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Planning a Remodel
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Berkeley Parents Network >
House & Garden >
Planning a Remodel
We recently purchased a fixer upper in Albany and need to
re-do the kitchen and baths, and much more. We have a good
amount of sq. footage (for Albany) but it seems to be in
all the wrong places and we don't have a good sense of how
best to work with it. Any suggestions on a hopefully not
too expensive person who might help us? We mostly just
want some ideas and can do the rest ourselves, I think.
- Visual-spatially Challenged
I am an architect in the city of Berkeley and can tell you
that if you do not have ample experience in doing these
types of projects, great confidence in your abilities, and
a whole lot of free time, you should not attempt to
construct this project alone. A good designer and a good
general contractor can save you a ton of
headaches/heartaches in the long term.
To achieve your ultimate goal requires good planning and
vision, things that most architects and home designers can
bring to the table. Many older homes in Albany have rooms
that are too small, unfunctional, poorly organized with
poor natural lighting. You will want to open up and
reorganize your spaces, engage the exterior, improve the
natural light while minimizing the amount of structural
work required, since in general this increases cost but
does not add or enhance the space.
Most Architects and home designers are happy to meet
clients for an initial consultation without charge, so this
would be a good place to start. Interview several to find
one you feel comfortable working with, talking to and
asking questions. Look at their past work and talk with
previous clients if you can. Be absolutely comfortable with
who you choose, since you will need to have a close, open
working relationship with them in order to have a
Lastly, find a good general contractor that will work with
you to insure the workmanship is done well on the important
things (foundations, plumbing, electrical, etc), but will
allow you take on the sinpler, less critical task your self.
Having just finished a complete remodel of our home which
required a lot of structural work and reconceptualizing
interior spaces, I would not recommend that you do this
yourself unless you are an experienced contractor or
architect. There are so many details that it is important
to get right before you close it up! Now we just sit on the
couch or at the dining room table and admire all the great
choices we made! I highly recommend Steve Shirley as a
design/build contractor. Steve can take you and show you
the many projects he has done in the area (including ours),
and you will be glad you had his help. His number is 510-
351-9600 and his outfit is called Bay Area Design Build.
I highly recommend you hire an architect to help you out. We faced a similar
situation a few years ago with our place and we were really happy that we hired
Greg Klosowski at Ellipsis A+D (510) 798-5887. He is an architect and he came
up with a several options for us, with associated cost estimates, which was all
really helpful to us. His fees were reasonable, but most of all, we liked his work
and how he really helped us understand the issues and limitations.
I have done lots of remodeling, and a room addition, and
then built my own home in El Sobrante. Greg Watson is the
best contractor I have ever hired. He's honest, and he
does really great work. MY husband is an attorney, so the
fact that he has all the licenses and insurance was
important to us. Other contractors come in with low bids
and the ''change order you to death.'' Greg's prices are
very fair. I told lots of people on the BPN about him
because he was so kind to me when I was in the middle of
building my house and had a HUGE family emergency.
Anyway. . . . . His number is 510-223-1541 (office) and
510-453-5638 (cell). You can tell him Marilyn recommended
him. Good luck!
We would like to enclose a balcony on our home and turn it into
indoor living space. Currently it has walls and a roof, so it
just needs to be enclosed, finished and brought to code. This
will be permitted work, under $15K. We know some of the price
will be determined by our taste in variables such as windows,
flooring, fixtures, etc. But this question is about the
construction, electrical work, etc. Some of the estimates we
have gotten are time and materials and some are fixed price.
Does anyone have advice on whether we should go with fixed price
or time and materials for a project of this scale? What
criteria should we use to make that decision? Thank you!
Your question is difficult to answer, as both alternatives have
pros and cons. There are always unknowns in a remodel, no matter
how small, so when you commit to doing the work there might be
the need to increase your budget. The illusion with a fixed
price is that you will avoid this, but if there is dryrot
somewhere, for instance, the scope of services will go up
regardless which type of contract you settle on.
I think what is more important is your gut feeling, how the
prospective contractor communicates with you from the very start.
If you like a particular one and how s/he represents their
services, go with your intuition. Of course you still need to
That said, you need to understand yourself as well. If you think
you will be fretting the entire time about how your contractor is
using his/her time, whether s/he is being efficient and/or really
knows how best to proceed, is spending too much time thinking
things through, you would do best with a fixed contract fee.
I hope this helps. I am not a contractor, but I've seen both sides.
I've done it both ways: two big remodel projects on time-and-materials,
a big landscape project as fixed-cost, and a window replacement project as
fixed cost. For myself, I'm going to go with fixed cost for any further
projects. The reason is it's much less hassle for the homeowner, assuming
you use a good, reputable contractor,
do your homework ahead of time, and plan reasonably carefully.
