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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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.)