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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indoor Air Pollution

July 9, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Panasonic WhisperGreen Vent Fan

Panasonic WhisperGreen Vent Fan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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