A Guide to Updating Your Home

New Year, New House!

Photo: Best Construction ©2020

A Guide to Updating Your Home

On this page, we’ve collected tips and expert advice to help you before, during, and after you update your home! Whether you have questions about finding a contractor, setting a budget or visualizing design plans, we’ll make sure you have everything you need for a successful home renovation.

  • Get Started: Wondering where to start with your home remodeling project? This is what you need to know.
  • Find: Find a professional home remodeling contractor.
  • Research: Take a deep dive into remodeling resources and articles.
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Photo: RM Construction ©2020

4 Tips for a Greener Remodeling Project

By default, most remodeling projects performed in California end up being fairly Green. This is primarily due to the state’s strict requirements regarding energy efficiency and environmental impact. However, few homeowners realize the extent to which they can exceed these minimum standards and really “Green up” their projects. To learn more, we’ve asked Rory Moore, owner of RM Construction in Sausalito, to share his tips for a Greener remodeling project.

1. Choose certified Green products and materials

Materials like FSC Certified lumber provide greater assurance that they were sourced and processed using sustainable practices.

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What you need to know about updating your home

  • How to Safely Remodel Your Home During COVID-19

    Stay Safe

    Contractors are taking extra steps to prioritize the health and safety of their clients.

  • Insights for a Kitchen Remodeling Project

    Kitchens

    Kitchen remodeling contractors share their advice on design and project planning.

  • 5 Things to Ask a Remodeling Contractor

    Important Questions

    Arm yourself with the right information to help your home remodeling project go smoothly.

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Research

Remodeling Tips & Tricks from Diamond Certified Experts

Jim Kabel

Next Stage Design + Build

Steve Daniel

Steve Daniel Construction Inc.

Gary Ryan

Ryan & Ryan Construction, Inc.

Ken Ryan

Kitchens by Ken Ryan, Inc.

Jason Johnson

Home Healing Renovations Inc.

Christopher Wells

Christopher Wells Construction, Inc.

Jeff Kann

HOUSEWORKS

Ilan Sigura

Sigura Construction, Inc.

Bill Hinkamp

Rockridge Builders

Rolf Bell

Green Living Builders LLC

Dustin Cook

D. Cook Construction

Richard Gallardo

RG Builders

Benjamin Dumitrascuta

Benjamin Construction

Greg Danz

G. D. Enterprise

Dennis Thompson

Thompson Construction, Inc.

Ron Evenich

Evenich Construction, Inc.

Sergiu Deac

Best Construction

Voldi Chandler

Chandler Construction

Michael Ghanivand

Advance Construction

Chris Hampton

CDH Construction

Scott Westby

MSK Design Build

Nate Missildine

Legacy Construction, Inc.

Miro Bokaric

BV Electric Inc.

Gary Robertson

Robertson Renovations

Angel Garcia

Gar-Cal Corporation

Sami Dadon

P A Remodeling/Sami & Sons, Inc.

Joel Gruber

Gruber Painting

Maor Greenberg

Greenberg Construction

Considerations for Remodeling

Considerations for Remodeling

SAN JOSE — When planning for a large remodeling project (or any project that’s design-intensive), consider the following points:

Define the scope of the project. Before you begin interviewing designers and contractors, have a clear idea of what you want. Consider which aspects you plan to change and which you plan to keep. Knowing what you want will be very important when it comes to determining the project’s budget.

Establish your style. Get a sense of your style and make sure it’s appropriate for the size, price and architecture of your home. Browse home remodeling websites and magazines and note what you like and don’t like. You may not understand the nuances of all the different styles, but if you can get a clear idea of what you like and don’t like and communicate that to your designer, it can be extremely helpful.

Define structural details as early as possible. Whether you plan to open up a wall or change the size of a door or window, structural changes are one of the most expensive aspects of remodeling. They can consume your budget very quickly if you’re not careful, so you should get a contractor involved in the design early to verify the viability of planned structural alterations.

Insist on detailed documentation. Unless it’s a simple repair, design and drafting make a huge difference in clarity of scope and accuracy of detail, so make sure every phase is accompanied with detailed drawings. In addition, make sure you have a written contract that spells out all the terms of the project.

Choose the right partners. One of the most essential aspects of remodeling is finding a quality, trustworthy contractor and designer. Additionally, since home remodeling is often a long-term affair, make sure you hire someone you feel comfortable working with.

Having the Right Motivation With Remodeling

Having the Right Motivation With Remodeling

SACRAMENTO — When planning for a home remodeling project, it’s important to reflect on your motivation. Otherwise, you may end up making decisions that you later regret. For example, a lot of homeowners get caught up in following the latest remodeling trends. However, while trends change, functionality always remains the same. You want your new kitchen or bathroom to function well over the next 20 years, so be sure to prioritize function over fashion.

