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 bigger 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. 

 

 

Synergy of Design Collaboration

I have often discussed the synergy of Architecture and interior design, and the great value of our design and construction professionals working together for a better client experience. There is another important part of the built environment where you may want to consider a collaborative approach (project depending of course).

We are currently working on a project that is benefitting greatly from the collaboration of Residential Architecture and Landscape Architecture. Pictured below, left- Allan Wright (our in house Architect), and Wes Wirth, (Landscape Architect of Thomas Wirth Associates, Inc) work on the best approach (no pun intended) for a vehicle to enter a garage addition. This project is the perfect example of the value of a talented Land professional providing important insight in grade change, and the views from inside the building and how we can together provide our client with the best outcome by taking advantage of these synergies during the design process instead of the landscape working to correct deficiencies the architecture imposes.

In this project alone we were able to move the garage slightly to improve the owners experience from the interior of the home, provide the opportunity for a pedestrian way to a new side entry that won’t feel like a walk beside the garage, and reduce the elevation challenges inherent to the lot. Stay tuned on more about this fabulous project in Brookline as we move from design to construction!

Project Management for Residential Remodeling

Project Management in home remodeling has a bit more to it than scheduling- many items involved are tacit in nature.  At The Wiese Company, we know that having a diversified skill set from unique and friendly teammates is the right mix, but “why” is it important to have this diversity?   For starters, all of us humans have interests and strengths- and why not capitalize on that. The opposite is sure fired disaster and letting people do what they love always helps deliver excellent results.

Here are a few insights into what we do:

  1. Designers and architects meet with client and design a project that meets the need and budget. This process is usually 1-2 months for an average home addition with kitchens and baths- and usually doesn’t have all the “details” worked out, such as tile selection or maybe the final design of an architectural element such as a portico.

  2. The design and production staff have walked through the property early on in the design program and now re-convene to discuss construction staging and working around the family. (have pets, kids, relatives visiting, vacation? I think the Latin is “life interuptus”J)

  3. The project is in full swing, the plumber informs us that he has a family emergency and he will be delayed 3 days…!!! The inspection is set and we have been anticipating starting the insulation on the following Monday- in jumps the production manager to hit the reset button (without changing the end date). It can also happen that the custom bath that we ordered in advance has arrived with a defect… The designer that is wearing the project coordinating hat is on the phone with the distributer working all the magic possible and the project manager is on the phone with the plumber to see if we can get an inspection without it.​​​​

At our firm, we have a weekly meeting with all the field staff and have a designer present so that everyone is familiar with the stage of every project.  The carpenters get questions answered, the designer gets to share and distribute needed paperwork and if someone here needs a sick day- you’ll never notice a hiccup in your project.

The result of solid project management is making it look easy. The benefit of having the designers integral with the project allows for quick solution oriented changes or corrections.   The synergy of a great construction manager working with a craftsman who loves his trade and a designer who has great vision keeps all the pieces running smoothly.   I would tell you about the other billion scenarios that make this important but I haven’t seen them all yet! And- that is the great fun of our endeavor.

 

Cocooning Meets Entertaining

According to Wikipedia, “Cocooning is the name given to the trend that sees individuals socializing less and retreating into their home more.” The term was coined in the 1990s by Faith Popcorn, a trend forecaster and marketing consultant:

Cocooning has been in our bank for thirty years. That’s how early we discovered cocooning, and cocooning is about staying home, creating a safe place around you, the gardeners being the barrier, between the garden and the alarm systems being the barrier, filtration systems for water and air, working at home (…) every inch of it you have, you have some of this (…) how many days can I work at home? That’s cocooning.

 

While I have witnessed the remodeling trends that followed the cocooning lifestyles we embraced (more family space and kitchens that are part of the gathering area), entertaining and more socializing seem to be a current shift based on many of the requests our clients have asked us to design in recent months. I think that folks just want to have the opportunity to entertain without having the chore of setting up, and they want space that works for a quick and casual invitation that can bring 2-10 people over.

We just started a very cool “dual purpose” cabana bar and bath house that will make entertaining easy- and add great fun when the family is enjoying time together or when friends stop by. This project will be done in advance for next spring/summer to ensure everything is all set in time for the pool opening. Since we can tie the space into the existing game and media rooms, this will be a year round hit! And on top of that the existing porch will receive 3 season upgrades to open up the second floor- Stay tuned on Facebook to see the progress!

