choice.  But, outside of being a buzz word, what does “green” really mean?  If you visit Wikipedia, after paragraphs on the color itself is a sentence directing you to the “Green Movement” or ” Environmentally Friendly”.

Environmentally friendly (also eco-friendly, nature friendly, and green) are synonyms used to refer to goods and services considered to inflict minimal or no harm on the environment.[1] To make consumers aware, environmentally friendly goods and services often are marked with eco-labels. But because there is no single international standard for this concept, the International Organization for Standardization considers such labels too vague to be meaningful.[2]

Green is a loose term thrown around by companies to instill consumer confidence while having to prove nothing to anyone.  The end effect is commonly called Green Washing; ie. the term is meaningless because there is no substance behind it.

But there are still ways that you can be ecologically conscious when remodeling your home.  Beyond the “Green” label, look for these qualifications:

  1. Is the product manufactured domestically?  This question is ecologically based for two reasons.  First, less traveling time from the manufacturer to your home equals less emissions.  Second, the US EPA regulations are more strict than those of developing countries – less pollution emitted, however you will see a higher price tag because compliance with these regulations is expensive.
  2. Is the material in the product recyclable?  This is a no brainer.  On a global level, Americans, in general, consume goods faster than any other nation.  When you are finished with a product, if you cannot resell/donate it for another person to use, you should repurpose the materials in that product for another task.
  3. Is the natural material in the product a renewable resource?  Wood is the best example of this.  Choose product that can comes from companies that practice sustainable foresting activities.  You don’t have to buy cork or bamboo floors to do your part.  These materials are typically forested in China, think of the emissions from transportation alone.  Buying locally harvested wood can actually be a more effective choice.  Stay away from anything marketed as “exotic.”
  4. Are the solvents/adhesives in the product low-VOC?  VOC stands for Volatile Organic Compounds.  VOCs are what outgas from a product after manufacturing.  It’s the smell of new paint, new carpeting, new furniture… and it is an irritant, and may cause short term and/or long term illness.  Some people have no reactions to these outgasings, other people are more sensitive – regardless, they are not healthy for anyone.

These are guidelines you can apply to any purchase you are thinking of making, it doesn’t just apply to improving your home.  Don’t get snowballed by marketing when the label says “Green” – ask why.  Just because the salesperson tells you it’s natural and that’s why it’s “Green” – take a moment to think.

As an example, one of the biggest misconceptions in this industry is that natural stone countertops are “Green” because they are natural.  Think about the amount of diesel spent in cutting stone out of the ground, shipping it across the world, fabricating it into a top and then throwing the cuttings away.  The end-user then repetitively uses a chemical sealant to keep the stone from staining.  However – if you want a stone counter, and you are committed to living with that counter for the next 30 years or more, then the choice becomes more ecologically sound.

Want other ideas on how to make your remodel more friendly to the environment and to yourself?  Post a comment and I’ll get back to you.  Remember, the money you spend is your vote on what the world manufactures.

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

We’re always looking for ways to save money when we are remodeling. Dare say it, no one want to be the one who pays too much for their remodel. However, you also don’t want to be the one who pays too little and ends up with nothing or a project gone wrong. Some of us have fairy godmothers looking over us as we shell out half of what the project should cost and the job is a success – the other 80% of us? Well, our angels took a coffee break at the wrong time.

Typically, good contractors are expensive – just as good products are expensive. And as an added FYI – when you are buying home improvement products (just like everything else) the less expensive the product, the more likely it is not made in the US or Europe. Just because the brand name says “American” to you doesn’t mean that the product is physically built here. Developing countries do not have to conform to the same eco-regulations as developed countries do – corporations do use this to their benefit.  If MADE IN THE USA is important to you, then make sure the product is made here.  Being a US company is not enough.

Getting back to our topic – you may have a remodeling contractor in your area that you have heard great things about, but you are concerned that they are just too expensive for you and your home. Not necessarily so. You can get “deals” from high-class establishments, but there is a price for it. First, educate yourself by going online – go to the websites of well-known brands and see if they are having any promotions. Then, negotiating for a rock bottom remodel begins with these questions to your remodeler:

  • Do you have any manufacturers that are currently offering incentives?
  • Do you have anything in stock that you are looking to move on?
  • My budget is only “x”, but I need a new “y”. Can you help me?