Another motivational pitfall that some homeowners fall into is becoming overly focused on the reactions of others. They want to “wow” their friends and neighbors, so that becomes the focal point of the remodel. In reality, you should be designing your new kitchen or bathroom for yourself, not for others. If your friends like it, that’s great, but it’s more important that you like it.

Building Permits In Remodeling

Building Permits In Remodeling

SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO — A common question homeowners ask when planning a remodeling project is whether any building permits will be needed. The reality is, in almost any instance where you’re making significant changes to your home (remodeling a kitchen or bathroom, replacing a roof, removing load-bearing walls), you’ll need to obtain one or more permits. If you have any questions about whether your project requires a permit, call your local building department and they’ll be able to tell you.

Remember, if you neglect to get a permit for a job that requires one, you put yourself at risk of several consequences. In addition to being fined up to 10 times the cost of each permit, your project will be “red-tagged,” which means no work can continue until you pay the fines and obtain the required permits. So, don’t take any chances—make sure you or your contractor get all the necessary building permits before doing any work on your home.

Choosing Kitchen Cabinets and Countertops

Choosing Kitchen Cabinets and Countertops

NOVATO — When it comes to remodeling your kitchen, two of the most important choices to make are which types of cabinets and countertops to install. Here are a couple of basic tips to help you make an educated choice:

Cabinets: Custom or Modular
With kitchen cabinets, you have two basic options: custom cabinetry that’s made locally or modular cabinetry that’s produced in a large manufacturing facility. While many consumers assume a local cabinet maker builds everything from scratch, many actually purchase components such as doors and drawer boxes separately, as well as send the cabinets to a separate location for finishing. In contrast, most modular cabinet manufacturers do everything at a single location: they dry their own lumber, make their own doors and drawer boxes, and do their own finishing. So, in a way, modular cabinets might be considered more “custom” than locally made ones.

Countertops: Granite or Quartz
In terms of countertop materials, there are generally two products to choose from: granite (including marble) and quartz. One of the main benefits of quartz is it’s mixed with an epoxy that acts as a natural sealant, which makes it impervious to stains. Granite offers a more natural look, but it requires a bit more maintenance, including sealing.

The Importance of Long-Term Goals in Remodeling

The Importance of Long-Term Goals in Remodeling

BERKELEY — While some remodeling projects are relatively simple, others involve multiple phases that consist of consecutive segments leading up to an eventual finished product. In this scenario, it’s important to think about your project holistically, considering both the initial phases and the final result. By establishing long-term goals ahead of time, you can better ensure efficiency throughout the remodeling process.

The biggest benefit of establishing long-term remodeling goals is it enables your contractor to plan efficiently and design consecutive phases to be compatible with future ones. In contrast, when long-term goals aren’t established, work performed in a project’s early phases may have to be redone to accommodate later ones, which can result in reduced efficiency and substantial added cost. To avoid wasting time and money, be sure to discuss your long-term goals in great detail before the work begins.

Assessing Your Home’s Foundation

Assessing Your Home’s Foundation

BRISBANE — Earthquakes are an ongoing concern for anyone who lives in the Bay Area. One way you can be proactive about protecting your home and family is to know the condition of your home’s foundation. If you understand the signs to look for, you can determine if measures are needed to bolster your home against earthquake damage.

Depending on when your home was built, the character (as well as the quality) of its foundation can vary. For example, many houses built in the 1920s and ’30s have foundations that were engineered using local materials, which isn’t good. Local sand contains impurities, which leads to degradation of the concrete. Also, builders in those days likely didn’t use enough Portland cement, as it was very expensive.

To assess the condition of your home’s foundation, perform this simple test: go down to your basement with a hammer or screwdriver and attempt to scrape off a piece of your foundation. If you’re successful, it’s a sign that the foundation’s integrity is compromised, in which case you should call a structural engineer.

Another thing to look for when assessing your home’s earthquake readiness is signs of foundation settlement, which can be caused by anything from poor soil compaction to drainage issues. In most cases, signs of foundation settlement can be found inside the home in the form of wall cracks, whether in corners or diagonally above doors and windows. Another common sign is a door or window that suddenly becomes difficult to open or close. If you start to notice these signs in your home, it might be time to get a professional assessment from a structural engineer.

How to Get Accurate Bids for Your Remodeling Project

How to Get Accurate Bids for Your Remodeling Project

SAN FRANCISCO — When planning for a remodeling project, homeowners are generally advised to get bids from at least three contractors so they can compare apples to apples. However, when the bids come in, homeowners are often confused and/or discouraged by what they read. For one thing, it’s common for bids to have substantial price variations, despite being for the same project. Furthermore, bids are often much higher than homeowners expect. In fact, the American Institute of Architects reports that over 60 percent of building plans never get built, in many cases due to the projected costs exceeding the amount homeowners are willing to spend.

