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.

Tile

As a material, tile comes with a price tag  starting at $1.25 on up to hundreds of dollars per square foot.  This is pretty obvious when you have the material in hand.  What is not so obvious is the labor cost involved for the tile you are looking at.  Our first thought is that the cost to install tile is a flat rate no matter what tile we choose.  This is a mistake.

Floor and Wall Patterns

If you want to have your tile installed in a pattern, the floor on a diagonal for example, your investment goes up.  When tile is installed 90-degrees to the room, tile edges will line up with the wall; when the pattern is put on a diagonal, every tile that meets the wall will need to be cut.  This requires more material and more time for the installer to make these cuts.  As such, you will be looking at paying more.

The more intricate the pattern, the more time the installer will need to take during the install and the more expensive the project.

Odd Shaped Tile

The same thing applies to any tile that is not rectangular in shape.  Where floor meet the wall, every tile will need to be cut.

Mosaics

Mosaics are typically 1×1 tiles and come on a 12×12 mesh sheet.  These can be relatively easy to install.  But… here it comes.  If you are looking at a tile that is a hexagon you will want to be sure that the tile line carries “points.”  Points are pre-cut portions of the tile.  Remember, when you get to the wall you will need 1/2 of a 1″ piece of tile to fill the void.  Paying for your tile expert to cut 1″ pieces of tile is going to add up in a hurry.  If the tile doesn’t come with points and you really love it but don’t want pay your tile setter for the additional tile, you may opt to have the 1/2″ void grouted in.  Once the baseboard is installed it will be hardly noticeable.

Large Format Tile

Large format tile is anything over 12″x12″.  Large format tile is quickly gaining in popularity, and for good reason.  Why look at grout lines when you could be looking at a pretty tile?

However, the gaps between tiles is where installers find room for adjustment.  Perhaps the room isn’t perfectly square (most rooms aren’t perfectly square) or the wall/floor isn’t perfectly flat (most walls/floors aren’t perfectly flat), adjustments made in small increments are undetectable to the eye and, at the same time, hides the imperfections of the room’s construction.  (The reason why old homes feature mosaic floors is more than just a design statement.)

Now, compare the installation of  a 12×24 versus a 12×12.  Instead of making an adjustment every foot you are making an adjustment every 2 feet, this doubles the adjustment.  What may have been 1/16″ adjustment is now 1/8″ – and it is no longer undetectable.  However, if the adjustment isn’t made, your room will look out of square.

Every contractor wants repeat business and they aren’t keen on a shoddy looking room.  The resolution is to start with as near perfect room as you can.  This means more shimming, more skimming and possibly even a coat of self leveling floor compound.  This prep work is time-consuming.

If you are installing large format tile on the walls you can expect an added layer of cost.  The larger the tile, the heavier it is.  When working with small tiles, an entire wall can be set at once.  As the tiles get heavier, the more they want to slide down the wall.  Bottom rows of tiles need to set and cure before you can add height.  Your installer may only be able to set a few rows of tile (or just one row of tile it is very large tile) per day.

You may be trying to pinch your pennies during this economy.  In the past, there was a vast price gap between porcelain tile and ceramic.  Today, the difference in price is negligable.  For durability and longevity, invest in the porcelain.  And then, keep your tile rectangular and 12×12 or under in size.  Nothing feels worse than to buy a tile on clearance thinking you’re getting a deal, just to find out it will cost you double in labor… and when it comes to tile, the labor is usually the more expensive portion of the project.

As a side note, if you are looking for something truely unique but want to keep life simple for your tile setter, there are companies that will precut extensive tile patterns.  Your contractor can provide to this kind of company your tile and your pattern.  If you have a unique shaped tub of shower base, you contractor can give them a scribe or pattern of the shapes and they can cut your tiles to fit.  This will not only be a cleaner look, but may also be less expensive than having your contractor cut each piece on the jobsite. 

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

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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.

Defining Style

November 16, 2010

What is the “current design trend?”