There is always at least one manufacturer, that the store represents, that is having an incentive program. If you have done your online homework, then you will be better apt to ask detailed questions like, “If I order a Corian counter made from one of the twelve promotional colors, do I still qualify for the free sink? And if not, which is the better deal for me? Is there a product similar to Corian that I should be looking at that could give me a better price point?”

Remodeling companies do sometimes have things in stock. We try hard not to, but it happens. Tile, in particular, has a way of hanging around the back rooms. Returning tile can be expensive and you have a short window to get it back to the warehouse (they don’t want it back once they have sold off the dye-lot because it may not match their current lot). Non-returnable custom orders sit in corners because someone made a mistake on the color, size, etc (this can be common for vanities). Countertop shops alway have remnant pieces hanging around. If you are looking for stone tops, tell your remodeler that you are not interested in going to the stone dealer warehouse – you want to go to the fabricator’s shop to see their off-fall (this usually only works for small tops). And then you have the few unfortunate cases where the client disappeared and never paid for the order.

Communication is key with your designer, remodeler, showroom sales, contractor – anyone and everyone you are dealing with for your project. If you share with them at the very start what your financial needs are then they can point you in the right direction.

So what is the catch? You lose some control in your project. Perhaps you envisioned your new bathroom in blue and cream with a large double bowl cherry vanity. The designer at your local remodeling company recommends two white pedestal sinks that have been discontinued and being sold at 60% and for storage they have a chocolate-colored linen cabinet in the back that was ordered for another client who changed their mind at the last-minute. You have a talented designer and you know that the new design would work well and look good – but it is not your dream room.  However, this could save you hundreds, maybe even thousands of dollars. You have to decide what is more important – the vision or the money.

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

Note:  If you are interested in seeing an example of some of the current promotions available right now, take a look at this page on our website.  Your local dealer may be able to offer something similar to you or they may have something completely different.  The key is that there is always something going on with some manufacturer – you just need to ask.

How Much Does a Remodel Cost?

September 16, 2009

About once to twice a week I find a blog asking “How much?”  How much is a bathroom remodel?  How much is a kitchen remodel?  How much to finish my basement?  And this is best answered with… how much is a car?

It depends.  What are you trying to achieve?  What products do you like and in what finishes?  What are you looking for in a designer or contractor?  People who are practicing their craft are often less expensive upfront than the seasoned professional.

Unlike the car industry, the remodeling industry doesn’t have factory set standards and internal quality control.  There is no government instituted lemon law for a botched remodel.  It is our hope that companies who are affiliated with professional groups like NARI and NKBA are playing by the “best practices” standards and their pricing should reflect that.  When you purchase a $10,000 car it is an economy vehicle, $30,000 is a mid range and anything above $60,000 is luxury.

My point is this; I could say a modest bathroom remodel is about $30,000.  But your bathroom is 5×7, $30,000 would be a bit luxurious… while $30,000 in a 12×20 master suite would not go far.  And to make matters even worse, your location also determines your investment figure.  People who live in New York city are going to pay a lot more for a kitchen remodel than someone who lives in Sandwich, IL.  Labor is more expensive in New York because the cost of living is higher.  Not to mention working in a high rise is more expensive than working in a home.  Just unloading tools and materials can take half a day when working in a high rise.

So, for a true idea on how much to expect your remodel to cost you, stop blogging.  Most of the people who will answer you don’t have a clue – even if they are professional remodelers, they don’t know your space.  Call a few local contractors.  Give them the same detailed description of your space and what you would like to do with it.  A veteran in this business will be able to give you ball park figure (ie. “Expect your bathroom to start at about $15,000.”)  For a more definite estimate, have them out to your home.  The Better Business Bureau recommends starting out with three bids on your project.

