Prepare for Rain!!!

I know that many of you are already having difficulty with ice dams- the worst isn’t over and with rain coming this weekend, you may be in for a double whammy.  When the rain comes and the snow melts, the volume of water will increase and may also be looking for a way into your basement.  If you have a sump pump- check it now!  If you want to be prepared- go buy the back-up pump before they are sold out.  Unfortunately, our firm does not offer ice dam removal or flood remediation because we are already committed to projects that we guarantee will be on time and the weather has been a terrible burden logistically.  We have heard from some landscaping and paving contractors that they still have room to add a couple of roof removals so do your best to get that snow off the roof before the weekend!

Best wishes and good luck to everyone! I know we are all New Englanders and we will surely be talking about the winter of 2015 for some time.

 

Ice Dams, Again!

We written about preventing ice dams in the past, but given the number of calls I’ve been getting recently, I thought I would write about it again.

Whenever someone calls with ice dam problems, my credibility initially depends on whether or not I was the one who provided the roof. I hear people tell me that the person who installed their roof probably did something wrong and the truth is, that even the best roof installations are no guarantee against ice dams. For a look at what is happening under the ice, check out buildingscience.com. http://www.buildingscience.com/documents/insights/bsi-046-dam-ice-dam

There are things that help prevent ice dams, and the key word is “help”. The reason is, all of these things can contribute to better performance against ice buildup and water intrusion- they just won’t guarantee against it for one simple reason; Roofs are constructed to shed water- not hold water. Ice dams create pools of water- and only pools are meant to contain water. Here is the list of things that will “help”:

  1. Install ice and water shield when your new roof is installed- as long as this is above the freeze line by 18″ (it is sold in 3 foot sections for this reason), when water penetrates the first layer of protection, it will stop water from entering under the shingles as long as the roofing nails self-sealed the way the product is supposed to work. Request Grace Brand ice and water barrier in your new roof- it is the best.

  2. Make sure the roof is well vented (unless you have a modern, foam insulated, non-vented assembly-see pic. below). Allowing a good flow of air will help keep the temperatures more consistent on the outside eve and where the heat starts to melt the ice.

  3. If you can- use metal roofing- because it has the best chance of sealing out water, and I don’t remember ever seeing water from ice dams make their way in.

The best prevention is removing the snow… if you remove the snow too late and the dam forms, you will still be susceptible to the water intruding on the next round. I know that many of you that found this article on our blog are probably frustrated because you want to know what you can do now! The best chance of hiring someone is to drive around and speak personally with the roofer. In our area right now even our roofer has put a message on his phone line that he is unable to take on anymore, and hopefully this will be helpful for the next round.

Example of non-vented assembly in Sherborn

Trends from Design and Construction Week 2015

The most relevant word in home design for 2015 is simplicity. That was the resounding theme at this year’s Design and Construction Week, so let’s look at what this means for what I believe will forge the next trend cycle in home design, and the kitchen and bath styles for some time.

First, the word simplicity or simplify was used in many contexts during so many different conferences and product displays; from consumer needs to have an easier process when seeking help in home renovations, to the design styles that are more in favor today with less “fuss”. We all recognize that our schedules are getting more filled, but it isn’t all bad news. We attend more sport events that our children are involved in, visit with family, or donate more time to our community in search of balance, not necessarily looking to do less- just living more full lives.  

During an advisory board meeting I sit on, I chatted with a major player for DuPont North America. He shared that their group just wrapped up a major study to understand every step of the consumer’s decision matrix from thinking about a new kitchen or bath all the way through the completion of the project. It was remarkable that the most valuable things we are looking for is an enjoyable experience that is “simple” and easy, and that we can have a space done with as little effort as possible so that we don’t become consumed with. Of course there are other things we all want such as value, service etc., but we all want things to be easier.

Bathroom remodel in Wellesley

On the design side of all this is the continued trend for “transitional”.  What started off as a buzzword marking the mix of modern/simple design with a splash of traditional has evolved into what resembles “postmodern meets 2015″. If you go online to look at products you can confirm that transitional is more than established as a design style by finding it in the filters on most sites right next to contemporary and traditional. Soft color palettes, white bedding, sleeker cabinet styles with a touch of classic marble are all things that have lasting design value and resonate with what we are looking for right now, “simplicity”.

