What’s Under That Old Siding?

In the picture below, this is a typical 1940’s home in a Wellesley neighborhood we have done a few projects in. As part of a whole home renovation, we are going to put on a new roof, new siding and replace all of the exterior trim and windows. When we are done, it will be better than new!

Our firm has removed and renovated siding from homes that are CIRCA 1760, and unfortunately; also homes that are only a few years old because of faulty product or installation. I often get asked about what to expect once the siding comes off, or hear that someone told them they won’t know until after the siding comes off. 

The reality is that it is very predictable with an eye on a few items. A good exterior inspection will shed light on repairs that were made or if there was a lot of deferred maintenance. If the home is on the historic end of the spectrum, it will look close to the photo of the 1940s home except the boards will be less uniform and there will be larger gaps. On a home like that, as long as the wear and tear are typical we expect to replace about 10% of those boards before re-siding and if the home is in rough shape, we will be re-nailing the sheathing and probably some of the framing. The renovations of the homes that fall in the 1940 category are about the same. These homes were built post war with pride and are not really that old in the renovation business. If a previous owner neglected the home, we would probably find some insect or water damage (about 2-3 days of labor from a carpenter to repair).

It’s the 1975 to present day houses that are the more troubling ones to work on, mostly because the issues are born more from a dollar driven new home construction and use of poor materials. It will likely be plywood below with rot from leaking assemblies and rotted trim. The sheathing will need to be re-nailed because there were not enough nails to begin with and larger sections will need to be uncovered.

One of the questions most asked is whether the siding under vinyl or aluminum siding will be salvageable. Although I am an optimist, the reality is that these homes were usually over-sided because of an issue with the original siding. Additionally, there will be nail holes all over the original siding. If you are planning for a full exterior renovation, my advice is to budget for the original siding to come off so you don’t end up in worse shape when the vinyl comes off. Happy renovating! Feel free to contact us if you are in need of exterior remodel to see how we can help!

Hidden Costs in Remodeling

Anxiety is the symptom of uncertainty, and I know that working through the process of design and budgeting requires a great deal of work for the remodeler and the client. One of the biggest reasons for the anxiety in renovating is that most people know someone who has had an awful experience with the cost escalating during construction. In the almost 25 years in business, I still haven’t found these hidden costs because construction is not a series of unknowns, it is a series of should have knowns (with only a few exceptions).

One item that is always an unknown is what lies under the soil if you are digging a foundation. There could be ledge, clay, or a personal experience I had at one project: a subterranean peat bog. If you are building an addition and talking with your construction expert, you should ask (if they didn’t mention) what sort of challenges can be found and the approximate costs. Knowing your options in advance will reduce the uncertainty and also provide you with information on where you will need to be with the budget.

Another common item in construction on older homes is asbestos. The most visible asbestos is linoleum floor tile, and as a rule of thumb if it measures 9 inches by 9 inches, it probably contains asbestos. We work on many homes in Wellesley, Mass. That were built by a man named Porter, and we know that even if we cannot see asbestos, if the home is a certain age and has warm air heat, the ducts in the wall will have a paper coating that contains asbestos. Generally, the removal of one area is approx. $1,500 for professional mitigation and based on experience we usually add this to the budget as an allowance so that there is money in the budget to cover the additional cost.

Termite and other pest damage can also be found, and I could make a list of some pretty ridiculous things clients have told me they were charged extra for, but I believe the onus to do a thorough inspection of your property and divulge any potential additional work lies with the experienced professional you are working with. If they say they don’t know what is in your walls, they may not have opened enough :)

Happy Renovating!

How Long Does a Kitchen Remodel Take?

There are a few different types of kitchen renovations and they all take different amounts of time. Because television shows are quick (pun intended) to make people feel it can happen while you are at dinner, the reality has actually resulted in more than one person getting upset with me on the phone when I told them I couldn’t do a kitchen in less than 4 weeks.