Fortunately, your remodeling project doesn’t have to succumb to this fate. By gaining an understanding of what drives remodeling costs and taking proactive steps to address these factors, you can promote accuracy and consistency with your project bids. Additionally, this knowledge will help you stay in control of your costs throughout the project.

What causes cost variations with contractor bids?

The biggest reason for cost variations between bids is the assumptions contractors must make to complete their estimates. These assumptions are primarily based on three factors:

1. Architectural plans. The more detailed the plans, the more specific a contractor can be with the cost estimate. In contrast, vague architectural plans require a contractor to make lots of assumptions.

2. The contractor’s initial walkthrough of your home. A contractor that spends an ample amount of time evaluating your home during the walkthrough will be able to provide a more detailed and accurate estimate.

3. Specificity of materials to be used. Appliances, fixtures and finishes are some of the most expensive aspects of a remodeling project. Furthermore, there’s often a wide range of price variation for any given material. When materials aren’t specified, a contractor has to make assumptions, which unsurprisingly leads to a lack of accuracy with the bid.

Promoting bid accuracy

Given these factors, it’s clear that the best way to promote accuracy with project bids is to minimize the number of assumptions contractors must make when creating them. Here are some ways you can do this:

Determine your budget early. As you contemplate your remodeling project, establish the amount of money you’re willing to invest. You don’t need to know how much the renovations will cost; however, you do need to know what you’re willing and able to spend. Delivering this information to contractors upfront will give them specific parameters with which to create their bids.

Assemble a quality team. When you have an architect and a contractor working together, you tap into the experience necessary to inform construction means, methods and costs during (rather than after) the design phase. Utilize third-party verification (such as the Diamond Certified Resource) to find a quality architect and contractor. Another option is to hire a design/build team, wherein the architect, contractor and other key players are assembled under a single roof. This team-based approach helps keep things on target for meeting your project and budget objectives.

Select as many materials as possible during the design phase. This includes things like flooring, countertops, plumbing fixtures, cabinets and kitchen appliances. You should also identify the suppliers you’re going to purchase from and get specific cost quotes for each product. That way, you can deliver specific information to contractors and minimize cost surprises once construction begins.

Crucial Aspects of Green Building

Crucial Aspects of Green Building

SANTA CLARA – When it comes to designing and executing a remodeling project, one of the most important considerations is energy conservation. Building codes require a certain level of energy efficiency, but there are many opportunities to go above and beyond these basic standards to maximize energy conservation in your living space.

Insulation
By keeping the heat in and the cold out, insulation is a crucial part of maintaining an energy-efficient home. There are a few different types of insulation, all of which entail varying costs and levels of performance. For example, having fiberglass batt insulation in your walls and attic satisfies local building codes and provides a reasonable level of insulation. However, further measures such as sealing your attic with spray-on foam insulation can provide substantial savings both in terms of energy usage and heating/cooling costs. Another important aspect of home insulation is replacing old, inefficient windows with modern double-pane windows. After all, even if you put a lot of insulation in your walls and ceiling, poorly insulated windows will compromise these measures.

HVAC systems
When it comes to HVAC technology, there are a lot of high-efficiency products on the market that maximize energy conservation and keep operating costs low. Additionally, a high-efficiency HVAC system will give you better climate control and keep the temperature more stable throughout the day.

Water conservation
Besides energy conservation, another major focus of today’s Green technology is water conservation. For example, cutting-edge appliances like tankless water heaters and hot water recirculation pumps help minimize the amount of water that’s wasted down the drain, and graywater systems collect lightly used water from sinks, showers, and washing machines so it can be reused for lawns and plants.

Solar
Another way homeowners are boosting the energy efficiency of their homes is by installing solar energy systems. Most people know that solar systems can save a bundle on energy costs; in some cases, homeowners are actually able to create more energy than they use, which they can then sell to their utility companies. As long as your home gets an adequate amount of sunshine, you simply can’t lose by adding solar panels to your property.

Getting Ready to Meet with a Remodeling Contractor

Getting Ready to Meet with a Remodeling Contractor

OAKLAND — If you’re planning a remodeling project, one of your first steps should be to meet with a contractor. However, in order to make the most of your initial meeting, it’s best to be prepared by having an idea of what you’re looking for in your remodeled space. Here are a few tips for getting ready:

Browse design ideas. If you’re struggling to come up with design ideas for your remodeling project, go online. These days, homeowners have access to all kinds of home remodeling and design resources on the web. For example, Houzz is a fantastic resource that’s well-organized and easy to use.