My fixed-cost landscape project (with Lazar) was a dream - they just did
everything they said they would in the time they said they would! There
were a couple of items that I asked them to come back for, included in
the price, no problem.
In contrast, the T&M jobs involved me on site
every day, adjusting this and that, adding new things, subtracting
other things, worrying constantly about running over the budget. We
had decided on T&M because we were worried about the budget and hoped to shave things off
if unexpected problems came up. However, in reality, the T&M gave us too
many opportunities to make changes that ADDED to the cost, such as "well,
as long as we have that wall opened up, why don't we go ahead and do
X, y and Z!" Even though I trusted the contractor - they have
done several jobs for us over the years - I found myself monitoring who
was where and for how long, and adding up numbers. In truth, even a T&M
contract has some fixed costs, such as sub-contractor costs. But it is just
so much more complicated to monitor that fixed cost.
One caveat about fixed-cost, though. Put all your effort into understanding
exactly what work has been agreed to, down to the last nail, and make
sure you are satisfied it is covered in your contract. I did have an
issue with a window repair contractor where I "assumed" certain things
would happen based on our verbal discussion,
that in fact were not in the contract, and with a house painter who
wanted to charge me after the fact for things like touching up after
he replaced the glass he broke (!).
Make sure everything
is there in the contract! Good luck.
Hi - we've been given advice to remodel our kitchen and baths to
get the best price for the sale of our home. I want it to look
nice but don't want to spend a fortune. How can I balance
getting a solid design and reasonable construction costs. My
preference is to spend a total of $35K on the kitchen which
would include all new cabinets, flooring, countertops etc. I've
talked to three sources 1) EXPO quoted me $80K+ 2) Kitchen
design shop on Telegraph $80+ 3) a contractor $65K - plan on a
20% contingency. Although all the sources are saying roughly
the same thing, I am just in awe that it could cost this much.
I want a nice kitchen for the new owners, not my dream kitchen.
Any advice about where to go from here? Who would you recommend
I talk to get started?
Hi. I had my kitchen completely remodeled last year for 33K.
That includes a new wood floor and IKEA cabinetry that look
great. I had to totally restructure my kitchen and added a
huge wood sliding door. My contractor was great. His name is
George Matthews and he now has a website where I believe he has
posted pictures of my kitchen if you'd like to check out his
work. Good Luck. It shouldn't have to cost as much as people
are telling you... in my opinion. You can see his work at
Leslie (a very happy customer)
With the current housing market, I can't imagine putting $80k
into a kitchen just to sell a house. Does your real estate agent
really think it's worth the investment? My husband is a licensed
general contractor with plenty of experience in the field if
you'd like a free consult.
As someone looking for a new house, I've got to say that I
prefer houses with kitchens that AREN'T remodeled. I know a
newly remodeled kitchen is going to add $50-$100k to the price
of the house, and for that money, I'd much rather get what *I*
want. I might feel differently if your kitchen were really
gross, but if it is reasonable, I'd rather have what you had.
I've talked to other people who feel the same way.
For kitchen and bath remodels, I recommend Paul Lashley 510-910-
1028. He does EXCELLENT work! I wish I had been able to have
him remodel my bathroom, but he was too busy at the time with
another project, and I wanted things done right away. I wish
Imd waited because I was later REALLY impressed with the
quality of the work when he spent a couple days doing other
projects on my house (installing railings in a loft, for
example) in anticipation of selling my home.
You do not HAVE to remodel your kitchen and bath.It is a lot of
work and a lot of money. You might make it back, but you need to
decide if you make *enough* over your costs for remodeling to be
worth your while.
How bad are your current kitchen and bath? You can do a lot to
spruce up those areas without completely gutting and redoing
them. Can you just get new appliances and countertops? Maybe
reface the cupboards or clean them up really well? In the bath,
you could re-enamel your tub, put in a new sink,
fixtures,lighting, and then paint it yourself.
Don't get bullied into spending tens of thousands of dollars. Of
course real estate agents want to sell homes with brand new
kitchens and baths. Who wouldn't? You can still make yours newer
and nicer without going all out.
I would do the MINIMAL amount to update the kitchen. You don't
want to put in a new kitchen for people you don't know! They
may hate the kitchen you like...and all that time & money will
be a waste. Definitely paint, change the countertop...do the
minimal to update the kitchen but your money is better spent on
the kitchen that you want for yourself.