But you say that you don’t want to be completely in the dark before you pick up the phone.  You would rather suffer sticker shock in private.  Then the best place for a jumping off point is Remodeling Magazine.  Every November they put out an issue called “Cost vs. Value.”   This annual survey not only shows you the approximate cost of a particular remodel in your region of the US, but it will also tell you what kind of return you could see if you were to sell your home after the remodel.  You can find this information on their website: http://www.remodeling.hw.net/remodeling-market-data/remodeling-cost-vs-value-report-2008-09.aspx .

If you are improving your home with the intention to sell, remember that low-cost, low-maintenance improvements are where you are going to see the greatest return for your money.  However, most of us remodel our abodes for ourselves; it is about investing in our happiness at home.

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

Dynamic Chicago Kitchen

August 26, 2009

The current trend of dark cabinets doesn’t mean you have to have a dark kitchen.  Pair black cabinets with stainless appliances for an edgy urban look.  The space could easily be softened by using doors fronts/panels to cover the appliances and a stone tile backsplash.

Fast forward to the 4 minute mark to see the incredible space designed by Larry Rych of Imperial Kitchens and Baths. 

(Note: the fireplace surround was incorporating into the project to create a flowing space between the kitchen and family room.)

Reface, recover, renew, refresh – these are all words used to define a technique commonly used to update kitchen cabinets.  I prefer to use the term “recover,” since it most accurately describes the process.

A recover involves removing the old doors and drawer fronts from your existing cabinetry and replacing them with new doors of your choice, wood or laminate.  The faces of the boxes are then covered in wood veneer or laminate to match the new doors.  The cabinets themselves are rarely distrubed.  The result is a brand new look wihtout undergoing major construction.  The video below is a time-lapse of a recover in process that we did in our showroom.

Can a kitchen recover really save you money?  Yes, but not every kitchen is a candidate for a recover.  The majority of cabinets in the space must be stable and solidly constructed.  Poorly constructed cabinets are better off being replaced with new cabinets.  The layout of the kitchen needs to remain approximately the same.  Appliances and sinks will remain in their current location.

Removing a wall and/or changing the floor will not necessarily exclude a kitchen from being recovered, but it may incur some expenses that you would not necessarily have if you replaced the cabinets entirely.

Adding and replacing select cabinets to the existing layout may be a problem depending on the limits of your contractor.  This is a question you should ask when getting estimates on your project, especially is you suspect your a cabinet.  As in all remodeling projects, it is common for the less skilled laborer to charge less.  Look for longevity, ask for referrences from other “recover” clients.  Recovering cabinets is an art equal to that of a custom tailor.

If you do add cabinets to your existing layout, be prepared – the interior of the cabinets will not match the interior of the existing (as they are not part of the recover process unless specified).  But the exteriors should be a seamless design vision between old and new.

Will the savings of a recover be half of what would be spent on new cabinets?  It could that significant of a savings.  The best way to find out is to have your contractors quote the project both ways.

Is a recover truely a” green” remodeling option?  When you factor in the existing cabinets going to a land-fill, new cabinets being made from new timber, and then transporting those new cabinets in large cardboard boxes, which are mainly filled with air unless the cabinets are not ready-assembled.  Yes, it is a greener option.  Just the doors off the exisitng cabinets are going to waste and the new doors take up considerable less space on a frieght truck than cabinets.  Then add to it that several door manufacturers and laminate companies in the US are taking the “green” initiative to heart and you have something you can feel good about.  (Many cabinet companies are offering sustainable cabinetry options as well.)  However, the glues used to apply the new veneer to the cabinets can cause irritation in senesitve people.  The outgasing of these product is typically fast-occuring.

Will a recover be less of a headache than a “typical” remodel?  Since the existing cabinetry will not be removed, a lot of time is saved in carrying in and out large casework.  If the floors and walls are not distrubed then there is even less mess in your home.

While there is no reason this process can’t be used in a bathroom, it’s just not as common.  Sometimes it is actually cost prohibitive.  In the case of a single 36″ vanity, it can be less expensive, and less hassel, to just replace the whole thing.

Written by Imperial Kitchen and Baths Designer, Stephanie Bullwinkel (CBD).