Remodeling Tips to Avoid Problems
Old houses are notorious for often having obsolete systems and failing, sometimes unsafe structural components, lacking insulation or energy efficient system. To the trained eye an old house renovation is an opportunity to restore old life to a home but to others it can be a trap full of complex projects and hidden pitfalls.
As a restoration contractor I have seen many situations where homeowners have spend thousands of dollars in restorations that commence with no planning, no idea of a budget or unrealistic expectations.
I’ve also seen instances where people make changes to their home that completely change the historic or aesthetic character of their home due to lack of information.
Then there’s the people who hastily jump into a project and unknowingly throw away money by forgoing valuable tax credits. These people often miss key opportunities in their attempt to restore their old house while making it modern and efficient to live in.
Here is some advice on how to sidestep remodeling mishaps: No Planning
When preparing to work on an old home you have to pre-pare for what I call “the hidden costs” of remodeling. Stuff like repairing termite damage, abating asbestos or repairing foundation damage all can stop a remodel process mid point.
Prior to starting the project, take the time and effort to thoroughly inspect the home and come up with a plan of approach. Hire an architect or general contractor to inspect and work up a scope of work.
While planning your remodel always think about what your “next step” in this home might be. People assume that trades people will conduct logical improvements in keeping with the scope of a project, even when that scope has never been spelled out fully.
I’ve seen too many times a trades-person installing his particular “system” in that I call the “path of least resistance.” Examples like pipes, wires and heating or cooling ducts in the middle of a potentially finish-able basement or attic ceiling.
If you don’t think about the “next step” of remodeling or improvements to your home you could potentially be causing problems or limiting future remodeling options.
The whole premise of this article is this: pre-planning and a detailed scope of work in clear and concise terms is the key to remodeling success.
No Budget or an Unrealistic Budget
Proceeding with no budget is just plain stupid unless you have access to limitless cash. Take the time to define and work up a scope of work your contractor to identify a professional, accurate and performable budget. Once the budget is defined mentally prepare to spend at least ten percent more as a contingency allowance for hidden and unforeseen conditions!
Unrealistic budgets are common. Many people have no clue what things cost. No one can make an unrealistic budget realistic so what happens is corners get cut and extras appear more that they should.
Lack of Coordination
Coordination is commonly the job of a general contractor or architect, without one the individual trade people are segregated, disjointed and will not communicate.
For example: A simple plumbing addition of a soaker tub with a whirlpool jet needs a 20 amp circuit brought up from the basement by the electrician can be easily overlooked by a homeowner if coordination and communication does not occur between the plumber and electrician. Everyone needs to working together.
Asbestos and lead paint are the two most common environmental dangers present in old homes. Asbestos, found in siding, tile mastics and pipe insulation was used mostly used during the 1950s to the 1980s.
Lead paint was around a lot longer and dates back the 1970 back to the turn of the century.
There are three ways to deal with these hazards:
- Strip it fro the object it’s applied to.
- Remove the hazard and the object its applied to.
- Encapsulate it.
The recent EPA Renovation, Repair, and Painting Rule requires specific removal guidelines. Many contractors and homeowners do not plan for these extra steps which can add considerable time and money to the project.
Installing new windows
The window repair-vs.-replace debate has it’s ongoing drama but the reality of throwing in cheap replacement windows is real. Many people do this and the result is an immediate loss in historic or character-defining details.
According to the Department of Energy, and old windows are not as inefficient as you might think. A Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory study found that a rehabilitated window in tandem with a storm window performs within 6% of the efficiency of the average replacement.
Combine that with the fact that a home loses only ten percent of its heat through windows and those ugly replacement windows don’t look so appealing.
Just the other day I saw a contractor removing a stain glass window that had a crack in one pane and was replacing it with a vinyl replacement window – Yuk! How hard would it be to take the time to repair the glass pane and install a $75.00 storm panel?
Doing things right when no one is looking
Many of the homes I remodel are 100 years old. When walls on homes like these are opened up there is a once in a lifetime chance to make what I do better, I call it “doing it right when no one is looking.”
We need to be better caretakers of old homes. By that I mean using grade A materials, quality workmanship, making things energy and code compliant and leaving it better than I found it! Let’s face it, it could be another 100 years before that wall is opened again… right?