Greetings!

Recent social and economic developments in the country have been changing what Americans are looking for in their homes, regardless of whether they are remodeling or buying a new home. Read on to learn more about this trend:

The sprawling McMansions of several years ago are no longer so popular. Rising energy costs have increased the consumer’s desire for smaller, more energy-efficient homes. Builders and remodelers are carefully taking note of this trend.

According to a recent study by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), builders expect new homes to average 2,152 square feet in 2015, 10 percent smaller than the average size of single-family homes built in 2010. In addition to floor plan changes, 68 percent of the builders surveyed said homes in 2015 will include more green features and technology

One result of the new direction toward smaller homes is that homeowners are re-evaluating how the interior spaces of their homes are organized. Given today’s more casual lifestyle, certain rooms — such as the formal living and dining room — are only rarely used. In contrast, the kitchen has become the central gathering area for a majority of activities. To make the best use of limited space, a large open area that encompasses a kitchen, dining room, family room and living room is becoming more common. In our hi-tech society, where individual family members tend to keep busy with their own laptops or cell phones, this is a favorable arrangement since it is conducive to bringing families together. Each member may be doing something different, but the fact that everyone is together in that same space creates a welcome sense of family bonding.

Increasingly, homeowners are choosing to stay in their familiar neighborhoods and remodel, rather than build a new home. A professional remodeler can skillfully re-configure existing spaces, safely removing walls to provide the open, airy home environment their client desires. Often, this can be achieved without the necessity of enlarging the home. Remodelers can also help their clients gain energy savings in an older home by, among other things, adding new insulation; upgrading the HVAC system; installing energy-efficient windows; purchasing Energy Star qualified appliances; and replacing outdated incandescent lighting with fluorescent or LED.

The Dinosaurs

“Mom, were the dinosaurs still alive when you were born?” I credit my twisted sense of humor as the reason the child who asked me this question is still alive and that I was able to formulate an answer without slugging him — “No honey, all of them had died out by then, only the mastodons were still alive.” Similarly, the living room and dining room are on their way to becoming dinosaurs but, unlike being struck by a comet or asteroid, it is a slow and painful demise. Decedents from a time when people lived more formally, the living room was one of a progressive series of separate rooms starting with the front door entry, designed to conceal private areas, such as the kitchen (and the help) from view. As such, the dining room was the primary eating area for the family.

Today, the kitchen not only serves as the primary place for dining but as the social center of the house. They are much larger and more open — often incorporating a family room. John recently served as a judge in a remodeling competition and noted that the kitchen/family room/great room combination was evident in most of the entries.

And yet, the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2009 Buildings Energy Data Book shows that the average American house still incorporates both a living room and a dining room. In a 2,500 square foot home, these two rooms represent about 15% of the total living area — area that owners spend money and energy to heat, cool, and maintain, only to walk around them like an elephant in the proverbial, excuse my pun, living room.

So why are we so hesitant to let go? Is it because of our “Bigger is Better” cultural mentality or the fear that our home will be perceived as less valuable if these rooms are missing? Whatever the reason, rather than plodding further and further into quicksand, check out the links in the left hand column for inspiration on how turn these rooms into space your family will enjoy.

When most people think about remodeling, they envision adding a number of new rooms and lots of square footage to assure they don’t feel cramped. Yet, sometimes all that is needed to improve the flow and function of a space is a simple bump-out. Keep reading to find out more about the five basic types of additions and how one or more might work for your home.

Entry Bump-Out

A bump-out is ideal for introducing more light and elbowroom into a cramped space. A well-designed bump-out can host an entry, dining area, home office, or homework nook. A bump-out is relatively quick to build and requires little foundation work. It’s important to assure that it doesn’t look tacked on, especially when viewed from the home’s front. In the photo above, the entry bump-out is the only square footage added to this whole house remodel, but it has a big impact on the home’s function. It provides a place to transition from the exterior to the interior and allows the main living area to remain separate from the process of entering.

Bumping Up

A bump-up, adds architectural interest and can boost the function and usable floor space of upper level rooms. Raising the ceiling height and adding a clerestory can also add light and the feeling of spaciousness to small spaces.

Stretching

Adding square footage to an existing room or rooms can increase the usability of the area(s) and often is less expense than whole room additions in that the new area can use the existing HVAC system. The challenge with this type of addition is to assure that it does not distort the home’s original shape and creates a seamless transition between the two spaces.

Single Room Addition

A single room addition can increase a home’s livability and resale value, however linking new and old spaces requires care and creativity. In the Silicon Valley, as homeowners outgrew their ranch homes, they sought ways to inexpensively add square footage to their ranchers. A popular option was to create a second floor addition, only over the existing garage. While cost-effective, these additions distorted the home’s proportions and style. Many cities now prohibit the building of a “box” addition on top of an existing home without also making design modifications that create a more pleasing roofline.

Multiple Rooms Addition

In this type of addition, significant square footage and functional spaces are added, sometimes on multiple levels. While typically more expensive than other types of additions, because a new heating and cooling system may be required, this type of addition has the power to transform the functionality of the entire home. As in all additions, it is important that the design of the new space is integrated with the existing structure to produce not only a functional but aesthetic remodel.

