The winter solstice occurring on December 22 marks the beginning of winter and the longest night of the year. The amount of light that reaches us from the sun decreases this time of year, which can darken our home interiors more than usual. Read below about how you can bring more natural light into your home this season and year ’round.

Today’s consumers, in general, give more thoughtful consideration to their purchases than they did a few years ago. People want to be sure they are getting good value for the dollars they spend.

As you are making plans to improve your home, perhaps you long for the upscale look and functionality of kitchens you see in magazines and on TV, but you want to avoid frivolous spending when you remodel. Our practical suggestions can help you get “more bang for your buck.”

  1. Exquisite glass or metal accent tiles used on a backsplash make a big design impact in a kitchen. Use them to create a focal point below the range hood. Select a less expensive coordinating field tile for the remainder of your backsplash.
  2. Select a luxurious granite, wood or quartz surface for the kitchen island countertop, while using a solid surface for the rest of the countertops. Beautiful new introductions in plastic laminate convincingly imitate natural stone, providing another good option.
    Formica’s new laminate pattern:
    Belmonte Granite
  3. A free-standing double oven range supplies the convenience of double wall ovens, without the added expense of purchasing a separate cooktop. These appliances are available in a variety of finishes — including stainless steel — that offer an upscale look.
  4. Choose a cabinet-depth refrigerator that provides the look of an integrated built-in without the expense.
  5. A kitchen sink with a low-profile basin divider offers the ease of handling both large pots as well as smaller items. You only need to purchase one sink.
  6. Purchase pull-out drawers in the cabinets you will use on an everyday basis and for the less accessible areas of your cabinets. Utilize adjustable shelving — a less pricey option — for the rest of the cabinetry.

Conventional forced-air systems produce uneven heat, with the highest air temperatures near the ceilings. Heat radiating up from the floor, however, warms not only the floor, but also the other objects in a room, such as your walls and furniture, which in turn begin to radiate heat. This produces a pleasant, even heat that is very quiet and healthy. Noisy fans become unnecessary, eliminating the dusty air that blows about and creates havoc for those with allergies. Vents and radiators are dispensable, providing a cleaner look in each room.

There are two main underfloor heating systems used today: hydronic and electric.

A tile installer bonds a NuHeat
heating mat to the subfloor
with thinset before laying the tile.

· The hydronic system is used for heating an entire building. With the hydronic system, hot water from a boiler or water heater, heat pump, or solar collector, etc. is circulated through loops of flexible plastic tubing embedded in a concrete floor. This system can be more expensive to install than forced-air, but once in place it can be up to 30% more energy efficient because no energy is lost through ducts.

The WarmlyYours TempZone
system is used under tile, stone
and hardwood floor coverings.

· If your primary concern is to avoid stepping out of a warm shower onto a chilly tile floor, an electric radiant system is for you. Remove the throw rugs — they have been known to cause serious injuries when people accidentally tripped on them. An electric radiant system is a more healthy way to heat up smaller areas of your home, such as bathrooms, mudrooms and kitchens. An electric radiant system uses loops of thin heating cables that are installed just below the flooring material or embedded in it. Manufacturers often sew the wires to a mesh backing that holds them in place for easy installation. An electric system works well for retrofit projects.

Either type of floor heating system can be controlled by programmable thermostats with setback features to ensure that the floor is being heated only when the room is being used-thereby saving energy.

01 Jan / 2011

Ring in the New


Happy New Year! This time of year often brings reflection on what has transpired throughout the year and hope for what can be in the new year. We wish you and your family all the best in the coming year.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.
~Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1850

The full effects of the global financial crisis of 2008 are yet to be seen. While the credit-crunch caused by the burst of the sub-prime mortgage bubble is considered the primary cause, other factors propelled the crisis to global proportions. Speculation in the commodities market spurred energy to its highest prices ever. In the period leading up to the collapse, unemployment and bankruptcy were rampant. In fact, during that time, two of our customers, both long term (15+) year employees of local high-tech companies, lost their jobs in the middle of large remodeling projects. The declining value of the dollar abroad and inflation at home further weakened the economy and by late summer, the number of home foreclosures and housing loan defaults forewarned that the United States’ economy was about to collapse.