This year, article after article (in both retail and to-the-trade magazines) designers are contradicting themselves before they even get to penning the final paragraph.  As you read, experts are saying black and white combos are so now.  However, neutrals and earth tones are hotter than they’ve ever been.  Bold colors like hot pink and chartuese are timely.  But dark green is selling with clients.

Basically, anything goes… and it’s a blessing and a curse.

How fun it is to say that you can have almost anything you want and it is current with today’s style trends.  But what about tomorrow?

It’s enough to drive a designer insane, let alone a homeowner trying to update their house to sell (or live in for that matter).  With the economy strapped for cash, we want to spend our dollars on design that will last.

While the design industry seems to be saying “Anything goes!  Just spend money;”  consumers keep asking, “What design direction should I go in that is the best choice for longevity and resale value?”

So, adding our voice to all the other experts writing about home design, here is our take on how to focus yourself on a design for your home. 

  • Keep the architecture of your home in mind.  If you have a home with a predisposed historical design, then follow it (ie. owners of bungalows should look to 1920’s designs and materials for inspiration). 
  • Then be daring, go to the extreme.  High contrast or minimal contrast.  Stay way from the middle ground or the “safe zone.”  While, it does not need to shout, a home should make a clear statement.  
  • Finally, look for balance.  Some women need to take off a piece of jewelry before they leave the house while others need to put a piece on – designing a room is no different.

If you’re still finding yourself dazed and confused, even with a designer in tow as you visit the Merchandise Mart week after week, take heart.  You can never go wrong with buying design that you like… after all, you live there.  And if anyone asks you to define your home’s style, tell them it’s “eclectic” – after all, it’s all the rage.

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

Show Me Your Work

August 18, 2010

I love to look at the work of other designers.  I have subscriptions to atleast 10 magazines showcasing either design trends for the general public or ideas and knowledge for industry professionals.  Those fleeting moments when I’m waiting for applications to load on my computer, I’m surfing the internet studying the competition.

While our company is located in the midwest, I look at sites for designers and remodelers all over the world.  The ideas that can accumulate in one’s brain is amazing!  And while a popular design trend in Miami will probably never fly with my Chicago client, a solution to a design challenge can sometimes rise to the top.

Designers and remodelers should always be learning from each other.  But as I have been surfing often lately, I have been coming across a disturbing trend more and more… Photo galleries that are not necessarily reflective of a company’s portfolio of work.

The most natural thing when shopping for a designer or contractor is to investigate their website.  You see a link called “Photos” and wow!  Amazing photographs of amazing rooms.  The first question you need to ask… is this a “portfolio of work?”  Or is it a “photo gallery?”  The later being a collection of photos freely downloaded from the internet that has no relationship to the work performed by this company or individual.

Sad as it may seem, while not blatantly saying ‘this is my work’ when it is not – posting photos on a website gives the impression that this is the product of this particular company, especially when the source of the photo is not acknowledged.  With unemployment so high, many people are trying their hand at flying solo and an impressive website is a good start to finding clients.  The old adage of “fake it until your make it” comes in here.

There is nothing wrong with using a first time designer or remodeler on your project – as long as you know, up front, that you are a guinea pig and your investment reflects the inconveniences that you will inevitably encounter.

If you find a website where the photos are professionally shot and there are no acknowledgements attached to the pictures, ask them in an email or phone call if the photos of are their work.  If the answer is that it is not their work but they can replicate that look, ask to see a portfolio of their actual work.  Don’t be afraid to even ask for references for those photos.  Trust is earned, not given – and in this business, you are dealing with one of your biggest investments, your home.  Never assume anything.

Written for Imperial Kitchens and Baths, Inc. by 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.

Designing By The Numbers

January 27, 2010

Sometimes we find ourselves in spaces that just don’t feel right.  Though we can’t  put our finger on it, we feel uncomfortable – sometimes to the point that we don’t linger, but rather leave the area as soon as we can.  If that space happens to be in our home, it’s common to not use that room.  Or if it is in our office, we’ll end up wandering during the day or taking our work to the conference room or other space.