Greetings!

The mudroom is a familiar fixture in areas of severe weather and in farming communities. However, even in our temperate California climate, it still makes sense to create a buffer zone between the outdoors and the interior of our homes. Raingear, sports equipment, and dirty uniforms are all better left in a mudroom where they will not damage interior finishes. And, it’s great to have a place to keep items organized so they are easy to grab as we head out to work or school. The mudroom has become a popular home design feature and we’re sharing some terrific ideas on how to create a mudroom that fits your home.

Warm Regards,

Lynn and John

Every home can benefit from having a spot where family members are able to deposit items such as jackets, umbrellas, and backpacks that don’t need to be carried into the rest of the house. If there is no space like this, these items tend to clutter up the floor or furniture next to the door. In addition, it is handy to have a station near the entrance where cell phones and iPods can be charged and keys stashed so they are easy to find again when needed. For families with school-age children, a multi-purpose mudroom can also function as a “launch pad” to make mornings less stressful as everyone heads out the door. If you already have a separate rear entry, you can design a mudroom there, or if your kitchen is large enough, a portion of it can be used to create a separate mudroom. Another option would be to build a mudroom addition to the side or rear of your home. Although it is ideal to locate the mudroom away from the front entrance, for homes where this is not possible, the main entry can be remodeled to accommodate the clutter and hide it from view.

To keep your mudroom well-organized, install a variety of storage options such as wall hooks, storage cabinets, cubbies, and wire baskets. This is a convenient space to store sports equipment, such as balls, bats and gloves and outdoor toys as well as gardening supplies. A bench or built-in seating will ease the process of removing or boots and cleats. Choose floor, wall, and cabinet finishes that are water and stain-resistant and easy-to-clean.

A mudroom can also do double-duty as a laundry room. Placing laundry appliances close to the rear entrance makes it possible to toss dirty sports clothing directly into the washer before the odors and dirt are transported into other parts of your home. Add a utility sink for soaking heavily-soiled items and for washing hands after yard work or play. For gardeners, add a countertop to create the perfect place for potting plants. If you have a cat or dog, consider locating a pet door in your mudroom so your pet has easy access to the outside. The low-maintenance finishes of a mudroom provide an excellent spot for food and water dishes, litter boxes and a grooming station and the mudroom cabinetry offers a great solution for organizing and storing pet supplies.

The National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) surveyed more than 100 of its designer members across the country to uncover the likelihood that they would incorporate various materials and styles in their designs. The following seven top kitchen trends and four top bathroom trends emerged for 2011. Note: percentages may not total 100% as the survey tallied only whether a designer specified a product in a design, not how often they did so. Results reflect national trends and may not be consistent with local preferences.

Kitchens

  1. Shake It Up

    When it comes to style trends in the kitchen, Traditional remains the top choice. The big news is that Shaker has now supplanted Contemporary as the second most popular look.

  2. Dark and Beautiful

    The most specified type of finish for cabinets and floors is a dark natural finish. In contrast, the use of medium natural, glazed and white painted finishes has diminished.

  3. Take the Chill Off

    Interestingly enough, unchilled wine storage has grown in popularity, while the incorporation of wine refrigerators seems to be on the decline.

  1. French Revolution

    In terms of refrigerator styles, the French door refrigerator is now the most popular (78%.) Freezer-bottom models (single-door refrigerator on top, single-door freezer on the bottom) fell slightly in popularity to second place (59%.)

  1. Induction is Hot

    Induction cooktop selection is heating up! This trend is expected to continue due to induction’s energy efficiency. Gas cooktops are still the most popular though specification fell from 76% to 70%, while conventional electric cooktop specifications increased slightly from 38% to 41%.

  1. LED Lighting the Way

    For energy-efficient lighting solutions, designers are flipping the switch on LEDs (light emitting diodes) rather than CFLs (compact fluorescent lights) most likely due to the poor quality of light CFLs produce.

  2. Take Out the Trash

    Trash or recycling pull-outs were included in 89% of the kitchens designed by NKBA members. There was also an increase in both garbage disposals and trash compactors.

Bathrooms

  1. Of Quartz

    Quartz solid surfaces such as Zodiac™ and Caesarstone™, are an increasingly-popular choice for bathroom countertops, up from 48% to 54%, but quartz still has not had the impact it has in the kitchen. For bathroom countertops, granite remains the most popular choice (83%.)

  2. Going Green

    The use of the color green in bathrooms is on the rise. Whites and off-whites, beiges and browns remain the most commonly used color tones, however.

  3. A Worthy Vessel

    Undermount sinks continue to dominate the bathroom scene, but vessel sinks have become the clear second choice among designers.

  4. Supreme Satin Nickel

    In bathrooms and kitchens, satin nickel is now the favorite faucet finish, while brushed nickel comes in second. Stainless steel remains popular in the kitchen, but not in the bath.