 

 

 

 

 

Historic Homes in New England

We are very fortunate in our local communities from Holliston to Boston, where we can be an eye witness to some amazing antiques lining our main roads. I enjoy seeing a town’s church steeple before the town itself is visible, and always feel grateful to live in a place with so much early American History. I am a preservationist to some extent – I am a remodeler after all, and so I see and understand a lot of value in existing structures where others may want to simply demolish a home and start over. The caveat is that I am not a purist when it comes to preservation; first, because I am a property rights advocate, and there are too many people trying to take some of your rights away under the guise of preservation, and second, because once something reaches the point of being a safety hazard or reaches the end of its serviceability, it is ok to make progress to some extent. After all, isn’t that what the people who originally built the existing building were doing when they built it?

That said, there are many reasons to preserve some of our past, such as educational value, a sense of history, as well as the comfort in the community having a great foundation. That is why I was heartbroken today when I drove by one of my favorite homes- built circa 1774- during our country’s Revolutionary times. In the photo of the home still standing, you can see the classic salt box architecture, the period stile windows and the very small dormers in the attic to capture the southern sunlight. Imagine that every piece of this was struck by hand and that there was a farm all around it producing food to be consumed in the Boston area.

As I looked over the chimney that was still standing, I couldn’t help but be in awe of how elaborate this marvel of masonry was – 4 sides to provide heat in the cold winter months. The fireplace facing the street had an oven above the main firebox for baking. When you look at period architecture, that oversized central chimney was a product of that important piece of the building. I wish I had the opportunity to go through the home before it went down…. I will probably always expect to see it when I am driving through Dover.

May the new home being built on the lot be made half as well as this one- and provide history for a future generation 250 years from now.

Generic Home…Don’t Let a Paradigm Dictate a Home Renovation

I just returned from a most brief discussion about a potential renovation project in Wellesley. The meeting was a full 15 minutes. After a quick introduction, the home owner said “so, what should I do? I’ll walk you around and then you can tell me.” I shouldn’t have been confused, I am the professional in the mix and that is why he called me, right? I had to ask though…”What is it you need?”

He went on to tell me that he was going to have some repair work and painting done- but wanted my opinion on whether he should add on to his house before he did that. After a few questions about the lifestyle in the home, it was clear that he didn’t need any space, but thought if he could build something that had value for the future- why not, maybe a new master suite would improve the value? As we looked at some of the additions in the neighborhood- including a couple that I had done, we discussed the benefit of a while-you-are-at-it project and I had to tell him- “Don’t do a thing!”

In the 90’s, I built a lot of family rooms without doing anything else to the home. I like to think of that period in my building education as “generic home- just add family room”. The family room gained so much popularity that folks didn’t even consider what happened to the rest of the house and the family just abandoned the living room. The bottom line is, when trying to find the benefit, calculate the cost and then see what items are for enjoyment that are worth it to you.

Think about the value you get from new furniture and drapes… a nicer-looking, well-maintained home sells for more than a home with deferred maintenance issues and no interior design…but how much money do you make on a new couch at re-sale? I would have to think it isn’t an investment in cash; furniture is an investment in comfort and pleasure. While added square feet and a new bath will add to your home, my suggestion is that if it makes your life better, do it, and if you want an investment- call your stock broker.

Happy Lifestyle!
Ray

Don’t Dump Your Designer When Construction Begins! (the Benefits of a Design/Build Firm)

As long as I have been involved in construction, it has been more common for customers to ditch the architect or designer as soon as they believe they have the drawings to get the building permit. I think that for some folks they feel like they need to stop the bleeding on design investment…lol, or they fell out of love with the architect after the bids came in higher than the budget they communicated. There are a few great reasons to keep your design team engaged with the build team on a regular basis- and most of them will save you money, hassle and time. As part of our process, we have a designer present at the weekly construction meeting wearing a “project coordinator hat” that keeps selections, catalogues, and administration finely tuned… and when the design questions arise as they will, there’s a rapid response to any issue.

Here are a few examples of where this helps:

  1.        Scheduled site visits save money. First and foremost, if there is no schedule for site visits by the designer, they may have to be reactive to an issue without understanding the current tempo of the production, or what the existing conditions look like post demo or framing. Not being part of the team means that the new client they are designing for may not have the command of their time, and they may not be able to make an unscheduled visit if there is an urgent item that requires immediate attention.
  2.        Working together on the project during construction creates the “team”. If the designer participates in a meeting with the construction manager during the process, they have a better chance of creating a good working relationship that is more team focused on the best outcome for you rather than advocacy driven. Another benefit is the ability to make changes or resolve design or construction issues faster and without animosity… not that that ever happened!.
  3.        The same thoughtfulness that goes into the planning of your dream space should continue during the construction. You may have an opportunity to make a change that is very beneficial, and if you want to change something, the design professional can offer the same experience to ensure some other item does not come up as a result of the change.