Make a list. Write up a list of features you’d like to include in your remodeled space, organized by room. These features may include everything from cabinetry and countertops to finishes and appliances. Feel free to be as detailed as you want.

Draw a picture. Sketch out a floor plan and/or an illustration of what you’re envisioning for your remodeled space. Don’t worry—your drawing doesn’t have to be a work of art. Even a crude sketch can communicate a design idea better than a verbal explanation.

Price-shop products online. Browse prices for various appliances, fixtures and materials, and take notes on what you find. This preliminary research can be helpful for your contractor when it comes to putting an estimate together.

New Laws for Accessory Dwelling Units

New Laws for Accessory Dwelling Units

BERKELEY — As of January 1, 2020, new laws have gone into effect that make it easier for California homeowners to build accessory dwelling units (ADUs) on their properties. Often referred to as a “granny unit,” an ADU can take a variety of forms, including a converted garage or basement, a new room created by altering a home’s existing layout, a room addition, or a detached backyard structure.

Here are some ways the new laws have made it easier to create ADUs:

•  The rules on property line setbacks are more relaxed.

•  For garage conversions, homeowners are no longer required to create replacement parking spaces to supplement the loss of garage parking.

•  Local jurisdictions can no longer limit an ADU’s size based on a percentage of the primary residence.

•  The permitting office must act on an ADU permit application within 60 days of submission (down from 120 days).

•  Owner-occupancy requirements can no longer be imposed on the construction of ADUs.

These relaxed regulations have made ADUs the most flexible form of housing in the state, affording homeowners new opportunities to improve their living and financial situations. For example, an ADU can enable a family to house their parents or adult children and create a multigenerational compound. ADUs are also great options for “aging in place” because they can be made ADA-accessible to accommodate the needs of senior citizens. Furthermore, the addition of an ADU can allow rental property owners to increase their rental incomes. Talk to your local building contractor to learn more about the benefits of adding an ADU.

A Simple Way to Improve Your Home’s Energy Efficiency

A Simple Way to Improve Your Home’s Energy Efficiency

SEASIDE — One aspect of home energy efficiency that many homeowners aren’t aware of is air loss prevention, despite the fact that the transmission of air between the interior and exterior of a home is a major cause of energy loss. Fortunately, there’s a simple, effective and fairly inexpensive way to address this issue.

Since air transmission is usually conducted through cracks, joints and other gaps between a home’s interior and exterior, a simple way to address this is to fill in these gaps with supplemental sealing agents. The application of caulking and expansive foams within various apertures throughout your home can make a considerable difference in reducing air transmission and improving energy efficiency.

This becomes even simpler during a remodeling project, when a home’s walls, ceiling or floors are already opened up. Discuss this option with your contractor—for just a couple extra hours of work, this small step will go a long way toward reducing your energy usage and improving comfort inside your home.

Considerations for Hiring a Contractor

Considerations for Hiring a Contractor

GILROY — When choosing a contractor for a building project, you should focus on three key aspects: the content of the bid, the content of the company’s referral list and the deposit amount (if any) requested at the contract signing.

Bid content
When going over a bid, it’s important to know what to look for. First, the bid should be legible (preferably typed) to ensure clarity. Second, it shouldn’t simply give a vague sum for the job price; rather, it should include an itemized list of the various items and services to be performed, as well as major materials and appliances. Third, the sum total cost should indicate the contractor’s profit and overhead. Remember, these are always included in the cost, whether they’re accounted for in the final price or cunningly slipped within the numbers. Finally, the bid should include an approximate estimate of your job’s timeframe.

Referrals
Referrals are important because they verify a contractor’s record and give you an idea of what it’s like to work with them. A good referral list will provide references from a variety of phases, including long-term clients, clients whose projects are currently in progress (who can give you an idea of the crew’s dependability) and clients whose projects have recently been completed (who can give you honest opinions of their experiences). You should also make sure all sources are verifiable—it’s easy for a dishonest contractor to falsify references.

Deposit amount
It’s common for a contractor to ask for a deposit in advance of a job, but you need to be aware of the legal limitations to this request. In California, the maximum amount a contractor can collect at the contract signing is $1,000 or 10 percent of the job’s total cost—whichever is less. So, for a job estimated at more than $1,000, a contractor can collect no more than $1,000, and for a job estimated at less than $1,000, the most they can collect is 10 percent of the total projected cost. Once the contract is signed and the work begins, your contractor can ask for more money, but until then, the law states you don’t have to pay more than this allotted amount.