One of the things I pride myself on is that our team is never complacent about the changing needs of our customers. This winter we are challenging ourselves to make our process even more enjoyable and easier for you… because there is always room for improvement.

 

 

3 Takeaways From the Kitchen and Bath Show

Kitchen and Bath projects have a great deal of product choices involved in the process. It should be no surprise that the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show (KBIS), held annually, has a great deal of vendors vying to impress the attendees, and influence them; as well as the consumer on their goods. I just returned from KBIS and there were a lot of new and interesting things to see, but I emerged with something more valuable for you than a new product- knowledge :).

One of my pet peeves in my industry of design is the designer that hides behind the cloak of the product. It can be easy to impress some folks with your design savvy if you can rattle the names of famous designers and suggest only “the finest” wares. Just as annoying is a masterpiece of a tub, Maybe hand struck from a solid cube of copper, then gently (or not) placed into a space without consideration of the user, the ergonomics or the entirety of the design aesthetic. Remember the Kohler ad? “Design my house around this.” The client says, holding the faucet out to the architect.

A word of caution to anyone embarking on a renovation involving a kitchen or bath; the suppliers want your choices to be product driven, and a good designer knows that your choices should be lifestyle driven. Here are the 3 lifestyle choices I think hit the mark with a good explanation.

Ergonomics on lifestyle

When it comes to selecting a bathtub, the first question should be: Who is the tub for? You and the children? Just the adult runner in the family who trains annually for a marathon, aging parents who the new suite is for. Those questions result in narrowing the sizing and utility of the right tub.

Quality of the lifestyle

There are tubs available from $250-$20,000 and more. If you have 3 boys and the oldest is 4… cast iron is in your future :) so plan on spending $1-$2k. If you are building your dream retreat that you have been waiting for to be your sanctuary that you have earned the right to be “selective” with, then maybe it is a volcanic ash tub, that maintains a terrific consistent heat, even if it retails for $5,000 or more without the tub filler. Understanding your needs, your value proposition and the time you’ll use something are the right next questions for the designer.

Your Style in your lifestyle

After you and your designer discuss the top 2, then it’s time to put the “look” together, and a knowledgeable designer knows what brands meet the requirements while putting all of these together (Ergonomics, Quality and style) without designing around a faucet.

Happy shopping!

Choosing The Right Wood Floors For You

Times change, and wood flooring in today’s homes is no exception. I know that including pre-finished wood floors in the discussion will spark some doubt in my Old Yankee-purist area of operations, New England :).  However, just like the popularity in the once shunned gas fireplace, there are situations that make pre-finished floors a good choice even if the tried and true finished on site floor is still in wde use.

I would like to start off by saying – nothing offers more choice than a hand selected and finished on site floor. The Owner who works with a true wood floor specialist can have floors in any width, specie and then customize the finish from natural, distressed, dyed and other opaque options. This is ultimately the only way to achieve a completely custom floor. In remodeling, this is almost always the choice because we are either matching something or need to compliment something that exists. My top choice in site finished flooring is 8 inch quarter sawn oak- glued and nailed with a beautiful walnut stain and satin finish. It is my top choice because it is extremely durable and stable, true to local building materials and history, and is a timeless material that can be re-sanded and stained.

This hardwood floor in Needham was installed onsite to match existing flooring throughout the home

The earliest versions of pre-finished wood flooring left a lot to be desired. There is a bevel on each flooring strip that is the first and most obvious sign that a floor is pre-finished, and earlier versions had a much larger bevel. Enough of the down sides- here is why prefinished flooring has gained momentum: 1- prefinished floors have a tougher finish due to materials that can only be applied in a factory setting, 2- prefinished floors are now available in a wide variety of widths, species and finished that cannot be duplicated on site, 3- engineered products with natural wood finishes are ideal over concrete subfloors in high rise and basement applications, 4-prefinished flooring can be installed virtually odor free.

This is a prefinished floor we are currently installing in a Dover basement remodel

A few things to ask your designer or contractor will include: what to do with stairs that are in the space, if the floors can be refinished at a later date,  and whether the thickness is OK for adjoining flooring. I should also note that one of the most common mistakes I see is walking into a home with multiple finishes, probably because of all the choices…..consistency in flooring has always been important, so narrow it down to one!

