Advice Before Tackling an Addition or Remodeling Project
Advice Before Construction:
Listen to your architect: Hiring an architect for a project of any size is the best way to get the big picture up front & is the best money you can spend to ensure you’re making the right decisions. An architect will ask you questions about your lifestyle and needs to better understand you and your home. The construction drawings should clearly describe the scope of work which the builders will be estimating from & will also help you establish a realistic budget. People often think they can go it alone & avoid hiring an architect, but there’s a reason why we do what we do. Without a good set of construction drawings, the project can take longer & cost more than expected, & it’s usually not well designed either… which compromises the value of your home.
Blueprints sometimes aren’t enough: Hiring an architect & a builder to add onto or remodel a home is sometimes seen as an act of blind faith. You need to trust that you’ve made the right decisions & hired the right professionals. It’s hard for some homeowners to visualize 3 dimensional space from a 2 dimensional drawing like a floor plan or elevation.
The architect may be able to provide 3D perspectives of interior spaces or exterior elevations. Taking an inventory of the size of the current rooms in the house is advisable, which you can use as a reference when discussing the size of new spaces being designed.
Tape can be used on floors to mock-up where future walls may be in rooms, or to do a full size layout of a kitchen on a garage floor or driveway.
If you don’t understand what’s being proposed, please speak up & tell your architect so he can make sure you do. Making changes on paper costs a fraction of making changes during construction.
Have a “master plan”: If you’re doing a project in phases, it’s highly advisable to have a “master plan” where during the design phase you address all the various projects being considered. This way you’ll be assured of understanding “the big picture” of what the house will ultimately be & the projects can be sequenced accordingly.
Live in the house first: It’s advisable to live in a house for at least a year before making any big changes. Live through the 4 seasons, as you may discover an issue during winter that wasn’t apparent in the summer. Houses reveal their character & their flaws slowly. Owners with patience are rewarded, it helps to know the house before you change it.
Match (don’t mix): A well designed addition or remodeling project should always match the period and character of the house. Any changes made should respect the architectural integrity and design of your house.
Be willing to wait: Good contractors are usually busy and if they’re not, you have to wonder why. A good builder may be worth waiting for in the long run. The same hold true for bids… don’t jump at the lowest price, even though it may look attractive. The guy who gives you a low ball price may also deliver subpar quality or may try & gouge you with additional charges during construction.
Don’t play contractor: Some homeowners attempt this in an effort to save money. In reality, it can cost you more, take longer than expected & result in less than ideal results. I don’t advise any homeowner attempt this unless you have a lot of time, a lot of contacts (plumbers, electricians, tile guys, etc.) and have expert knowledge of the building process & sequence. The scheduling of labor & materials on any project is not as easy as it seems, if a project is to proceed smoothly. To a subcontractor, you’re a 1 time client… they have much more loyalty to a builder who gives them a majority of their work. You can’t command the attention and loyalty of the best subs and suppliers like a builder.
Involve your landscaper early: Mature landscaping gets ruined when a remodeling job turns the yard into a construction site. It’s your job (not the builder’s) to decide which trees, plants & shrubs shall be removed or temporarily relocated for future reinstallation… and then have them moved. Most damage can be prevented by planning ahead; a landscape architect or knowledgeable landscaper can tell you which established plants are worth saving and transplanting for reuse.
Advice During Construction:
Involve the architect: While some see this as an unnecessary expense, in reality it’s money well spent to protect you & to ensure the project is being built according to the plans. If there are disputes with the builder, the architect can act as a mediator to help reach an amicable resolution.
Start at the top & work your way down: If you’re doing a project in phases, work on upper floors usually involves work on the lower floors (like installing or rerouting plumbing pipes, electrical lines, HVAC ducts, structural posts or beams). Never remodel a basement first, as you’ll most likely have to remodel this space again if work above is being done.
Work from the outside in: Get the exterior done as early as possible so the house is weather tight, with the focus then turning to inside work. There’s a sequence to construction for a reason… why sheetrock the ceiling if the roof is missing?