No new kitchen
I completly remodeled my kitchen (into my dream kitchen with
cherry wood cabinets, glass tile backsplash, slate floors,
stainless steel bosch appliances, granite countertops,
undermount sink, new windows). I spent a grand total of
$13,900. Go to Sincere Hardware in Oakland on 11th st and
Alice st for your cabinets (buy their in-stock ones, not thier
custom-made ones), sink, faucet countertops and windows. Go to
the sears outlet in San Leandro for your appliances (ebay and
amazon have some good prices on these also), and right by the
sears outlet are a bunch of discount tile shops (for your floor
and backsplash). I did all the shopping and paid my contractor
$4000 to put everything in.
I love my kitchen! It doesn't have to cost so much. Have fun!
We had a contractor recommended from BPN remodel our kitchen 3
months prior to moving. Paragon remodel was the only one that
returned our call.
New lighting, paint, counters, knobs, a sink and the floor was
removed and new tile installed. IT made a huge difference! We
sold the house last summer and if we hadn't remodeled the
kitchen I'm sure it would have sat on the market for months.
Again the contractor was Paragon Remodel, they have a web site
paragonremodel.com. 510-390-0616 is the number. Good luck with
the sale and remodel!
I'm looking for a contractor consultant who can consult with me on finishing an
unfinished room in Oakland hills area. I'd like to do most of the labor myself but
want the consult of a professional who can tell me about processes, best practices,
electrical, what materials and where to purchase, etc. Has anybody worked with
someone in this way, and if so, can you make a referral? Thanks, Steve (415) 608-
I want to recommend Geoffrey Rosenblatt as a Construction
Management Consultant. We hired him to help us manage a $350K
home expansion project that got off to a rocky start with our
contractor. Wish he had known about him sooner. He was a true
pleasure to work with. He listened to our questions and
concerns and helped us understand all the issues before us. I
had read several construction management books but they didn't
address our specific issues and didn't address ''local custom.''
Geoff helped us understand why were having such a hard time
with our contractor, negotiate change orders, make decisions
about options and put together our final punch list. We had two
in-person meetings (the first for which he didn't charge) and
the rest of our interactions were by phone, which kept the cost
down. He saved us money and helped us have some peace of mind
through what was an extremely stressful process for our family.
He also does much more than what he did for us. www.garcm.com
I have a very dear friend who happens to be as good a
contractor as you'll find anywhere. He lives up in the
foothills, but comes down to the Bay Area for work. He
recently finished work on our home in Berkeley, doing our
earthquake retrofit, installing a tankless water heater and
dishwasher, moving our washer/dryer to the garage, moving our
thermostat, installed new phone and electrical jacks, etc. He
can do any job, big or small (replacing your roof, electrical,
plumbing, carpentry, foundation repair, stucco, painting,
etc.). He is licensed and bonded. If you are looking for a
VERY trustworthy contractor who can't do a half-a**ed job out
of principle, you need look no further. He will give you a
good rate, though he would be a bargain for what other
contractors charge $100+. His name is Ozzie Oswald (yes,
that's his real name) and his e-mail is
firstname.lastname@example.org . If you wish to contact me about him,
I am more than happy to answer any questions you have.
I would like to get advice on how to plan for a remodel. Where
to start? I want to expand my house (family room, bedrooms,
etc), to the sides of the house or building a second floor. We
need to live in the house during the remodeling. I need expert
advice/ideas/tips on the best course. Can a contractor do all
stages from planning? Or do I need an architect or engineer or
an interior designer? My expansion will be done within a
budget, so what's is the best way to go? Also, I live in
Benicia so if you refer contractors please let me know if they
can drive an extra 25 minutes for this job! Thank you in
advance for sharing your experiences.
clueless how to remodel
There is no single way in which one can prepare for a home
remodel. Having work done on your own home is often stressful,
emotional and rewarding. Here are some very basic suggestions:
1. Figure out what you want, and what your construction budget is
before meeting with anyone, (include a 10-15% contingency for the
unexpected). If you don't know what you want, buy some books or
magazines with images of what you have in mind--this will help
you communicate your ideas to your designer. 2. Hire a design
professional (architect) or a design/build contractor, because a
good plan doesn't have to cost more than a bad plan. If the
changes are extensive there will likely be design approvals
required, and a regular contractor likely won't be able to help
you with those. 3. Hire someone with whom you are comfortable and
can communicate with. A remodel can be a complex thing for a
novice and being able to communicate well with your designer
and/or contractor will make things go a lot smoother. 4. Talk
with friends/relatives who have had work done on their home and
ask them about their experiences. This will help you understand
what may be in store for you.
The remodel you are planning sounds like a pretty major project,
and I would definitely get an architect involved right from the
start. They will either have a structural engineer on staff or
have someone they work with. It is well worth the expense. I'd
also recommend using a licensed contractor who has experience
with this kind of project. We did an attic conversion a few years
ago to add another floor of living space. We had to do some
seismic upgrading and then decided to upgrade our kitchen at the
same time, so it was a big project (we stayed in our house too).