How to Properly Seal Tile Work

How to Properly Seal Tile Work

LAFAYETTE — Tiles are a popular option when it comes to flooring, particularly in showers or other areas where the presence of water is a factor. However, one mistake often made in tile work is the use of cement grout to seal corners, seams and other areas where the tile meets a wall (also known as expansion joints).

While cement grout is typically used to seal joints between tiles on a level plain, it should not be used to seal expansion joints because these areas are prone to flexing and shifting over time. Since cement isn’t a flexible substance, these movements can cause cracks to form in cement grout. Besides being unsightly, cracks in tile grout can result in water penetration and lead to problems like dry rot.

When it comes to sealing expansion joints, a much better product to use is caulk—it’s a more flexible substance, so it’s able to expand and contract without cracking. Also, unlike grout, caulk is waterproof, which makes it perfect for tile work in showers. Additionally, in the event that caulk does crack, it’s very easy to replace.

Upgrading Your Electrical Wiring

Upgrading Your Electrical Wiring

REDWOOD CITY — If your home was built prior to the 1960s, it may still have its original knob-and-tube electrical wiring, a precursor to modern Romex wiring. While it would be excessive to say knob-and-tube wiring is dangerous, there are some potential safety concerns. The main one is that its sheathing tends to decay and fall apart over time due to high heat exposure. This can create an unsafe condition—you don’t want heat conductors coming into contact with metal boxes and light fixtures.

To avoid this safety risk, consider replacing your knob-and-tube wiring with Romex. In a Romex cable, all wires are securely housed within a vinyl sheathing, which insulates and protects them. Plus, unlike knob-and-tube wiring, Romex wiring is grounded. That’s why modern homes have three-pronged electrical outlets while older homes have two-pronged outlets—that third prong connects to a ground wire, which knob-and-tube wiring doesn’t have.

An ideal time to upgrade your wiring is during a home remodeling project. Since the walls will already be opened up, this measure can be done for little additional cost—a small price to pay for the increase in safety.

How to Fix a Swinging Door

How to Fix a Swinging Door

HEALDSBURG — If you have a door that frequently swings open or closed, you may think the only way to fix it is to completely remove and reset it. However, in many cases, this problem can be corrected with a quicker, easier solution.

After closing the door, remove the pin from one of the hinges—use a hammer to tap the pin upward from below and then pull it out the top. Place the pin on a piece of wood or another hardy surface and use the hammer to give it a slight bend in the middle. Next, return the pin to its hinge.

While this may seem ridiculously simple, it should create enough resistance to keep the door from swinging. Depending on the extent of the issue, you may have to repeat the step with two or even all three pins, but in most cases this should solve the problem.

5 Ways to Vet a Contractor

5 Ways to Vet a Contractor

PETALUMA — Due to the widespread damage caused by both wildfires and flooding, there’s currently a shortage of general contractors in Sonoma County and the surrounding areas. To supplement this shortage, a lot of contractors are coming in from central and southern California, and even from out of state. Unfortunately, in this type of situation, it’s often difficult for homeowners to find a contractor that’s qualified, honest and reliable. That’s why it’s crucial to be diligent about vetting any contractor you’re thinking of hiring. Here are five smart steps:

1. Verify that the contractor has current licensing and insurance on file with the California State License Board (CSLB). You should also see if any complaints have been lodged by former clients. You can do this by visiting the CSLB’s website: www.cslb.ca.gov.

2. Request up-to-date liability insurance and workers’ compensation insurance certificates, as well as an additional insured endorsement.

3. Request a list of references that includes both current and past projects. This will allow you to call the contractor’s current and former clients and ask them about their experiences.

4. Expect the contractor to provide a detailed bid that includes an itemized breakdown of construction costs and a written scope of work.

5. Insist on a signed contract and give a deposit of no more than 10 percent of the project’s total cost (as per the legal limit in the state of California).

 

Code Compliance in Construction

Code Compliance in Construction

SAN JOSE — An important aspect of any building project is making sure things are done to code. The State of California has rigorous building code standards, both in regard to structural integrity and energy efficiency, so it requires careful diligence to stay in compliance with the law.

Due to the stringency of California’s building code, it’s easy for do-it-yourselfers to miss important details. For example, many homeowners do their own shopping for finish materials like faucets and light fixtures, but if they aren’t familiar with code requirements (especially those outlined in the California Green Building Standards Code), they may end up getting materials that aren’t code-compliant. This can result in an expensive mistake when the city inspector informs them that their new fixtures have to be replaced.

To avoid these kinds of issues, it’s important to partner with your contractor or designer to ensure code compliance at every level. By staying in line with building code requirements, you can ensure a smooth process and avoid costly mistakes.