On the “quick” end of things, if you were changing your cabinets and appliances without moving anything that would probably take less than 4 weeks. Most kitchens we do typically involve opening an adjacent wall or adding on space to enlarge the kitchen. The time factor variables are: 

  1. the age of the home
  2.  the size of the kitchen
  3. the other spaces renovated/added and
  4.  the intricacy (how high end) of the finishes selected

 Below is a production schedule for a project we recently completed in 10 weeks. This project involved tying 2 rooms together by removing a nonbearing wall and modifying the relationship to the family room. Enjoy the time lapse video that makes it look like it happened while the client was at dinner! :)

Home Renovations, A Tale from Start to Finish

A project is in process from the time you start to think about it, until you move in and start enjoying the finished product. Starting and going through the process can be fun, so why shouldn’t the completion be as easy and without the stress before that final check is written? It dawned on me about 20 years ago that we would work with some clients that were extremely fussy and some who would just move right in without even looking for any issues beyond an obvious item that hadn’t been installed. I realized a few truths:

  1. The carpenter managing the project was too deep into the items to see the project objectively at the end. After all, all those hours of hard work have created a lasting and quality project and they were living in the job. 
  2. The lighting in the project changes from the beginning to the end and makes it difficult to see any blemishes until all the finish lighting is in.
  3. The clients who used a magnifying glass were not doing it to be difficult, and maybe the clients who didn’t bring up minor issues just didn’t want to come across as high maintenance.

We use one of the most published charts in the construction industry to help clients with how they will be feeling. See “What To Expect Emotionally” below. The one big missing item is “punching out”. A terrible term that sounds like the time the Owner and the Contractor come to fists over what is done and what isn’t. It actually means going through a final checklist and using a paper punch to note what had been remedied.

It finally dawned on me that I could reduce the stress for the client (and everyone else) if we added designer punch to our process. About a week before we offer our client the time to pull out the fine tooth comb, the project designer spends some time with a flashlight and post-it notes. Now that our subcontractors are familiar with this, they love making sure it is perfect. Additionally, our own carpenters know they are less likely to miss something and the client doesn’t have to spend the time they did before and still has a chance to be that second or third look.

There will inevitably be some minor issues that come up during or after move in. Most warranties offer hardware adjusting type of things up to 90 days to fine tune items that will later become part of normal maintenance, or perhaps a small nick is put in the floor by the furniture delivery company. If your remodeler doesn’t have this scheduled automatically, then ask for a 90 day review- and all the little adjustments of other small finds can be rectified at one time. 

The idea for this article came to me on a site visit when Lisa was busy marking paint touch-ups….. if you don’t have a designer, don’t be afraid to make your discovery known with the post-it! Happy remodeling!



The Evolution of the Kitchen

Ever wonder why it took so long for people to enjoy the open lifestyle of today’s kitchens?  Well, in reality, it didn’t!  Sorry, our generation isn’t the first to enjoy open concept living.  Going waaaaay back, we can find evidence that the fire pit was the first notion of open concept living.  Everyone hung out there, cooked, and told stories perhaps.  Okay; post the Neanderthal age, early farmer’s resided open with the farm animals and early American settlers built one room log homes primarily out of the resources and time available, along with the economy of having one fire and the family in one place. While it is a stretch to think there is any correlation because of modern living, it really is about lifestyle. Some of these one room cabins were being constructed in the late 1800’s while the American Victorian era was in full bloom, creating parlors, dining rooms and servant quarters.

What creates bigger and longer trends really depends on what is happening in the times of the trend. We are still experiencing a long term trend of people staying home more.  That love for the security of home, and renovating to enjoy that more, is now being transferred to our post-great recession drive of “experience over quantity”.  For many families, that busy life is not going to get in our way of sharing time with our children and parents because of some of life’s speed bumps like extracurricular activities.  The most desired experience right now is the time with each other.

The first open concept in the modern architectural age came during a great time in our history post WWII.  Look at postmodern ranches in the 50’s with the floor plans of open kitchen and stools at the peninsula. They are extremely close to the plans we are drawing today.  

I was recently visiting my nephew and we went to Chudnow Museum of Yesteryear.  In the attached photo, the stove boasts 2 two types of fuel available, and features any modern housewife in the 20’s and 30’s would love to have.  On one of the little fact sheets is a card that claimed in this era, a house wife worked an average of 40 hours in the kitchen just preparing meals for the family! Maybe that is why the separate kitchen was popular at that time, Mom didn’t have time to talk!