View Full Version : Home Remodeling Assistance (Long)

Jon Olson
01-19-2005, 12:25 PM
To the board, specifically to the architects and general contractors (that moonlight in fine woodworking)

My wife and I are considering remodeling as an option over buying a larger place. Being that we live in San jose, CA (a very expensive city for the amount of house you get) we currently own a 2 bedroom/ 1 bath, 816 sqft house with a 6000 sqft lot. (i can see the cringes from the people with acres ;))

We have owned for 1.5 years and our house's value has increased between $50-70K (based on houses selling in the same neighborhood currently (there aren't very many) The next step up 3/1 or 3/2 house are selling about another $60K above our increase To much loan for us to cover.

So remodeling can be a great option. I'm handy and very interested in covering as much of the project as i could without getting in over my head.

Our plans are for a bedroom / bath addition with hallway. extention of living room and additon of laundry area. Big plan would be to consider for second story addition.

Thats why I'm coming to the board....there seems to be a wealth of people who have completed home projects, additions etc. or do this for a living and could give me some advise.

To my question:
What books should I start out reading about home design, remodeling, etc.??

What level of design can I complete on my own before going to an architect for sign off (I was an arch major in school until i switched to engineering) or should I contact architects first for their thoughts??

What areas of remodeling are usually best left to a specialist (foundation, framing, plumbing??)

What problems have you seen people get into doing remodels on their own??

Is the best option hiring a general contractor or managing the the project on your own.

Any other thoughts??

thanks so much and i look forward to any help you can give.


Rob Russell
01-19-2005, 2:42 PM

I designed and GC'd a 1000 sq ft addition to our house which included raising the roof over part of it. How much time do you have? :D

First, I did the design on our computer using 3D Home Architect version 3. It's a good package, although the version at the time was a bit limited for some of the features that I would have liked, for example skylights. I wouldn't use the current version of 3DHA - Broderbund changed software suppliers and from the reviews on Amazon, the new stuff isn't too good. Chief Architect, the original vendor for 3DHA, sells a version which is compatible with the older versions.

A package such as these is a drawing tool. I have the advantage of having an architect for a father and my brother is a civil engineer. I definitely took advantage of the ability to ask them for advice. In the end, my dad provided normal blueprints, but they were lifted directly from 1/4" scale drawings output from 3DHA.

We did a lot - 32x24 addition plus raised the roof over our family room, completely resided the house and new roof. I did the GC work, including pulling permits. I hired a guy (actually a GC in his own right) to do the complete shell and also also subbed out excavation/concrete, plumbing, sheetrock and painting. I did the demo/prep, electrical, radiant heat work other than the hard copper plumbing and most of the insulation. The reason for that was it allowed me to work on the house, where if I had the subs pull the permits I couldn't work on that aspect of the addition. I did have the plumber pull the plumbing permit (separate from the heating permit).

Would I do the GC work again? Not necessarily. I would probably have let our shell guy handle the GC aspect of the excavation/concrete and sheetrock. I would probably still have pulled the permits I did so that I had the ability to work on things, but have him handle more. I don't think I really saved any money by doing the GC work myself.

Framing is fun, but when it comes to tearing the roof off of your house - you want things to move quickly. Overall, I think that it's probably a good idea to use a GC. They have the contacts with subs who will respond to bid requests. Depending on the economy in your area, you may have problems getting good subs to bid on your jobs - they will be busy working for the GC's. My advice would be to find a GC who is willing to let you act as the "master GC" so you can do some work, but let him/her handle the vast bulk of the project management. That way you get to take advantage of his contacts.

Our project took a lot longer then we had planned, partly because I was doing the GC work, partly because of weather/site problems during the excavation/concrete (2 months to dig/pour). The other thing was the electrical that I did was complicated - the GC/framer extimated that the electrical job I did would have been a $10K job because of the complicated wiring, motorized skyights/shades, wiring for a spa, built-in stereo, etc. The other thing was that we made a significant design change to our ceiling after the project was underway. I had planned for a tray ceiling in both our sunroom and spa room. The framer said he'd get the structural roof up, the structure weathertight and the "decorative" ceiling would be framed in later. That's a sensible approach. The problem is that, when I/we saw the strutural roof and I realized how much height we were going to frame away above the decorative ceiling, we decided to stay with the structural cathedral ceiling. Problem is that was framed with 2x8 lumber - not the 2x12's we would have needed for the insulation needed based on my heat loss calculations. I had a choice of a really expensive sprayed insulation ($5/sq foot or about $4K) or labor intensive application of a combination of insulation board and batt insulation. We went with the labor intensive route, but that added months to the job because it impacted the wiring (I had to drop the recessed cans an inch into the room so I could put a layer of 1" insulation board on the face of the ceiling) and that just added time.