Open Floor Plans

Open floor plans are certainly a concept that has been a strong trend with our modern lifestyles. This is brought on by many factors such as cocooning and the desire to be in the same space with our children for whatever time they have when they are home. This type of living is great for our busy lifestyles and should come with a few considerations before jumping full steam ahead and knocking down all the walls in your home.

Before– the kitchen was separated and cut off from the family room and dining room

After: The new openings join the kitchen with the dining room and family room allowing for converation and gathering.

One of the biggest benefits of an open floor plan is improving the flow of the house. This is an important distinction between open space and making the plan work well. What I mean is, that if you had a ballroom, certainly you could walk wherever you want- but you would not have a cozy corner for conversation, or a kitchen area that served the cook and those gathering. A home has very different spaces that serve different needs and tasks, so moving from place to place should be effortless while each space maintains its unique feel and use.

In addition to ergonomics, think about your lifestyle. Most folks in their 20’s would be happy with a compact loft that is open- but when our home has people of different ages and individual needs- you will want more space and want to tweak that open floor plan. A table makes a great bridge or transition in this lay-out- so if you want wide open, place the table between the kitchen and soft seating area. If you would like more definition of space and/or the kids to do homework at the table away from the TV- use the table in a space off to the side of the space.

Either way, open is here for a while! Here is a recent Wellesley kitchen we completed that was so different when the wall came down that it felt unnatural for me to walk from one space to the other today.

The Importance of Mock-ups in Home Remodeling

Many times in the construction process there are details that can benefit from a template, mock-up or pattern. Often we mock-up decorative window pediments so the client can feel comfortable with the scale and how it looks on the house. This can also help keep the construction moving along if we need to have a coppersmith create caps for those pediments- they can be made while the carpentry is happening so they get installed right away instead of being delayed by waiting until the pediments are all built for measuring.

Sometimes one of our designers may ask the carpenter create a pattern to see the detail if there is any question about making it more optimum to the project. I know that I am someone who likes to see these so that I can make sure things look as good from our real vantage point as they do in the 3D rendering our architecture software produces. Details are the part of the project that make difference.

In the photo below, this rough mock-up at a project in Dover helped the client see the overhang of the roof, it helped the carpenter lay-out the final bracket installation and also allowed the designer to make a minor modification to the ceiling materials, rafter layout and little end detail. All of which will make standing up to this pool side bar a much more quality experience for everyone when it is done.

Roof mockup in Dover

If you are a visual person like me, don’t hesitate to ask for some tools to help understand your space better- maybe even drawing the built-in shelves on the wall before the carpenter starts will make you feel less anxious about the end result!

cabana roof in Dover        Copper roof overhang in Dover

 

 

 

 

 

Uncomplicated–The new word in luxurious home remodeling

This week I met with a couple I have worked for in the past- we did a beautiful kitchen remodel in their current Wellesley home over 10 years ago, and now they have decided to buy a home that they can transform completely. This project entails a whole home remodel with a pretty good size addition, complete with a larger kitchen and master suite. Fancy-right? It will be beautiful I am sure and of high quality also, but while we were talking about what the couple wanted to include- the word “uncomplicated” was used.

It dawned on me that this is really where our busy lives are headed, and the word “simplify” that became popular in the Great Recession looks like it will be replaced in the improving economy with uncomplicated. I believe this is trending because one of the significant changes in the recession was that we had to work as a society even harder to keep moving forward, and that busy lifestyle isn’t slowing with improved economics- it may be the new normal (another phrase coined in more difficult times). So here are the items that we are going to focus on, in the clients own words, which we have also heard from many clients all year:

  1. I want a pantry- so I can have everything convenient, and not in another room or closet or downstairs… nearby. The working space in the kitchen does not have to be huge- no need for a large amount of cabinets, but the space should be large enough for entertaining- maybe some soft seating.

  2. A large mudroom that multi tasks would make life easier coming and going with all the sports and other activities. I would like to add a second smaller laundry to take care of the things on the first floor… and we would also like a powder room off the mudroom as well so the kids don’t traipse across the house with muddy shoes if they are playing outside.

  3. A proper dressing room with everything in it so we can get ready without walking into the bedroom for socks in a drawer and back to the closet for the pants. It would be great to have everything together- and one side for each of us.