I am so glad we had an architect doing the design. It gets very
complicated. In our case, we already had a contractor in mind who
had done some work we liked in our neighborhood, McCutcheon
Construction. They were able to give us a ballpark figure after
doing a walkthrough and listening to our plan, so that helped us
define better what the scope of work was going to be. They gave
us names of several architects they had worked with in the past.
We interviewed the architects and chose the one we liked based
on the similarity of his previous projects to ours and frankly
his pleasant personality (Gary Parsons). But you could go the
other way too - pick your archtitect and ask him/her for
recommendations for contractors. A lot of architects and
contractors have websites you can look at, and there are lots of
recommendations on the BPN website and other places, so start
with a few and then start talking to people. Good luck with your
We are in the initial stage of trying to find a contractor to
remodel our kitchen and bathroom. I would love to get
recommendations from folks who have had great experience with
affordable contractors in the Oakland area. We are thinking of
something nice, but not too elaborate, since the main driver for
the remodel is to sell our house in a few years.
I would also be interested in knowing the process you followed
to plan the remodel and select a contractor or designer. In
addition, is it worth the money to bring in a designer, or can a
contractor help with the design concepts or should we bring in
an experienced real estate agent who knows what would add the
most value to the house? We are new to the game and are looking
for any help/guidance.
Focusing on one part of your question, Remodeling magazine works
together with Realtor magazine once a year to publish, metro
area by metro area, the cost-benefit ratios for various types of
renovations across the country. Nationwide, the annual survey
of contractors finds that most renovations return about 80% of
the cost of investment when you go to sell. (One way of
thinking about this, they argue, is that your renovation costs
only 20 cents on the dollar. Certainly there's lifestyle value
in addition to the financial payback at work.) As you move to
the Western Region and to the Bay Area, the ratios increase to
100% payback and then generally to about 115%-120% payback for
various renovation projects here--some are below 100% and some
I have an electronic copy of the most recent stats for the Bay
Area; email me if you'd like a copy.
I'd definitely suggest talking with a realtor to get a sense,
for instance, if buyers would ''expect'' a certain level of
finishes in your home's price range (granite or caesarstone vs.
formica). Sometimes there are layout/functionality questions we
can provide insight on--change-out the one bathtub in the house
to a big shower stall? Open up this former utility space to a
kitchen-family room combination or close it off to a home
office? and so on.
But sometimes it makes the most sense to just do what you want
to do--I have a client who just repainted her living room bright
red. She loves it, and so what if her realtor will suggest that
it be repainted before marketing?
I live in a 1911 bungalow near Piedmont Avenue. We're planning on building a
simple, barebones addition on the back of our house - essentially a two-story
with a family room downstairs and master bedroom/bathroom updstairs. No fancy
built-ins or trim.
Does anyone have recent experience with budgeting for a project like this?
heard prices ranging from $200 to $500 per square feet. I'd like to get a
handle of costs before sending out to get contractor bids.
My husband is a licensed general contractor--and as I was
curious about your question I asked him what he thought. He
replied for a truly ''barebones'' project, he estimates $250 per
square foot, and the smaller the addition--the more
expensive...in other words, there is inertia in the project--the
larger your addition, the less cost to you per square foot. So,
it would ultimately depend on your size and design. He has a
masters in engineering and computer-aided design experience.
Good luck with your project!
we want to remodel our Moraga home. We would like to find a
contractor/architect that would have ''green'' experience and
would help us minimize our environmental impact by working on
ventilation, passive solar, insulation, use of recycled
material... The challenge is that we are on a budget too!
Ideas, exemples, books and workshops are welcome. Thanks
Good for you for choosing to go green! I am an architect but am
not able to do projects outside of my place of business right
now (and my employer does not do single-family residential).
Anyway, here are some links for you to try:
For finding a LEED-accredited professional (one with training
and knowledge about green architecture, LEED is short for
Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design)Use this link to get
a directory of LEED-AP architects in California
Also look for incentives from local utility companies for
rebates for energy efficient improvements. They should have info
on their websites. If careful, green design doesn't have to cost
more, especially if financial incentives such as rebates are
used - you also have to look at how quickly your payback may be.
Here is a local retailer of green products:
The Ecology Center in Berkeley has links to resources on their
SF Environment also has a resource directory:
Take a look at Dwell magazine. It's published in San Francisco, and focuses on
environmentally friendly design, and sometimes features budget design. Since they
are published locally, they tend to feature architects and designers from our area.