The federal government’s buyout of lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac failed to rectify the situation and within weeks, Wall Street investment banks were on the brink of collapse. Congress approved a massive, $700 billion economic package to rescue the failing banks, hoping to avoid a nationwide depression. While it brought some stability to the market and avoided a nationwide depression, at least temporarily, it has not yet reversed the negative economic trends and the remodeling industry has been especially hard-hit. Let’s face it; remodeling is, in most cases, a nice-to-have luxury and not a necessity. Unless your home is damaged in a fire or natural disaster, or your roof is leaking, remodeling is not imperative. That being the case, remodeling has come to a screeching dribble. We have it from a reliable (though not official) source, that in 2010, approximately 200 building permits were issued in Los Altos – down from the 2,000+ issued in recent prior years.

And, while we are receiving the same number of leads, whether it is the realistic fear of a job loss, the inability to obtain financing, or apprehension about the shaky state of the economy, most would-be remodelers are watching from the sidelines to see where the market will settle. Or worse yet, they are choosing to proceed with a low-ball bidder who gave them a price that is 50% less than it will actually cost to build their project – a game we have chosen not to play – but that’s another story. Underpinning all of these fears, whether conscious or not, is the awareness that something profoundly wrong was at work in the highest levels of power in our nation and there is no evidence that it has been exorcized. To the contrary, we think “it” was given a slap on the hand and big bonuses.

Images from MS Office free template library with rights granted

15 Dec / 2010

Sign of the Times

Remodeling magazine just released their annual Remodeling Cost vs. Value Report for 2010-2011 which compares the cost of various types of remodeling projects with their resale value. It provides data for the national averages and for specific regions of the country. At the peak in remodeling value in 2005, the national average percentage of recouped value for all types of projects was 86.7%. This year, the ratio has dropped to 60%, reflecting the instability in the national real estate market due to tight lending practices and uncertainty over foreclosures and distressed properties. Keep in mind that these numbers are driven by the cost of remodeling and the value of homes in all markets.

In our local area, where housing values have remained more stable, the return on remodeling costs is much higher. Some types of projects recoup over 100% of the value when the home is sold. An entry door replacement that cost $1,546, will return $2,029, or 131.30% of the cost in resale value. Similarly, a bathroom remodel that cost $22,014, will return $22,440, or 101.90% of the cost upon sale. Major projects, such as additions and kitchen remodels, while they do not recoup 100% of the cost, are still able to recoup approximately 95% of the cost upon resale. Of note, these figures represent averages for good quality (not luxury) projects. High end projects with expensive finishes and fixtures recoup less overall than projects of good quality.

At the national level, the first 10 places in the ranking are held by 13 projects (includes ties.) It’s a sign of the times that 10 of them are exterior replacement projects such as windows, doors, and siding. Replacement projects have always performed better in resale value than remodeling projects, partly because they are among the least expensive and partly because they are need-based improvements that contribute to the home’s curb appeal and protect the owner’s investment. To read the full article and view charts for all types of remodeling projects and areas of the country, see the Remodeling 2010-11 Cost vs. Value Report on the Remodeling magazine website.

01 Dec / 2010



It’s supposed to be “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” a time of building family traditions and sharing joy. But somehow “peace on earth” morphs into “Run to the shopping center, wrap one more present, and scream at the kids” when holiday pressures and expectations are too much. Our wish for you is to enjoy the simple pleasures of Christmas and to give the gifts of grace and patience to your family and friends, especially when it is hardest to do so.

Some extended families live together year around, and it isn’t always comfortable for everyone. Keep reading for some remodeling ideas that can help multi-generational families live happily together in the same home.

The traditional empty nest syndrome is increasingly giving way in this country to the “crowded nest syndrome.” This term refers to the stress that results when adult children unexpectedly return home — usually for economic reasons — to live with mom and dad, often bringing grandkids with them. Their homecoming may coincide with the arrival of elderly great-grandparents who need special care.

Having a home that provides privacy to the individual members of a multi-generational family is very helpful in keeping the environment harmonious. A bonus room, attic or basement can be converted into an entertainment/rec room for the younger set where their exuberance will not disturb others. Transform a garage or unused sunroom into a grandparents’ suite with a private sitting room, bath and mini-kitchen on the ground level. By staying within a home’s existing footprint, these projects are more economical than additions.