As a great example, we are currently working on a project with a very talented interior designer that the clients wanted to use. We collaborated on the best use of time and resources because we offer overlapping services. She helped select the tile and we drew the tile plan in our office so we could get the plan approved faster, while she went shopping for other items with the client. Because this project was fast tracked to be done before the owners close on their current home, it is making the clients experience less stressful. Simply being involved in the e-mail threads keep all the designers and construction staff working together and keeping the clients best interest at the forefront. 

 

Construction Project Permitting has a Third Party – Your Municipality

In Massachusetts, our lively political environment creates added “fun” for our clients when navigating the exciting world of zoning, planning, board of health and wetlands commissions, to name a few. This is because our Government wants to have law- and fees on the law, and leave the individual towns with enough leeway to have their own laws on top of the state rules. In most cases, as long as the town/city adopts a stricter standard. Energy conservation may be the easiest one to use as an example, so if the state requires an insulation value of R19 for walls, the town can up the ante to R-21.

The biggest challenge for consumers and contractors is that almost every town or city operates differently, and some towns have great public servants that put the customer (taxpayer) first, and some departments have the other bureaucratic style. For fun, I found this definition online and was surprised that it is either great or not-so-great by definition.

bu•reau•crat•ic
byo͝orəˈkratik
adjective
adjective: bureaucratic

Relating to the business of running an organization, or government.
1. “well-established bureaucratic procedures”
2. “overly concerned with procedure at the expense of efficiency or common sense.
“the plan is overly bureaucratic and complex”

Don’t trouble yourself too much with learning the different laws- they seem to change often. The most important information for you to first understand is the length of time it will take to get approvals for your project to start. If your builder doesn’t know approximate times/issues…. find a new builder!  Below is a list of typical waits based on the current environment.
Current days from submission of permit – Boston to Holliston before you get the permit. (Based on my experience and not scientific research).

                        Bath      Kitchen        Deck          Roof       Dryer Duct      Addition w/ Zoning        Addition

Boston               1              1                     ?                 1                 1                              75                                     10

Brookline         7              7                     7                 7                 1                             75                                     10

Newton             1              1                    14                1                 1                             75                                     14

Wellesley       21            21                   21              21                21                          110                                    21

Natick                3              3                      3                3                  1                            75                                       8

Sherborn           3              3                      3                3                 1                            75                                       4

Holliston           3              3                      3                 3                 1                           45                                       4

Most of the surprise is if you would need a special permit or variance, and that is most common with new homes or additions- so ask that question first.  And as I always say, plan properly and avoid as many surprises as possible- Happy Renovations!

 

Time Frame for Planning a Home Renovation – A Stitch in Time

Home renovations are exciting! When someone calls us to discuss an improvement to their home, they are very excited to get things moving forward once they have a good idea of the cost and what the scope will involve. That excitement and desire is important to get the selections made on fixtures and finishes- so what is the caveat to moving full steam ahead?

I speak to many homeowners who have been through a rough experience with past projects and it isn’t always just a case of a bad contractor. Sometimes an inexperienced contractor may allow a quick start to meet the demands of the owner or because they need a project to start for cash flow reasons. When that happens, it is common that too many changes in time and scope lead to an unpleasant renovation process.

Here is an average timeframe of what takes place in our firm (this example uses a home addition with interior renovations):

1. From field measure (measuring your space) to concept delivery – allow 1 1/2 weeks.
2. From concept agreement to budget (subcontractor walk through and number crunching) – allow 2 weeks.
3. Construction documents (plans ready for municipal review and use by the field staff, including any structural engineering.) – allow 3 weeks. If zoning is involved, we typically wait on the engineering and framing plans post approval by the municipality, but may work with our clients on some of the aesthetic interior items ahead of time that won’t change much if we need to tweak anything.
4. Finalizing the aesthetic (cabinet plans, tile and lighting plans, and all the finishes that need to be selected) – allow 5 weeks, if you can meet weekly and make a selection. This varies the most in time because you are probably as busy as everyone else, and getting to the plumbing showroom may not happen as planned.

Keep in mind that once a few of the larger items are selected, and everyone has a good idea of what they need to do, everything doesn’t have to be completed before you enter permitting etc. The best part of doing much of the homework in advance is that the project will be much more enjoyable and predictable. Happy renovating!