I highly recommend Hyer Architecture. They are ecological
architects and have worked on homes in the Berkeley and Lamorinda
areas. I have two friends who have used them - one to build a
house and one for a remodel. Very green.
702F Harrison St, Berkeley
I have a wonderful architect for you. Lyndsay Koch is a
Certified Green Building Professional. We met her while she
was working for the architect that designed our new home in
Orinda. Lyndsay has now started her own architectural business
and is doing excellent work. Although she is relatively young,
she is very talented and has an incredible eye for design.
Because she is just starting out, I'm sure she would be very
reasonably priced. Rest assured though, you won't compromise
quality. Definitely include her in your interviews - you'll
love her. Please let her know that Laurie Dunn recommended
her! You can also contact me if you'd like more info.
Contact: Lyndsay Koch, Lyndsay@KochArchitecture.com; 510-903-
I've been in the green building and sustainable business world for a long time.
There are some good, reputable green remodelers around here, and there are many
who are trying to move into this work and who have a ways to go in developing their
knowledge and changing their work/materials/business paradigm. I recommend you
write down clearly your needs, wants, priorities and budget. Then write down your
requirements for a building professional(s)--not only their skills and special niche,
also their working style and their crew (is foreign language acceptable to you?).
Finally, assess your own interests and skills for overseeing such a project and decide
what role you want to play.
There are many resources available to enhance your learning.
We are shopping around our initial drawings from our architect
to get a feel for what our remodel and addition will cost
(before we spend any more $$ on drawings). We live in a small
one story rancher (on a flat piece of property) and we are
adding 1200 sq feet of new living space and a 440 sq ft garage.
We have been quoted between $650,000-$750,000!! This is more
than we paid for this shack!
Our finishes are in the mid range - Sierra Pacific wood clad
windows, inexpensive tile on the kitchen floor, hardwood
floors, stock cabinets, stucco outside etc. I understand that
the 1.5 bathrooms and kitchen are expensive/sq foot but we did
not expect the range we were given. We thought it should
reasonably land around $500,000.
The other frustrating thing is that we would like to go as
green as possible, but finding that you have to have bucko
bucks to build green. We were quoted $19,000 alone on going
Is it the market for building materials? The high cost of labor
in the Bay Area? Contractors who think we can afford more b/c
we live in Lamorinda? I'm looking at both big and small
contractors for this job.
Has anyone else faced this type of situation on a
remodel/addition. We cannot afford to move into another house
within our school district nor can we afford what we are quoted
to remodel. Any advice?
I can't wait to see the responses to this one. We too had sticker shock when
planning for our remodel. And we were shocked at how poorly the industry at
understands its clients, how to set and manage client expectations, and how to
and budget based on client-set parameters. We were told to plan on $250-$500
per square foot. (!?!) So it's either ''X'' or ''2X''. Who can manage that
type of a
That said, our building costs are coming in around $300/sf. But please be
define ''square feet''. Is it just the floor space square footage? Or does it
square footage of the roof too? What we thought was a 600 sf addition is
closer to a 1200 sf addition because it needs a roof. (Really) Make a
between building costs and project costs which can include architects,
permit fees, moving and living costs, etc.
I think the costs come from living in the Bay Area, a serious increase in the
materials, and the fact that remodeling requires connecting to existing
which is more complicated than building from scratch. I've also heard several
different methods of how architects and builders establish budgets:
They determine when you bought the house and how much equity you have built in
it and use that number as their target budget. OR
They try and determine how much you owe on the house and estimate your yearly
earnings. Then they shoot for having you leveraged between 5-10 years of your
If you pursue, start with clearly defining what is and isn't included in the
more importantly, define the entire process. What does each vendor require be
place for them to perform on their contract? ie: Does the architect need
your current house in order to draw the remodel? (yes) Do you have those?
does that work/pays for that work? Is it included in his/her estimate? Once
have a full picture of the whole process, you can competitive price and
how you can swing it.
I feel your pain!
A lot can have to do with location. But a good number to
estimate with for cost of construction with basic finishes is
$200 - $250 a sq. ft. This would not include design or permits
or any new utility services. Hope this is helpful
I was told that a reasonable estimate for remodeling work should
fall somewhere between $200 and $300 per sf. However, I imagine
the price increases when you are going up a level, building new
foundations, etc. How many people have you spoken to? Your quote
seems like a lot (around $450/sf) but there may be extenuating
circumstances. I also understand the cost of building materials
has increased substantially in the past few years. We're in the
same boat as you, but we're only adding on a little over 400 sf.
It's still going to cost an arm and a leg!
To: Frustrated in Lamorinda/Looking for a Builder?