Check out the Hammerschmidt Construction website to view before and after photos and descriptions of two whole house remodels with additions, completed earlier this year. While the projects started out as “repairs” several years ago, they are now both completely transformed and the owners are ecstatic. Size-wise, is where they diverge.

One is a two story home in a suburban neighborhood. Built in 1963, the structure lacked architectural integrity. The original home was 2,525 sq feet and after remodeling it’s 3,939. An addition was added over the flat-roofed garage and architectural details (gabled roof, timber-framed entry, stone) created the architectural balance and symmetry the original house was lacking. Inside, the interior was configured to improve the flow and function of each space and the family’s love of nature inspired the finishes to create an elegantly comfortable home.

The second house, well, actually a cabin, was built in the 1930s as a weekend drinking shelter during prohibition. The stories it could tell. Starting out, there was 1,128 sq feet of living space, not including basement storage, and the finished project release is 1,191, but oh what a difference 63 sq ft can make. To be fair, there were other additions (up) for a clerestory and the interior was reconfigured. See more on our website.


Many people travel long distances this time of year to get together with their families for the holidays. One favorite spot to gather is around a glowing fireplace. Below you’ll find descriptions of today’s most popular fireplace choices. Is this the year to add the ambiance of a fireplace to your holiday festivities? Please also take a look at the descriptions of two recently completed remodels and find more information about them on our website.

Adding a fireplace has proven to increase the value of your home — while you are living in it, as well as when you are ready to sell. It can heighten your enjoyment of your home by providing a cozy focal point in your family room or master bedroom. And realtors have found that most prospective buyers are attracted to a home with a fireplace, since it creates such a welcoming atmosphere.

· A wood-burning fireplace (pictured above) provides those delightful crackling sounds that may be an essential part of the fireplace experience for you, however, due to their environmental impact they can no longer be built in California. A factory-built, self-contained zero-clearance firebox requires no foundation and simply needs a double-wall metal chimney. Since it may be installed to within 1/4″ of combustible wall materials, it offers great design possibilities. And, if you want to update an existing wood-burning fireplace, an EPA-certified fireplace insert can convert an existing fireplace to an efficient, low-polluting, heating system for your home on chilly days.

According to a recently-released report from the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of Americans working from home, either full or part time, increased from about 9.5 million in 1999 to about 11.3 million in 2005.

Some are starting home-based businesses, while others are telecommuting to avoid the rush hour traffic. If you are planning to take the leap yourself-and you want to be productive and successful–it is essential to arrange your office environment carefully.

· Locate your office preferably in a room away from the central activities of your home. Enclosing a porch, or converting a seldom-used living room/den or garage works well for a home office. If your office is in a room with another use, divide the two areas with a screen, a bookcase or build a partition. If you expect clients to visit, you may need a separate entrance.

· Determine your needs and goals and make plans for how those will be achieved in your office space. Do you need space for a printer/scanner, filing cabinets, office supplies, inventory, a presentation area, a library, a work area for employees, a mini-kitchen or a half-bath?

· Make sure your personal office furnishings provide
an adequate work surface, along with sufficient space for your equipment and supplies.
If you are working from a table rather than a
desk, provide file drawers close by, as well as drawers with dividers for small items such as pens, markers, paperclips, a stapler, scissors, etc. A comfortable chair is important, and you should have 39″ behind the chair for clearance. Install ample task lighting in each work zone to prevent eyestrain, as well as plenty of ambient light in the room to aid productivity.

· Design an environment that keeps work separate from family–this is important for you psychologically. Set regular office hours and post them for family members, as well as clients. Dress for work each day. Consider a separate phone/computer for business only. Make your surroundings pleasant and inviting, so you personally will feel welcome when you enter each day.

01 Oct / 2010

Hammertimes Online

Welcome to the inaugural issue of HammerTimes Online, the electronic edition of Hammerschmidt Construction’s newsletter. In an effort to reduce the amount of paper mail we create, we will no longer print and mail the newsletter to you on a quarterly basis. Instead, we’ll send an electronic newsletter to you each month with current information on topics of interest to Bay Area homeowners and feature articles on remodeling trends.

The newsletters will be sent via Constant Contact and posted in our blog. To assure they are not blocked by your computer’s spam filter, please add both and to your list of safe senders. We hope you enjoy the newsletter and will pass it on to family and friends who would like to receive it.

Warm Regards,

Lynn and John

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