3 Considerations for Buying an Antique Home

3 Considerations for Buying an Antique Home

NAPA — The idea of living in an antique home may seem romantic, but it’s easy to overlook the potential practical drawbacks. To avoid making a poor decision, take a look at three key aspects before making an offer.

1. Roof

One of the first things you should check before buying an antique home is the condition of its roof. A bad roof can lead to a lot of issues, many of which can affect the entire home. For example, undetected roof leaks can lead to issues with dry rot, which, depending on their extent, can result in the need for expensive repairs.

2. Foundation

It’s also critical to check a home’s foundation prior to purchase. While some signs of foundation problems are obvious (large cracks), others are more subtle. For example, fine salt crystal buildup on the inside of the foundation means it was built with saltwater, a practice that has since been discontinued due to problems caused down the road. Fortunately, a bad foundation can be replaced, but it’s better to know about it before purchasing the home than to find out afterward.

3. Historical status

Many antique homes fall under the jurisdiction of the Historical Heritage Commission, in which case your remodeling options may be limited. For example, you may be prohibited from adding on to your home or altering its layout. Even your choice of window frames may be constrained by requirements to maintain the home’s historical integrity. For this reason, before purchasing an antique home, contact the local Building Department to find out if it’s considered “historical” and if there are any building or remodeling restrictions.

Checking for Mold During a Remodel

Checking for Mold During a Remodel

OAKLAND — If you’re remodeling your home, one of the most important things you can do is check to see what’s behind your walls. Why? Because if there’s any hidden mold or mildew, it could jeopardize your entire project.

In most cases, it’s impossible to know whether mold or mildew is present behind the walls in a home, but it’s better to find out for sure than to make a wrong assumption. This is especially important if you live in an older home, where the combination of time and inferior building methods and materials increases the opportunity for mold or mildew issues to take root.

Consider a real-life example from a home addition project I recently did in Berkeley. Initially, when we opened up the walls, everything looked good on the inside, but as we got further into the project, we discovered there was a lot of mold and mildew. It’s a good thing we found it—otherwise, we might have completed the project without fixing the problem, which, as with all moisture-related problems, would only get worse over time and potentially ruin the work we did.

Considerations for New Baseboards

Considerations for New Baseboards

ROHNERT PARK — If you’re planning to install new baseboards in your home, there are a couple of things you’ll need to consider. One is the type of material to be used. You essentially have two choices: authentic wood or medium-density fiberboard (MDF).

MDF is the more affordable option, but it has a few drawbacks. For one, since the material is so dense, it “puckers” each time a nail is applied, which results in small imperfections throughout the baseboard. To ensure these don’t show in the finished product, each nail hole needs to be sanded down, primed and painted over. Another drawback of MDF is it produces very fine dust, which can pose an inhalation hazard. Additionally, MDF isn’t as durable as authentic wood and is more likely to swell or warp under certain conditions.

Authentic wood baseboards, on the other hand, are very durable and easier to cut and finish. Additionally, since they’re not as dense as MDF, the nails are able to completely disappear into the wood. That way, there won’t be a bunch of imperfections that need to be hidden after installation.

Another consideration with baseboards is the types of corners your house contains. Typically, the walls in a home will either have square, 90-degree corners or rounded corners, known as bullnose corners. With the former, installing baseboards is simple, since they naturally come together at the corners. With bullnose corners, things get a bit more complicated. One option is to buy corner pieces that match the profile of your baseboards. Otherwise, you can buy some extra baseboards and cut out pieces to fit the corners. However, instead of having round corners, you’ll now have three-piece, slightly angled corners that have little gaps on the top. To fill these gaps and still achieve a pleasing aesthetic effect, you’ll need to hire a skilled painter.

Differentiating Cabinet Styles

Differentiating Cabinet Styles

WALNUT CREEK — Some homeowners assume shopping for new kitchen cabinets will be a simple endeavor, but there are actually numerous options from which to choose. By familiarizing yourself with the various cabinet styles ahead of time, you’ll be able to make a more educated choice. Here’s some information on three of the most common styles:

European cabinets
Also known as frameless cabinets (due to their distinct lack of a face frame), European-style cabinets are structurally supported by “gables,” which are situated on either side of the cabinet, as well as on the top and bottom. In addition to being very sturdy, frameless cabinets offer advantages such as ample storage room and optimal shelf access.

Framed cabinets
A framed cabinet is essentially the same as a frameless cabinet, except it has a face frame. The frame is comprised of two elements: the upright elements (“styles”) and the side-to-side elements (“rails”). The styles and rails act as points to attach doors or drawers, and they also provide stability for the cabinet once it’s installed. While it’s an aesthetically pleasing option, framed cabinets have functional drawbacks such as more limited access and smaller drawer box size, both of which are caused by the protrusion of the face frame.