I can relate to what you're going through. We spent the last year going
architecture/bidding/city Design Review/etc on our modest old ranch house
addition in Lafayette and we're finally building now. Some of the bids we got
outrageous and we were quoted 9-12 months construction time which seemed
daunting to be uprooted with 2 small kids (ours is a complete redo so we moved
out.) We were so lucky to find a builder we absolutely love who is affordable,
fast (like 5 months start to finish), and he is doing some wonderful finish
mouldings and raised ceilings that weren't even a possibility with the other
got. As far as the green materials, that is something we didn't dig in our
because we were just too close to our max. But I would be happy to talk to you
and give you his name if you'd like. Just let me know. Kristi
Not a specific recommendation, but I wanted to be sure you're aware of the Green Resource Center in Berkeley. They don't have the funds/staff to stay open regularly, but are open by appointment. I also find they are VERY responsive to e-mailed requests for information and resource referrals about all aspects of "green" building, remodelling, furnishing, etc. You can learn about them at http://www.greenresourcecenter.org/ (And use the "contact" link to e-mail).
We are considering building a small structure (one bed/one
bath) in our backyard using straw bales. Can anyone
recommend a contractor that has worked with straw bale
construction? Does anyone know whether this type of
structure is acceptable under Oakland building code? Any
advice or experience you have with straw bale construction
would be appreciated. Thank you in advance for your
Quantum Construction (510) 559-1080 builds straw bale homes. They
can offer advice on building codes and other aspects of building with straw
bales/natural materials. Their website is www.quantumconstruction.org.
I don't have a builder to recommend to you for your project, but I do have a
couple of suggestions for finding one.
Truitt and White Lumber in Berkeley (841-0511) might be able to put you in
touch with contractors who are experienced in that sort of construction.
There is a group of builders who are practitioners of ''green'' building
(sustainable and energy efficient) who meet there monthly. They are not
directly affiliated with Truitt and White, but if you call and ask to speak to a
salesperson in the Contractor's Office (where they sell to contractors rather
than homeowners), you might get some names.
My other suggestion is to call the Ecology Center- they might have some
referrals. They may have books on the subject, and check Builder's
Booksource for books also.
Any experienced and licensed general building contractor will be able to give
you all the information about codes and other such issues that you will need
to plan your project.
Check-out the California Straw Bale Associations site:
www.strawbuilding.org it has good building code and
contractor/architect info. Skillfull Means is VERY well
respected bale builder as is John Swearingen. I have
worked with Michael Jacobs of Talia developments. he
is great. He hired had a special straw bale foreman
who had a lot of experience with the building system.
Call the city directly and ask about code issues: do they
have a perscriptive code (you can build with bales, but
have to use their system precisely) or a performance
code (you can build any way you like if your engineer
certifies that you have met their structural design
parameters). My understanding is that bale
construction yields the most thermal benifits and
energy savings in hot, dry climates. Do you want to use
the system in temperate Oakland? Bale walls in
earthquake country require lots of framing lumber and
cement plaster (portland cement has very high
embodied energy). You may want to consider other
''green'' systems more appropriate to Oakland climate,
if ''green'' is your goal.
We are considering an addition and a kitchen remodel to our
home in Lafayette. I guess i'm interested in anyones
From the permit process to hiring an architect/contractor,
to actually living with the work being done. Also what
kind of costs should be allocated to permits and drawings?
Any insight/advise would be appreciated. I have checked
previous recommendation and have not found what I'm looking
You will need plans of the entire house, not just the addition. Your city
wants to see engineering on even minor additions to be sure you have
professionally calculated earthquake precautions.
The permit process has two stages- Planning and then Building.
Planning wants to make sure you comply with local zoning and
aesthetics. After that 0-3 months, your plans go to Building for code
compliance (smoke detectors, rating of insulation, etc) for a month or more.
You could spend 5-15,000 on this process. The permit fees are based on a
percentage of the estimated cost of construction, which you can round down a
bit. As for hiring a architect or contractor, you should feel comfortable
talking with them and not feel condescended to or not listened to
Your contractor should be licensed, bonded, have workmen's compensation
insurance and liability insurance. All of those protect you from
responsibility for accidents that take place on your property. If you
solicit multiple bids for your project, you will receive a wide range of
prices. Why? First, not all contractors pay their taxes (payroll, income,
business license, etc.) Why should you care? If an irritated neighbor or a
building inspector (both will visit the job site regularly) stirs up
trouble, your contractor may disappear and you could be left indefinitely
with a home in disarray.
The other reason for a wide spread in prices is that many contractors, in
learning to survive in a competitive field, have learned ways of cutting
corners not visible to the homeowner. Using inferior grade wood, cheap
paint, unskilled laborers, hiding mistakes are all common traits of the
average contractor. 2 or 3 years out, problems arise and you will find that
the average contractor will not stand behind their work.