I've included a couple of pictures of the inside of the room so you get an idea of the level of complexity we got into with the room. The windows were all custom ordered in oak and I stained/sprayed with lacquer to match the cabinets and window casings.

The important thing at this point is that my wife is happy.


John Pollman
01-19-2005, 4:51 PM
Hi Jon,

I'm a licensed residential builder here in Michigan. I don't know what the laws are in California but I'm assuming they're similar. Just be careful if you decide to be the general contractor ! Here in my city of Rochester Hills, a homeowner can "pull a permit" for anything that they want to do on their OWN HOME without being licensed. Building, electrical, plumbing, mechanical (HVAC) all carry their own licenses. However, the building department here makes you sign an affidavit that the homeowner is going to do the work and not sub it out. This is to avoid problems with unscrupulous builders doing work for people and having the homeowner pull the permit. Here in Michigan, (and it's probably the case in CA too) the person that pulls the permit is ultimately responsible for the work ! If you do pull the permit and hire out the work and it isn't done correctly and doesn't pass inspection, YOU are the one responsible for making it right before you can get your final approval. It would be my opinion that you could probably design what you want. But I think I'd leave the foundation work to the pros. Possibly even the rough framing and carpentry. You may be able to find a builder that will build you a "shell" and just have you do the finish work. Good luck with whatever you decide to do. If I come up with any other suggestions, I'll post them here.


Jamie Buxton
01-19-2005, 6:35 PM
Housebuilding ain't rocket science. Anybody with any smarts and enough time can figure it out and do a good job. However, a big issue for most people is the time aspect. If you're both holding down full-time jobs, or if you're raising kids, finding enough time is a challenge. While housebuilding isn't rocket science, it takes lots of time, especially if you need to be learning a lot while you do it. If you're driving every nail, you might need to use a couple years of weekends to do the ground-level addition you outlined.

As a compromise, you might hire a contractor to build you a shell which is closed off to the weather. That is, it would have foundation, framing, exterior doors and windows, sheathing, roof, rough electrical, and rough plumbing. You'd do all the interiors -- insulation, sheetrock, interior doors, floors, paint, trim, finish electrical, finish plumbing, etc. You'd get closed in against weather much more quickly than if you do it yourself. You'd get 90% of the big-time code issues handled by the licensed professionals.

Basic additions like this may not require an architect. Many builders are design/build businesses which can draw simple plans, and bring it the structural engineer to verify those issues.

Rob Russell
01-20-2005, 10:43 PM
Bump - added to my post above as promised. Rob

Jon Olson
01-21-2005, 9:28 AM
Thanks guys. Those are great thoughts for my family and I to ponder. I have the Punch! software, which seems to cover a lot of aspects in home improvement. I'm working on drawing our current floor plan now. This will not be a quick process, but I'll try and followup later on. Thanks again.


Matt Meiser
01-21-2005, 9:38 AM
One more thing to think about is the value of the improvements you make versus the cost. We were in a similar situation last year. We figured that the addition we would want to build, along with other changes that would have been required, would cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $70K on a house we paid $150K for. However, looking at other houses on the market, our house would not have been worth $220K--not even close. In the long run we were much better off selling our house and buying another. A side benefit of doing that was that we didn't have to live in a house that was under construction for 6-9 months.

I'm not saying that resale value is the only consideration, just something to think about.

Rob Russell
01-21-2005, 11:22 AM
Resale value is a good point. Based on the cost of our addition, and now what my wife is talking about doing as another major project inside our house, we would have been better off moving. The main reason we didn't is that her brother lives in back of us; our backyards literally share a common property line. If her bro weren't there, I would have looked to find property and build. Moving would have been a real trauma (we're rather packrats), but it would have been worth it. At this point, our house is the largest in our part of the neighborhood and, as such, means we'll probably never see full value for what we put into it.