Inset door cabinets
With an inset door cabinet, the door and drawer faces are flush with the cabinet’s face frame. As with framed cabinets, the design of an inset door model limits access and gives you less room for drawer boxes, but what it lacks in functionality, it makes up for in aesthetic style.

When selecting cabinets, it’s important to establish a balance between your aesthetic goals and your storage needs. By carefully weighing the various aspects involved, you’ll be able to choose the right cabinets for your kitchen.

Avoiding Budget Oversights With Building Proposal Allowances

Avoiding Budget Oversights With Building Proposal Allowances

CAMPBELL — Any large-scale building or remodeling project starts with a written proposal, the thoroughness of which can greatly impact the final result. A building proposal generally consists of two aspects: 1) specifications or specific services needed to complete the job  (such as plumbing, framing and HVAC) and 2) allowances­ for materials, fixtures and products to be used/installed.

One of the big differences between specifications and allowances is the potential for price fluctuation. With specifications, the stated prices are more or less fixed, as long as the scope of work doesn’t change. With allowances, on the other hand, the pricing can vary substantially from what’s listed in the proposal. Why? Unlike services like plumbing or framing, the prices for materials and fixtures run a broad gamut comprised of low- to high-end options. That’s why there can be quite a difference between the price a contractor lists in the proposal and the price the client actually ends up paying.

To avoid consequent budget oversights, it’s wise to work closely with your contractor to create an accurate list of allowances. This means researching and making decisions about materials, fixtures, and products in conjunction with the writing of the proposal. From flooring and countertops to plumbing and HVAC equipment, figuring out what you want while the proposal is being written will go a long way toward ensuring accuracy.

If this seems overwhelming, keep in mind that it’s something you’ll have to do at some point anyway, so you may as well do it at the most opportune time. Also, you might be worried you’ll change your mind about particular items later. Don’t worry—an allowances list doesn’t have to be set in stone. Whether or not you change your mind, at least you’ll have some idea of what each item costs, rather than being blindsided partway through the project.

Electrical Upgrades for a Kitchen Remodel

Electrical Upgrades for a Kitchen Remodel

SAN FRANCISCO — Are you remodeling your kitchen? If so, you probably want to upgrade your lighting fixtures and appliances. However, if you live in an older home, there’s one thing you may be forgetting: your electrical panel. If your panel isn’t up to code, you’ll need to upgrade it—otherwise, it may not be able to handle the power needs of your newly remodeled kitchen.

The extent to which panel upgrades are needed can depend in part on the age of your home. For example, if it was built in the early 20th century and still has knob-and-tube wiring, you’ll need to replace its old fuse box with a modern breaker panel. This will make your electrical system safer, improve its performance and lower your home insurance costs.

Here are a few other factors to consider for upgrading your electrical panel:

Clearances

As per the National Electrical Code (NEC), a breaker panel must be situated a specified distance from things like the ceiling and HVAC equipment. Additionally, it can’t be enclosed in a closet or have anything blocking it (like garbage cans, for example). These rules are designed to prevent potential hazards and ensure ample accessibility to the panel when needed.

Arc protection

An arc fault can be caused by loose or corroded wires, which can generate heat that potentially leads to an electrical fire. As of 2014, the NEC requires that all electrical panel breakers be equipped with arc fault protection.

Sub-panel

In some cases, a kitchen remodeling project may involve the installation of a sub-panel—a smaller service panel that functions as an offshoot of the main panel. Sub-panels are often used to provide more convenient access to breakers or in cases where the main panel doesn’t have room to install additional breakers.

Due to the important role electricity plays in kitchen remodeling, it’s wise to get an electrician involved early in your project. For one thing, you’ll get a clear idea of how much work will be needed, which will help you determine your budget. Also, your electrician will be able to work with your designer and contractor to ensure you get exactly what you’re looking for in your remodeled kitchen.

Taking a “Hands-On” Approach to Home Remodeling

Taking a “Hands-On” Approach to Home Remodeling

WALNUT CREEK — When it comes to remodeling, a lot of homeowners just point to a picture in a magazine and say, “I want that.” The problem with this approach is that the homeowner has no tangible experience of what it’s like to live in such a space. If your entire remodeling project is based on pictures, when it’s finished, you might come across issues you hadn’t considered before. Worse still, you may not like the end result as much in reality as you did on paper.

To avoid buyer’s remorse, it’s best to take a “hands-on” approach by immersing yourself in the colors, textures and design of the space you’re planning. Here are a few examples of how to do this:

•  If you have plans to alter your home’s layout, put some masking tape on the floor that demarcates the location of the new wall/counter space/etc. Live with that for a few days and see whether the changed layout fits within or disrupts your daily flow.