In the case of Bosch and Takagi, the answer is, pathetically, “Not much.” These companies, both with historically-stellar reputations for quality and service, have allowed the quality of their products and the value of their word to– pardon the pun– tank.

As a green-certified design + build firm, we have championed the installation of on-demand, aka “tankless” water heaters, since 2006. Unlike traditional water heaters, where a volume of water is continuously heated thermodynamically in a tank, tankless water heaters heat water only when the system is triggered such as when a faucet is turned on, a toilet A selection of antique water heaters is flushed or a washing machine is started. Bosch was the first brand of on-demand water heaters we installed.

A selection of antique water heaters

After experiencing problems with a number of the heaters, including one installed in our home– malfunctions such as repetitive days of ice-cold showers at 6:00 am after the unit worked properly the night before; error codes not listed in the service manual for which we were told, “It’s impossible, it just couldn’t happen,” and (this would be humorous if it wasn’t so painful) when, on a customer site visit, a Bosch field engineer denied hearing the banging noise emanating from a unit until he called the home office and a customer service agent told him she could hear it over the phone, Bosch did nothing. They did not repair or replace their malfunctioning products and never called to follow-up. The truth is they have no warranty.

Ultimately, we decided that the units had to be replaced. After reviewing the available options, we made the decision to install on-demand water heaters made by Takagi. Our research indicated that they made quality products and what appeared to be responsive support and a great warranty. At our expense, we removed the Bosch water heaters, paid for their disposal, and installed the replacement Takagi units purchased at the homeowners’ expense. These units seemed to solve the problem and we continued to install them in new projects.

Over the holidays, one of our customers, an engineer with Failure Analysis, called to let us know that his water-heater was behaving erratically. The heat exchanger on his year-old Takagi had started to leak and then failed. He and his family were without hot water for 1_ weeks. Takagi said that the reason the unit failed was not a manufacturing defect, but calcium build-up and that a scale prevention device (water softener) should have been installed to prevent this. Because we did not install one, the warranty was void. However, the installation instructions do not call for one. In the manual, in very small print on a separate page, you find in areas of hard water (not the case in Mountain View) a scale prevention device must be installed.

We called Takagi; spoke to them at length, asked them to test the water hardness (they did not) asked them to stand by their product if their directions were wrong and were told that corporate would not authorize the replacement. Close to 50 emails later, our client was able to convince Takagi that they should honor their warranty and replace the unit. The Takagi replacement process is slow, time consuming, and, get this, you have to pay for the replacement unit until Takagi confirms that the problem was due to a manufacturing defect.

A selection of antique water heaters

We now recommend that a scale prevention device be installed, regardless of water hardness, to prevent calcium build up and assure that manufacturers will honor their own warranty. While no one enjoys maintenance chores, the Housepure Secure water heater scale prevention device is compact and easy-to maintain- the cartridges need to be replaced once a year or when the gauge indicates. We will continue to research the performance of the various brands of on-demand water heaters in the literature and the real-time experiences of other contractors and report our findings in an upcoming issue.

You probably think of your kitchen as the room in your home where energy-efficiency really matters. However, your laundry room can also be a big guzzler of energy and water. The laundry room shown here is from the zero-energy Concept Home 2011 by BUILDER magazine with Martha Stewart. This show home demonstrates ideas that may be incorporated into a remodeling project, as well as a new home. Just a few of the ideas include:

  1. Choose Energy and Water Efficient Appliances

    Look for ENERGY STAR® qualified appliances to ensure they meet government standards. This helps conserve natural resources and saves you money on utility bills. For example, the Whirlpool efficient Duet washer installed in this laundry room can use up to 77% less water and 81% less energy over traditional top-load washers.

  2. Bring In Natural Light

    Use a tubular skylight to bring natural daylight into a windowless room. This helps decrease the use of electric lights, thereby decreasing your electric bill. A tubular skylight is thin enough to fit between roof rafters or trusses and ceiling joints. This interior windowless laundry room benefits from the addition of a VELUX Sun Tunnel skylight.

  3. Use a Ventilation Fan

    Install an ENERGY STAR® qualified ventilation fan to remove excess moisture from your laundry room while adding very little to your utility bill. The laundering process releases humidity into the room that must be properly ventilated or mold and mildew problems could result. The energy-efficient Broan-NuTone fan in the Concept Home laundry room costs approximately $1 per year to operate.

  4. Select Low-flow Faucets

    A WaterSense™ labeled low-flow faucet can provide the experience of a strong water flow, while cutting back on water usage. The utility sink in the Concept Home is fitted with a low-flow faucet by Kohler, which can deliver up to 45% water savings over traditional 2.75 gpm faucets. Sink water is also filtered and redistributed for outside irrigation.

  5. Provide On-demand Solar Hot Water

    Instead of a traditional tank water heater, the Concept Home runs on an on-demand hot water recirculation system. Water is heated by rooftop solar panels and then stored in an 80-gallon thermal tank. When demanded, the hot water is circulated through a loop under the slab to the required outlet.

Greetings!

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.

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

Boomerang!

Greetings!

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.


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