I am presently business manager for Pearson Construction and I am proud of
the way we fulfil our client's expectations while controlling costs. The
primary way which we do this is by working on what is called a "Time and
Materials" basis. That means that we have hourly rates for each grade of
workman (like an architect, draftsperson or engineer) and do our honest
day's work for an honest day's pay. This is particularly advantageous
because clients almost always change their minds once or thrice during a
project of any magnitude; this arrangement allows you do that without
incurring possibly extravagant "change orders" which you WILL incur on a
I'd be happy to discuss your job with you.
Hello; I am seeking advice and recommendations for the
whole process of a remodel / addition to a small (1000
square feet) Berkeley home. Where would you start? How
many different architects would you consult with? Does the
contractor usually ''come with'' the architect, or do you
separately hire an architect for the design, and then make
the rounds of the contractors (again, how many to consult
with?). Any books that helped you out at first? Thanks
for any insights and recent recommendations you can
Needing a little more space in Berkeley
I learned the hard way when I remodeled: 1. Get bids
from 3 or 4 contractors. 2. My contractor did ''come with''
an architect and I was sorry I didn't know more to go out
and find my own. Review the architect's portfolio. If
his/her work doesn't fit your vision, find one whose work
does. 3. Adding/changing features in the overall design
plan after work has begun adds $$. Take your time
when deciding what you want done. I ended up going
out and buying my own hinges and window latches
since they put brass and I wanted chrome. They never
even considered consulting me and I was too green to
think of such things. 4. Find out beforehand what their
''repair'' policy is. I had nailheads popping out of the
sheetrock for 2 years after the fact due to the green
wood used in framing. This is something that they
should handle (and reluctantly did) but it continues to
happen in the third year and they've washed their hands
of me. I used Ken Winfield/East Bay Construction, by
the way, a firm that has a good reputation and came
I had to start from scratch with a big remodel about a
year ago. I couldn't afford an architect, so I worked
with a designer to draw up some rough plans. Then I was
fortunate to find Mircea Ilie Construction through a
recommendation on this list. I would suggest calling
Mircea right at the beginning of the process (510-459-
5502). He can help you find a designer or architect and
can give you lots of help and ideas from the start. He is
totally trustworthy and does excellent work in a timely
fashion. You can find information about him at www.mircea-
My husband works with a contractor who is honest,
dependable, and skilled. They have worked with others'
architectural plans, and they also know of a couple of good
architects they have worked closely with in the past. Might
be worth a consultation. His name is Lee Grossman and his
number is 707-539-5122.
We are considering adding a second story to our home and would like to know how much it
would cost us. What is the best way to find this out? I'm not sure who to contact for this, I
know our foundation would need to be evaluated. How close are estimates to the actual
price? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
We are still considering, after1 year, whether to add a 2nd story or
move. I would suggest you talk with a architect and contractor
TOGETHER and talk to several people. We thought we knew what the cost
would be for our remodel based on initial discussions with a
contractor and a review of our preliminary architect plans by a
contractor. When we got actual bids, when we could get them, they were
50% higher than the high end of the range we had been given after the
review of our plans. This was last spring and this year seems a bit
better, but be prepared. The prices per square foot are between $200
I'm not sure how far you've progressed with plans for the potential
addition to your house. If you're still just thinking about it and
don't have much drawn up yet, you might want to hire a cost
consultant(someone who is disinterested in actually building it) or
pay a (reliable, established) contractor to do a preliminary
estimate. Even with very minimal drawings, you'd be able to get an
order-of-magnitude sense of the project cost (i.e. it's going to be
closer to $150,000 than $15,000 or whatever)(and unfortunately, it
will, by the way, be closer to $150,000 than $15,000...) If the
project seems feasible, you'd want to hire an architect to draw some
plans, and then I'd strongly recommend that you get another
preliminary estimate at the end of the Schematic phase of design. That
way, you'd get a sense of where the budget is going before you spend a
whole lot of architectural fees to get a complete construction set of
drawings and then find that the project comes in over budget. The
accuracy of a preliminary estimate depends on a few things: 1) the
level of drawings -- obviously, the more complete the drawings, the
more accurate the estimate can be; and 2) the competency of the
estimator -- unfortunately, lots of the less-expensive and smaller
general contractors are very good in the field and not so good in the
office. You'd be well advised to apply a significant contingency to
the bottom line of any preliminary estimate you're given. If the
estimate is based on a few sketches and a site vist, I'd recommend
adding atleast 35% as a contingency. If the drawings are more
developed, the contingency gets lower (even at a construction set of
documents, I always show a 10% contingency). And I think it's
important to accept the overwhelming likelihood that the contingency
will be spent. Just to get you started, I'd say that the addition
itself would be $175/square foot as a bare minimum, plus atleast a few
tens of thousands for mucking around with the disturbed finishes and
reconfigurations required on the first floor (assuming the addition
doesn't trigger a seismic upgrade to the whole existing structure),
plus whatever work is required to the foundation. And be prepared
(financially and emotionally) that even with the most competent
architect and contractor and the most decisive owner, through the
fault of noone but the pipe that's in the wrong place and the utterly
bizarre and unanticipate way they framed the ceiling in the original
house, the project will probably take longer and cost more than you
thought it would. (I'm a construction cost consultant; and a general
contractor. NOT trying to drum up business.)