•  When choosing new paint colors, apply samples to pieces of cardboard and tape them on your walls. This will give you an impression of how it feels to live with these colors on a daily basis.

•  Get a firsthand look and feel of any remodeling components you’ll be handling on a regular basis, such as door knobs and cabinet hardware. You may be surprised by the differences between seeing them in a magazine and handling them in person.

Utilizing these and similar techniques, you’ll be able to make more informed choices regarding your remodeling project and ensure satisfaction with the end result.

The Importance of Project Preparation

The Importance of Project Preparation

LIVERMORE — No matter what kind of home improvement project you’re planning, chances are you’ll need to invest some time and money into preparation. Doing so will allow you to get the best possible result with your project. Here are two examples of why preparation is important:

Tile flooring

Before laying down floor tiles, the subfloor needs to be assessed and prepared. Due to tile’s rigidity, if the subfloor isn’t level, some tiles will sit higher than others, resulting in “lipping” that can cause both an eyesore and a safety hazard. Waterproofing measures are also needed to prevent water intrusion issues after installation. By taking the time to ensure a level, waterproof floor, you’ll avoid long-term problems.

Painting

Preparation is crucial for ensuring paint’s integrity over time, especially when it comes to exterior painting projects. This begins with scraping and sanding off any loose paint to create a clean, smooth surface. Next, repair any areas that are affected by dry rot (if those are painted over, they’ll continue to get worse) and use caulking to fill and seal cracks, joints, and gaps in siding and trim (this will prevent water intrusion). Finally, thoroughly prime the surface before applying the paint.

How to Prevent Price Increases in Construction

How to Prevent Price Increases in Construction

MILPITAS — One of the biggest issues homeowners encounter when working with building contractors is unexpected price increases. This is typically done through the use of change orders, which provide contractors with a means of altering a project’s original contracted price. Typically, change orders are used when unforeseen costs or circumstances arise during a project. Unfortunately, some contractors use change orders to take advantage of clients by intentionally quoting a low estimate at the outset of the project, only to raise the price later.

The best way to avoid price hikes from change orders is to have your contractor sign an agreement that the quoted estimate will stay the same throughout the project’s duration. An experienced contractor should be able to confidently provide an estimate without resorting to change orders. If your contractor won’t sign the agreement, you may want to consider working with someone else. Otherwise, you leave yourself open to a lot of uncertainty regarding the final cost of the project.

Choosing the Right White for Your Trim

Choosing the Right White for Your Trim

SAN JOSE — When it comes to choosing interior paint, most homeowners tend to focus on wall and accent colors, but it’s also important to consider trim color. Although trim is generally white, choosing the right hue of white is no simple matter.

From cooler whites to warmer whites to off-whites and everything in between, there are countless variations of white paint to choose from. Additionally, when choosing white trim, you need to account for all the existing whites in your home, like white doors, windows, ceilings, cabinets and appliances. Furthermore, white paint can take on warm or cool tones depending on the subtle hues that are mixed in, so it’s important to look at your trim in the context of your wall and accent colors.

Choosing the right type of white paint for your trim isn’t easy, but when you find the perfect hue, it’ll help tie the entire project together and achieve the feel you want for your space.

 

Planning Your Remodel in Reverse

Planning Your Remodel in Reverse

PALO ALTO — When planning for a home remodel, most homeowners assume they should start by getting architectural drawings. However, I’m going to suggest something radical: start at the end of the process and work backward. Specifically, I recommend starting from the buying list by choosing all of your finishing products before having architectural drawings done.

First of all, this helps to give you a clearer idea of what your project is going to cost. Additionally, choosing finishing products at the beginning will influence your architectural drawings. If you have drawings done before knowing what products you’ll have, those drawings will likely need to be redone once you do. Designs tend to change a lot as products are selected. You may end up with a different cabinet layout or countertop style, or you may decide to install a wall-mounted toilet instead of a traditional one. If that’s the case, the drawings will need to be modified to reflect these changes. On the other hand, if you start by choosing your products, your architect will be able to base their drawings around those products and avoid the need to make changes later.

When selecting finishing products, I strongly recommend visiting other remodeled homes and experiencing different products in person (ask your contractor for references). Construction is all about feeling, and you can’t ascertain a feeling by simply looking at pictures. Getting a firsthand experience of various finishing products will help you make choices you’ll be happy with long after your remodeling project is completed.

Watch This

Managing Costs With Home Remodeling

Jeff Kann, Diamond Certified Expert Contributor and owner of HOUSEworks, discusses how to stay within your budget on your home remodeling project.

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