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Planning a Remodel

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Berkeley Parents Network > Reviews > House & Garden > Planning a Remodel


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Need ideas for do-it-yourself fixer house

May 2010

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 successful outcome.

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. Charles


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. Anon
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. Todd
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!

Time-and-materials vs. Fixed cost

April 2009

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! anon


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 check references.

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. AHB, Architect


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.


Remodel kitchen to improve sale price?

Feb 2008

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? Kitchen Blues


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 www.geomatconserve.com 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. ergowiz
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. Anonymous
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. Rahel
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
Hi, 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! Kate
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! Paul


Consulting with a contractor for new project

Jan 2008

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 would 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- 5034. steve


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 Homeowner
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 ozandeve@sbcglobal.net . If you wish to contact me about him, I am more than happy to answer any questions you have. jonathan

How to plan for a remodel

Sept 2007

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 project! Ginger

Process for planning a remodel and hiring a contractor

July 2007

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. Thanks! Tony


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 significantly above. 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?


Construction Cost Reality Check for bare-bones addition

April 2007

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 box 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? I've heard prices ranging from $200 to $500 per square feet. I'd like to get a rough handle of costs before sending out to get contractor bids. Shelley


Hi, 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! Abby

Planning a green remodel in Moraga

Feb 2007

Hello, 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 ''green-my-house''


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 http://www.usgbc.org/LEED/AP/ViewAll.aspx?CategoryID=1306&CMSPageID=1585

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: http://www.greenfusiondesigncenter.com/

The Ecology Center in Berkeley has links to resources on their website: http://www.ecologycenter.org/directory/

SF Environment also has a resource directory: http://www.sfenvironment.com/aboutus/innovative/greenbldg/resource_guide/#job1

Beckie


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. Dwell Fan
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. http://www.hyerarchitecture.com 702F Harrison St, Berkeley 510-527-1915 good luck!
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- 1104.
Laurie
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. Barbara

Does a remodel/addition really cost that much?!

Sept 2006

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 solar!

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? Frustrated


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 large understands its clients, how to set and manage client expectations, and how to plan 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 swing?

That said, our building costs are coming in around $300/sf. But please be sure they define ''square feet''. Is it just the floor space square footage? Or does it include the square footage of the roof too? What we thought was a 600 sf addition is actually closer to a 1200 sf addition because it needs a roof. (Really) Make a distinction between building costs and project costs which can include architects, engineers, permit fees, moving and living costs, etc.

I think the costs come from living in the Bay Area, a serious increase in the cost of materials, and the fact that remodeling requires connecting to existing structures 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 current salary.

If you pursue, start with clearly defining what is and isn't included in the price and, more importantly, define the entire process. What does each vendor require be in place for them to perform on their contract? ie: Does the architect need drawings of your current house in order to draw the remodel? (yes) Do you have those? Who does that work/pays for that work? Is it included in his/her estimate? Once you have a full picture of the whole process, you can competitive price and determine if/ how you can swing it. Good luck! 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 Pamela
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! Remodel weary
To: Frustrated in Lamorinda/Looking for a Builder? I can relate to what you're going through. We spent the last year going through 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 were 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, and fast (like 5 months start to finish), and he is doing some wonderful finish work like mouldings and raised ceilings that weren't even a possibility with the other bids we got. As far as the green materials, that is something we didn't dig in our heels about because we were just too close to our max. But I would be happy to talk to you more and give you his name if you'd like. Just let me know. Kristi

Green contractor

Feb 2005

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). R.K.


Straw Bale Contractor

Oct 2004

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 recommendations. Oakland homeowner


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. Melissa
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. Good luck! Cecelia


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. anon

Considering an addition and kitchen remodel

March 2003

We are considering an addition and a kitchen remodel to our home in Lafayette. I guess i'm interested in anyones experience. 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 for. Carole


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 bidded job.

I'd be happy to discuss your job with you.

Evan Specter Construction Coordinator (510) 385-4253


Where to start on the whole process?

October 2002

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 provide.
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 highly recommended... Jennifer
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- construction.com. Anushka
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. Cassi

Estimating the cost of a 2nd story addition

April 2002

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. Jackie


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 and $300. Denise N.
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.) Alysson

Surviving a remodel

August 2001

We wanted to remodel our kitchen and make an addition: The project involved foundation/drainage/roof-work. 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 contractor. 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 cost 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 with (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 came back with an estimate. We agreed that the price was acceptable, agreed on a start date (early July), agreed that my husband would have done demolition, dig foundation, agreed 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 subject to 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 wait for 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 and had to continue.

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 was designed. He proceeded with work (full roof demolition) without consulting us, or against our wishes with some added major expenses. He abandoned us to his unskilled laborers and to foreman who quit in the middle of all this without any warning. There was no attention and no commitment and no presence to the job: we did not see workers for weeks at a time, to the point that the city building inspector had to leave messages with our nanny. Oh yes, 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 finally 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 the oven on. Walls, who were designed specifically to accommodate cabinets, were framed wrong, and we had to cut the cabinets. Window/patio doors were poorly installed and do not close, electrical had to be rewired, and we had to subcontract out roofing and hardwood floor 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 had prospective clients call us for references! Last but not least, the contractor's wife left abusive messages on our answering machine because we were upsetting her "sensitive husband" We calculate this project costs us more than 50% of what planned in $$$ + a tremendous 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 did not, we ignored the early signs and were incredibly naive Yes, we made a mistake by not signing the contract before starting demolition but have been blatantly taken advantage 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 recovering from the anger and the frustration. -s


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:

http://www.cslb.ca.gov/cllrb_chapter04.html

Sincerely,
Eric Robinson
Architect


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