When the client used the word uncomplicated in the meeting- I told them it would be my next blog, because I really do get to see firsthand the influence of our busy lives dictating todays household. The luxury in all this is more time to focus on what is really important- and that is today’s real luxury.

Watching the weather, converting one story to two

We do many projects that involve opening a home in a way that could make it vulnerable to the elements. I am often asked if we do large home renovation projects in the winter season, or how we protect the home against the elements. Believe it or not, I have actually done a few projects where we removed the entire roof structure to add a second floor in the middle of winter while we had clients living in the residence- here is how we plan for it.

The first step is to have a scalable plan. It is important to know how long certain assemblies take and what the resources are. This is construction so contingency is needed in case we have some ebb and flow to certain pieces. Step one, do not remove the roof first without knowing what the next steps are-even if it seems like the obvious first thing to go. We know in advance if we are keeping the ceiling (and if that is a viable floor structure), we may also have some items that require or benefit by pre-cutting or building some of the walls. Step 2, we live in New England so the weather can change without much notice, so it’s crucial to be watching the weather daily. That may sound obvious, but in the construction business our planning is so vital around the weather that we are almost as aware of the dew point as the time of day.

In the case of this current project, it rained a bit every day the week before this photo was taken, so we were busy cutting all the roof rafters and wall studs so that we could make progress this week. We also built a 2 story wall inside that we will lift tomorrow morning, and built a couple of the interior bearing walls as well as prepped the steel beam. The weather called for possible showers this Wednesday so the project lead decided to remove only half the roof in case we had to cover- that forecast changed yesterday :) so we continued to move forward… and watch the weather. Every project is different and every week offers different weather- so plans will change, but our customers will always stay dry.

 

Punching Out– not as perilous as it sounds

When we finish a project for a client, we want to give the client the final say that they are happy with the way things look before they make the final payment.  This is known as “punching out”- or the “Punch List”.  Not to worry, there are no punches being thrown.   The term punch list comes from an era when a card was punched in the margin to show it was used- like the train conductor does to your ticket to Boston to show the ticket had been used.

Different companies use different processes for this, so it is really important to make sure there is a provision in your agreement that allows you to make final payment upon satisfactory completion of the project.  Because humans are involved in the process, don’t be shy about pointing out any concern you have to your contractor even if it seems small.   Some of the obvious things that may show up are a string holding up the dining chandelier- and the contractor has it to prevent everyone from running into the chandelier. If we see this on our punch, we offer to remove the temporary brace or show the Owner how to do that post delivery of the dining table to avoid any post construction mishaps.   If there is a spot of paint on the floor, put it on your list for removal.

 

Punch list items are for deficiencies due to craftsmanship, breakage, or incomplete work.  If a railing didn’t get installed- it is incomplete, if a light fixture has a broken glass, it needs to be replaced.   There are margins of acceptance and we consider ourselves, the contractor, to be fussy- so we really can take care of the smallest detail. But if the contractor you are working with forgot a screw- it isn’t for lack of trying.

 

The human element I mentioned earlier has a few factors.  First, the people working on the project are sometimes too close to it to look back and see every minor imperfection.   The carpenter can remind themselves they are one cabinet knob short every time they see it only to be distracted by a more pressing issue before ordering that.   If there is a minor scratch on the wall, someone may have done that without knowing just after the remodeler looked over the area. To combat this we use an internal punch out system before we ask the client to make their own punch list.   We call it designer punch because the project designer takes the onus of making 3 visits. A couple of weeks out, the designer convenes with the project lead carpenter to make sure all the fixtures have been delivered and inspected.   This helps reduce the back order problem if we need a part.   The next week the designer does a walk through with the project lead to get the obvious list of completion items together.   That helps the carpenter prioritize for what is usually the busiest week of the project- the last oneJ.   Then, right before we hand it over to the client, the designer nit-picks the project for minor blemishes and delivers any small parts that were sent express to the showroom.

The owner now gets to make their overview- and that is always important to give them time- ideally the weekend to walk through, settle in and see what needs some love.  Maybe the cleaning lady overlooked cleaning a set of drawers out or a hinge was loose we didn’t spot.   Not to worry! If you didn’t catch it on the day you sign off on your list, any good contractor will return because they know the value of your referral.