Issues with temperature, lighting, use of color, etc.  can all be pinpointed to an extent.  The most illusive cause of unknown discomfort, and probably the most common, is that the design of the room disregards the mathematical laws of nature… I speak of the Fibonacci numbers.

Leonardo Pisano Fibonacci (AKA: Leonardo of Pisa) lived from 1170 to 1250 and many think him one of the greatest mathematical geniuses.  One of the best modern sources of information about Fibonacci is by A. F. Horadam, “Eight hundred years young,” The Australian Mathematics Teacher 31 (1975) pgs 123-134.

Recognizing that arithmetic with Hindu-Arabic numerals is simpler and more efficient than with Roman numerals, Fibonacci traveled throughout the Mediterranean world to study under the leading Arab mathematicians of the time. Leonardo returned from his travels around 1200. In 1202, at age 32, he published what he had learned in Liber Abaci (Book of Abacus or Book of Calculation), and thereby introduced Hindu-Arabic numerals to Europe. (Wikipedia)

Also in the Liber Abaci is one of his other great contributions to the world, what we refer to as the Fibonacci numbers.  While he did not discover this number pattern (the formula was being used in India as early as the 6th century), Fibonacci did introduce this sequence to the western world.

In the Fibonacci sequence of numbers, each number is the sum of the previous two numbers, starting with 0 and 1.  As such the sequence begins 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, 377, and goes on.  The ratio that begins to emerge is referred to as the “Golden Ratio” (approximately 1.6180339887498948…).  This ratio has history that goes back to the ancient Greeks and Romans.

This ratio is seen in all things of nature… shells, trees, our bodies.  Artists of the Renaissance period used the formula within their paintings.  Early last century, physicists found that the formula applied to crystal formation.  Some financial experts currently use the ratio to forecast stock expectations.

Architects and designers use the Fibonacci Number system to create spaces of harmonious proportions.  Famous Swiss Architect Le Corbusier used the system almost exclusively in designing buildings, furniture and spaces.

The portions provided by the Fibonacci Numbers and Golden Ratio give us a sense of balance when designing rooms.  Whether we are looking to remodel or decorate, by incorporating these proportions into our “bag” of design theories, we can calculate appropriate room dimensions, fireplace placement, couch height, etc., which will feel appropriate to the other relationships in a room, including human scale.

Furniture can always be moved or replace to remedy an awkward space.  But if you happen to occupy a building that is structurally awkward, reaching a solution may be more difficult.  Remodeling, sometimes, is the only option – however, not before exploring creative cosmetic changes.  Windows that are out of proportion can be fixed with custom sized molding or curtains.  Ceilings can be brought down, if above 8′ AFF (above fixed floor).  Bookshelves can bring walls in.  If you have an awkward space and need suggestions, or if you have examples of disproportional spaces you have salvaged – please share them with us.

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.

I Blog, Therefore I Am

September 22, 2009

I see a lot of blogs about remodeling and what is starting to come to mind are the TV commercials where someone stays at a particular hotel and that immediately makes them an expert in everything.

Blogging is a wonderful way to spread information quickly and easily, but there are no checks and balances as to who is authoring them.  Just because you write a blog does not make you an expert.

So, why would someone write about something they know nothing about?  Google has a product called AdWords.  If you want to advertise your product or service online, AdWords is an easy way to do it.  Not only can you get top listing on Google Search engine, but you can have your ads placed on other websites that are registered with Google.

If you are a blogger you can set yourself up with Google to have advertising placed on your blog.  Every time someone clicks on the ads listed, the blogger makes some money.  So to make money, the blogger writes articles on hot topics hoping to draw an audience – not to educate you and help you, but to hopeful get you to click an ad.

The downside is that many of these blogs are not only poorly written, but they give bad, and potentially damaging advice.  This is very much the case in remodeling, where DIY projects are all the rage.

Next time you are reading a blog that tells you how to do something, research the author.  Are they an expert in their field or are they just a billboard.  Most of the time these authors won’t even list their name.  If they are listed, what else has they written about?  If the topics don’t coincide, chances are they don’t know what they are talking about.

If you are looking to remodel any part of your home, get expert advise from someone in the field.

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

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.)