Bob Hovde
01-21-2005, 11:51 AM
All good advice. I hired a GC to do the tear down, foundation, framing/close in, wallboard. Then, I did most of the finish work myself. I also re-wired the existing house and helped the electricial pull/hook up wires in the new part. Time is very important when your house is opened up.


Chris Padilla
01-21-2005, 1:13 PM

Let's see. We both have toddlers. Both our spouses work full time and do you and I. My garage gut has only taken 6-7 months (hey, will be drywalling possibly next weekend...before the super bowl) and didn't really involve any major framing changes other than a partition addition which was pretty simple and straight-forward.

I can put you onto a good GC who has done some minor work on our house and I have a buddy who does drywall for a good price as a side job as well as a taper/mudder of drywall. Buzz me.

Time, time, time...you will never have enough of it. Now I love remodeling but I have to say that all the stuff I've done takes 10x longer than I think it should and right now, I am really tired of working on the garage. I really want something new to work on but I gotta get it done. Thankfully, I'm nearly to drywalling. The something new will be storage cabinets and organization of the garage.

Hey, I know you wanna come over and fondle all my F goodies, right? Pop in whenever you like...I'm rarely far from home.... :)

Jon Olson
01-21-2005, 2:11 PM
Resale value is important. The additions we are looking into over this year would be done in a style that would appeal to a broad group, not just specific items we would want. ive been through recent remodels where the people built for their family and their familiy only. They usually dont flow. We would probably have no issues with resale(recouping our investment) since our house has appriciated to its current price without doing anything and the next step up in our area is above what we would spend.

time is a big issue and making sure things get done quickly is one of my biggest concern (my wife seems to think she would keep the hammer down on me) but it a big consideration for us.

Chris, if you're not at home, you're probably at OSH right?! :) i'm up to any GC suggestions and we'll see about getting together again.

thanks again, I knew this forum would have some thoughts!!


Wes Bischel
01-21-2005, 2:17 PM
The value issue was the first thing to cross my mind as well. It would stink to have the only $200K house in a $70K neighborhood! If you think the local market can handle your addition, then go for it.
The second critical point Chris brought up - time. It took me a year + (Nov. - Dec.) to get my garage built. (having the worst winter in years and a work travel schedule from hell didn't help either) I sub'ed the foundation, drywall and roof - had a crew of 4 friends with me for framing and setting trusses - did everything else alone. I can tell you being 19' above the ground swinging around a 4'x8' sheet of plywood is not fun! :eek: If you can swing it, get someone to frame it and close it in - well worth the money. Plus it allows you to tackle the rest of the work in bite size chunks rather than having it become overwhelming.


Scott Parks
01-21-2005, 3:26 PM
Time, time, time...you will never have enough of it. Now I love remodeling but I have to say that all the stuff I've done takes 10x longer than I think it should and right now, I am really tired of working on the garage. I really want something new to work on but I gotta get it done. Thankfully, I'm nearly to drywalling. The something new will be storage cabinets and organization of the garage.
I second that... If I would have hired out my remodel, it would have been done a year ago. Yes it would have cost me 5x more... But time is money??? I've spent many many many hours working on it over the last 1 1/2 years. I am a slave to my house. It is a burden to me. I step back and take a look at it and I feel as if I have hardly done a thing on it, other than spend $10k on it.

Second bit of advice, HAVE A DETAILED PLAN! I embarked on our project as a random, take it as it goes approach. WRONG! I just figured, I could do a lot with 10g's and it would be done... Money is gone, and I still have an unfinished house. Also, I randomly ordered my projects. I've wasted a lot of time by completing projects in a random order. Sometimes I've put the 'cart in front of the horse'.

Before I continue, I've done the following. SET A BUDGET. Make an outline of what I want to accomplish in that budget. For example, I have a week of vacation in 6 weeks. My budget allows for $1000 worh of work. So, I've picked a project in that budget... Spare bathroom... I'm going to recruit my dad to help me. Day one, demolition. Day two, repair drywall, wiring, pipes, etc. Three, install tile, etc.. You get the idea. I have the plan down to a "T", to even when I am going to shop for matierials... etc... Think egonomics and time managment. For example, Toyota has a production plan that is so detailed that the longest any single part remains in the factory is 3 hours. They have used time management to cut production costs in this way. The company I work for went to Toyota to study their program and developed our own maintenance program. Now we have cut a major overhaul down from 12 days to 8 days, just by studying efficiency and ergonomics. Anyway, by going back to the plan, I can do this bathroom in one week, versus 7 months... Some food for thought on your pending remodel project....