Insulate everything: You almost can’t have too much insulation. Insulation does more than keep your house warm in winter and cool in summer. It cuts down on noise, saves on hot water bills, and keeps out moisture, all resulting in a more comfortable house.
For HVAC, bigger is NOT better: Many HVAC contractors will install systems that are too big & are designed for a worst case scenario, like the hottest or coldest day EVER. They over design the equipment for extreme conditions that account for about 2 percent of the year, and then add a safety factor of 50 to 100 percent. This results in “short cycling,” where the equipment is oversized so it cycles on and off which is inefficient so it wastes fuel and wears out parts prematurely. If you’re putting in a new heating system or replacing an old one, think efficiency first.
Sweat the small stuff: Homeowners often leave details up to the contractor, if they pay attention to them at all. But even the smallest things can make a big difference in the look and quality of the finished product. Details that often get overlooked in the shuffle are electric switch placements, window and door hardware selections. It’s your house… be involved & you’ll appreciate it later.
Keep yourself in check: To stay within your budget, try & avoid increasing the scope of work. The builder gave you a price for a very specific scope of work. Any work not included in the drawings is a brand new project with its own price tag.
Don’t trust your memory: Documenting your project with photographs is a very smart idea & is well worth it. Taking pictures of the process (before the sheetrock is installed) can come in handy in the future to know what’s behind those walls.
Shortcuts are never faster, smarter, or better: Shortcuts typically end up costing more down the line, with the biggest remodeling mistake being “framing shortcuts.” This is common because contractors know that homeowners on a budget would rather spend money on things they can see rather than on things they can’t. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean you can ignore it, & having the framing be level, square & plumb is critical. Poorly framed structures will eventually flex and rack leading to cracked sheetrock & trim, squeaky floors & water problems. Framing shortcuts might save you money in the short term but will most likely result in costly repairs in the future. “Do it once & do it right” should apply here.
Remember, it’s only a house: Remodeling projects can definitely strain relationships & have been known to lead to divorce on occasion. Communication can prevent most problems, so keep the lines of communication open between your spouse & the builder.
There are no stupid questions: Homeowners don’t ask nearly enough questions. If you don’t understand or if you feel something is wrong, just ask.
Get out of dodge: Living through a remodeling project can be noisy, dusty & very trying with an army of strangers in your house. Some projects can be lived through, while others can’t. While it is an additional expense, if you can afford to live elsewhere during construction, it’ll reduce your stress level & the project will most likely be done quicker (& the builder will appreciate it!). If you have to stay put, clean up each day and try to stay focused on the end result… it’ll all be worth it once it’s over.
Expect some surprises: Neither the architect, builder or you have x-ray vision & can see behind sheetrock, through walls or below ground. If there are any surprises, they usually come during the demolition phase or when excavating. Sometimes these unexpected surprises cost more money, like finding termite damage, rotted framing, water damage, substandard work or rock ledge. Expect the unexpected, take a breath & take in stride whatever your house gives you.
Make sure you’ve got leverage: Most contractors are honest and will come back to finish something you’ve already paid for… eventually. If you owe them money, you’ll definitely be higher on their priority list. Never let them be too far ahead of you & definitely don’t pay too much in advance.
Other Tips For Home Construction:
- Be picky about who you work with when choosing both an architect & builder, as these are the first 2 crucial decisions to be made. Trust them, as they have the same goal which is to design & build your project to your satisfaction. Choose wrong & you could be setting yourself up for a less than ideal experience.
- Set a realistic timetable for completion, then add 25 percent. Weather is always a wild card, whether it be rain or snow, which the builder has no control over.
- Don’t hurry yourself or the builder; the time you’ll save is not worth the mistakes you’ll make.
- Don’t remodel all your bathrooms at the same time; always have 1 fully functioning bathroom.
DeMotte Architects: Home Architect Fairfield County CT & Westchester County NY
At DeMotte Architects, we specialize in residential architecture and our goal is to bring your dream home to life.