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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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.

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.

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.

As kitchen designers, we look to create rooms that are not only beautiful and functional, but also safe.  As a workspace, the kitchen is one of the most dangerous – sharp objects, slippery floors and open flames are just some of the things we encounter daily.  But keeping ourselves safe is ultimately the responsibility of the occupant.

If you are a parent, you are probably super diligent about hazards in the kitchen – knives, poisons, glass jars, etc are kept out of reach or behind latching doors.  But there are other things that we all should do to minimize our risk when in the kitchen.

  1. Remove floor rugs.  We recommend that floor rugs not be used in the kitchen.  They can become loose and get caught up in our feet causing us to trip or slip.  If you feel you must have floor rugs in you kitchen, then make sure the underside has a non-skid lining.
  2. When cooking, don’t wear loose clothing that could catch fire.
  3. Make sure you have adequate ventilation for the size of your range.  If you cook with oil frequently, have your vents checked every few years.  Oil can build up inside the vents, creating an area prime for a fire within your walls.

Practicing fire safety is a number one priority.  Every kitchen should have a fire extinguisher within reach.  Check the extinguisher twice  a year to be sure it is fully charged; we recommend checking your extinguisher when you check the batteries in your fire alarm.  Your extinguisher should be rated for both electrical and grease fires.

If you find yourself with a kitchen fire and you can’t get to the fire extinguisher, keep yourself safe.  DO NOT POUR WATER ON A KITCHEN FIRE.  As someone who has experienced two kitchen fires (one a toaster malfunction, the other over heated oil in a pot), I know how important it is to be prepared so you can calmly assess the situation and not lose your home or your life.

An electrical fire:

  • Unplug the appliance and move it away from flammables, if you can.
  • Smother the fire with a heavy element like salt or baking soda.
  • Smother the fire with a heavy cloth or metal pot lid.

A PSA was recently emailed to me regarding how to handle a grease fire with a damp (not dripping) dish towel.  You can find this video posted to our Facebook page.  It is good to note several things, before you watch.  Do this only if you can’t quickly access a lid large enough to cover the pot.  Do not attempt this with a shallow pan where the towel will submerge into the oil.  In the case of an oil fire, do not try to smother the fire with particulate matter (salt, sugar, flour, etc) – this will cause an explosion.

Here’s to a safe and happy cooking experience in the new year!

Written by Imperial Kitchens and Baths 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.

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.

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).