We wanted to remodel our kitchen and
make an addition: The project involved
We are also a budget-conscious growing family.
We decided to forgo the architect as we had a very clear idea of what we wanted + had
preliminary sketches from an architect-friend and decided to use a design-build
Funds were secured with an equity line.
In mid 1999 we contacted the Traders Guild and got a few contractors' names. We
interviewed several, clearly explained what our plan was, how we intended to reduce
by contributing some unskilled labor (mainly foundation digging and demolition) and
buying directly all big ticket items .We thought we found a contractor we could work
(name withheld). The contractor, in turn, recommended a designer.
The design process took 4 months, among many postponements, missed appointments etc.
guess we could have already sensed that something was wrong. We got the the plans
submitted them to the city, had to revise them, but finally got an approval.
The contractor got the plans in March of 2000, kept them 5 months, until June, and
back with an estimate. We agreed that the price was acceptable, agreed on a start
(early July), agreed that my husband would have done demolition, dig foundation,
that we would have purchased cabinets/appliances/windoes and proceeded with the
demolition BEFORE we signed the contract. That was the biggest mistake and we paid
dearly for it.
As we completed the demolition the contractor came back with a contract 40% more
expensive than what originally discussed: in addition, all major works
(roofing/drywall/hardwood floor/electrical) were on an allowance, and therefore
change. You would wonder what the contractor did for 5 months with the plans we gave
him. Furthermore, the contractor said the he had no time for the job and we had to
2 months, until end August, when a contract-foreman would have been able to supervise
our job. At that point we had no kitchen, no laundry, no walls, 1/2roof: were stuck
From that on was just misery: the contractor, who had the plans for 5 months + did
recommend the designer and consulted with him during the drafting process, suddenly
decided that he did not like the construction plan and that he could not build what
designed. He proceeded with work (full roof demolition) without consulting us, or
our wishes with some added major expenses. He abandoned us to his unskilled laborers
to foreman who quit in the middle of all this without any warning. There was no
and no commitment and no presence to the job: we did not see workers for weeks at a
to the point that the city building inspector had to leave messages with our nanny.
we had a 6 mos. baby and were still living in the house
The whole project, which was supposed to last for 2/3 month took 7 months and we
called the end in January of 2001, even if we were not done. Every day we still find
something that was done poorly/cheaply/sloppily. A 400lbs commercial range was left
standing on one leg and one piece of carpet that caught fire the first time we turn
on. Walls, who were designed specifically to accommodate cabinets, were framed wrong,
we had to cut the cabinets. Window/patio doors were poorly installed and do not
electrical had to be rewired, and we had to subcontract out roofing and hardwood
because the original estimates were increased by 100%.
I could continue but I still get furious! The contractor was so out of tune that he
prospective clients call us for references! Last but not least, the contractor's wife
abusive messages on our answering machine because we were upsetting her "sensitive
We calculate this project costs us more than 50% of what planned in $$$ + a
amount of grief: we hated the contractor, ourselves, and the stupid idea we had.
Guess I am
not in the position to give any advice: we thought we did our homework but clearly we
not, we ignored the early signs and were incredibly naive Yes, we made a mistake by
signing the contract before starting demolition but have been blatantly taken
of. In contrast with the other two postings, just be aware that not all remodeling
turn out to
be a dream job: nine months after saying goodbye to our contractor, we are still
from the anger and the frustration.
I am an architect and reader of the Berkeley Parent's Network. I read your
horrible story and couldn't help but write you. Contractor's are licensed by
a board in the state of California and this board receives complaints. While
there are many contractors who are trustworthy and do excellent work, others
shouldn't have a license. From the sound of your story, yours falls in the
latter category. Enclosed is the web address of the State of California
Contractor Licensing Board. Here you'll find information about lodging a
complaint. I encourage you to do this if only to help save someone else from
going through what you did. You may even be entitled to some of your money
back depending on the type of contract you signed with your builder. Here's
the web page:
this page was last updated: Feb 17, 2011
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