I know this sounds like basic common sense, but I made the mistake of starting my previous project without this detailed plan. I wasted 7 months of time and money because I thought "I knew it all, and it will work out as I go", HA HA HA... Who's laughing now? We learn by mistakes. We use those failures to improve and not fail again... I didn't say give up, just not "fail again".

Ok, I'll shut up now, I'm out of wind... Hope this helps, I'm not rying to be negative, I want to be positive. I enjoy remodeling and the fruits of my labor, but I made mistakes in planning and organization along the way. I DO encourage others to remodel their home. There are many advantages to remodel. I have learned A LOT! (Plus, I've acquired some new tools to boot!!!) I would like to share this so others learn from my mistakes.... Hopefully this insight helps out others who will be embarking on their own remodel.

John Shuk
01-21-2005, 4:12 PM
Here is another question. Can you make extra money in your spare time ie: overtime or picking up extra projects or side jobs? I find that many things I take on take alot longer with alot more frustration. My front porch is a good example. When I needed it to be painted I planned to do it. I started to figure how long it would take I was looking at 3 weekends minimum plus cleanup and trips to the store for all the stuff I forgot I needed. I would have had to turn down 3 weekends worth of overtime to the tune of minimum $1500 maybe more depending on what they needed at work. I ran into a guy he gave me an estimate of $750. He did it in 3 days time. I was way ahead. I hate to paint but I find my job to be pretty easy becasue I do it every day. Just something to consider.

Matt Meiser
01-21-2005, 11:39 PM
we paid $150K for. However, looking at other houses on the market, our house would not have been worth $220K

$200K house in a $70K neighborhood

I just realized where Jon lives. He probably would only have to add a second refridgerator box to increase the value of a $70K house to $200K!

Jim Andrew
01-23-2005, 10:51 AM
Jon, are building lots readily available? I have found that new home values
are always much better than the same amount spent on an existing house.
The cost of removing, hauling off, etc could be spent in building. Lots are
readily available here in Kansas, I personaly just took a year off and built
my own house. I did everything except plumbing and heating. Should have
read a book on plumbing but a friend did it very cheap. Rented forms and
poured my own basement, framed it, just did most everything. If you
have ability to do your own work, it is possible. That way you just live in
your old house till the new one is finished, then sell it. You need either
a good banker or the cash to build your house, hard to get a banker to
believe you can do it until after you have proved yourself. Jim

Jon Olson
01-24-2005, 9:20 AM
Matt, You are very observant.

Lots are hard to come buy in our area. And the areas were lots are available are either a commuters nightmare (1 hour each way to work) or they command a hugh starting price. We're looking around at all of our options.

Update, went to look at a house that went on the market on friday: Smaller (792 sqft-6000sqft lot) and about want we expected in price $70K over what we paid. We'll be watching closely, b/c our house is in better condition!!


Chris Padilla
01-24-2005, 11:33 AM
Housing is "fun" in the Bay Area and costs are exorbitant. Here is my situation:

House is 1900 sq. ft. Corner lot of about 7500 sq. ft. Park in front of the house. Amazing 200 year old oak tree in back. Two large sheds. Awesome neighborhood. Paid 489 k in August, 1999. Prices for a similar house to mine in the area are going for 625-640k now.

It is a crazy market. The Catch-22 is that it is nice as a homeowner to have equity in your home. The bad part is that if you wish to stay in roughly the same area, the house you wish to upgrade to is also most-likely increasing in price!

Jon, I hear you about the commute. That is why the wife and I paid dearly for our home...I refuse to commute for an hour each way each day. Otherwise, we could sell our house and get a bigger one...in Livermore or someplace like that. The commute, however, would kill us.

I think we did well for our neighborhood. I don't even have to think twice about expanding our house size...we'll recoup it no problem. If my wife would allow me to go completely nuts, I think we would even be able to get our money back from installing a ~100k basement addition to our house.

Resale is always important to think about. Always look at major things you do to your house with a buyer's eye in mind: would I buy this house if I did this to it, in this area?